In the world of rock n’ roll, they don’t come much more iconic than Chuck Berry. One of the most influential players of all time, the likes of John Lennon, Keith Richards and Angus Young owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Chuck and the legacy of music he created.
It goes without saying, then, that studying Chuck’s playing is about as fundamental a course in rock guitar as you can get.
Today, we’re highlighting three ways that you can achieve that classic Chuck Berry sound.
Bust out the Double Stops
Chuck Berry’s use of double stops (or dyads for the formalists out there) is a major component in his instantly recognizable lead playing style.
For those that don’t know, a double stop is nothing more than two notes played at the same time. In effect, it’s somewhere between a single note and a chord, which is three more notes. They can be played on adjacent or non-adjacent strings, though Chuck’s double stops were almost always adjacent.
When Chuck used them, it had the effect of putting more power behind his lead licks, making them sound bolder and more forceful than a single note equivalent.
If you want to hear what I’m talking about, check out the use of double stops in the intro to “Johnny B Goode.” Here, they really pack a punch, creating one of rock n’ roll’s most iconic moments in the process. Oh, and one more thing; always aim for clarity when using these to maximize their impact, especially when you’re moving through the different strings.
Milk Those Bends
A full bend followed by a double stop is a quintessential Chuck Berry move, and one that’s been emulated by countless Berry disciples (Particularly AC/DC’s Angus Young, who uses this lick liberally).
Throwing these in as a great way to add a bit of lyricism in between the punch of the double stops; in this case, it’s the bends that make the guitar “talk.”
The thing to remember here though is that you want to make sure that the following double stop doesn’t ring out. Keeping it staccato is part of what drives the solo and helps maintain the Chuck Berry vibe.
Brush Up on Your Augmented Chords
Chuck Berry was a fan of throwing in an occasional augmented chord to add a bit of drama to a track. A classic example is the introduction of “No Particular Place to Go” where Berry opens with a flurry of D Augmented 7th chords before charging into the main rhythm part.
The dissonance of the D Aug. 7th creates tension, which Chuck emphasizes by holding that final strike before resolving it with the G chord that follows the line “eidin’ along in my automobile.”
The D Aug. 7th that Chuck played here is actually voiced differently to usual, and is a variation on the E shape barre chord. To replicate it, play an E shape barre at the 10th fret with your pinkie and ring fingers on the 13th frets of the B and A strings respectively.
What’s your favourite Chuck Berry moment? Did you ever see him live? As always, Share your stories in the comments!
Cal Jam doesn’t get the same love as festivals like Monterey Pop or Woodstock. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have the late ‘60s countercultural cred, happening a full five years after the summer of love reached its peak. Maybe it’s because it was staged to be filmed for television (as part of ABC’s legendary “In Concert” series). Why do I love California Jam so much? It is because it established the record for the largest concert sound system ever assembled? Was it because it featured the first ever appearance of the Good Year blimp at a music festival?
Guitar lessons eventually followed. But, classical guitar didn’t grab me in the same way that my own freeform compositions had. Firstly, I didn’t know any of the songs I was supposed to be learning. Secondly, it required the kind of co-ordination and finger dexterity that I was – at that time at least – far too impatient to master. “I read somewhere that there are these things you can use to hit the strings so you don’t have to use your fingers. I think they began with a P,” I once told my guitar teacher. “The thing that begins with a P is called practice,” he replied. He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear it.
This week, to satisfy my yearning for live music, I’ve taken a deep dive into my record collection and rediscovered some live favourites. Given how much joy I’ve got out of these records, I thought I’d share them with you today. Putting together this list, I’ve tried to take the road less travelled. I didn’t want to put together a list of classic live albums that everyone already knows like the back of their hand. Instead, my three picks serve as alternatives to some of those classic albums, offering a new look at some legendary bands.