“To me, Chuck Berry always was the epitome of rhythm and blues playing, rock and roll playing. It was beautiful, effortless, and his timing was perfection. He is rhythm supreme.” – Keith Richards
The very first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony got under way on January 23, 1986, in New York City, with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones ripping off his tuxedo jacket, revealing a flashy leopard-print jacket underneath, in true rock and roll style. That inaugural evening, Richards – Chuck Berry’s biggest fan – inducted his long-time idol, noting, “…this is the gentleman who started it all!” The ceremony itself was a melting pot of all that created rock and roll – country, gospel, the blues, rockabilly and rhythm & blues – with several of the initial inductees on stage, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, who stood beside Lewis’ piano bopping and clapping his hands, and Chuck Berry.
With a who's who of rock and roll pioneers on the same stage as contemporary legends and Berry acting as bandleader, encouraging his progenies, all-star jams ensued. Inductees Keith Richards (1989), John Fogerty (1993), Neil Young (1995), Billy Joel (1999) and Steve Winwood (2004) make up Berry’s band with Ahmet Ertegun (1987) jamming in the background.
“Reelin’ and Rockin’” was among the tunes chosen for the jam session. Halfway through the performance, Berry pulls Julian Lennon to the microphone, providing backup vocals as a young Sean Lennon stands side-stage playing a tambourine. “Reelin’ and Rockin’” was recorded in 1957, between December 20-30, at Chess Records in Chicago. It was released in January 1958 as a b-side to “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and didn’t chart until it was re-released as a live recording in 1972 on the part-live/part-studio album The London Chuck Berry, when it went to Number 27 on the U.S. chart and Number 18 in the U.K. The song proved to be Berry’s final Top 40 hit in both the U.S. and the U.K.
The Berry tune, “Roll Over Beethoven” fueled another jam session during the 1986 Hall of Fame induction ceremony. During the jam, Berry, always the consummate performer, bursts into his signature stage move: the duckwalk. The origins of the duckwalk can be traced back to bluesman T-Bone Walker, but Berry made it a part of popular culture. In his autobiography, Berry states that he used the duckwalk to entertain his family as a child and in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1956, he says that he performed the duckwalk onstage for the first time to hide wrinkles and pleats in the silk suit he was wearing at a show in New York City. The audience loved his moves, so he began incorporating them into every show.
According to Rolling Stone, Berry wrote "Roll Over Beethoven" in response to his sister Lucy who was always using the family piano to play classical music, where Berry wanted to play popular music. In addition to classical composers, the lyrics allude to popular artists such as Louis Jordan, Carl Perkins and Bo Diddley. The song was recorded at Chess Records in Chicago on April 16, 1956, released in May and spent five weeks on the charts at Number 29. In 2003, the rock and roll masterpiece was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry and in 2004, was ranked number 97 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Unsurprisingly, it's one of the most widely covered songs in music history, with versions by the Beatles, Leon Russell, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Johnny Rivers, Johnny Winter, Mountain, the Electric Light Orchestra, to name a few.
Lewis, a contemporary of Berry’s once remarked, “[My mama] said, you and Elvis are good, but you’re no Chuck Berry.” At the end of this all-star performance of "Roll Over Beethoven," Berry walks over to the piano where Lewis is stationed, just after Lewis finishes the song by sitting on the piano keys, and they lock hands with Ahmet Ertegun – a rock and roll hand shake. By grasping hands, they seemingly solidify the fact that they made it – all the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.