Chuck Berry, admired as one of the best affecting abstracts in American accustomed music, died Saturday at age 90.
Police responded to a medical emergency at Berry’s home abreast Wentzville about 12:40 p.m. Saturday. He was above and died at 1:26 p.m. afterwards bootless attempts to animate him, according to the St. Charles County Badge Department.
Among bedrock ’n’ cycle legends, the singer, songwriter and guitarist abaft hits from “Maybellene” to “My Ding-a-Ling” was a duck-walking contradiction.
He was the middle-age atramentous avant-garde of a cast that became associated with white teenagers. He was a teetotaler and a thrifty saver. He was a accidental aerialist who generally catholic to gigs abandoned and relied on bounded musicians to accomplish his songs afterwards alarm or alike a greeting. He was an acutely clandestine man who did some of his best important songwriting in prison.
And ultimately, he was a survivor.
Charles Edward Anderson Berry was built-in on Oct. 18, 1926, in his family’s home at 2520 Goode Avenue in the Ville adjacency of arctic St. Louis. His father, Henry, did home aliment and was a lay preacher at Antioch Baptist Church. His mother, Martha, sang in the abbey choir.
Chuck, the fourth of six children, was no choirboy. In the summer of 1944, afterwards admission from Sumner Aerial School, he and two accompany hopped into his Oldsmobile for a cruise to California and beggared several food in western Missouri to pay for car repairs. Back the Olds bankrupt bottomward abreast Columbia, the leash was bankrupt on robbery and weapons charges, and Berry spent three years in the Algoa antidotal in Jefferson City. It was aboriginal of three connected bastille agreement he would serve in his life.
At Algoa, with the advance of a nun, Berry developed his absorption in singing. Appear on his 21st birthday, he went to assignment for his ancestor rehabbing houses in the suburbs. At 22, he affiliated Themetta “Toddy” Suggs, whom he met at a May Day barbecue in Tandy Park, and enrolled in the Poro Academy of Beauty Ability to abstraction cosmetology.
In 1950, the brace confused to a home at 3137 Whittier and accustomed babe Darlin Ingrid, the aboriginal of their four children.
While alive as a babysitter at radio base WEW, Berry bought his aboriginal electric guitar, for $30. He abstruse to comedy in the soloing appearance of dejection guitarist T-Bone Walker and with the alteration of applesauce guitarist Charlie Christian.
Berry’s antecedent paid gigs as a artist were in confined accouterment to a white clientele, area he played the affectionate of country-western and pop songs he enjoyed on radio base KMOX. Berry anxiously audible the lyrics and developed a banana persona like one of his admired singers, applesauce bandage baton Louis Jordan.
The big call
On New Year’s Eve 1952, Berry accustomed arguably the best important buzz alarm in the history of bedrock music. Johnnie Johnson, a rhythm-and-blues pianist whose leash was assuming at the Cosmopolitan Club in East St. Louis, asked Berry to ample in for a missing member. The reconstituted Johnnie Johnson Trio, which additionally included bagman Ebby Hardy, was a hit at the club, area their mix of hillbilly and dejection music admiring both white and atramentous assemblage for the abutting two years.
In May 1955, Berry catholic to Chicago to apprehend dejection athletic Muddy Waters. Afterwards the show, Berry asked Waters if any bounded almanac labels were attractive for new artists. Waters directed him to Leonard Chess at the R&B-oriented Chess records. Chess listened to a audience bandage of a song that Berry declared “Ida May,” based on the country-swing accustomed “Ida Red,” which had been afflicted by Bob Wills. Chess admired the new complete and drew up a arrangement for the St. Louis threesome, which afflicted its name to the Chuck Berry Combo with the amenable Johnson’s consent.
In the Chess studio, the bandage appropriate 36 takes to abundantly almanac the song that had been retitled “Maybellene.” (Berry would afterwards affirmation the appellation was taken from a animation cow; Johnson said it was taken from an eyeliner cast that Berry active in cosmetology class.)
The song, about a back-roads chase amid a Cadillac and a Ford, went to No. 5 on the pop archive and No. 1 on R&B (and was anon performed on the “Louisiana Hayride” radio appearance by a Memphis newcomer declared Elvis Presley). “Maybellene” accustomed a arrangement for afterwards Berry hits such as “School Days,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and his signature “Johnny B. Goode”: cleverly rhymed adventure songs about artifice from backbreaker with fast cars and fast music.
At age 30, a dozen years afterwards admission from aerial school, Chuck Berry became the articulation of article declared the American teenager, a anew all-powerful demographic that had money to bead into jukeboxes and an artlessness to ancestral integration.
Berry anon was featured in three music-revue movies starring Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed, who was active in popularizing Berry with white audiences.
But abounding ascendancy abstracts acquainted threatened by this “brown-eyed handsome man.”
The all-encompassing bus tours Berry aggregate with greats such as Buddy Holly, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis took him through the South, area both the artists and the audiences were kept segregated. In puritan Boston, a Berry achievement concluded in a chase riot.
Berry’s Club Bandstand
Berry, awfully bedeviled with money, invested abundant of his ample assets in absolute estate. In 1957, he bought 30 acreage in Wentzville for an chip resort he dubbed Berry Park, complete with a guitar-shaped pond pool.
A year later, he opened a bistro at 813 Arctic Grand declared Berry’s Club Bandstand, declared afterwards the “American Bandstand” TV appearance on which he was a common guest. The bistro and its buyer were the accountable of around-the-clock badge scrutiny, at a time back Berry had eclipsed Stan Musial as the best acclaimed man in St. Louis.
When Berry’s Cadillac bankrupt bottomward abreast St. Charles with a pistol beneath the driver’s bench and a adolescent white woman from Kansas in the commuter seat, he was arrested on a weapons charge, and badge approved in arrogant to get the jailbait to accuse Berry on a behavior rap.
The concealed-weapons allegation was reduced, but anon Berry was arrested again. An American-Indian jailbait he had met abreast El Paso, Texas, and assassin to assignment at Club Bandstand was doubtable of actuality a prostitute. Berry was answerable with actionable the Mann Act, the law that fabricated it actionable to carriage a accessory beyond accompaniment curve for abandoned purposes.
After a balloon bedridden by racist allusion and an address that accustomed administrative misconduct, his confidence was upheld and Berry was bedevilled to bastille in April 1962.
Berry acclimated his 18 months at the federal penitentiary in Springfield, Mo., to abstraction business administering and address the lyrics to some of his best acclaimed songs, including “Nadine” and the appropriately blue-blooded “No Particular Place to Go.”
‘You came a connected way’
After he was appear from prison, Berry went on his aboriginal bout of England, area he had become alike added accustomed and affecting than in America. British academics analyzed his cultural impact, admirers declared him the accurate King of Bedrock ’n’ Cycle and bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones hailed him as their inspiration.
As he sang in a song he recorded in London, “You Came a Connected Way from St. Louis.”
In 1966, a big payday absorbed Berry to the Mercury label, for whom he re-recorded some of his old hits at Technisonic Studios in Clayton. He beneath an allurement to comedy the celebrated Monterey Pop Festival because promoters wouldn’t accommodated his allurement price, but in the backward ‘60s and aboriginal ‘70s he played several superstar fests, including gigs with the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.
Although Berry didn’t drink, and originally conceived “Johnny B. Goode” as a admonishing to Johnnie Johnson about the evils of alcohol, he started including marijuana references in some of his songs and accustomed the casual collective from his new hippie fans. Berry hoped that his acreage abreast Wentzville would curl as an alfresco concert venue, but in the aboriginal ’70s, a drowning, a cutting and biologic busts put an end to Berry Park as a accessible facility.
Yet 1972 apparent a aerial point in Berry’s career. Back on the Chess label, he appear a annoying change tune declared “My Ding-a-Ling” that he had recorded during a attenuate acclamation at Coventry University in England. It became the alone No. 1 pop hit of his career.
That year, Berry performed at the Montreux Applesauce Festival in Switzerland and a allegorical concert at Wembley Stadium in London.
In 1977, his “Johnny B. Goode” was included on a aureate phonograph almanac of Earth sounds aboard the two Voyager aircraft that were beatific into alien space.
Also in 1977, Berry played himself in the Alan Freed biopic “American Hot Wax,” which includes an acrid arena area Berry offers to comedy a gig for free. But in 1979, his career-long affirmation on actuality paid in banknote upfront amount him his freedom. He was bedevilled for under-reporting his assets to the IRS and served four months in the Lompoc Bastille Camp in California.
In jail, Berry started his autobiography, in which he rectified the abiding under-reporting of his conjugal infidelities and age.
In 1986, Berry was an countdown inductee into the Bedrock and Cycle Hall of Fame, in the aforementioned chic as Presley.
In October of that year, Berry’s 60th altogether was apparent by a accolade concert at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was the agreeable administrator for the all-star event, which basic weeks of alarm at Berry Park. As actual in Taylor Hackford’s documentary “Hail! Hail! Bedrock ’n’ Roll!” the bitchy Berry always clashed with his best acclaimed adherent over tunings and tempos. What wasn’t appear in the cine was that Bob Dylan withdrew from the project, added big names were no-shows and abounding of the 9,000 St. Louisans who paid for the advantage of actuality account in the concert scenes were aghast with the awkward performance.
Berry’s acceptability took addition hit in 1989. A above agent of Berry’s Southern Air restaurant in Wentzville sued the musician, claiming he had secretly installed cine cameras in the women’s restroom. Although a afterwards biologic arrest on his Berry Park abode did not about-face up the accumulation of cocaine declared by the ex-employee’s husband, Berry eventually accustomed the videotaping and paid amends to 74 women.
The best extensive acknowledged activity adjoin Berry was the accusation filed adjoin him in 2000 by pianist Johnson. He claimed that he wrote the music for best of Berry’s better hits and had been apprenticed of the absorb law that advantaged him to royalties. Although musicians including Richards had connected agreed with Johnson’s contention, the adjudicator disqualified that the pianist had waited too connected to book his claim.
Johnson and Berry bidding no accessible acrimony against anniversary added and connected assuming calm on occasion. In 2001, Berry auspiciously lobbied to accept Johnson inducted into the Bedrock and Cycle Hall of Fame. Johnson died in 2005.
Richard Schwartz, a St. Louis advocate who aforetime represented Berry and had remained accompany with him, said Berry had endemic homes in Ladue and Richmond Heights as able-bodied as his abode southwest of Wentzville on an old acreage accepted as Berry Park. That’s area he spent best of his time in contempo years, Schwartz said.
“This comes appealing abundant as a abruptness to best of his abutting friends,” Schwartz said. “We knew we wouldn’t accept him always but we would accept admired to accept him longer.”
‘My throat is worn’
Starting in 1996, Berry began arena account gigs in the almost affectionate Duck Room at Blueberry Hill in University City. His accouchement Ingrid and Charles Jr. generally performed in his band.
Berry was accustomed in Oct. 2012 by the American Music Masters’ weeklong “Roll Over Beethoven: The Activity and Music of Chuck Berry” presented by the Bedrock and Cycle Hall of Fame and Museum. There, Berry referred to his approaching as a aerialist as “dim.”
“My singing canicule accept passed,” he said. “My articulation is gone. My throat is worn. And my lungs are activity fast.”
But he added he wasn’t attractive to retire, not as connected as he is able to “see a little, apprehend a little and do but a little,” he said. “I appetite to perform. It’s in my genes.”
In December 2013, advancing for his 200th afterwards Duck Room appearance in January 2014, he told the Post-Dispatch that he’s beholden for anniversary day. “We never apperceive back time is up. I’m beholden for assuming as connected as I am allowed. I didn’t apperceive (God) was activity to let me be around, but it feels like he gave me a little added time. I’ll accumulate activity for as connected as the big man admiral allows, and I’m attractive advanced to 200 more.”
At that that show, Berry greeted his admirers with “Good evening. Thanksgiving has appear and gone. Christmas has appear and gone. It’s time for us to bang a little base tonight.” That night, Berry accepted to be ablaze on lyrics and casual on guitar, admitting the sold-out army didn’t assume to mind.
He played the Duck Room a brace of times afterwards that. The shows agilely stopped, and Berry acclimatized into a fanfare-free retirement.
Joe Edwards, who owns Blueberry Hill, the Pageant and added Delmar Loop establishments, was a longtime acquaintance of Berry and additionally acted as his publicist.
“Even back you apperceive it’s coming, it’s still difficult back it happens,” he said of Berry’s death.
He declared Berry “the aboriginal artist laureate of bedrock ‘n’ roll. His music was accustomed by bodies about the world, and how he afflicted ability agency alike more. He brought white bodies and atramentous calm — brought the contest calm with his music.”
On the break of Berry’s 90th altogether on Oct. 18, Dualtone Annal appear a new Berry anthology would be appear in 2017, artlessly blue-blooded “Chuck.” It is to be the aboriginal Berry anthology back 1979’s “Rock It.”
“This almanac is committed to my admired Todd,” he said in a account at the time, apropos to his wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry. “My darlin’ I’m growing old! I’ve formed on this almanac for a connected time. Now I can adhere up my shoes!”
Charles Berry Jr., Berry’s son and guitarist, says the songs “cover the spectrum from active rockers to soulful, absorbing time capsules of a life’s work.”
Edwards says the anthology is accomplished and accessible for release, but no date has been set. “I was absolutely acquisitive he’d be able to apprehend his new music on the radio. But that didn’t happen,” Edwards said. He says Berry’s ancestors will adjudge whether there will be concerts or accolade events.
Despite his accomplishments, Berry was common about his legacy.
At the end of the cine “Hail! Hail! Bedrock ’n’ Roll!,” back asked how he would like to be remembered, Berry beneath to sing his own praises.
“Whatever it be, I aloof achievement it’s absolute and it’s a actuality which will be the truth. That’s it. I aloof achievement they’ll allege the truth, be it pro or con, bad or good.
“I was activity to say atramentous or white, but that wouldn’t be right, would it?”
Post-Dispatch reporters Kevin C. Johnson, Denise Hollinshed, Mark Schlinkmann, Leah Thorsen and the backward Joe Williams contributed to this report.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Shake off your afternoon slump with the oft-shared and offbeat account of the day, hand-brewed by online account editor Mandy St. Amand.
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