If your first thought is, “Chuck Berry was still alive?”, you’re not alone. That was our first thought here at Who2 headquarters, and we’re in the biography business. Berry was 90 years old. It had been 38 years since his last album, Rock It, in 1979, and 60 years since his first album, 1957’s After School Session.
Why was Chuck Berry so famous? He did it all:
“Chuck Berry is the early guy who, more than anyone else, put the whole package together. A guitar hero. A showman. Significantly, a songwriter – at a time when most artists performed other people’s material – whose lyrics (underrated) dealt specifically with teenage concerns. And on top of which, he was the Francis Scott Key-like figure who wrote the music’s national anthem: ‘Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.'”
One of the strangest things about Chuck Berry’s career is that he was actually in jail for almost two years right as his star was rising. He was convicted of violating the Mann Act — the law originally called (true story) the White Slave Traffic Act.
“…The Mann Act charges stemmed from what Berry contended was his offer of legitimate employment in his St. Louis nightclub to a girl he had met in a bar in Juarez, Mexico. Three weeks after being fired from Berry’s nightclub, 14-year-old Janice Norine Escalanti took a different story to the St. Louis police, and Berry was arrested two days later.”
Yoops! Berry always insisted the whole thing was a big mistake, but the wind had been taken out of his sails — and meanwhile The Beatles had happened. He spent the next 20 years (and beyond) touring as something more like an oldies act.
Here’s the “Roll Over, Beethoven” jam from his induction in 1986. Happy travels, Mr. Berry, wherever you may be.
See our full Chuck Berry biography »