'Maybellene' - 1955 - 2:21
'Roll Over Beethoven' - 2:25
More Chuck Berry Tracks after the text
Breaking the mold somewhat, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born to a middle-class family in 1926, in St Louis Missouri. His father, Henry, was a contractor and deacon of a nearby Baptist church, his mother Martha a certified public school principal. His middle class upbringing allowed him to pursue his interest in music from an early age and he gave his first public performance in 1941 while still at Sumner High School. Just three years later, in 1944, while still at Sumner High School, he was arrested and convicted of armed robbery after robbing three shops in Kansas City and then stealing a car at gunpoint with some friends. Berry's own account in his autobiography is that his car broke down and he then flagged down a passing car and stole it at gunpoint with a non-functional pistol. Berry was sent to the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at Algoa, near Jefferson City, Missouri, where he formed a singing quartet and did some boxing. By the early 1950s, Berry was working with local bands in the clubs of St. Louis as an extra source of income. He had been playing the blues since his teens, and he borrowed both guitar riffs and showmanship techniques from blues player T-Bone Walker, as well as taking guitar lessons from his friend Ira Harris that laid the foundation for his guitar style. By early 1953 Berry was performing with Johnnie Johnson's trio, starting a long-time collaboration with the pianist. Although the band played mostly blues and ballads, the most popular music among whites in the area was country. Berry wrote, "Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of our black audience began whispering 'who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?' After they laughed at me a few times they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it." In May 1955, Berry traveled to Chicago where he met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Berry thought his blues material would be of most interest to Chess, but to his surprise it was an old country and western recording by Bob Wills, entitled "Ida Red" that got Chess's attention. Chess had seen the rhythm and blues market shrink and was looking to move beyond it, and he thought Berry might be the artist for that purpose. So on May 21, 1955 Berry recorded an adaptation of "Ida Red" — "Maybellene" — which featured Johnnie Johnson on piano, Jerome Green (from Bo Diddley's band) on the maracas, Jasper Thomas on the drums and Willie Dixon on the bass. "Maybellene" sold over a million copies, reaching number one on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart and number five on the September 10, 1955 Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart. By the end of the 1950s, Berry was a high-profile established star with several hit records and film appearances to his name, as well as a lucrative touring career. He had opened a racially integrated St. Louis-based nightclub, called Berry's Club Bandstand, and was investing in real estate. But in December 1959, Berry was arrested under the Mann Act after questionable allegations that he had sex with a 14-year-old Apache waitress, Janice Escalante, whom he had transported over state lines to work as a hat check girl at his club. After two appeals and serving 18 months in prison his popularity had declined. Chuck Berry went on to record "My Ding-a-Ling" but predominately he toured and toured. Berry continued to play 70 to 100 one-nighters per year in the 1980s, still traveling solo and requiring a local band to back him at each stop. In 1986, Taylor Hackford made a documentary film, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, of a celebration concert for Berry's sixtieth birthday, organized by Keith Richards. In 2008, Berry toured Europe, with stops in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Poland and Spain. In mid-2008, he played at Virgin Festival in Baltimore, Maryland. He presently lives in Ladue, Missouri, approximately 10 miles west of St. Louis. During a New Year's Day 2011 concert in Chicago, Berry, suffering from exhaustion, passed out and had to be helped off stage. Berry usually performs one Wednesday each month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar located in the Delmar Loop neighborhood in St. Louis.