Chuck Berry Guitar King

Chuck Berry is in my opinion the father of Rock N' Roll, Along with Little Richard, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters etc etc these guys turned the white bread pop music that was being played in the 50's into something really special.

Before I knew who Chuck Berry was, I had heard his songs performed by lots of white artists mostly from England. The Beatles probably first turned me on to Chuck Berry and Little Richard also.

English musicians had been able to benefit from lots of things that we were denied in this country. The radio stations were afraid to play the so called "Jungle Music" that was available in England. Therefore when I heard "The Rolling Stones" do "Time is on my Side" I had no idea that this was copied right down to the lead break note for note from Irma Thomas a Black woman from Texas who performed the song 5 years before the Stones. 

I like most of my friends assumed the Stones wrote that song, When I found out that I had been denied the original song it really made me hate the American record companies and media even more.  Incidentally Irma Thomas also performed "I'm into something good" made popular by Herman's Hermits.  What a tragedy that our media was so hung up worrying about the sponsors reaction to black music. I only recently discovered that Elvis's "Promised Land" was an Obscure Chuck Berry tune. Listening to The Animals, The Stones, The DC 5, and the Searchers I thought I was on the cutting edge of music. Boy was I living in a fools paradise.

Chuck was different in the fact that he himself wrote a lot of his own material and of course he had his own unique delivery. Some of the best stuff was "Rock & Roll Music", "Roll Over Beethoven" ,"Maybellene", "No Particular Place To Go", " Johnny B. Goode" and many more.

Chuck Berry, A true original and a musical genius.

Ed Roman

 


Berry excelled on the stage, especially after his signature "duck walk" was introduced into his act in New York in 1956. Berry says he perfected his famous duck walk to hide the wrinkles in a rayon suit at a1956 performance in New York,  "It got an ovation," he recalls, "so I did it again and again."

 

With nearly twenty chart hits between 1957 and 1960, Berry became famous for his examination of the adolescent experience, particularly on "Rock 'n' Roll Music", "School Day" and "Sweet Little Sixteen". He even made several big-screen appearances - "Rock Rock Rock", "Mr. Rock'n'Roll" (both 1957) and "Go Johnny Go" (1959), while his live concert show was captured on film in "Jazz On A Summer's Day" (1960)

 

With the money from all this success, he purchased some 30 acres of land in Wentzville MO (about 30 miles west of St. Louis) in April 1957, and 11 months later, he opened Club Bandstand. The Club was located at 814 North Grand Avenue between Delmar and Enright; in the 1910's and 1920's, this was St. Louis' Theater District, home to the Princess Theater, the St. Louis Theater and the segregated Fox. The area was also a bastion of white professional culture. Not only did fraternal organizations such as the Masons and the Scottish Rite build their temples there, but the area was home to a number of doctor and dentist offices and the gradually expanding St. Louis University. The appearance of a racially integrated nightclub owned by a successful black entertainer in such an area must have been a red flag to the local authorities, and it wasn't long before the St. Louis police had their chance to close it down, engendering the scandal that very nearly put an end to Berry's career.


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In December 1959 following an appearance in El Paso, Berry and his band visited nearby Juarez, Mexico. There he invited a fourteen year old Apache waitress Janice Escalanti from Yuma, Arizona,  to work as a hat check girl at his nightclub Berry's Club Bandstand in St. Louis. According to Berry, when he refused her advances she left in a fit of anger.  On December 21 Escalanti  was arrested on a prostitution charge at a local hotel. This incident would lead to Berry being charged with violation of the Mann Act.. This federal statue forbid the transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of prostitution. Berry was convicted to five years in prison and fined $5,000. An appeal was made based on racial comments made by the presiding judge and a new trial began in October, 1961. Most of the original verdict was upheld and Berry received three years at the Indiana Federal Prison and fined $10,000. Two months later he was transferred to Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas. He completed his sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri and was released on his birthday October 18, 1963. Chuck Berry was never the same again. He felt he had been hounded by the press and betrayed by the both sides of the legal profession.

Based on my experience I would never trust the court system. It is filthy and corrupt.  Chuck more than likely got a raw deal just because he was a successful and smart black man.

Here in Las Vegas the police are all about giving out traffic tickets. If you were being robbed they would be down at the donut shop.

Ed Roman

Upon has release he resumed recording and touring. From February, 1964 to March 1965, Chess released six singles, all of which made the top 100. "Nadine", "No Particular Place To Go", "You Never Can Tell', and "Promised Land", were all written in the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, MO, and rank among the very best songs in the Berry catalog. Sadly, the last of these singles, "Dear Dad", was to be Berry's last chart success for seven years, heralding another decline in his career.

In 1964 Berry toured Great Britain for the first time and recorded an album with guitar great Bo Diddley, Two Great Guitars. He also opened the amusement park Berry Park, near Wentzville, Missouri in the early sixties.

Berry left Chess in 1966 for Mercury Records. His Mercury albums, including Live at the Fillmore, recorded with the Steve Miller Blues Band failed to sell,duckwalking1.jpg (133837 bytes) and  he returned to Chess in 1970. The Chess albums Back Home, San Francisco Dues and Bio are considered among his finest.

In the late sixties and early seventies Berry was a fixture at "Rock Revival" shows. It was at one of these shows that unknown to him "My Ding-A-Ling" was recorded. It's ironic that this silly, smutty sing along would be Berry's only number one record. Originally recorded under the title "My Tambourine" on the 1968 Mercury album From St. Louis to Frisco, it became Berry's best-selling single ever in July of 1972.  The song was wholly owned by Berry's publishing company, Isalee, providing him the kind of financial reward that far better works never did.

Chuck Berry appeared in the 1973 film Let the Good Times Roll, compiled from Richard  Nader's rock 'n' roll revival shows, and in 1978 film American Hot Wax, a fictional week in the life of rock 'n' roll, with disc jockey Alan Freed as its central character. Berry also toured regularly and appeared on numerous television shows during the 70s. He re-emerged with a new round of touring and his first album of new material in years, Rock It.

Since the release of Rock It, Berry's career has been marked by even more controversy. A four month jail term in 1979 for tax evasion, and several other trumped up charges from some bimbo's at his Wentzville restaurant. 


Berry's contribution to rock and roll is enormous and still being felt, as his 1986 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and 1987 release his totally self-written autobiography and the following year Hail! Hail! Rock ' n' Roll have proved.

Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll was filmed and recorded at a 1986 concert in St. Louis organized by Keith Richards to celebrate Berry's sixtieth birthday and featuring Richards and Eric Clapton. In 1993 Berry performed at President Bill Clinton's inaugural. 

Berry was a moody man who burned many bridges in his life and was never nice to those he did not know well.  It should be remembered  that Berry was a victim of prejudices of the time, songwriting credits were stolen from him ( Freed and a Freed associate Russ Fratto were listed as a co-writers on Maybellene) and he was harassed by the government.

However, in the 1950s he led the way in uniting the white and black races when it came to music. Berry had a unique talent of being able to put his thoughts into song form. While most of his songs dealt with teenage life, Berry also covered a wide range of universal subjects: love, money, fame, glory, loneliness and rejection.

Berry was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Berry was inducted into the Blues Foundation' Hall of Fame in 1985.

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