"Johnny B. Goode: His Complete '50s Chess Recordings" by Chuck Berry on iTunes

103 Songs

EDITORS’ NOTES

Attempting to pinpoint the exact moment when Rock and Roll came into being is ultimately a futile endeavor but few songs have as solid a claim to "first" as Chuck Berry’s epochal reading of “Maybellene.” With a single bold stroke and a half a dozen badly mangled guitar strings Chuck Berry turned Bob Willis’ old western swing number “Ida Red” into an unfettered rocker of undeniable power. His Complete ‘50s Chess Recordings, reveals a Chuck Berry who, not content to be merely the quintessential rocker, is a master of a multitude of musical styles. Berry fearlessly tackles jump blues, calypso, country and more and reinterprets them on his own terms, recasting them all as joyous uptempo boogies and establishing a new vocabulary for the electric guitar along the way. This set, which comes replete with an abundance of seldom heard rarities and outtakes, is a truly historic document, and represents one of the greatest bodies of recordings in American popular music.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Attempting to pinpoint the exact moment when Rock and Roll came into being is ultimately a futile endeavor but few songs have as solid a claim to "first" as Chuck Berry’s epochal reading of “Maybellene.” With a single bold stroke and a half a dozen badly mangled guitar strings Chuck Berry turned Bob Willis’ old western swing number “Ida Red” into an unfettered rocker of undeniable power. His Complete ‘50s Chess Recordings, reveals a Chuck Berry who, not content to be merely the quintessential rocker, is a master of a multitude of musical styles. Berry fearlessly tackles jump blues, calypso, country and more and reinterprets them on his own terms, recasting them all as joyous uptempo boogies and establishing a new vocabulary for the electric guitar along the way. This set, which comes replete with an abundance of seldom heard rarities and outtakes, is a truly historic document, and represents one of the greatest bodies of recordings in American popular music.

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Customer Reviews

5 out of 5

10 Ratings

A historic collection!

Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,

Let me begin by saying I’m a huge fan of almost anything Chuck Berry. That being said, this collection offers some great insight in the development of the rock-n-roll sound epitomized and founded by Chuck. Consisting of most of the usual favorites easily found elsewhere (the Chuck Berry Chess Box includes his later works), also included are out-takes and alternate versions of cuts previously unavailable, along with some harder to find Berry tracks. While some may find these alternate versions redundant, I find them a historic insight into Chuck and his music. These tracks are somewhat of a early studio version of what Taylor Hackford captured years later in his sensational documentary ‘Hail! Hail! Rock-N-Roll’. Listening to the evolution of the archetypal classic rocker ‘Johnnny B. Goode’ as Chuck chides his pianist to not play the ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ piano lick and you can somewhat envision Chuck wagging his finger at Keith Richards in the rehearsal studio years later in the Hackford film as Keith tries to capture the opening guitar salvo of ‘Carol’. The four alternate versions of ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ include some of the the greatest piano rolls you’ll hear on record. ‘Sweet Little Rock-N-Roller’ includes an extra lyrical verse not included on the finished recording. The ‘overdub’ cuts are a special treat as Chuck lays down additional guitar leads over his chugging, steamrolling rhythms. ‘Around and Around’ is by far the best of these, with the overdubbed guitar track offering some great leads and fills over the driving rhythms. One can only imagine how great Chuck’s live shows would have been had he’d been able to ‘clone’ himself as a second guitarist instead of relying on the often spotty pick-up guitarists he mostly relied on live! The addition of the many instrumental tracks are particularly worthwhile, including some rockers and other, bluesier tunes. These cuts reinforce Eric Clapton’s assertion in the Hackford film that Chuck is truly one of the great blues guitarists in addition to being the pioneer of the rock-n-roll guitar sound. Perhaps worth the cost of the set themselves are the two great studio jams included with album purchase only - one a rocking jam and the other a slower blues cut. Featuring some of Chess’s best musicians, sit back and enjoy some raw string-slappin’ upright basslines, rollicking piano rolls, shuffling drums, and of course Chuck’s unmistakable guitar rhythms and leads. These two cuts, while rough and raw, are historic in their own right and well worth the price of admission! Overall this collection offers a delightful retrospective of Chick’s early career at Chess, and offers insight into how he took his personal influences including the guitar sounds of Carl Hogan, T-Bone Walker, along with the vocal stylings of Nat Cole and Louis Jordan and molded them into the distinctive sound that became Chuck Berry, the founder and true ‘King’ of Rock-N-Roll. Perhaps iTunes’ inclusion of an accompanying ‘digital booklet’ would have made this an even better buy (I haven’t seen this in stores yet so I don’t know what’s included in the actual box), however the music is what it’s all about and this set is truly a gem! A ‘must-have’ for all fans of Chuck Berry and for all students of music! Hail! Hail! Rock-N-Roll!

Johnny Was Goode

16 HORSES,

Chuck Berry Was Very Much A Black Elvis! Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes Will Never Achive What He Did! Rest In Eternal Peace To This Rock N Roll Pioneer!

About Chuck Berry

Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none was more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He was its greatest songwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, without him there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor myriad others. There would be no standard "Chuck Berry guitar intro," the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have been mainstreamed into the now standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. There would be no obsessive wordplay by modern-day tunesmiths; in fact, the whole history (and artistic level) of rock & roll songwriting would have been much poorer without him. Like Brian Wilson said, he wrote "all of the great songs and came up with all the rock & roll beats." Those who do not claim him as a seminal influence or profess a liking for his music and showmanship show their ignorance of rock's development as well as his place as the music's first great creator. Elvis may have fueled rock & roll's imagery, but Chuck Berry was its heartbeat and original mindset.

He was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry to a large family in St. Louis. A bright pupil, Berry developed a love for poetry and hard blues early on, winning a high-school talent contest with a guitar-and-vocal rendition of Jay McShann's big-band number "Confessin' the Blues." With some local tutelage from the neighborhood barber, Berry progressed from a four-string tenor guitar up to an official six-string model and was soon working the local East St. Louis club scene, sitting in everywhere he could. He quickly found out that black audiences liked a wide variety of music and set himself to the task of being able to reproduce as much of it as possible. What he found they really liked -- besides the blues and Nat King Cole tunes -- was the sight and sound of a black man playing white hillbilly music, and Berry's showmanlike flair, coupled with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of fresh verses to old favorites, quickly made him a name on the circuit. In 1954, he ended up taking over pianist Johnny Johnson's small combo, and a residency at the Cosmopolitan Club soon made the Chuck Berry Trio the top attraction in the black community, with Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm their only real competition.

But Berry had bigger ideas; he yearned to make records, and a trip to Chicago netted a two-minute conversation with his idol Muddy Waters, who encouraged him to approach Chess Records. Upon listening to Berry's homemade demo tape, label president Leonard Chess professed a liking for a hillbilly tune on it named "Ida Red" and quickly scheduled a session for May 21, 1955. During the session the title was changed to "Maybellene" and rock & roll history was born. Although the record only made it to the mid-20s on the Billboard pop chart, its overall influence was massive and groundbreaking in its scope. Finally, here was a black rock & roll record with across-the-board appeal, embraced by white teenagers and Southern hillbilly musicians (a young Elvis Presley, still a full year from national stardom, quickly added it to his stage show), that for once couldn't be successfully covered by a pop singer like Snooky Lanson on Your Hit Parade. Part of the secret to its originality was Berry's blazing 24-bar guitar solo in the middle of it, the imaginative rhyme schemes in the lyrics, and the sheer thump of the record, all signaling that rock & roll had arrived and it was no fad. Helping to put the record over to a white teenage audience was the highly influential New York disc jockey Alan Freed, who had been given part of the writers' credit by Chess in return for his spins and plugs. But to his credit, Freed was also the first white DJ/promoter to consistently use Berry on his rock & roll stage show extravaganzas at the Brooklyn Fox and Paramount Theaters (playing to predominately white audiences); and when Hollywood came calling a year or so later, he also made sure that Berry appeared with him in Rock! Rock! Rock!, Go, Johnny, Go!, and Mister Rock'n'Roll. Within a year's time, Berry had gone from a local St. Louis blues picker making $15.00 a night to an overnight sensation commanding over a hundred times that, arriving at the dawn of a new strain of popular music called rock & roll.

The hits started coming thick and fast over the next few years, every one of them about to become a classic of the genre: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Thirty Days," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "You Can't Catch Me," "School Day," "Carol," "Back in the U.S.A.," "Little Queenie," "Memphis, Tennessee," "Johnny B. Goode," and the tune that defined the moment perfectly, "Rock and Roll Music." Berry was not only in constant demand, touring the country on mixed package shows and appearing on television and in movies, but smart enough to know exactly what to do with the spoils of a suddenly successful show business career. He started investing heavily in St. Louis area real estate and, ever one to push the envelope, opened up a racially mixed nightspot called The Club Bandstand in 1958 to the consternation of uptight locals. These were not the plans of your average R&B singers who contented themselves with a wardrobe of flashy suits, a new Cadillac, and the nicest house in the black section. Berry was smart, with plenty of business savvy, and was already making plans to open an amusement park in nearby Wentzville. When the St. Louis hierarchy found out that an underage hat-check girl Berry hired had also set up shop as a prostitute at a nearby hotel, trouble came down on Berry like a sledgehammer on a fly. Charged with transporting a minor over state lines (the Mann Act), Berry endured two trials and was sentenced to federal prison for two years as a result.

He emerged from prison a moody, embittered man. But two very important things had happened in his absence. First, British teenagers had discovered his music and were making his old songs hits all over again. Second, and perhaps most important, America had discovered the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, both of whom based their music on Berry's style, with the Stones' early albums looking like a Berry song list. Rather than being resigned to the has-been circuit, Berry found himself in the midst of a worldwide beat boom with his music as the centerpiece. He came back with a clutch of hits ("Nadine," "No Particular Place to Go," "You Never Can Tell"), toured Britain in triumph, and appeared on the big screen with his British disciples in the groundbreaking T.A.M.I. Show in 1964.

Berry had moved with the times and found a new audience in the bargain, and when the cries of "yeah-yeah-yeah" were replaced with peace signs, Berry altered his live act to include a passel of slow blues and quickly became a fixture on the festival and hippie ballroom circuit. After a disastrous stint with Mercury Records, he returned to Chess in the early '70s and scored his last hit with a live version of the salacious nursery rhyme "My Ding-A-Ling," yielding Berry his first official gold record. By decade's end, he was as in-demand as ever, working every oldies revival show, TV special, and festival that was thrown his way. But once again, troubles with the law reared their ugly head and 1979 saw Berry headed back to prison, this time for income tax evasion. Upon release this time, the creative days of Chuck Berry seemed to have come to an end. He appeared as himself in the Alan Freed biopic American Hot Wax, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but steadfastly refused to record any new material or even issue a live album. His live performances became increasingly erratic, with Berry working with terrible backup bands and turning in sloppy, out-of-tune performances that did much to tarnish his reputation with young and old fans alike. In 1987, he published his first book, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, and the same year saw the film release of what will likely be his lasting legacy, the rockumentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, which included live footage from a 60th-birthday concert with Keith Richards as musical director and the usual bevy of superstars coming out for guest turns.

For the next three decades, Berry devoted himself to the oldies circuit, regularly appearing at the Blueberry Hill restaurant in his hometown of St. Louis and sometimes embarking on tours of the U.S. or Europe. In several interviews he promised the existence of a new record, but nothing was made official until he announced the 2017 release of Chuck on his 90th birthday. Berry didn't live to see its June release: he died at his home on March 18, 2017.

For all of his off-stage exploits and seemingly ongoing troubles with the law, Chuck Berry remains the epitome of rock & roll, and his music will endure long after his private escapades have faded from memory. Because when it comes down to his music, perhaps John Lennon said it best, "If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." ~ Cub Koda

  • ORIGIN
    St. Louis, MO
  • BORN
    Oct 18, 1926

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