When John Lennon met Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry and John Lennon were both legendary singers in their own right when they joined forces in 1972 to make television history.

Live on The Mike Douglas Show, the iconic duo played Memphis Tennessee and Johnny B Goode together for the first and only time.

Lennon was a member of the Liverpool band that defined the 1960s, until The Beatles split up in 1970. He married Yoko Ono in 1969 and was working on some new material with the Plastic Ono Band. He cited Berry as one of his all-time heroes and main musical influences.

© ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

©Berry was an early pioneer of rock and roll, who started his career in St Louis in the United States in the 1950s. After recording his chart-topping single, Maybelline, in 1955, he was propelled to overnight stardom, enjoying a succession of hits throughout the 1960s and provoking moral outrage in 1972 with his suggestive hit, My Ding-a-Ling.

How did Lennon and Berry meet?
When John Lennon met Chuck Berry in 1972, the ex-Beatle and his wife had been given free rein to take over The Mike Douglas Show for a week. Hosted by Douglas, the American daytime TV chat show was first broadcast in Cleveland in December 1961.

Featuring a mix of banter with guests and live musical performances, the show was syndicated in 1963. Each episode began with the host singing a popular song himself in front of the live audience. One of the guests would sometimes co-host the day’s show.

By 1972, it was felt the show’s format was growing rather tired, stuffy and dated. In an unusual experiment, it was handed over to Lennon and Ono for a week. Aimed at opening the show to a new, younger audience, they were invited to manage the bookings for the whole week.

One of the first guests that Lennon booked was his icon, Chuck Berry. Lennon said Berry was writing “intelligent” lyrics in the ’50s – when many artists were writing basic songs, with lyrics such as, “Oh baby, I love you so!”

Describing Berry as having influenced a generation, Lennon said he inspired people to “make sense out of songs”, rather than just sticking to the norm and singing, “Do wah diddy.”

Live performance
Lennon and Berry jammed together with the live band, including Ono on percussion, starting off with Memphis Tennessee and finishing with Johnny B Goode, both of which were major solo hits for Berry. The live performance went down a storm with the studio audience, and has subsequently attracted over 5 million views on YouTube.

At the time, Beatles’ fans were unhappy at the way the band had split up and blamed Ono for their demise. However, Lennon always refuted this – a claim backed up by fellow Beatle Paul McCartney in an interview in 2013.

McCartney cited Lennon’s own desire to go solo as the reason he left the Beatles, as there had been an “unhealthy rivalry” between band members by the time they disbanded. However, fans still found it hard to accept that the Fab Four had split up.

The video clip of Lennon and Berry playing on The Mike Douglas Show in 1972 still attracts controversy, more than 40 years later. It was claimed that Yoko Ono’s microphone stopped working during the performance, leaving her just playing a tom-tom drum.

Fans commenting on the YouTube clip were rather unkind and quipped that there were “three music legends” there on the night – Lennon, Berry and “the guy who switched off Yoko Ono’s microphone during Johnny B Goode.” Ono had begun singing backing vocals, which appeared to peter out during the chorus.

Later careers
The Mike Douglas show continued until 1981, when it was finally cancelled, with the last episode being aired on 30th November. Ratings fell during the final season and despite attempts to save it, production ended.

Lennon continued to collaborate musically with his wife, saying she taught him the “real meaning of success”. He said this wasn’t the stardom he had achieved with the Beatles, but more the success of having a loving relationship. The couple had a son, Sean Ono Lennon, who was born on 9th October 1975.

Berry continued recording until the age of 90, with his final album, called Chuck, being released posthumously following his death in March 2017.

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