Chuck BerryOn 18/10/1926: Chuck Berry was born. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri and his full birth name was Charles Edward Anderson Berry. His father was a contractor and deacon of a Baptist church. His mother was a certified public school principal. In 1941, he made his first public performance whilst a student at Sumner High School.
In 1944, he was arrested for robbing three shops in Kansas City, Missouri and then stealing a car at gunpoint with some friends. He was sent to Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at Algoa, near Jefferson City, Missouri. There he formed a singing quartet and did some boxing. The quartet was good enough to be allowed to perform outside the detention facility. In 1947, Berry was released.
In 1948, Berry married and two years later had a daughter. Berry supported his family with various jobs in St. Louis such as a factory worker and as a janitor. He trained as a beautician at Poro College of Cosmetology. In 1950 he had enough money to buy a small three room brick cottage, which was later listed as the Chuck Berry House on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the early 1950s, Berry was working with local bands to supplement his income.
In 1953, Berry was performing with Johnnie Johnson's trio. Berry's showmanship (partially inspired by T-Bone Walker) along with a mix of country and R&B brought in a wider audience.
In 1955, Berry travelled to Chicago where he met Muddy Waters. Waters suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Berry thought his blues music would interest Chess, but it was the country tune "Ida Red" that got their attention. Chess were looking to expand their music as the R&B market was shrinking. On 21/05/1955, Berry recorded "Ida Red" under the title "Maybellene" with Johnnie Johnson on piano, Jerome Green on maracas, Jasper Thomas on drums and Willie Dixon on bass. It would sell over a million copies, reaching number 1 on Billboard's rhythm and blues chart and number 5 on the Best Sellers in Stores chart.
In June 1956, his song "Roll Over Beethoven reached number 29 on the Billboard's Top 100 Chart and Berry went on tour as one of the "Top Acts of '56". He became friends with another musician on tour, Carl Perkins. Also in 1956, he appeared in the film "Rock Rock Rock"
In 1957 he was on the show "Biggest Show of Stars for 1957" and toured with the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly amongst others. He was also a guest on the tv show "Guy Mitchell Show".
From 1957 to 1959, Berry had many hits including "School Days", "Rock and Roll Music,", "Sweet Little Sixteen", and "Johnny B. Goode".
In 1959, he appeared in the film "Johnny, Go!". Later that year he hired an underage girl as a hatcheck girl at his club "Berry's Club Bandstand". It was discovered she was also working as a prostitute and he was arrested for transporting an underage girl across state lines for the purposes of prostitution or debauchery.
In 1963, Berry was released from prison. During his absence, the British Invasion had sustained interest in his music by covering his songs.
Between 1964 and 1965 Berry released eight singles including "No Particular Place to Go", "You Never Can Tell", and "Nadine". He toured the UK in 1964. His touring style was to use unrehearsed local backing bands and a strictly non-negotiable contract.
Between 1966 and 1969, Berry released five albums for Mercury Records.
In 1970, Berry returned to Chess records. He released the album "Back Home" that year, but there was no hit single from it.
In 1972, Berry released a live version if "My Ding-a-Ling" that became a number 1 hit. The song "Reelin' and Rockin' was released as a follow-up in the same year.
In 1975, he released the album "Chuck Berry", it would be the last album he released for Chess records.
In 1979, Berry released his last studio album "Rock It" for Atco Records. Also that year he performed at the White House at the request of Jimmy Carter. It would also be the year that Berry was sentenced to four months in prison for tax evasion.
During the seventies, the practice of performing live with unrehearsed backup bands continued. Bandleaders included Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller in the beginning of their careers.
In the 1980s, Berry continued to play gigs, travelling solo.
In 1984, Berry was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1986, Berry appeared in the documentary film "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll". It featured a celebration concert for Berry's 60th birthday. The film featured Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Etta James, Julian Lennon, Robert Cray and Linda Ronstadt, amongst others.
In the later 1980s, he bought a restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri called The Southern Air.
In 1990, he was sued by several women who claimed he had put a video camera in the ladies' bathroom. Berry claimed the camera was to catch a worker who had been stealing from the restaurant. It is estimated that the class action settlement cost Berry $1.2 million plus legal fees. Police raided his house and found videotapes of the women, which included a minor. There was also 62 grams of marijuana found. Berry agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanour for possession of marijuana to avoid the child abuse charges. He was given a six-month suspended jail sentence, two year's unsupervised probation and ordered to donate $5000 to a local hospital.
In 1995, Berry played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, backed by Bruce Springsteen amongst others.
In 2000, Berry was sued by Johnnie Johnson who claimed he co-wrote over 50 songs including "No Particular Place to Go", "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Roll Over Beethoven". The case was dismissed as the judge ruled that too much time had passed since the songs were written. Also that year, Berry recieved Kennedy Center Honors.
In 2008, Berry toured Europe including Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Poland and Spain.
On New Year's day 2011, Berry was helped off stage with exhaustion whilst playing in Chicago.
Berry lives in Ladue, Missouri. From 1996 to 2014 he performed one Wednesday a month at the restaurant Blueberry Hill in St Louis. In 2014, Berry was made a laureate of the Polar Music Prize.
Berry is one of the most influential Rock and Roll artists and guitarists of all time.