Chuck Berry In 20 Quotes

Rock 'n' roll music's new nonogenarian, Chuck Berry, never courted publicity, and has rarely granted interviews of any detail. But a look through the archives of music papers and magazines reveals some fascinating insights into his musical influences, his early history and his creative process. With thanks to such publications as Record Mirror, New Musical Express and Rolling Stone, we present Chuck Berry In 20 Quotes.

Chuck Berry 5On favourite artists:
“Well, I can always listen to Frank Sinatra and Nat 'King' Cole, and Will Bradley, do you remember him? I also like Joe Turner, and, in the blues field, Muddy Waters, who is an intimate friend of mine” (1963)

On whether he considered himself only an R&B artist:
“No, not exclusively. In 'Deep Feeling' for instance, you can see that I was quite influenced by Nat Cole” (1963)

On early playing and songwriting:
"I first started playing guitar whilst in high school, when I was featured vocalist with the Tom Stevens band. My first professional engagement with my own band, consisting of Ebby Hardy, Jasper Thomas and Johnnie Johnson, was at Huff Gardens, East St. Louis in 1952. I wrote several songs around this time, but the material we played was mostly by Joe Turner and Nat Cole” (1964)

On his first recording session:
"I came up to Chicago in 1955 to get myself a recording contract, and Chess signed me almost immediately. At my first session I cut four numbers, 'Wee Wee Hours,' 'Maybellene,' 'Thirty Days' and 'Together,' so I guess I got three hits out of my first recording” (1964)

Berry_Chuck_122.jpgOn his songwriting process:
"I concentrate on the lyrics usually, and then I work out the song on my guitar when I have the lyrics on paper. Then I tape it to get an idea of the overall sound, after which I record it. Most of my songs come from either personal experience or other people's experiences or from ideas I get from watching people. I would say that I aim specifically to entertain and make people happy with my music, which is why I try to put as much humour into my lyrics as possible" (1964)

On writing about cars:
"The car songs – I had a phase of about four or five years of writing songs about cars. Because this was a yearning which I had since I was aged seven to drive about in a car. I first started driving at 17 – one year earlier than I should have. It was my fascination for the roads, for driving, motoring, which prompted me to write those songs” (1967)

On songwriting inspiration:
“I can't write about something which I haven't experienced. I wrote 'Sweet Little Sixteen' at a concert when I saw a little girl running around backstage collecting autographs. She couldn't have seen one act on the show – unless it was mine! When I wrote 'Memphis,' I had known couples who had divorced and the tragedies of the children. You can associate these songs with life – for instance when I wrote 'Maybellene' just about every farmer must have been driving about in Fords, station wagons etc. But then Chevrolet got wise and started a big advertising campaign with the farmers!" (1967)

Chuck Berry 4On influences, and on influencing The Beatles:
"Of course I've been influenced, by everyone from Bing Crosby to the Beatles. I don't let my music be consciously affected by anything. What do I think of the Beatles versions of two of my songs? Very nice. But they recorded them two, three years ago now. In fact it's only now that I'm beginning to feel the benefits of them – those songs 'Roll Over Beethoven' and 'Rock And Roll Music' are now on an upward trend” (1967)

On his physical appearance and demeanour:
"When I meet people they say, 'Wow, we thought you were a short man.' I guess it's because of the name. Chuck, it's small, you know! And another thing, I have this popular image of being quiet, and people wonder why, because of my stage act I suppose in which I go pretty wild. Well, you can't expect me to be leaping around when I come off stage, and talking extra-fast!" (1967)

On building the Berry Park complex:
When I was a child I lived opposite a park but my father forbade me to go there. We moved somewhere else, and the same thing happened. You see, it's a psychological thing. When I bought the land to develop it was just wheat land. It was winter at the time, and of course there was no wheat growing. The first thing I built there was a swimming pool, and I charged 25c admission. Now there are many more things to do and I charge more. After all, who wants to learn and study music when they go to an amusement park – people just want something to entertain them” (1967)

Chuck Berry 6On his work schedule:
"I take about 60 per cent of the work that's offered to me. That means I work about three days a week. I'm offered work for about four or five days of the week. But I won't do the kind of tours that I used to, They were 80-day tours, really something. I like to do different kind of venues – colleges, concert halls, different avenues of work. The reason I haven't made any films for a long while is because I haven't been offered any. I wouldn't be averse to making films at all" (1967)

On 'Maybellene':
"Oh, there was a very popular country song called 'Ida Red' which had the same theme as 'Maybellene.' In fact when I went to the session, I wanted to sing 'Ida Red' but the record company wanted me to do a new song, so I wrote 'Maybellene'” (1973)

On 'Roll Over Beethoven':
"Yes, I wrote that at home. My sister did a lot of classics, Strauss, all those names. And when I was hanging around I tried to read the sheet music she left on the piano, which was far in advance of my one-finger chromatic scale technique. So I wrote a song about moving all that stuff out of the way” (1973)

Chuck Berry 7On varying his sound:
"Variety is part of my make up, my composition, my image. I don't try to anticipate what people will like, but if I hear something good, I want to try to do something of the same kind, as well as I can. I did 'Havana Moon' in a calypso vein after hearing 'Jamaica Farewell' and 'Day Oh' by [Harry] Belafonte, and 'Calypso Blues' by Nat Cole. I have always tried to do boogie and blues, swing and sentimental, and I get a thrill out of having accomplished a good cut of something. I hope people will like it. Most of the time, they have favoured the rock numbers. But recently, I've been getting requests to do 'Havana Moon' – after all these years when it never sold” (1973)

On favourite songs:
"[The Everly Brothers'] 'Wake Up Little Suzie' – that song has terrific lyrics, I used to ponder on it for hours, it was a wonderfully put together song. And Marty Robbins' 'El Paso.' I've been trying to work something out on that song, it has such a beautiful story line, and that Mexican influence in the music. I love it” (1973)

On interviews:
“[My interest in them] dwindled over the years as I would read back what I was supposed to have said to reporters” (1987)

On whether he single-handedly invented rock 'n' roll:
"Single-handedly? Nope. I wouldn't say that I single-handedly invented rock 'n' roll. You see, there's all types of rock 'n' roll. There is rock. And there is rooooooll. See what I'm saying? And then there's rock 'n' roll which is rock 'n' roll, hahahaha. It's just a matter of whatever I've accomplished which is for others to say, I guess” (1988)

Chuck Berry 2On the style he created:
“I wanted to play blues. But I wasn't blue enough. I wasn't like Muddy Waters, people who really had it hard. In our house, we had food on the table. We were doing well compared to many. So I concentrated on this fun and frolic, these novelties. I wrote about cars because half the people had cars, or wanted them. I wrote about love, because everyone wants that” (2001)

On accepting the American Music Masters Award, at a concert featuring Joe Bonamassa, Merle Haggard, Duke Robillard and others:
“I’m super-appreciative. The man upstairs is taking care of me” (2009)

On Barack Obama becoming President of the United States:
"I never thought that a man with the qualities, features, and all that he has, [could] be our President," he said. "My dad said, 'You may not live to see that day,' and I believed him. I thank God that I have” (2012)

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