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8 songs that changed Gillan’s life

Ian Gillan revisits his youth and picks for the Louder Sound eight songs that “set one of rock’s greatest frontmen on the path to glory”.

Chuck Berry – Rock And Roll Music (1957 single)

Chuck Berry was the first and the best. He’s the guy who wrote Roll Over Beethoven, who wrote No Particular Place To Go, Johnny B. Goode, Sweet Little Sixteen, Memphis, Tennessee… come on! And Rock And Roll Music, I mean, the lyrics here are so expressive of the time.

Chuck Berry was a maestro, the teacher for everyone in rock’n’roll. Over the years I’ve probably sung virtually every song that he ever recorded. One night in Germany he used Ian Paice, Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover and Jon Lord as his backing group: he used to turn up without a band and just adopt the support act.

I’ve a recording of a live set he did with The Swinging Blue Jeans, in Hamburg, where every song starts fast and just gets faster: it was uncontrolled mayhem. Absolutely wonderful. They were three chord songs, but nobody could deliver them like Chuck. He’s one of the true greats.

Continue reading in Louder Sound.

9 Comments to “8 songs that changed Gillan’s life”:

  1. 1
    Chris says:

    Interesting that Deep Purple Mk 2 (minus Gillan) once backed Chuck Berry in Germany. I wonder what the exact date was? That’s something they have in common with Tommy Bolin–he and his band Energy also backed Chuck Berry on at least one occasion.

  2. 2
    Uwe Hornung says:

    My, that would sure be one hell of a bootleg!

  3. 3
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Good choice of songs though I’m surprised there wasn’t anything from the diminutive piano shredder here whose vocal style left audibly a very large imprint on young Gillan (whenever he dug out the turbo charger for his voice):




  4. 4
    max says:

    Well that story about Mark II backing Chuck Berry … I have never heard that before … given the fact that some stories vary with the years … I am not so sure. How about you?

  5. 5
    Uwe Hornung says:

    I’m not discounting it, Chuck would play with anyone (as long as he was paid in cash upfront!) and prior to In Rock selling like hot cakes, Purple needed the money!

    Chuck wouldn’t rehearse with his backing bands (or even talk to the musicians pre-gig, he never was a pleasant man), expecting his unlucky backing musicians to know all his songs by heart, including their keys as he would impromptu change them live. Some of his gigs in the late 60ies and 70ies were supposed to have been shambolic because of those circumstances, I remember a particularly scathing late 70ies review in a German music mag where the backing band apparently scrambled to keep up with him and his undisclosed (to them) arrangements.

    The Purple guys with their exhaustive British Beat backgrounds (Joe Meek/Lord Sutch, The Artwoods, Episode Six and The Maze) probably backed him better that night than on most others. And they were probably overawed to do so. Who wouldn’t play with Chuck Berry given the chance?

    [Those poor guys backing him here in 1972 are
    under-rehearsed too (through no fault of their own),
    but struggle manfully, the fearful-concentrated look
    of the drummer watching Chuck’s back to second-
    guess what he might be up to next is priceless!)

  6. 6
    MacGregor says:

    That Chuck Berry 1972 concert is pretty well rehearsed to me. I looked it up after watching a few songs & that year he had a regular band called Rocking Horse that backed him on a 60 date tour, unlike other years as you stated when he plucked musicians from anywhere it seemed. Yes indeed the drummer does look serious, ha ha ha, when to start, when to stop, whats happening now, he he he. It is a good quality concert that one & I will have to admit to never ever watching Berry in a concert, only ever seeing the odd clip many tears ago on tv. It is good old rock ‘n roll. Cheers.

  7. 7
    Uwe Hornung says:

    They are nowhere near as tight as, say, Little Richard’s backing bands were, he was a real stickler for starts and stops. But he might have just been more of an ensemble player than “me & my guitar & my little stories”-Chuck. I’m not knocking him, one of my favorite Priest tunes was written by him!


    Not to forget the legendary Quo!!! ‘Appy days!


  8. 8
    MacGregor says:

    Yes indeed Little Richard was much more serious about it all in that sense & he had that look about him too. Berry has that less serious & more it’s only rock ‘n roll vibe. I tell you what though, the way Berry has his band on edge did remind me of Blackmore with Purple & Rainbow. That keeping everyone guessing sort of thing, unpredictable at times, the drummer waiting for the cue as well as the other musicians. Hendrix did that also & the bass player & drummer were often on the edge it seemed. The days of no click tracks & autotune, can’t beat it. Imagine trying to do that today. Cheers.

  9. 9
    Gregster says:


    I’m not sure if it’s fair to place a R&R crown on someone, where it’s claimed they invented / created Rock ‘n Roll. I hear R&R through a few tunes that the late, great Duke Ellington & his orchestra/band were playing even as early as 1942…

    And so many people have had that crown placed on their heads, from Chester Burnette ( Howlin’ Wolf ), Elvis Presley, Bill Haley etc etc…

    I tend to think the R&R explosion occurred, simply because this time, the Korean War was claimed as being over, & finally, the US-of-A had no fingers in any war-pies, & so finality was realized among the people, & they were happy that the final dregs of WW-II were taken care of…At least for a year or so before they secretly got involved with Vietnam…(Money, money, money, must be funny, in a war-pigs world).

    Peace !

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