It is hard to imagine what the world would look like today without Chuck Berry’s Rock and Roll cultural revolution. A pioneer of the genre, he broke away from the romantic intonations of the early 50s American Rock and Roll, adding teenage life troubles, desires, and the pursuit of freedom to his lyrics, edgy riffs to his electric guitar and loads, loads of swagger to his performances.
Unless you have been living in Mars for the last 50 years, chances are that you have heard Johnny B. Goode (1958) a hundred times. Covered by over 150 artists, from The Beatles to Sex Pistols, Judas Priest and Elton John, the song was even included on NASA’s Voyager Golden Record, attached to the spacecraft as representing rock and roll, one of many cultural achievements of humanity.
By influencing the influencers, Berry’s legacy goes beyond genre, country, and time. Songwriters that shaped a generation have long admitted to Berry’s influences in their work: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and so on. In Musical Theatre this is no different: Even Tim Rice is known to have had a band covering most of Berry’s songs.
So we did our best to track his influence in the musical theatre world and what we found surprised us – a number of musicals that would probably have never existed without him or, or at least, would be very different to what they are now.
In his autobiography (Moonwalk, 1988), Michael Jackson remembered his father’s blues band, The Falcons, who used to rehearse in the family’s living room. In the book, Michael recalls the band’s covers of Chuck Berry songs, amongst other early rock and blues classics.
School of Rock
It is said that Mike White (who wrote the original film) is not a fan of classic rock, but he wrote it specifically so Jack Black could perform his own favourite rock music (Wikipedia), which incidentally contains songs by the band AC/DC (who covered Berry’s “School Days” in their T.N.T. album from 1975), The Who and David Bowie, whom are all Berry’s fans.
Bat Out of Hell
Meatloaf (Jim Steinman) is a huge fan of Chuck Berry – not only did he cover his songs, but he also mentions him in his lyrics:
[…] The blood of the guitar was Chuck Berry red.
The guitar bled for about a week afterward but it rung out beautifully,
and I was able to play notes that I had never heard before. […]
The Who’s TOMMY + The Iron Man
The Who’s Pete Townshend was a big fan of Chuck Berry, as seen in this interview on Sky Arts here.
Music stars pay tribute to Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry was not only a brilliant guitarist, singer and performer, but most importantly, he was a master craftsman as a songwriter. 2/3
— The Rolling Stones (@RollingStones) March 18, 2017
Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.
— Bruce Springsteen (@springsteen) March 18, 2017
“If you had to give Rock ‘n’ Roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry”
John Lennon (with Chuck Berry)
Mike Douglas TV Show, 1972 pic.twitter.com/ViJtLblEwt
— John Lennon (@johnlennon) March 18, 2017