Chuck Berry is one of the most influential and significant musicians of all time. There can be no arguing. Regardless of his controversial off-stage antics, Berry influenced almost every iconic musician from the 1960s and the ‘classic rock’ era onwards. The sheer mention of his nickname, ‘Father of Rock and Roll’ swiftly, establishes the extent of the esteem in which he is held.
His lyrics focused on teen life and consumerism, and in addition to his guitar solos and showmanship, Berry established many of rock music’s now very overworn tropes. Showing just how illustrious his career was, Berry rubbed shoulders with other influential bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley and countless others.
He was so hallowed that for his 60th birthday celebrations, everyone from Eric Clapton to Keith Richards and even Etta James were in attendance. Aside from The Beatles, who also ranked among his sonic disciples, no musician’s influence has been so everlasting.
There can be no greater sign of Berry’s intent than the title and lyrics of his 1956 hit, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’. In the song, he directly addressed the classical composer and instructed him to move out of the way and to stop stifling the progress of this new cultural revolution that he was spearheading; rock ‘n’ roll.
Although this lyrical content seems very futile, the sentiment is everlasting, and in many ways, can be regarded as some form of punk precursor. Looking at it through this lens, it is clear that this spirit has permeated all musical genres and subcultures in some form. Drilling down specifically, one band that he had a significant impact on was the prog-rock heroes Pink Floyd.
Although it’s not immediately apparent when listening to the band’s heavily embellished style of rock, Berry did inspire the band. When each member of the group was growing up, Berry’s unapologetic style of rock and roll on tracks such as ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ helped to galvanise their generation, urging them to pick up instruments. The dye was cast, and in ten years time, music would have changed forevermore.
Speaking with Channel 4 after Berry’s passing in 2017, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason explained what Berry meant to him and just how far-reaching his influence has been on the development of alternative music.
He said: “He (Berry) meant a great deal,” he began. “He’s one of the great icons of rock and roll. To explain that, you should just think about the fact that virtually every guitar player in the United Kingdom can play at least three Chuck Berry numbers. It doesn’t matter whether it’s The Beatles, The Stones, Radiohead, whatever, his music has been an influence on all of us for the last 50 years.”
Mason then explained how he had such an influence on British musicians, detailing the significance of the timeless feel of his music: “(He had) this ability to convert what was the American R&B thing into what became real rock ‘n’ roll,” Mason continued. “There’s Chuck Berry, someone like Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis; they still stand for something in this day and age. If you compare it to someone like Bill Haley, Bill Haley is so much just about the ’50s, but Chuck Berry is relevant today.”
Mason was right. Berry‘s music remains as relevant today as it ever was. There’s something in his act that many contemporary musicians could learn from. As Mason said, Berry could do it all, he was a writer and a performer, and this enlarged his legacy way beyond that of his peers.
He took the basic ingredients of music and turned them into something that was game-changing for both music and society. If you were to erase Berry from music history, it would be a very barren place indeed.
Watch Nick Mason talk about Chuck Berry below.