ST. LOUIS — Chuck Berry, Johnnie Johnson rocked Maybellene,
You Never Can Tell, Sweet Little Sixteen
When Chuck duckwalked the teens understood
Roll Over Beethoven and Johnny B. Goode
Birth of the Cool became Kind of Blue
When Miles Davis played he kept sounding new
Bebop to hard bop, fusion to hip hop
Miles had the key and jazz was unlocked
It's only the legends who get statues. Miles Davis and Chuck Berry have statues 26 miles apart in Alton, Illinois and University City, Missouri. They were born months apart in 1926 and grew up less than 20 miles from each other. Each man made music that changed the world.
It's one thing to have hit records. It's a much bigger thing to influence every generation that followed. In the case of Berry and Davis, was one man more influential than the other?
"That's a hard question," said Tom Ray.
The conversation about the international impact of Chuck Berry and Miles Davis was between two members of the St. Louis Radio Hall of Fame. Bernie Hayes is a longtime broadcaster, Webster University instructor, and interim director of the National Blues Museum in St. Louis. Tom "Papa" Ray owns Vintage Vinyl record store and is a musician, radio host and DJ.
"Both created seismic waves that went far beyond St. Louis," said Ray.
"Geniuses," said Bernie Hayes. "Both were geniuses."
Miles Davis is one of the most innovative, influential, and respected figures in the history of music. Just don't call him a jazzman.
"Miles did not like to be called a jazz musician. He was just a musician," said Hayes.
Davis' "Kind of Blue" remains the best-selling jazz album of all time. His list of band members is remarkable, including the likes of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin and Cannonball Adderly.
"He could recognize talent immediately and the members of his band certainly proved that out. They were geniuses, all of them. And he let them shine," said Hayes.
"Miles Davis has to be the most influential jazz musician, arguably since Louis Armstrong," said Ray.
Many experts say classic rock and roll began with Chuck Berry and his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sideman Johnnie Johnson. The Beatles and Rolling Stones were Chuck Berry cover bands on their way to becoming legendary. The early Stones did an entire album of Chuck Berry covers. The Beatles frequently paid tribute to Berry in their live performances, performing multiple Berry songs including "Rock and Roll Music" and "Roll Over Beethoven".
"I will suggest that Chuck had more influence on the Caucasian white market than he did on the African-American market," said Hayes.
"Chuck Berry created the electric guitar as the lead instrument in rock and roll," said Ray. He created the whole template and persona for a frontman of a rock and roll band."
There is no documented proof the two music giants ever met.
"I think they would have had a mutual respect," said Ray. "You would have had a mutual respect as innovators and had a mutual respect being from the same city, two men who very well knew the racial realities of the days that they were born in as well as, you know, the times that they lived in and were internationally famous."
Of course, there's no definitive answer on who cast the larger shadow. Perhaps a slight edge goes to Berry because of his intergalactic impact. When the Voyager spacecraft was launched in 1977, only one rock and roll song was sent into space" "Johnny B. Goode".