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Chuck Berry

Charles Edward Anderson Berry, better known as Chuck Berry, is a highly influential American guitarist, singer and composer. Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri and was the very first member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986). He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2000.

As a young man, Berry served a three-year term in reform school for attempted burglary. He was later arrested for stealing a car. In December 1959 he had legal problems after he invited a 14-year-old Apache waitress he met in Mexico to work as a hat check girl at his nightclub (Berry's Club Bandstand) in St. Louis. After the girl was arrested on a prostitution charge, so was Berry, who stood accused under the Mann Act of transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. Berry was convicted to five years in prison and fined $5,000. He was released in 1963 but his best years were now behind him.

Chuck toured for many years carrying only his Gibson guitar, confident that he could hire a band that already knew his music no matter where he went. Among the many bandleaders performing this backup role were Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller. Springsteen backed Chuck again when he appeared at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

After travelling the oldies circuit in the 1970s, he was in trouble with the law again in 1979, when he pled guilty to income tax evasion and was sentenced to four months imprisonment and 1,000 hours of community service doing benefit concerts.

In the late 1980s, Berry owned a restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri, called The Southern Air. Berry also owns an estate in Wentzville called Berry Park. For many years, Berry hosted rock concerts throughout the summer at Berry Park. He eventually closed the estate to the public due to the riotous behavior of many guests.

Although in his late 70s, Berry continues to perform regularly, playing both throughout the United States and overseas. He performs one Wednesday each month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar located in the Delmar Loop neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri.

Berry was also the subject of attention in the 1990s for his alleged voyeurism of female guests in his home.

Influence

Berry's influence on rock music is rivalled, copied mostly by Elvis. When Keith Richards inducted Chuck into the Hall of Fame, he said, "It's hard for me to induct Chuck Berry, because I lifted every lick he ever played!" John Lennon, another devotee of Berry, took things further and wrote Come Together around the lyrics of Berry's own You Can't Catch Me, for which he was subsequently sued. Angus Young of AC/DC, who has cited Berry as one of his biggest influences, is famous for using Berry's duckwalk as one of his gimmicks.

While there is debate about who recorded the first rock and roll record, Chuck Berry's early recordings, including Maybellene (1955) fully synthesized the rock and roll form, combining blues and country music with teenaged lyrics about girls and cars, with impeccable diction alongside distinctive electric guitar solos and an energetic stage persona. Chuck Berry also popularized use of the boogie in rock and roll.

Most of his famous recordings were on Chess Records with pianist Johnnie Johnson from Berry's own band and legendary record producer Willie Dixon on bass, Fred Below on drums and Berry's guitar, arguably the epitome of an early rock and roll band.

Producer Leonard Chess recalled laconically:
"I told Chuck to give it a bigger beat. History the rest, you know? The kids wanted the big beat, cars, and young love. It was a trend and we jumped on it."

Berry's musical influences were Nat King Cole, smooth singer and master pianist, Louis Jordan, very much Chuck's model, and Muddy Waters, singer and guitarist vital in the transformation of Delta blues into Chicago blues and the man who introduced Berry to Leonard Chess at Chess Records.

Throughout his career Berry recorded both smooth ballads like Havana Moon and blues tunes like Wee Wee Hours. but it was his own mastery of the new form that won him fame. He recorded more than thirty Top Ten records and his songs have been covered by hundreds of blues, country, and rock and roll performers.


Note: This profile was written in or before 2005.

Chuck Berry Facts

Birth NameCharles Edward Anderson Berry
OccupationMusician
BirthdayOctober 18, 1926 (91)
SignLibra
BirthplaceSt. Louis, Missouri, USA
Height6' 1½" (1m87)  How tall is Chuck Berry compared to you?

Selected Filmography

Not available.