There are plenty of names in the annals of rock history worth remembering. But when the work on the tome is complete one man will have a rather large footnote — Sir Paul McCartney. One half of the greatest songwriting partnership pop music has ever seen, his work with John Lennon, The Beatles and his own solo projects mean that Macca is one of the true greats. But the mercurial musician still has his heroes.
Famed for having once called Bob Dylan the Fab Four’s “idol” and often decried Brian Wilson as one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known. For McCartney, and, in truth, the rest of The Beatles, there was one man who truly embodied everything that the four lads from Liverpool wanted to be. That man was the swashbuckling, duck-walking grandaddy of rock ‘n’ roll himself, Chuck Berry.
“If you had to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” remarked John Lennon during an interview. It was a remark that the rest of the band were all in agreeance with. For them, Berry wasn’t just the beating heart of rock ‘n’ roll but the swaying hips, thrusting waist and dancing feet of it too. With a ream of incredible rock anthems, Berry’s influence can be heard all over the band’s early output, least of all their cover of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, which the band performed on one of their television debuts.
Across their careers, the band often doffed their cap to the rocker, with Lennon inviting him on to his TV special to perform ‘Johnny B. Goode’ having also battled Berry in court over his song ‘You Can’t Catch Me’. Likewise, McCartney leaned on Berry’s song ‘Back in the USA’ when he wrote the White Album classic ‘Back in the USSR’. But McCartney’s real outpouring of affection came following the singer’s death in 2017.
Speaking with Rolling Stone, McCartney was full of admiration for the forefather of rock: “We learnt so many things from him which led us into a dream world of rock & roll music.” Though he confirmed that it was “not really possible to sum up what he meant to all us young guys growing up in Liverpool,” Macca delivered a fitting eulogy for the influential guitarist and songwriter. “From the first minute we heard the great guitar intro to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ we became fans of the great Chuck Berry,” continued McCartney. “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,” recalled the songwriter. “We learnt so many things from him which led us into a dream world of rock ‘n’ roll music.
“Chuck was and is forever more one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest legends all over the world,” Macca concluded. “I was privileged to meet him in his home town St Louis when I played there on tour and it’s a memory I will cherish forever. 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.”
Listen to Paul McCartney giving it a try back in the sixties with The Beatles cover of Chuck Berry song ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ below.