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Berry, Chuck

Chuck Berry

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

For the Record

Compositions

Selected discography

Sources

If there were a single fountainhead for rock guitar, Chuck Berry would be it, wrote Gene Santoro in The Guitar. Indeed, the list of artists influenced by the father of rock and roll is nearly endless. From the Beach Boys and the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix and on to Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, every popular musician knows the impact that Chuck Berry has had on popular music. As Eric Clapton stated, theres really no other way to play rock n roll.

Born in 1926, Berry didnt take up the guitar until he was in junior high school thirteen years later. With the accompaniment of a friend on guitar, the two youths played a steamy version of Confessin The Blues which surprised, and pleased, the student audience. The reaction from the crowd prompted Berry to learn some guitar chords from his partner and he was hooked from then on. He spent his teen years developing his chops while working with his father doing carpentry. But, before he could graduate from high school, Berry was arrested and convicted of armed robbery and served three years in Algoa (Missouri). A year after his release on October 18, 1947, he was married and working on a family, swearing that he was forever cured of heading down the wrong path again.

In addition to carpentry, he began working as a hairstylist around this time, saving as much money as he could make (a trait that would cause him considerable grief later in his life). Near the end of 1952 he received a call from a piano player named Johnnie Johnson asking him to play a New Years Eve gig at the Cosmopolitan Club. Berry accepted, and for the next three years the band literally ruled the Cosmo Club (located at the corner of 17th and Bond St. in East St. Louis, Illinois). At the beginning the band (which included Ebby Hardy on drums), was called Sir Johns Trio and played mostly hillbilly, country, and honky tonk tunes. Berrys influence changed not only their name (to the Chuck Berry Combo) but also their style. He originally wanted to be a big band guitarist but that style had died down in popularity by then. Berry cited sources like T-Bone Walker, Carl Hogan of Louis Jordans Tympani Five, Charlie Christian, and saxophonist Illinois Jacquet as his inspirations, borrowing from their sounds to make one of his own.

While the swing guitarists had a major impact on his playing, it was the blues, especially that of Muddy Waters, that caught Berrys attention. He and a friend went to see the master perform at a Chicago club, and with some coaxing, Berry mustered the nerve to speak with his idol. It was the feeling I suppose one would get from having a word with the president or the pope, Berry wrote in his autobiography. I quickly told him of my admiration for his compositions and asked him who

For the Record

Full name, Charles Edward Anderson Berry; born October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Mo.; son of Henry William (a carpenter) and Martha Bell (Banks) Berry; married Themetta Toddy Suggs, October 28, 1948; children: four. Education: Completed high school equivilancy requirements while in prison, 1963. Religion: Baptist.

Professional musician, 1952; began career as guitarist in Sir Johns Trio (name later changed to The Chuck Berry Combo), 1952; recording artist, 1955. Has appeared in motion pictures, including Rock, Rock, Rock, 1956, Go, Johnny, Go, 1958, Jazz On a Summers Day, 1960, Let the Good Times Roll, 1973, and Hail! Hail! Rock N Roll, 1987.

Awards: Presented Billboard magazines Triple Award for having the number one record on the rythym and blues, country/western, and pop charts, 1955, for Maybelline; won Blues Unlimited magazines readers poll for best rythym and blues singer, 1973; won National Music Award from American Music Conference, 1976; recipient of Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1984; selected to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; received Guitar Player magazines Lifetime Achievement Award, 1987.

Addresses: Home Wentzville, Mo.; and Hollywood, Calif. Office Berry Park, 691 BucknerRd., Wentzville, MO 63385. Agent William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

I could see about making a record. Those very famous words were, Yeah, see Leonard Chess. Yeah, Chess Records over on Forty-seventh and Cottage. Berry flatly rejects the story of him hopping on stage and showing up Waters. I was a stranger to Muddy and in no way was I about to ask my godfather if I could sit in and play. But he did take the advice and went to see the Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil. They were interested in the young artist but wanted to hear a demo tape before actually cutting any songs. So Berry hurried back home, recorded some tunes and headed back to Chicago.

He was carrying a wire recorder, Leonard Chess told Peter Guralnick in Feel Like Going Home, and he played us a country music take-off called Ida Red. We called it Maybellene. The big beat, cars, and young love. It was a trend and we jumped on it. Phil chess elaborated, You could tell right away. He had that something special, thatI dont know what youd call it. But he had it. After the May 21, 1955, recording session they headed back to the Cosmo Club, earning $21.00 per week and competing with local rivals like Albert King and Ike Turner. Unbeknownst to him, Berry shared writing credits for Maybellene with Russ Fralto and New York disc jockey Alan Freed as part of a deal Chess had made (also known as payola). The scam worked for the most part because by mid-September the song, which had taken 36 cuts to complete, was number 1 on the r&b charts. Berry was bilked out of two-thirds of his royalties from the song, but in later years he would reflect upon the lesson he learned: let me say that any many who cant take care of his own money deserves what he gets, he told Rolling Stone. In fact, a man should be able to take care of most of his business himself. Ever since the incident thats just what Berry has done. He insists on running his career and managing his finances the way he sees fit.

The next few years, up till 1961, would see at least ten more top ten hits, including Thirty Days, Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, School Days, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Carol, and Almost Grown. Berry was a tremendous hit on the touring circuit, utilizing what is now known as his trademark. He explained its development in his autobiography:

A brighter seat of my memories is based on pursuing my rubber ball. Once it happened to bounce under the kitchen table, and I was trying to retrieve it while it was still bouncing. Usually I was reprimanded for disturbing activities when there was company in the house, as there was then. But this time my manner of retrieving the ball created a big laugh from Mothers choir members. Stooping with full-bended knees, but with my back and head vertical, I fit under the tabletop while scooting forward reaching for the ball. This squatting manner was requested by members of the family many times thereafter for the entertainment of visitors and soon, from their appreciation and encouragement, I looked forward to the ritual.

An act was in the making. After it had been abandoned for years I happened to remember the maneuver while performing in New York for the first time and some journalist branded it the duck walk.

The money from touring and record royalties were filling his pockets enough for Berry to start spending on some of the dreams he had long held. Around 1957 he opened Berry Park just outside of Wentzville, Missouri. With a guitar-shaped swimming pool, golf course, hotel suites, and nightclub, it was, next to his fleet of Cadillacs, his pride and joy. Now thats what I call groovy, he told Rolling Stone. To own a piece of land is like getting the closest to God, Id say.

Things seemed to be going smoothly until 1961, when Berry was found guilty of violating the Mann Act. [Berry was charged with transporting a teenage girl across a state line for immoral purposes.] He spent from February 19, 1962 until October 18, 1963 behind bars at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri. For years Berry denied this, claiming he was acquitted and never served time. He finally admitted the truth in his autobiography. He used his prison term constructively though, taking courses to complete his high school education and also by penning some of his most notable songs: Tulane, No Particular Place To Go, and Nadine.

By the time he was released from jail the British Invasion was about to take over. Groups like the Beatles were churning out cover versions of Berry classics and turning whole new audiences on to him. While some artists might have cried rip-off (the Stones have done over ten of his tunes), Berry sees only the positive aspects. Did I like it? That doesnt come under my scrutiny, he told Guitar Player. It struck me that my material was becoming marketable, a recognizable product, and if these guys could do such a good job as to get a hit, well, fantastic. Im just glad it was my song. Even so, remakes of Berry hits are more often than not considerably weaker than his originals. While it is a style thats remarkably simple, its also next to impossible to duplicate with the same feel, humor and touch.

Chuck Berry dominated much of the early rock scene by his complete mastery of all its aspects: playing, performing, songwriting, singing and a shrewd sense of how to package himself as well, wrote Santoro. As shrewd as Berry was, by the mid-1960s his type of rock was losing ground to improvisors like Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Jimi Hendrix (all three of whom acknowledged Berrys influence, but were trying to break new ground). A switch from Chess to Mercury Records from 1966 to 1969 did little to help. He would continue touring throughout the 1960s without the aid of a regular backup band.

Berrys method since the late 1950s has been to use pickup bands comprised of musicians from the city hes playing in. This has led to many complaints from fans and critics alike that his performances are sometimes shoddy and careless. In his book, Berry gives his own reasons, stating that drinks and drugs were never my bag, nor were they an excuse for affecting the quality of playing so far as I was concerned. A few ridiculous performances, several amendments to our band regulations, and the band broke up, never to be reconstructed. Whenever Ive assembled other groups and played road dates, similar conditions have prevailed. (Berry reportedly accepts no less than $10, 000 per gig and plays for no more than 45 minutes; no encores.)

By 1972 he was back with Chess and produced his biggest seller to date, My Ding-a-Ling, from The London Chuck Berry Sessions. Selling over two million copies, it was his first gold record and a number 1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic according to The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. He had hit paydirt, but his obsession to have a bank account with a $1 million figure led to another run-in with the law. In 1979 Berry was convicted of tax evasion and spent just over three months at Lompoc Prison Camp in California. Perhaps the one thing that has caused him more pleasure/pain than money is his fancy for women, stated simply in his book: The only real bother about prison, to me, is the loss of love. He hopes to write a book one day devoted solely to his sex life.

While Berrys career has had the highest peaks and some pretty low valleys, he has survived while most of his contemporaries have vanished. In 1986 Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard, perhaps the ultimate student of the Chuck Berry School of Guitar, decided to put it all together with a 60th birthday-party concert to be filmed and released as a movie, Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll. It took place at St. Louiss Fox Theater, a venue which had at one time refused a youthful Berry entrance because of his skin color. The show featured Berrys classic songs with Richard, Johnnie Johnson, Robert Cray, Etta James, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, and Julian Lennon also performing. Berry has also been honored with a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If thats not enough, Johnny B. Goode is riding around in outer space on the Voyager I just waiting to be heard by aliens.

Despite the accolades, in his own book Berry shrugs off his contributions, stating that my view remains that I do not deserve all the reward directed on my account for the accomplishments credited to the rock rï roll bank of music. Nevertheless, Rolling Stones Dave Marshs words seem to be more appropriate: Chuck Berry is to rock what Louis Armstrong was to jazz.

Compositions

Composer of numerous songs, including Almost Grown, Carol, Johnny B. Goode, Maybelline, Memphis, My Ding-a-Ling, Nadine, No Particular Place to Go, Reelin and Rockin, Roll Over Beethoven, School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell), (with Brian Wilson) Surfin U.S.A., Sweet Little Sixteen, and Too Much Monkey Business.

Selected discography

Hit singles; all released on Chess

Maybelline, July 1955.

Roll Over Beethoven, June 1956.

Too Much Monkey Business/Brown Eyed Handsome Man, October 1956.

School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell), March 1957.

Rock and Roll Music, October 1957.

Sweet Little Sixteen/Reelin and Rockin, January 1958.

Johnny B. Goode/Around and Around, April 1958.

Carol, August 1958.

Sweet Little Rock and Roller, November 1958.

Little Queenie/Almost Grown, March 1959.

Memphis/Back in the U.S.A., June 1959.

Nadine, March 1964.

No Particular Place to Go, May 1964.

My Ding-a-Ling, August 1972.

LPs

(With others) Rock, Rock, Rock (motion picture soundtrack), Chess, 1956; reissued, 1987.

After School Session, Chess, 1957.

One Dozen Berrys, Chess, 1958.

Chuck Berry Is On Top, Chess, 1959; remastered and reissued, 1987.

Rockin At The Hops, Chess, 1960; reissued, 1987.

New Juke Box Hits, Chess, 1961.

Chuck Berry Twist, Chess, 1962.

Chuck Berry On Stage, Chess, 1963.

Chuck Berrys Greatest Hits, Chess, 1964.

The Latest And Greatest, Chess, 1964.

(With Bo Diddley) Two Great Guitars, Chess, 1964. You Never Can Tell, Chess. 1964. St. Louis To Liverpool, Chess, 1964.

Chuck Berry In London, Chess, 1965.

Fresh Berrys, Chess, 1965.

Golden Hits, Mercury, 1967.

Chuck Berrys Golden Decade (six-record set), Chess, 1967.

In Memphis, Mercury, 1967.

Live At The Fillmore, Mercury, 1967.

From St. Louis To Frisco, Mercury, 1968.

Concerto In B. Goode, Mercury, 1969.

Back Home, Chess, 1970.

San Francisco Dues, Chess, 1971.

St. Louis To Frisco To Memphis, Mercury, 1972.

The London Chuck Berry Sessions, Chess, 1972.

Johnny B. Goode, Pickwick, 1972.

Golden Decade, Vol. 2, Chess, 1973.

Bio, Chess, 1973.

Golden Decade, Vol. 3, Chess, 1974.

Chuck Berry, Chess, 1975.

Live In Concert, Magnum, 1978.

American Hot Wax (motion picture soundtrack), A & M, 1978.

Rock It, Atco, 1979.

Rock! Rock! Rock n Roll!, Mercury, 1980.

The Great Twenty-Eight (two-record set), Chess, 1982.

Toronto Rock n Roll Revival, 1969, Vols. 1 & 2, Accord, 1982.

Chess Masters, Chess, 1983.

Rock n Roll Rarities, Chess, 1986.

More Rock n Roll Rarities, Chess, 1986.

(With others) Hail! Hail! Rock n roll (motion picture soundtrack), 1987.

Sources

Books

Berry, Chuck, The Autobiography, Fireside, 1988.

Guralnick, Peter, Feel Like Going Home, Vintage, 1981.

Kozinn, Alan, and Pete Welding, Dan Forte, and Gene Santoro, The Guitar, Quill, 1984.

Logan, Nick, and Bob Woffinden, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of

Rock, Harmony Books, 1977.

Rock Revolution, by the editors of Creem magazine, Popular Library, 1976.

The Rolling Stone Interviews, by the editors of Rolling Stone, St. Martins Press/Rolling Stone Press, 1981.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.

Periodicals

Guitar Player, February, 1981; May, 1984; June, 1984; January, 1985; January, 1987; November, 1987; December, 1987; March, 1988.

Guitar World, March, 1987; November, 1987; December, 1987; March, 1988; April, 1988.

Calen D. Stone

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Berry, Chuck

Chuck Berry

Guitarist

For the Record

Maybellene Had Broad Appeal

Embroiled in Scandal

Career Celebrated with Awards

Selected discography

Sources

The invention of rock n roll was a collaborative effort, yet many music buffs trace its beginnings back to a singer, songwriter, and guitarist named Chuck Berry. Taking what he knew from the blues, big band, swing, country, and pop, Berry developed a style and sound that uniquely spoke to the experience of the American teenager, and that appealed to white as well as black audiences. And he remains, arguably, rock n rolls most influential figure. Among those who admit to having emulated his complex guitar riffs and quick, witty lyrics in their early days are some of the most prominent bands and artists of the past 50 years including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.

Berry has spent a lifetime in the spotlight, but the spotlight has not always been kind to him. Various lawsuits have been filed against the mischievous rock star, and he has served three prison terms. Despite these setbacks, he has held on to his image as one of rocks esteemed founding fathers. Berry was still rocking and still making the news in 2000, at age 74, when he received a Kennedy Center Honor at the White House for his lifelong achievement as a performing artist.

For the Record

Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, MO; son of Henry (a carpenter and church deacon) and Martha (a schoolteacher); married Themetta (Toddy) Suggs, 1948; four children.

Led a blues trio in St. Louis in early 1950s; signed by Chess Records, 1955; hit Billboards top ten and topped R&B chart with Maybellene, 1955; released first LP, After School Session, 1957; topped R&B chart and reached number two in Billboards pop chart with Sweet Little Sixteen, 1958; hit top of the charts with My Ding-a-Ling, 1972.

Awards: Lifetime Achievement Award at 27th Annual Grammy Awards, 1985; Blues Hall of Fame, 1985; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; Kennedy Center Honors, 2000.

Addresses: Agent Richard De La Font Agency, 4845 South Sheridan Road, Suite 505, Tulsa, OK.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Missouri (some sourcesBerry himself is not among themclaim that he was born on January 15, 1926, in San Jose, California, where his parents lived before relocating to Missouri). It was in the Ville, one of the few neighborhoods in St. Louis where African Americans could own property, that Berry spent his formative years, honing his musical skills as a choir boy in his Baptist church, and as a bass singer in his high school glee club. At the urging of a music teacher, he bought a four-string tenor guitar (graduating later to a six-string guitar) and taught himself how to play. His introduction to music was an early one, as was his introduction to trouble and running with the law. At age 17, he and two friends were arrested for attempted robbery; Berry was sentenced to ten years in the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men in Algoa, Missouri. In the reformatory Berry sang with a gospel group; he was released in 1947, on his twenty-first birthday.

Marriage and an upright life immediately followed his reformatory stint: Berry married Themetta Toddy Suggs in 1948 and took a job in an auto assembly plant. After completing night courses in cosmetology, he worked as a hairdresser, moonlighting as a guitarist for various bands to bring in extra money.

Berry soon gained a reputation in the St. Louis music scene, and in 1952 he formed the Sir John Trio with pianist and band leader Johnnie Johnson and drummer Eddie Hardy. The connection with Johnson would be a lasting one, and the influence of the pianists boogie style would become evident in Berrys guitar playing. Berry had a knack for pleasing the crowd, and the band eventually changed its name to The Chuck Berry Trio. The bands repertoire included the blues, ballads, and a number of black hillbilly songs that jokingly parodied the country music popular to the citys white audiences. While the trios hillbilly songs initially provoked laughter, they became popular dance tunes among the predominantly black club-goers.

Maybellene Had Broad Appeal

During a visit to Chicago in 1955 Berry befriended his idol, the blues singer Muddy Waters. Taken with Berrys talent, Waters introduced him to Leonard Chess, then the president of Chess Records, an established rhythm & blues label that was looking to expand into other music genres. In his audition, Berry managed to impress Chess not as much with his blues songs as with a black hillbilly tune called Ida Red. After reworking the song and giving it a new name, Berry recorded Maybellene in Chesss studios on May 21, 1955, with Johnson on piano, Jerome Green on maracas, Jasper Thomas on drums, and Willie Dixon on bass. Following its release on August 20, Maybellene hit Number 1 on Billboards R&B chart and Number 5 on Billboards pop chart, becoming one of the rare singles to reach hit status among both black and white audiences.

Key to the success of Maybellene was a promotional effort from Alan Freed, the disc jockey of WINS radio station in New York, then the most important station for rock n roll in the country. Chess had given Freed the single, and in exchange for airplay, the record executive granted the deejay 25 percent of the writing credit for the song. Berry wasnt aware of the bargain until the song was released and published, and he was unable to resolve the issue until 1986. Meanwhile, Maybellene sold more than a million copies.

From 1955 through 1960 Berry turned out a string of hit singles, all on the Chess label. In 1956 he climbed the charts with Too Much Monkey Business, Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, and especially Roll Over Beethoven, a youthful anthem celebrating the triumph of low culture over high culture. Another trio of hits came in the following year, with School Days, Oh Baby Doll, and Rock n Roll Music, which the Beatles later covered. Johnny B. Goode, Reelin and Rockin, and Sweet Little Sixteen were among Berrys successes of 1958, and five years later the Beach Boys came out with a thinly veiled replica of Sweet Little Sixteen called Surfin U.S.A. Recognizing that the Beach Boys had lifted his melody, Berry sued the band and won a songwriting credit.

As a performer, Berry enraptured audiences with his trademark guitar licks and his bent-kneed, rhythmic duck walk, which he is said to have created during a performance one night to hide the wrinkles in his pants. He toured often, and like many other rock stars of his day he appeared in several motion pictures, including Rock, Rock, Rock in 1956, Mr. Rock n Roll in 1957, and Go Johnny Go in 1959.

After a few years of newfound, whirlwind success, Berry began enjoying the wealth that had come to him. He bought landupon which he would later buildin Wentzville, Missouri, purchased a mansion for his family in St. Louis, and opened his own St. Louis nightclub, Berrys Club Bandstand.

Embroiled in Scandal

The nightclub was to become the scene of a scandal for Berry that nearly ruined his career. After he fired a hat-check girl, Janice Escalanti, in 1959, Escalanti went to the police claiming that Berry had taken her across state lines for immoral purposes. Berry had met Escalanti, a 14-year-old from Arizona, during a visit to Juarez, Mexico, and had invited her to work for him at Club Bandstand. In a trial against Berry, testimony revealed that Escalanti was a prostitute when Berry had met her, and the star was found guilty of violating the Mann Act, a federal statute that forbade transporting minors across state lines for the purposes of prostitution. In October of 1961, after appealing his original sentence of ten years, Berry was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $10, 000. After serving 20 months, he was released on his birthday in 1963.

The ordeal devastated Berry. He had fallen out with his family, and was left with a strong distrust for the legal system as well as for the media that had hounded him. Once jovial and relaxed, he was now bitter and mistrustful. Yet in the end the scandal ruined neither his family life nor his career. Soon after his release from the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, he began touring and recording again. While in prison, he had written a spate of new songs, some of which became hits in 1964 and 1965. Among these were Nadine, No Particular Place to Go, and You Never Can Tell.

Berry toured Great Britainwhere he had influenced so-called British Invasion bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatlesfor the first time in 1964. Also in that year, he opened Berry Park, an amusement park near Wentzville, and with guitar legend Bo Diddley he recorded the album Two Great Guitars.

In 1966 Berry signed with Mercury Records, but his stay with this company was to be brief. After making a few mistakes with Mercuryreleasing a greatest-hits album consisting merely of re-recordings of old songs, and attempting to reinvent himself as a more contemporary performer with the albums Live at the Fillmore Auditorium, released in 1967, and Concerto in B. Goode, released in 1969Berry returned to Chess Records in 1969.

Back at Chess, Berry released the appropriately titled Back Home Again as well as San Francisco Dues in 1970, which both made the national charts. The biggest hit of his career would come in 1972, with the risqué single My Ding-A-Ling. Originally recorded by Mercury in 1968 as My Tambourine, My Ding-A-Ling was a song that Berry had long been playing in adult nightclubs and that had thrilled his audiences in Great Britain. The single sold more than a million copies and reached the top of the U.S. pop charts on October 21, 1972.

Although Berry continued to record new albums throughout the 70s, including the popular Rock It, the musician found himself becoming increasingly contained to the rock n roll revival circuit. Capitalizing on this, he toured with Chubby Checker, Bill Haley and the Comets, and Bo Diddley as part of Richard Naders 1973 Rock and Roll Festival. Footage from the festival, as well as from 1950s television, comprised Let the Good Times Roll, a well-received 1973 motion picture. Another film appearance came in 1978 with the fictional American Hot Wax, in which Berry and legendary deejay Alan Freed played themselves.

Legal troubles were once again in store for Berry in 1979, when he served four months in prison for income tax evasion. Ironically, just before going to prison, Berry performed at the White House at the request of President Jimmy Carter.

Career Celebrated with Awards

In the 1980s Berrys career was slowing down, and the music industry bestowed its honors upon the living legend. On February 26, 1985, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards, and the following year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its first ceremonial dinner. In 1987 he published Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, a mixture of life stories and personal philosophies. The documentary film Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll, released in 1987, celebrated Berrys life and music, but its candid approach revealed a performer who was often controlling and volatile behind the scenes.

Publicity of a more blatantly negative kind came for Berry in 1990, when some 60 women sued him for allegedly videotaping them in the bathroom of his Berry Park restaurant, The Southern Air. Berry denied the antics, but paid a settlement of more than $1 million. That same year, police raided Berrys Missouri home, nabbing marijuana and homemade pornographic videos.

Berrys bad-boy reputation might have harmed him gravely had he pursued another kind of celebrity, but as a rock n roll star, hes generally pardoned for his mischief. Just over two years after the Southern Air incident, he performed at President Bill Clintons inaugural celebration, and in 2000 he returned to the White House to receive a Kennedy Center Honor. In perhaps his most extravagant tribute, Berrys Johnny B. Goode was the only rock song included in the Sounds of Earth gold recordan auditory time capsule telling the story of Earthstowed aboard the spacecraft Voyagers I and II in their journey beyond the solar system. If other intelligent beings exist in the universe, their introduction to rock n roll might come, appropriately, from the father of rock himself.

Selected discography

After School Session, Chess, 1957.

One Dozen Berrys, Chess, 1958.

Chuck Berry Is On Top, Chess, 1959; remastered and reissued, 1987.

Chuck Berrys Greatest Hits, Chess, 1964.

The London Chuck Berry Sessions, Chess, 1972.

Bio, Chess, 1973.

Rock It, Atco, 1979.

(Contributor) Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll (soundtrack), 1987.

The Chess Box, Chess, 1989.

Missing Berries: Rarities, Volume 3, Chess, 1990.

Sources

Periodicals

New York Times, August 23, 2000, p. E3.

Rolling Stone, December 3, 1987, p. 71.

St. Louis Post Dispatch, November 15, 1998, p. D1; January 4, 1996, p.7.

Time, October 19, 1987, p. 84.

Online

Chuck Berry, The History of Rock n Roll, http://www.history-of-rock.com/berry.htm (January 16, 2001).

Chuck Berry Biography, Sonicnet, http://sonicnet.com/artists/ai_bio.jhtml?ai_id=2757 (January 16, 2001).

The Kennedy Center Honors: Chuck Berry, Kennedy Center Honors, http://kennedy-center.org/honors/history/honoree/berry.htm (January 16, 2001).

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees: Chuck Berry, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, http://www.rockhall.com/hof/inductee.asp?id=67 (January 16, 2001).

Michael P. Belfiore

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Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry (born 1926), creator of the "duck walk" and known as the "father of rock and roll," has been a major influence on popular music. Even though his career and life reached great peaks and declined to low valleys, he still prevails in music while his contemporaries have vanished.

"If there were a single fountainhead for rock guitar, Chuck Berry would be it," wrote Gene Santoro in The Guitar. Indeed, the list of artists influenced by the "father of rock and roll" is nearly endless. From the Beach Boys and the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix and on to Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, every popular musician knows the impact that Chuck Berry has had on popular music. As Eric Clapton stated, there's really no other way to play rock and roll.

Took up Guitar in Junior High

Born in 1926, Berry didn't take up the guitar until he was in junior high school thirteen years later. With the accompaniment of a friend on guitar, the two youths played a steamy version of Confessin' The Blues which surprised, and pleased, the student audience. The reaction from the crowd prompted Berry to learn some guitar chords from his partner and he was hooked from then on. He spent his teen years developing his chops while working with his father doing carpentry. But before he could graduate from high school, Berry was arrested and convicted of armed robbery and served three years in Algoa (Missouri). A year after his release on October 18, 1947, he was married and working on a family, swearing that he was forever cured of heading down the wrong path again.

In addition to carpentry, he began working as a hairstylist around this time, saving as much money as he could make (a trait that would cause him considerable grief later in his life). Near the end of 1952 he received a call from a piano player named Johnnie Johnson asking him to play a New Year's Eve gig at the Cosmopolitan Club. Berry accepted, and for the next three years the band literally ruled the Cosmo Club (located at the corner of 17th and Bond St. in East St. Louis, Illinois). At the beginning the band (which included Ebby Hardy on drums), was called Sir John's Trio and played mostly hillbilly, country, and honky tonk tunes. Berry's influence changed not only their name (to the Chuck Berry Combo) but also their style. He originally wanted to be a big band guitarist but that style had died down in popularity by then. Berry cited sources like T-Bone Walker, Carl Hogan of Louis Jordan's Tympani Five, Charlie Christian, and saxophonist Illinois Jacquet as his inspirations, borrowing from their sounds to make one of his own.

Met Idol Muddy Waters

While the swing guitarists had a major impact on his playing, it was the blues, especially that of Muddy Waters, that caught Berry's attention. He and a friend went to see the master perform at a Chicago club, and with some coaxing, Berry mustered the nerve to speak with his idol. "It was the feeling I suppose one would get from having a word with the president or the pope," Berry wrote in his autobiography. "I quickly told him of my admiration for his compositions and asked him who I could see about making a record…. Those very famous words were, 'Yeah, see Leonard Chess. Yeah, Chess Records over on Forty-seventh and Cottage."' Berry flatly rejects the story of him hopping on stage and showing up Waters: "I was a stranger to Muddy and in no way was I about to ask my godfather if I could sit in and play." But he did take the advice and went to see the Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil. They were interested in the young artist but wanted to hear a demo tape before actually cutting any songs. So Berry hurried back home, recorded some tunes and headed back to Chicago.

"He was carrying a wire recorder," Leonard Chess told Peter Guralnick in Feel Like Going Home, "and he played us a country music take-off called 'Ida Red.' We called it 'Maybellene'…. The big beat, cars, and young love…. It was a trend and we jumped on it." Phil Chess elaborated, "You could tell right away…. He had that something special, that—I don't know what you'd call it. But he had it." After the May 21, 1955, recording session they headed back to the Cosmo Club, earning $21 per week and competing with local rivals like Albert King and Ike Turner. Unbeknownst to him, Berry shared writing credits for "Maybellene" with Russ Fralto and New York disc jockey Alan Freed as part of a deal Chess had made (also known as payola). The scam worked for the most part because by mid-September the song, which had taken 36 cuts to complete, was number 1 on the R&B charts. Berry was bilked out of two-thirds of his royalties from the song, but in later years he would reflect upon the lesson he learned: "Let me say that any man who can't take care of his own money deserves what he gets," he told Rolling Stone. "In fact, a man should be able to take care of most of his business himself." Ever since the incident that's just what Berry has done. He insists on running his career and managing his finances the way he sees fit.

Ten More Top Ten Hits

The next few years, until 1961, would see at least ten more top ten hits, including "Thirty Days," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "School Days," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," "Carol," and "Almost Grown." Berry was a tremendous hit on the touring circuit, utilizing what is now known as his trademark. He explained its development in his autobiography: "A brighter seat of my memories is based on pursuing my rubber ball. Once it happened to bounce under the kitchen table, and I was trying to retrieve it while it was still bouncing. Usually I was reprimanded for disturbing activities when there was company in the house, as there was then. But this time my manner of retrieving the ball created a big laugh from Mother's choir members. Stooping with full-bended knees, but with my back and head vertical, I fit under the tabletop while scooting forward reaching for the ball. This squatting manner was requested by members of the family many times thereafter for the entertainment of visitors and soon, from their appreciation and encouragement, I looked forward to the ritual. An act was in the making. After it had been abandoned for years I happened to remember the maneuver while performing in New York for the first time and some journalist branded it the 'duck walk."'

The money from touring and record royalties were filling his pockets enough for Berry to start spending on some of the dreams he had long held. Around 1957 he opened Berry Park just outside of Wentzville, Missouri. With a guitar-shaped swimming pool, golf course, hotel suites, and nightclub, it was, next to his fleet of Cadillacs, his pride and joy. "Now that's what I call groovy," he told Rolling Stone. "To own a piece of land is like getting the closest to God, I'd say."

Remakes Weaker Than Originals

Things seemed to be going smoothly until 1961, when Berry was found guilty of violating the Mann Act. Berry was charged with transporting a teenage girl across a state line for immoral purposes. He spent from February 19, 1962 until October 18, 1963 behind bars at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri. For years Berry denied this, claiming he was acquitted and never served time. He finally admitted the truth in his autobiography. He used his prison term constructively though, taking courses to complete his high school education and also by penning some of his most notable songs: "Tulane," "No Particular Place To Go," and "Nadine."

By the time Berry was released from jail the British Invasion was about to take over. Groups like the Beatles were churning out cover versions of Berry classics and turning whole new audiences on to him. While some artists might have cried rip-off (the Stones have done over ten of his tunes), Berry sees only the positive aspects. "Did I like it? That doesn't come under my scrutiny," he told Guitar Player. "It struck me that my material was becoming marketable, a recognizable product, and if these guys could do such a good job as to get a hit, well, fantastic. I'm just glad it was my song." Even so, remakes of Berry hits are more often than not considerably weaker than his originals. While his style is remarkably simple, it is also next to impossible to duplicate with the same feel and sense of humor.

A Shrewd Rock and Roller

"Chuck Berry dominated much of the early rock scene by his complete mastery of all its aspects: playing, performing, songwriting, singing and a shrewd sense of how to package himself as well," wrote Santoro. As shrewd as Berry was, by the mid-1960s his type of rock was losing ground to improvisors like Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Jimi Hendrix (all three of whom acknowledged Berry's influence, but were trying to break new ground). A switch from Chess to Mercury Records from 1966 to 1969 did little to help. He would continue touring throughout the 1960s without the aid of a regular backup band.

Berry's method since the late 1950s has been to use pickup bands comprised of musicians from the city he's playing in. This has led to many complaints from fans and critics alike that his performances are sometimes shoddy and careless. In his book, Berry gives his own reasons, stating that "drinks and drugs were never my bag, nor were they an excuse for affecting the quality of playing so far as I was concerned. A few ridiculous performances, several amendments to our band regulations, and the band broke up, never to be reconstructed. Whenever I've assembled other groups and played road dates, similar conditions have prevailed." (Berry reportedly accepts no less than $10,000 per gig and plays for no more than 45 minutes; no encores.)

Another Hit and More Personal Strife

By 1972 Berry was back with Chess and produced his biggest seller to date, "My Ding-a-Ling," from The London Chuck Berry Sessions. Selling over two million copies, it was his first gold record and a number 1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic according to The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. He had hit pay dirt, but his obsession to have a bank account with a $1 million figure led to another run-in with the law. In 1979 Berry was convicted of tax evasion and spent just over three months at Lompoc Prison Camp in California. Perhaps the one thing that has caused him more pleasure/pain than money is his fancy for women, stated simply in his book: "The only real bother about prison, to me, is the loss of love." He has said that he hopes to write a book one day devoted solely to his sex life.

Berry's legal troubles continued into his later years, when he was embroiled in accusations of drug possession and trafficking and various sexual improprieties in July of 1990. His estate was raided earlier that spring by the DEA, who had been informed that Berry was dealing in cocaine. The operation resulted in the confiscation of marijuana and hashish and pornographic videotapes and films, but charges against the entertainer were later dismissed. Berry was also involved in a class-action lawsuit regarding videotapes made of women without their consent. Meanwhile, more collections of Berry's hits continued to be released, including a well-received box set by Chess/MCA in 1989 and a live recording released in 1995.

While Berry's career has had the highest peaks and some pretty low valleys, he has survived while most of his contemporaries have vanished. In 1986 Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard, perhaps the ultimate student of the Chuck Berry School of Guitar, decided to put it all together with a 60th birthday party concert to be filmed and released as a movie, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll. It took place at St. Louis's Fox Theater, a venue which had at one time refused a youthful Berry entrance because of his skin color. The show featured Berry's classic songs with Richard, Johnnie Johnson, Robert Cray, Etta James, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, and Julian Lennon also performing. Berry has also been honored with a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If that's not enough, "Johnny B. Goode" is riding around in outer space on the Voyager I just waiting to be heard by aliens.

Despite the accolades, in his own book Berry shrugs off his contributions, stating that "my view remains that I do not deserve all the reward directed on my account for the accomplishments credited to the rock 'n' roll bank of music." Nevertheless, Rolling Stone's Dave Marsh's words seem to be more appropriate: "Chuck Berry is to rock what Louis Armstrong was to jazz."

Further Reading

Berry, Chuck, The Autobiography, Fireside, 1988.

Guralnick, Peter, Feel Like Going Home, Vintage, 1981.

Kozinn, Alan, and Pete Welding, Dan Forte, and Gene Santoro, The Guitar, Quill, 1984.

Logan, Nick, and Bob Woffinden, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Harmony Books, 1977.

Rock Revolution, by the editors of Creem magazine, Popular Library, 1976.

The Rolling Stone Interviews, by the editors of Rolling Stone, St. Martin's Press/Rolling Stone Press, 1981.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.

Guitar Player, February, 1981; May, 1984; June, 1984; January, 1985; January, 1987; November, 1987; December, 1987; March, 1988.

Guitar World, March, 1987; November, 1987; December, 1987;March, 1988; April, 1988.

Rolling Stone, January 26, 1989; August 23, 1990. □

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Berry, Chuck

Chuck Berry

Born: October 18, 1926
San Jose, California

African American singer, musician, and songwriter

Chuck Berry, known as the "father of rock and roll," has been a major influence on popular music. Though his career and life reached great peaks and declined to low valleys, he has survived while his contemporaries (others from the same time period) have vanished.

Early years

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926, in San Jose, California. His father was a carpenter. Shortly after his birth, the family (he had three sisters and two brothers) moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where they lived a middle-class life. Berry sang in a church choir and a school glee club and took up the guitar in junior high school, learning how to play on his own. Before he could graduate from high school, Berry was arrested and convicted of armed robbery and served three years in a reform school. A year after his release in October 1947, he was married and started a family.

Music career

Berry worked as a carpenter and a hair stylist after he was married, but he also continued to play guitar. In late 1952 a piano player named Johnnie Johnson called and asked him to play a New Year's Eve show at the Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis. The band would play steadily at the club for the next three years. Berry's influence changed not only the band's name (to the Chuck Berry Combo) but also its style. The music was a mostly fast-paced combination of country, pop, and rhythm and blues. Berry also admired the comical sense of singer Louis Jordan, which he added to his performances.

In 1955, on the advice of blues great Muddy Waters (19151983), Berry contacted Leonard and Phil Chess, owners of Chess Records in Chicago, Illinois. They were interested in the young artist and put him in the studio. Within a few months one of Berry's songs, "Maybellene," was a hit. He went on to have a string of top ten hits, including "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music," "Johnny B. Goode," and "Carol." Berry was also a popular live performer. He was known for his "duck walk," which he created as a child "scooting forward" under a table to chase a ball. Berry began to spend some of his newfound wealtharound 1957 he opened Berry Park in Wentzville, Missouri. With a guitar-shaped swimming pool, golf course, hotel rooms, and nightclub, it was, next to his fleet of Cadillacs, his pride and joy.

Problems arise

Things went smoothly until 1961, when Berry was found guilty of transporting a teenage girl across a state line for immoral purposes. He spent from February 1962 until October 1963 behind bars in Springfield, Missouri. During his prison term he took courses to complete his high school education and wrote songs such as "Tulane," "No Particular Place To Go," and "Nadine." By the time Berry was released from jail, groups such as the Beatles were recording versions of Berry classics and introducing his music to new audiences.

By the mid-1960s, though, Berry's type of rock was losing ground to artists such as Eric Clapton (1945) and Jimi Hendrix (19421970) who were trying to break new ground. A switch from Chess to Mercury Records (196669) did little to help Berry. He continued touring without a regular backup band, using pickup bands made up of local musicians. In 1972 Berry, back with Chess, produced his biggest hit, "My Ding-a-Ling." It topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, selling two million copies. Berry had hit paydirt, but this only led to another run-in with the law. In 1979 he spent three months in a California prison after being convicted of failing to pay income tax.

Later years

Berry's legal troubles continued into his later years. In 1990 the police, acting on a tip that he was selling cocaine, raided his estate. The charges were later dropped. Berry was also involved in a class-action lawsuit brought by women who claimed they had been videotaped in the bathrooms of Berry Park without their consent. The lawsuit was settled out of court. Meanwhile, more collections of Berry's hits were released, including a live recording released in 1995.

While Chuck Berry's career has had peaks and valleys, he has survived while most of his contemporaries are long gone. Berry has been honored with both a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2000 he was honored for lifetime achievement at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. And he continues to perform, reportedly accepting no less than $10,000 per show and playing for no more than forty-five minutes.

For More Information

Berry, Chuck. The Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

Guralnick, Peter. Feel Like Going Home. New York: Vintage, 1981.

Logan, Nick, and Bob Woffinden. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. New York: Harmony Books, 1977.

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Berry, Chuck

Chuck Berry (Charles Edward Anderson Berry) (bĕr´ē), 1926–, American rock music guitarist, singer, and songwriter, b. San Jose, Calif. He was brought up in St. Louis, Mo., where he still lives. Berry is widely regarded as one of the leading pioneers of rock music, having blended the blues with country music and added a rhythm-and-blues beat, and he is thought by many to be the inventor of the rock music form. His distinctive playing of the electric guitar and his witty lyrics were a major inspiration for the English pop renaissance and for a wide variety of other rock musicians. A dynamic performer, he also became known for his signature crouching and gliding "duck walk." Berry produced a string of hits in the late 1950s, including Maybellene,Rock and Roll Music,Roll Over Beethoven, and Johnny B. Goode. In 1962 he was sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes. His creative output subsequently dwindled and he cut his last record in 1981, butt he continued to be an active and popular performer into the 21st cent. Berry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

See his autobiography (1987); biographies by K. Reese (1983), B. Pegg (2002), and J. Collis (2003); study by H. A. DeWitt (1985); T. Hackford, dir., Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, (film documentary, 1987).

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Berry, Chuck 1926–

Chuck Berry 1926

Rock and Roll legend

Berry Behind Bars

A Career is Born

Berry Hits Again

Selected Discography

Sources

Chuck Berry embodied the spirit of rock and roll as a pioneer of the new musical movement in the 1950s. His fusion of rhythm and blues, country music, a rebellious attitude, unflagging energy, and hip lyrics about girls and cars jolted the music scene during rocks early days. Superstar rock bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones demonstrated his influence in their own music, and the industry recognized him with some of its top honors in the late 1980s, including his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987. Berry maintained a regular touring schedule well past the age when most performers retire, playing such hits as Maybellene and Johnny B. Goode for appreciative audiences. Although scandal often dogged his career, Berry managed to overcome his personal obstacles to retain his revered place in rock and roll history.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Missouri. When the baby began to yell loudly immediately upon his entry into the world Henry and Martha Berry experienced the first performance of one of the most influential and prolific figures of the early years of rock and roll. Berrys parents were members of their church choir, so his life was filled with music from the very beginning. Berrys first introduction to the guitar came after a successful performance at a high school talent show in which Berry sang to a friends guitar accompaniment. The crowds enthusiastic response prompted Berrys desire to sing and play the instrument at the same time. He borrowed one of his friends old six-strings and was soon plucking out blues standards by Muddy Waters, Tampa Red, Big Maceo, and Little Walter. By the age of 17, he had a job playing records for soldiers at USO dances, and the ready access to money and girls tempted him away from school and church.

Berry Behind Bars

In the summer of 1944 Berry and two friends decided to head west to California. The trio made it as far as Kansas City before their money ran out. They began robbing small stores and, after a small-time crime spree, decided to head back to St. Louis. On their way home Berry and his two friends were caught by the police after stealing a car. From jail Berry called his father, who wired his son and the two others money for

At a Glance

Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, MO to Henry (a carpenter) and Martha Berry; married to Themetta with three daughters and one son.

Career: Signed with Chess Records and released Maybellene; released School Days,1955; released Roll Over Beethoven, 1956; recorded his first LP, After School Session, released School Days, and Rock and Roll Music, 1957; released Sweet Little Sixteen and Johnny B, Goode, 1958; released Almost Grown, and opened Berry Park in Wentzville, MO, 1959; released The London Chuck Berry Sessions, his only gold record, which included his only #1 pop hit My Ding-A4Jng, 1972; released a movie entitled Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll of a concert played in honor of his sixtieth birthday, 1986; wrote and published his own autobiography entitled Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, 1987,

Awards: Received National Music Award from the American Music Conference, 1976; received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1984; inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Guitar Player and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1987.

Addresses: Home Wentzville, MO. Agent Bob Astor Management, 23 Holly Dr., LaPlace, LA 70066.

a lawyer. The lawyer advised his clients to plead guilty, promising that they would receive light sentences. Instead, the three men received the maximum sentence of ten years in prison at the end of the 21-minute trial. Berry went to a prison called Algoa, where he lived in a dormitory with other prisoners. He started singing at the church services and even traveled outside the prison to perform with a musical group he had formed with other inmates. In early 1946 he participated in the St. Louis-area Golden Gloves boxing competition, but life in prison mainly involved doing laundry and keeping out of the way. He was released in the fall of 1947 at the age of 21.

Berry began working as a carpenter with his father and bought a 1941 Buick Roadmaster. He met Themetta Suggs at a local fair and the two soon fell in love. Almost one year after being released from prison Berry married Thernetta. By the end of 1950 Berry and his wife had their first child and he had bought his first electric guitar. He worked at night as a janitor at a St. Louis radio station and practiced guitar every day while working with his father. He joined a trio and developed his musical style at a nightclub every Friday and Saturday night. He soon was headlining at a bigger, more popular nightclub in St. Louis, playing everything from the blues to country western. His small family prospered as his name became more known around the St. Louis area.

A Career is Born

On a trip to Chicago Berry met his idol, legendary blues man Muddy Waters, who suggested that he visit Chess Records if he wanted to record some of his songs. On his first visit, Berry met Leonard Chess, who asked for tapes of Berrys group. On the basis of hearing four songs, he signed Berry to a contract in 1955. The first song Berry recorded was called Ida May, but he changed it to Maybellene after Chess thought Ida May sounded too country. Influential New York disc jockey Alan Freed gave the song considerable air time and it became a smash hit. Almost overnight, Berry went from earning $21 a night at a local nightclub to touring and playing in front of 1,000 screaming fans. However, promoters and other radio people took advantage of his inexperience with the financial side of the music business to bilk him out of royalties, the most blatant example being Freeds listing as co-writer on Maybellene in exchange for his promotion of the song on his show. In addition, managers, theater owners, and promoters made considerable money off Berrys sold-out shows. Berry reversed this trend by firing his manager and embarking on a quest to win back full publishing rights to Maybellene, which would finally happen in 1986. As early as 1956 Berry became a wholly independent contractor, disdaining even to employ a permanent back-up band. He played alone with a local back-up band provided by the promoter and served as his own manager.

Despite all the serious business of his career in music, Berry also had fun on stage. He explained to Roiling Stone how he inadvertently invented his trademark duck walk at a 1956 concert at the Paramount Theater in New York: I had to outfit my trio,and I always remember the suits cost me $66, $22 a piece. They were rayon, but looked like seersucker by the time we got there. I actually did the duck walk to hide the wrinkles in the suitI got an ovation, so I figured I pleased the audience, so I did it again, and again.

After Maybellene he was back in the studio to record other songs which would become rock music standards such as Roll Over Beethoven, Sweet Little Sixteen, Reelin and Rockin, Around and Around, and Beautiful Delilah. Berry became more popular than ever, appearing on American Bandstand and in a movie entitled Go Johnny Go with Freed. Apart from his musical career, Berry opened Club Bandstand, a local nightclub, and bought land for what was to become Berry Park Country Club. In 1960 Berry Park opened to the public, and Berry moved his family to a larger home.

Berrys bright future became clouded by his conviction for violating the Mann Act in 1960. Berry claimed to have brought the young girl from El Paso, Texas to St. Louis to work in his nightclub as a hatcheck girl, but the court determined that she had been transported across state lines for immoral purposes and sentenced him to three years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Berry served a shortened sentence and returned to his life as a musician. However, the music scene had changed during his prison term as the British Invasion swept America, and Berry found his popularity waning.

Berry Hits Again

In 1972 Berrys career experienced a revival after a concert recording of the song My Ding-A-Ling became an instant hit. Berry sold over 1,000,000 copies of the record and got a royalty check from Chess Records for $250,000. But again, success for Berry led to personal trouble. One year later the Internal Revenue Service began investigating Berry in what would culminate in a 1979 trial for tax evasion. Berry pleaded guilty to a reduced sentence and received 120 days in jail and 1,000 hours of community service. On April 10, 1979, Berry began his sentence at Lompoc Prison Camp in southern California. Berry took his guitar, writing tablets, and two dictionaries with the intention of writing his autobiography, which was published in 1987. Given the fact that each of his three stints in prison were separated by 17 years, he remarked in Chuck Berry: The Autobiography that he would probably run a-foul of the law in 1996 to continue the 17-year cycle.

After serving his time, Berry resumed touring full-time with stops all over the world, including South America, the Philippines, Japan and Europe. The latter half of the 1980s brought him unparalleled recognition from the music industry as a rock n roll pioneer. In 1986 he was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and two years later the guitar legend released a movie entitled Hail! Hail! Rock V Roll, which documented Berrys sixtieth birthday party concert. Berry compared the two mediafilm and book writingfor Times Richard Corliss: This is a movie about my music, not about my life. To put my life in it, it would have to be a nine-hour movie like Roots The concert, a command performance of all Berrys greatest hits, featured all-star performers such as Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, and Linda Ronstadt. The Rolling Stones Keith Richards, an unabashed Berry acolyte, served as musical director. Clapton told Michelle Green of People Weekly about Berrys influence on him both musically and socially: I was hooked. No one knew a thing about this guy. We all tried (to find out) who he was, but in England there werent any fan clubs or magazines or anything. He could have been an Egyptian, for all I knew. When I finally saw a picture, it was something of a shockat that point in my life, I hadnt seen too many blacks.

Berry continued to play and tour well into his sixties and in 2000 received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Clinton to go along with other major awards such as a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the midst of a 40-year career Berry explained his longevity to People Weeklys Green, and took a typically businesslike approach: I have stayed in music because the business interested me and for a long time I had a family to support and I was paying for a house.

Selected Discography

After School Sessions, Chess, 1958.

One Dozen Berrys, Chess, 1958.

Chuck Berry on Stage, Chess, 1963.

St. Louis to Liverpool, Chess, 1964.

(With Bo Diddley) Two Great Guitars, Checker, 1964.

Chuck Berry in London, Chess, 1965.

Golden Decade, Chess, 1967.

Golden Hits, Chess, 1967.

Chuck Berry in Memphis, Chess, 1967.

Live at the Filmore, Chess, 1967.

From St. Louis to Frisco, Chess, 1968.

The London Chuck Berry Sessions, Chess, 1972.

St. Louis to Frisco to Memphis, Mercury/Phillips, 1972.

San Francisco Dues, Chess, 1972.

Bio, Chess, 1973.

Chuck Berry 75, Chess, 1975.

Rockit, Chess, 1979.

Sources

Books

Berry, Chuck. Chuck Berry. The Autobiography. Harmony Books: New York, 1987.

Rolling Stone. The Rolling Stone Interviews, St. Martins Press, 1981.

Periodicals

People Weekly, November 3, 1986.

Time, October 19, 1987.

Michael J. Watkins

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