Rock and Roll
The song “Maybellene” about fast cars and a cheating girlfriend was written by Chuck Berry based on a traditional fiddle tune called “Ida Red.” The story is that Berry heard and liked the recording by Bob Willis & The Texas Playboys on a country radio station in St. Louis. He reworked it and called the song “Ida Mae.” Leonard Chess of Chess Records thought the song and singer had potential, so they recorded it. Chess asked Berry to change the name, not wanting it to be mistaken for “Ida Red.” There are different versions of how the song got its name. One is that Berry named it after a cow in a children’s nursery rhyme. Another is that there was a package of Maybelline mascara in the record label office, and Chess gave it that title (with a different spelling to avoid copyright issues). Some pressings of the record give credit to DJ Alan Freed, for payola and airplay, and to Russ Fratto, who had been lending money to Chess. Alan Freed did indeed give the record a great deal of airplay. In 1955, the song went to #5 on the Pop Chart and #1 on the R&B chart. It was Berry’s first hit single. On the track were Chuck Berry (vocals & guitar), Johnnie Johnson (piano), Willie Dixon (bass), Jerome Green (maracas), and Jasper Thomas or Ebby Hardy (drums).
“Maybellene” is considered to be one of the pioneering rock and roll classics. There have been numerous covers by 70 or more artists. These include Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, George Jones, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Foghat, Gerry & the Pacemkers, Johnny Rivers, and Chubby Checker.
“Maybellene” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1988. It is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” Rolling Stone magazine has it on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
Chuck Berry (October 18, 1926- March 18, 2017) was a rock and roll legend, music pioneer, and a national treasure.