Maybe its Maybellene! May 1st 1955: Chuck Berry signs to Chess Records.

They didn’t hang around in the 1950’s record business. 18 year old Chuck Berry was introduced to Leonard Chess (of Chess Records fame) by Muddy Waters 61 years ago today. Chess listened to Berry’s blues/r’n’b act but was not overly impressed as r’n’b sales were dropping and Chess had his eyes and ears out for new trends. Berry played him a couple of hillbilly songs that he tended to use at “salt and pepper” concerts that had both black and white people in the audience. One of the songs was a version of an old tune called “Ida Red” and it was the idea and sound of a “hillbilly song sung by a black man” that excited Mr Chess who immediately signed Berry to his label.

Twenty days later Berry arrived at Bill Putnam’s Universal Recording Studios in Chicago which were probably the world’s best (non-classical)recording studios at the time and are the origin of the still thriving Universal Audio audio equipment business. At Chess’s request Berry updated the song to include modern pop music themes of cars and girls. Chess suggested Berry call the reworked song “Maybellene” after spotting an empty mascara box on the studio floor and misspelling the label. The band assembled as Berry’s backing group to play on the record included Willie Dixon on bass. It was to prove one of the decisive records in the birth of Rock’n’Roll.


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