Chuck Berry Biographical ArticleChuck Berry had a long and illustrious career as a pioneering rock and roll musician.
His influence on rock and roll's future and a worldwide audience of listeners is hard to ignore and, although he has recently passed, he will be fondly remembered.
A huge part of his influence on the genre came from his incredible showmanship and guitar solos. He was known to bounce around the stage as he played and even did splits during his solos. This impressed quite a lot of concert-goers at the time of his initial surge in popularity - helping bring attention to his distinctive performances and the music itself. He was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it first came into existence in 1986.
His achievements were rivaled by the topsy-turvy direction of his life. The ups and downs that made him who he was likely helped shape the course of musical history as well.
Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in Missouri on the 18th of October in 1926, Chuck Berry came to be known as a preeminent American guitarist, singer and songwriter of his time. His musical work helped to shape rhythm and blues into the entirely new genre of rock and roll.
Berry's interest in music took shape early on in his life, while he was in high school. Unfortunately, he got into trouble and was accused of armed robbery as a teenager. He spent 3 years in the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men near Jefferson City, Missouri. During these 3 years, he formed a singing quartet that became impressive enough to be allowed to perform in public. He kept up with this until his release at the age of 21.
Just a year later, Berry found himself married to Themetta "Toddy" Suggs with a child by the name of Darlin Ingrid Berry. He'd taken a series of jobs in St. Louis as a means of supporting his family - going from automobile factory worker to janitor and then to beautician, an occupation he studied for at the Poro College of Cosmetology. By 1950, his family had a small house of their own which is now considered a historic place on the National Register.
It was in the 50's that Berry delved deeper into music, playing locally in his free time. He was told by Muddy Waters to get the attention of Chess Records in order to make it big with his music and, to do this, he figured his blues music would be the best route. However, it was his version of an old country song for fiddle that prompted Leonard Chess of Chess Records to take notice. Berry was signed to the label in the hopes he could produce music unique enough to stand apart from the oversaturated rhythm and blues market at the time.
He recorded the old country tune, originally named "Ida Red," with a small ensemble - this time titling it Maybellene. The track was a runaway success - selling over 1 million copies and topping the rhythm and blues Billboard chart in 1955. The very next year, he was touring as one of the "Top Acts of '56'" - seeing phenomenal success with his hit song "Roll Over Beethoven." The year after, he toured the U.S. in the "Biggest Show of Stars for 1957" with the likes of Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.
From 1957 to 1959, he managed to net more than a dozen hit singles including iconic songs such as "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Johnny B. Goode." He even appeared in films - playing himself in "Go, Johnny, Go!" and performing 3 of his hits.
The 50's had been a decade of tremendous success for the musician, but hard times soon befell him at the decade's end. "Berry's Club Bandstand," the nightclub he had opened in St. Louis, became a source of great turmoil in his life when he was arrested for having allegedly had sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old waitress of Apache descent whom he'd brought in as an employee in his club. After a lengthy trial with an initial verdict that Berry successfully appealed on the grounds of racism, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison, of which he ultimately served 1 and a half.
In 1963, he was released - resuming his career in music under Mercury Records. He released a total of 5 albums under this label and toured the U.K. successfully. 1964 and 1965 saw the release of a number of hit singles by the seasoned artist, thanks in part to his earlier works being reworked and covered by a number of high-profile British and American bands. The major Beach Boys hit "Surfin' U.S.A.," for example, made use of "Sweet Little Sixteen's" melody.
In 1970, Berry switched back to Chess Records and released yet another album to lukewarm reception. He saw chart-topping success in '72, though, with his light-hearted single, "My Ding-A-Ling."
In the 80's he got along well - performing numerous times with a variety of unrehearsed backing bands. Unfortunately, he once more ran into legal trouble in the 90's when he was sued by various women for having installed a video camera in the bathroom of the restaurant he’d purchased, the "Southern Air. " He was ultimately forced to opt for a costly class action settlement of over 1 million dollars. In the same decade, his home was raided by police and he was convicted on child-abuse and drug possession charges. Though the child-abuse charges were dropped, he pleaded guilty on the charge of marijuana possession and served 6 months jail time as well as 2 years of probation.
The last of his legal woes occurred in 2000 when his former pianist, Johnnie Johnson claimed he'd co-written a large number of Berry's songs. The case, however, was dismissed.
Chuck announced the release of what would be his final album when he reached the age of ninety, but passed away before seeing it released. The album is titled "Chuck" and was dedicated to his wife "Toddy."
Chuck Berry passed away this year in March as a rock and roll legend.
The influence he had not only in bringing true rock and roll music into the spotlight in its infancy, but uniting the disparate black and white cultures of the time cannot be understated.
He said it best himself when asked about the music's sudden surge in popularity: "Well, actually they begin to listen to it, you see, because certain stations played certain music. The music that we, the blacks, played, the cultures were so far apart, we would have to have a play station in order to play it. The cultures begin to come together, and you begin to see one another's vein of life, then the music came together."