John Lennon is one of the most influential and recognisable musicians of all time, but there’s one person he held on a pedestal above himself. While his work both with and without The Beatles saw him transcend music and become a cultural iconoclast, there’s one artist who Lennon never stopped being in awe of from childhood to death.
The late Beatle continues to inspire new generations of artists even to this day through his music. Growing up in Merseyside, Lennon was an anorak when it came to music, transforming his life. Like any other artist, Lennon started out as a fan, and it was Chuck Berry who instilled in him the belief that he could emulate his hero one day. Even though they came from different corners of the world, there was something about Berry that spoke on a deep, meaningful level to Lennon that he’d never felt before.
“If you had to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” John Lennon once said, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Not only did Berry help soundtrack the budding friendship between Lennon, and McCartney, meanwhile, at the other end of Britain, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were doing likewise.
“To us, he was a magician making music that was exotic, yet normal, at the same time,” Paul McCartney posted on his website following Berry’s death a few years ago. “We learnt so many things from him which led us into a dream world of rock and roll music.”
Lennon’s professional life enjoyed a mesmeric event of the highest order when the chance arose to perform with Berry in 1972. The occasion happened when he and Yoko Ono took over the US TV programme The Mike Douglas Show for a whole week, and he used this power to perform with his idol.
It unsurprisingly turned out to be one of the musical world’s most legendary moments as two of rock ‘n’ roll’s leading figures’ energies clashed in the studio to perform ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and ‘Memphis Tennesee’.
“Chuck Berry, my hero,” Lennon said during one interview. “I don’t think there’s any group in the world (not influenced by Chuck Berry), white or black, but mainly the white kids were really turned on by Chuck Berry. You name any top group. They’ve all been influenced by him.
“His lyrics were very intelligent in the ’50s when people were singing virtually about nothing. He was writing social comment songs, and all these types of songs with incredible metre to the lyrics which influenced Dylan, and me, and many other people.”
Lennon then concluded his statement with praise from the highest shelf imaginable when he added, “He’s the greatest rock ‘n’ roll poet, and I really admire him.”
The feeling between them worked both ways, and when Julian Lennon performed with Berry in 1986, during a concert to celebrate his 60th birthday, the singer had some words he wanted to share about the Beatle who passed away six years earlier.
“I’d like to introduce a young man, who is the seed of the greatest influence in rock music,” Berry said when he brought Julian out onto the stage. Then in a poignant moment after the track, the ‘Johnny B. Goode’ singer says, “Tell papa hello,” before adding, “I’ll tell you what he says. I’ll see him.”
Considering the high regard that John Lennon held Berry in and how he placed him on a podium in his mind above every other artist to ever live, it warms the heart to see that he managed to profoundly touch the man he once called his “hero”. He went from a frenzied teenage fan of Berry in Liverpool to sharing a stage, and eventually, things went full circle with him calling Lennon “the greatest influence in rock music.”