You don’t have to be a guitar player to be familiar with the classic “Chuck Berry Riff”. This instantly recognizable musical motif which has been used by The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and many, many others. It’s quintessentialy Rock & Roll. Everybody’s heard it.
Chuck Berry first brought out the ‘Chuck Berry’ riff in the 1955 single “Maybellene”. The song is actually a reworking of the song “Ida Red”, a traditional song of unknown origins most famously recorded by the hillbilly combo Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys in 1938. Berry revamped the old parlour classic, and turned it into an uptempo tale of fast cars and teenage sexuality. The lyrics in the song depict Berry driving his V8 Ford in hot pursuit of his perpetually unfaithful lady friend Maybellene, who’s in her Coupe de Ville drag racing a man in a Cadillac.
Today, fast cars and girls are fundamental themes in what we all know as Rock & Roll, but Chuck Berry was the first musician to place this particular subject matter front and center in many of his numerous hit singles which include ” No Particular Place To Go”, “My Ding-a-Ling”, “Sweet Little Sixteen”, “Johnny B. Goode” and others.
His influence on Rock & Roll and rock guitar playing cannot be overstated enough. In John Lennon’s own words:
If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.
The captivating guitar playing of Berry’s, which is at once both simplistic and amazing, provides important inspiration for beggining guitarists. Just take it from legendary Guns & Roses axe slinger Slash:
As soon as I could put together the, you know, three or four notes that made up, like, sort of a rock and roll lick, you know, like a Chuck Berry kind of thing, I was off and running. Just completely taken over.