A flock of musicians penetrated Paul McCartney’s life during his formative years, forever changing his perspective for the better, including one inspiration he would later call “a magician”.
In 1956, a teenage McCartney secured a copy of ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ by Gene Vincent, the first record he purchased with his own money. In conversation with BBC 6 Music, the former Beatle disclosed that he “saved up my pocket money for months” before getting the bus to the record shop and instantly falling in love with his new prized possession.
From that point on, Macca became hungry to further his musical discovery, and that same year he also decided to learn the guitar. Around this time, the Beatle was also transfixed by skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan at the Liverpool Empire, an event that taught him about the power of live music.
McCartney began to hero-worship these figures in a similar way that many would soon come to revere him once Beatlemania struck. Perhaps, nobody was more instrumental in shaping McCartney as an artist than the late Chuck Berry, who he branded “a magician”.
After Berry’s death, Macca posted a heartfelt tribute to his teenage idol on his website. “From the first minute we heard the great guitar intro to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ we became fans of the great Chuck Berry,” he wrote.
“His stories were more like poems than lyrics – the likes of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ or ‘Maybellene.’ To us he was a magician making music that was exotic yet normal at the same time. We learnt so many things from him which led us into a dream world of rock ‘n’ roll music,” McCartney continued.
After christening him as “one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest legends”, Macca then discussed his dealings with his hero and remembered having the honour to meet him in his hometown, St Louis. He concluded, “It’s not really possible to sum up what he meant to all us young guys growing up in Liverpool but I can give it a try.”
The Beatles often covered Berry, and John Lennon even performed live with the now-iconic musician. The Missouri guitarist was mightily impressed by them as a unit, and once said: “When a group or an artist continuously puts out a product that is absorbed by the public and in demand it’s genuine. And this is what I thought about The Beatles when they continually put out hit after hit after hit.”
Berry wasn’t just an influence on McCartney, but he was an artist who all of the Beatles admired individually, and they all bonded over. They were a quasi Chuck Berry tribute act throughout their early days, and it’s unfathomable to imagine where they’d have been without his magic touch.