100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks

6

Chuck Berry

Chassaing / Dalle / Retna

There would be no rock & roll guitar without Chuck Berry. His signature lick — a staccato, double-string screech descended from Chicago blues with a strong country inflection — is the music's defining twang. He introduced it in his 1955 Chess Records debut, "Maybellene," and used it to dynamic effect in nearly two dozen classic hits in the next ten years, including the best songs about playing rock & roll: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music" and "Johnny B. Goode." Born in San Jose, California, in 1926, Berry learned to play guitar as a teenager but did time in reform school for attempted robbery and moonlighted as a beautician in St. Louis before "Maybellene" made him a star. Berry's career was sidelined by a two-year jail stint in the early 1960s; his only Number One single was the mildly pornographic singalong "My Ding-a-Ling" in 1972. But Berry was the first giant of rock & roll guitar. Nothing else matters.

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