6 Chuck Berry Facts You May Not Know
Rock 'n' roll music lost a legend, here's what you may not know about him.
Chuck Berry, legendary guitarist and singer, died from natural causes on Sunday, March 19 at the age of 90. Most people know Berry as the musician who helped pioneer a new genre of music in the 1950s: rock ‘n’ roll. Ever heard of it?
Songs like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven” became the earliest hits of this new type of music. However, Berry’s life and long history in the music industry tell an interesting story many people don’t know. Here are six, little-known facts about this musical icon:
1. Berry Sang In The Church Choir
The future “Father of Rock and Roll” got his first taste of performing at the age of 6. At this young age, he started singing at St. Louis’ Antioch Baptist Church, where his father was a deacon.
2. He Went To Jail As A Teenager
Before kicking off a whole new musical craze, Berry got into a bit of trouble in his youth. At age 17, Berry dropped of out high school. At that time, he hit the road with his friends and headed out to California. Along the way, they stopped in Kansas City and went on a robbery spree. He got convicted and served jail time until he turned 21.
Despite his rise to fame, Berry continued to have run-ins with the law over the years. In 1961, he was arrested for “illegally transporting a woman over state lines for ‘immoral purposes‘” after hiring a 14-year-old waitress to work at his club. She was later arrested for prostitution after he had already fired her. In 1979, Berry was arrested for tax evasion. Finally, in the 1980s, Berry was accused of hiding video cameras in women’s restrooms. He was sued by a former employee for his actions.
Berry also ran into some trouble with drug possession, which meant serving two years of unsupervised probation and paying $5,000 to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
Berry expressed remorse about his poor choices later in life.
“Anything to do with crime, I wouldn’t do,” he once told The Mirror. “I would finish high school, because it took me three times as long to finish as it would have if I’d have stayed.”
3. Berry Got Songwriting Credit From The Beach Boys
Berry’s music became an inspiration for many future rock stars, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and even The Beach Boys. If that last one leaves you scratching your head a little, you aren’t alone.
In 1963, songwriter and Beach Boy Brian Wilson wrote “Surfin’ USA.” However, the song had a striking resemblance to Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
Needless to say, Berry and his legal representatives weren’t thrilled. To avoid a lawsuit, The Beach Boys’ manager gave Berry credit for writing it, along with the copyright.
4. Chuck Berry: Presidential Performer
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was a huge fan of Berry. In fact, Clinton invited him to play at both of his inaugurations. Berry also played Clinton’s 25th Georgetown reunion, held at the White House.
“Hillary and I loved Chuck Berry for as long as we can remember,” Clinton shared in a written statement. “The man was inseparable from his music—both were utterly original and distinctly American. He made our feet move and our hearts more joyful. And along the way he changed our country and the history of popular music.”
5. He Played A Monthly Standing Gig In St. Louis
Between 1996 and 2014, Berry played a monthly standing gig at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and live music space in St. Louis. His friend and owner of the venue told a local paper in 2015 that Berry, who was 88 when he finally stopped playing the monthly shows, even drove himself to the club.
6. He Planned To Release A New Album In 2017
Before his death, Berry had been in the studio recording a new album, “Chuck.” He announced the upcoming album on Oct. 18, 2016, his 9oth birthday. Despite his death, it looks like the album could still be released. According to his official website:
Working to prepare the release of this record in recent months and in fact over the last several years brought Chuck a great sense of joy and satisfaction. While our hearts are very heavy at this time, we know that Chuck had no greater wish than to see this album released to the world, and we know of no better way to celebrate and remember his 90 years of life than through his music.
For months now plans have been in place, and preparations have been made with our friends at Dualtone Records, to reveal further details and music from the album this week. As a tribute to Chuck Berry, and with gratitude to his fans around the world, we will be following through on those plans in the coming days.