Segarini on The Father of the Teen Age
I was originally going to call this column “The Father of Teenage America”, but Chuck Berry’s influence on and understanding of that awkward stretch of road between 12 and 20 not only heralded America’s shift from buttoned-down conformity to unbuttoned rebellion, spread far past the borders of his home and native land and spilled out across the globe on the wings of three chords and poetic genius.
Fueled by unbridled energy, and embraced by a post war population of disenfranchised kids with No Particular Place to Go, Chuck Berry’s legacy continues unabated 50 years later.
Just the Facts, Ma’am….
…courtesy of The Associated Press
- Oct. 18, 1926: Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in St. Louis.
- Oct. 28, 1948: Marries Themetta Suggs with whom he has four children.
- Dec. 31, 1952: Needing a replacement for an ailing musician for a New Year’s Eve show, pianist/bandleader Johnnie Johnson calls acquaintance Berry.
- May 1, 1955: Berry signs with Chess Records.
- May 21, 1955: Berry records “Maybellene,” his version of “Ida Red.”
- Aug. 1, 1955: “Maybellene” reaches No. 5 on Billboard’s Best Sellers chart, goes on to top R&B chart.
- June 30, 1956: Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” hits No. 2 on the R&B chart, No. 29 on pop chart.
- May 1957: Berry’s first album, “After School Session,” released; single “School Day” reaches No. 3 on pop chart.
- Feb. 24, 1958: Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” released. Weeks later, reaches No. 2 on Billboard’s pop chart and tops the R&B chart.
- June 14, 1958: “Johnny B. Goode,” his tribute to Johnson, makes the Top Ten.
- 1962: Convicted of transporting a minor girl across state lines.
- June 1, 1966: Berry leaves Chess for Mercury Records. Re-signs with Chess in 1970.
- May 1, 1972: “The London Chuck Berry Sessions” released, including novelty song “My Ding-a-Ling.” Album becomes Berry’s best seller, reaching No. 8 on the Billboard chart.
- 1973: After 30 years, Johnson leaves Berry’s band.
- June 1, 1979: Berry performs at White House at President Carter’s request, months before serving several months in prison on tax evasion.
- Feb. 26, 1985: Berry given Lifetime Achievement Award at annual Grammy Awards.
- Jan. 23, 1986: Berry inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- 1987: Release of “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the documentary of the Fox Theatre concert in St. Louis to celebrate Berry’s 60th birthday.
- 1988, 1989: Berry sued for allegedly punching a woman in New York and later for allegedly videotaping women secretly while they were using the restroom at his St. Louis-area restaurant.
- 1996: Berry begins performing monthly at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room in St. Louis.
- November 2000: Berry sued by Johnnie Johnson, who seeks share of royalties on songs he co-wrote with Berry but were credited to Berry alone.
- April 13, 2005: Johnnie Johnson dies following dismissal of lawsuit, resumption of his and Berry’s friendship, and a few more concerts together at Blueberry Hill.
- Oct. 18. 2016: Berry announces on his 90th birthday that he plans to release his first album since 1979, called “Chuck,” sometime in 2017. A specific release date isn’t set.
- March 18, 2017: Berry dies at his home in suburban St. Louis of natural causes.
As Good a Piece of Information as I Could Find Concerning Berry’s 1959 Run-in With The Mann Act….
…from journalist Brendan Morrow
“One important part of Berry’s story is the fact that he spent a year and a half in prison in the 1960s, with this time behind bars later being pointed to as something that changed Berry as a person forever. So what’s the story behind Chuck Berry’s prison time?
On December 23rd, 1959, Chuck Berry was arrested in St. Louis, Missouri, charged with violating the Mann Act. This is a federal law which makes it illegal to engage in the transportation of an individual for “prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” It was intended to crack down on human trafficking and prostitution, but in a number of cases, it was used to target high profile black men; boxer Jack Johnson was also charged with violating the Mann Act in a case that was highly racially motivated.
While performing on the road, Berry had met a 14-year-old waitress, Janice Norine Escalanti, and he invited her to come work at his nightclub in St. Louis. However, she was fired from the club after only a few weeks. Berry said that he fired her because she came on to him at work.
According to the book American Legends: The Life of Chuck Berry, it didn’t help Berry’s case that Escalanti had a background in prostitution, and some firsthand accounts suggest that he was flirting with her on the road, something that Berry vehemently denied. Not long after she was fired, Escalanti was arrested on charges of prostitution, she told the police about her working situation with Berry, and this lead to his arrest.
At the conclusion of a two-week trial, Berry was sentenced to five years in prison. He appealed, arguing that the judge was racist and biased against him; the jury in the case also consisted entirely of white men.
Berry’s appeal was successful, but in the second trial, he was convicted again, this time to three years in prison. He appealed a third time, and in the end, Berry spent a year and a half in prison. During this time, his Club Bandstand was closed down.
According to The New York Times, Bruce Pegg writes in the biography Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry, “The issue in the trials was one of Janice Escalanti’s age. But as with everything in Berry’s life there’s always an ambiguity — that he is as much a victim as perpetrator.”
Pegg also says that during the trial, “Every witness that got on the stand, when they identified somebody, the judge would interrupt and say ‘Was that a white man or a black man?’ attempting to remind the jury at every turn that they needed to view the events through the lens of race.”
For a while, Berry flatly denied that he even went to prison at all, saying in a 1972 interview, “That’s the misconceptions that people have, that Chuck Berry went to jail. They’re just totally wrong. It might have said something in the large papers in the bigger city headlines and things. But, you take a look at any of the local papers and you will see that I was acquitted. I never went to jail.”
However, Berry later admitted that he did in fact go to jail. In his autobiography, he refers to this time in prison as being a period of self-improvement. He remained musically active behind bars, writing a number of songs that later became hits including “Promised Land,” a song with lyrics describing a road trip across the United States.
Berry was released from prison in 1963, and he quickly resumed his career. Later, in 1979, Berry plead guilty to tax evasion, and he served 120 days in federal prison plus four years’ probation and 1,000 hours of community service.” – Brendan Morrow
Chuck’s climb back onto the charts after he served time for violation of The Mann Act in 1959, started on a dragstrip in (I believe) Texas in 1963. Playing between eliminations, he entertained the crowd, his amp and he alone in the middle of the asphalt facing the grandstand, the little amp’s cord snaked across the strip of pavement by extension cords, to an outlet under the stands. A humble first step back, but a step back nevertheless.
Whether you saw him at his best, or one of the trainwrck shows he put on with a bad local band whose ability to play his songs was less than adequate, Berry ALWAYS entertained. A bonafide showman, raconteur, and rock star, a lanky scarecrow of a man who moved like a will o the wisp, sang like demon, and howled like a wolf. he got more out of three chords than most bands got out of dozens.
The REAL strength was his lyrical deftness. Nothing he wrote was complicated or vague. No pretense in evidence, no cleverness for the sake of being clever, and no visible signs of trying too hard or feigning wisdom.
Somehow…he GOT teenage, understood its underpinnings, its joy, and its fears and helplessness…and all the while brought humour, insight, and hope.
We were not alone.
Someone understood us.
Berry had Lots of Hits…but THESE are The Killers….
…damn near all of these tunes were influential in the songs of the ’60s and ’70s.
Can’t say the bands I was in weren’t influenced by the Man….
I like to think we did him proud. Amazing lead vocals by first, Rand Bishop in the Wackers…and then William “Kootch” Trochim in All the Young Dudes.
All the Young Dudes – Little Queenie
A Couple of Personal Memories….
Yeah…I remember Chuck Berry….
From “When Radio and Records Ruled the World Episode 2” DBAWIS March 18th 2012
By 1957 I had been listening to KSTN and other stations I could pull in late at night, for a couple of years. My parents would buy me a Zenith transistor radio for my birthday the following year, and I would spend most of my time listening to it in my room under the covers after my folks went to bed. I am convinced that my father invented the phrase, “Turn that shit down!”, while my mother remained her usual, tolerant, self. So many great records, so many great singers and musicians, there just wasn’t enough time in a day to listen to it all. I had graduated from the accordion, to a ukulele, and would make the leap to guitar at Christmas, when my uncle Elbert would give me a Student Prince acoustic guitar, which I would take two strings off of so I could play the chords I had learned on the ukulele and start thinking about writing a song myself. I would write that song, “I’m a Juvenile”, in a classroom at school, in 1958.
But right now it was September, 1957, and today was the first day of the 7th grade and I was walking to school like I always did, except when I could talk my mom into giving me a ride, or an older kid in the neighborhood, Joe Bava, whose sister was in my class, would drop me off in his cherry ’55 Chevy. Being lazy, a condition that has served me well over the years, and the fact that it was already in the mid 80’s at 8:30 in the morning, I went a half a block out of my way to see if Joe would give me a lift. Walking up the driveway I heard an unfamiliar song wafting out of the open window in the Bava family’s breakfast nook.
Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the golden rule
American history and practical math
You studyin’ hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone
Ring, ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunch room’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom, open your books
Keep up the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat
Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint, you go in
Drop the coin right into the slot
You’re gotta hear somethin’ that’s really hot
With the one you love, you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been wantin’ to dance,
Feeling the music from head to toe
Round and round and round we go
Hail, hail rock and roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock and roll
The beat of the drums, loud and bold
Rock, rock, rock and roll
The feelin’ is there, body and soul
Writer: Charles E. Berry ©Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music Inc.
Joe’s voice: “Hey, Segarini! What’s wrong with you?”
“What was that?” I asked in wonder.
“Guy named Chuck Berry. He put a whole bunch of songs on one record. That’s just the first one!”
“It’s called an album”, I replied, “a long playing record”, knowledge I had picked up years ago thanks to Glenn Miller, and then Elvis. Up until this very moment, I had never seen Joe show any interest in music. Chuck must have gotten to him.
“Can I get a ride?”, I asked.
“Sure”, Joe answered, “want to hear the rest of these songs first?”
And that’s how I was late for school on the first day of the 7th grade.
Within a week I had saved up the $2.99 an LP cost back then and headed off to buy Chuck Berry’s first album. Normally, I bought my rock and roll records at Freitas, but lately, because of the increasing popularity of the music, the record store that was closer to my home just might have it. They also had something else that I really liked.
Before I spent the money, I wanted to hear the other songs again, and there was only one place I could do that without buying the record.
Sandy Sanderov’s Miracle Music on the Miracle Mile, a half a dozen blocks from my house. On my bike, about a 3 minute trip if I was in a hurry…and I was definitely in a hurry.
Miracle Music had listening booths.
I had been buying most of my records from Freitas, the little record store downtown and about a 30 minute pedal on the old Schwinn no-speed, mainly because his selection was unbeatable when it came to R&B, which was still my favourite kind of music, especially the singing groups. I had learned a lot shopping there. For example, there were labels, like some radio stations and artists that you trusted so much, you bought the releases unheard. I knew if I bought a record on Gee, or Roulette, or Federal, or King, it would be good. Other labels, not so much. Now that more and more artists were making albums, you needed to hear the ones you weren’t familiar with, and, except for “School Days”, Chuck Berry was a mystery to me, even though Joe had said he’d been around for a while.
The best way to describe Sandy Sanderov is to tell you he looks exactly like Hank Hill, except he sports a crew cut. Like old man Freitas and Jack Hanna, of Jack Hanna Music, (who at over 100 years of age, still plays once in a while), he loved music and he loved the kids that came into his shop. I knew Sandy because I’d been coming into his store for ages, first to pick out sheet music for the accordion and to buy kid records like “Hopalong Cassidy and the Square Dance Holdup”, “Bozo the Clown”, and “Howdy Doody and the Air O Doodle”, and then, when I was a little older, Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme records, and later that first year in Stockton Jr. High, a cornet which I played until my music teacher, Mr. Rod Swearinger, almost took off my right ear with a mouthpiece he whipped at me for playing flat.
I was in luck. With School Days being all over the radio in Stockton, Sandy had Chuck Berry’s album in stock. He handed it to me and pointed me in the direction of an empty booth, one of six lining the wall along the side of the building that ran down Castle Street. I went in, put on the headphones and dropped the needle on the record. 30 minutes later I owned After School Session and was heading back into the booth with a stack of new singles.
Brilliant concept, don’t you think? Let people hear records and sample new releases, and chances are good they’ll buy more records. The same thing radio had been doing since the 30’s, and sheet music sellers armed with a singer and piano player had done since before that and through the ‘40’s, record stores, (and the labels), realized that the more people who heard their wares, the better the odds that they would buy what they liked and continue to look for more music that appealed to them.
Someone, somewhere also had a thought that other some ones, somewhere had had several times before. Why don’t we create our own stars, they thought. Why don’t we find more artists like the most popular ones, and groom them to be the next sensation, I mean, how hard can it be? If teenagers can do it, and musicians can do it, how hard would it be for us to do it?
For a while, as it turned out…not hard at all.
I don’t remember who was in the room that evening, although I do recall Larry Graham was, he of the snap and pop technique for playing the bass, and who popularized the form so that snap and pop became as ubiquitous as pluck and pick, but I am foggy when it comes to remembering anyone else, there were at least 4 or 5 of us.
We were in one of the dingy ‘dressing rooms’ at the Fillmore (the original one) in San Francisco, hanging out, waiting around until showtime, some of those in the room on the bill that night, though I wasn’t. I was just there to see Chuck Berry play.
At the moment, however, Chuck was sitting in one of the old, overstuffed, brocaded easy chairs that would have been at home in your grandparents house, smelling of olive oil, garlic, and Ben Gay.
He was eating a cheeseburger…a big, sloppy, cheeseburger, dripping sauce down his elbow, and sticking to his thin moustache. Probably from Tommy’s or maybe the Hippo. He was making a lot of happy noises like you do when the food hits the spot, and also giving directions.
“Damn, Baby, watch your teeth”….
…directions to a cute-as-a-button redheaded girl about 16 years old…on her knees…in front of Chuck…also enjoying a sloppy meal.
It was a very uncomfortable moment when we noticed what was going on, and the conversation that had been filling the room slowly fell silent as awareness circled the room and filled it like a fart in an elevator.
What was seen could not be unseen.
You have all heard or read stories about Bill. Loud. Mean. Arrogant. …but he was also a man of high standards, fair, and honest.
He looked over and saw Chuck and his date having dinner.
Over the years I had seen Bill lose his shit more than once, and I cannot recall one instance I ever witnessed, where he wasn’t justified in becoming angry to the point of harsh words and sometimes a physical manifestation of his disapproval as well.
But never anything like this.
With one move, Bill picked the little redhead up by her shoulders and deposited her on the sofa behind him. She was still kneeling and her mouth was still open, her tongue sticking out looking lost and confused (if such a thing were possible).
Bill then turned to face Chuck, who was in mid-munch himself, but frozen in time for the nonce, poised to take another big bite out of the cheeseburger, but now looking up at Bill, who was looming over him like a bear on its hind legs. There was a brief moment of frieze-like relief, silent, motionless, timeless…and then Bill began a tirade.
a prolonged outburst of bitter, outspoken denunciation: a tirade against smoking.
a long, vehement speech: a tirade in the Senate.
dealing with a single theme or idea, as in poetry: the stately tirades of Corneille.
: a protracted speech usually marked by intemperate, vituperative, or harshly censorious language
Synonyms for tirade
noun abuse, outburst
…and then he stopped and left the room.
The redhead gathered herself together and left the room.
Those of us who were there left the room. Graham did not seem to notice that we were even there.
Chuck (I’m assuming) finished his cheeseburger.
It may have been the only time in history Chuck Berry toed the line. The show that night was great, and everyone was smiling.
I will never repeat what Bill said.
I don’t want to go to hell.
…from Wikipedia, complete with links for you academics….
While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together. It was his particular genius to graft country & western guitar licks onto a rhythm & blues chassis in his very first single, “Maybellene”.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
A pioneer of rock and roll, Berry was a significant influence on the development of both the music and the attitude associated with the rock music lifestyle. With songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics successfully aimed to appeal to the early teenage market by using graphic and humorous descriptions of teen dances, fast cars, high school life, and consumer culture, and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music. Thus Berry, the songwriter, invented rock as a music that gave his teenage listeners dreams of wishes fulfilled and good times. (New York Times, March 19, 2017, p.3) Berry contributed three things to rock music: an irresistible swagger, a focus on the guitar riff as the primary melodic element and an emphasis on songwriting as storytelling. His records are a rich storehouse of the essential lyrical, showmanship and musical components of rock and roll. In addition to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, a large number of significant popular-music performers have recorded Berry’s songs. Though not technically accomplished, his guitar style is distinctive—he incorporated electronic effects to mimic the sound of bottleneck blues guitarists and drew on the influence of guitar players such as Carl Hogan, and T-Bone Walker to produce a clear and exciting sound that many later guitarists would acknowledge as an influence in their own style. Berry’s showmanship has been influential on other rock guitarists, particularly his one-legged hop routine, and the “duck walk“, which he first used as a child when he walked “stooping with full-bended knees, but with my back and head vertical” under a table to retrieve a ball and his family found it entertaining; he used it when “performing in New York for the first time and some journalist branded it the duck walk.”
The rock critic Robert Christgau considers Berry “the greatest of the rock and rollers”, while John Lennon said, “if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” Ted Nugent said, “If you don’t know every Chuck Berry lick, you can’t play rock guitar.” Bob Dylan called Berry “the Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll”. Springsteen tweeted, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”
When asked what caused the explosion of the popularity of rock ‘n roll that took place in the 1950s, with him and a handful of others, mainly him, Berry said, “Well, actually they begin to listen to it, you see, because certain stations played certain music. The music that we, the blacks, played, the cultures were so far apart, we would have to have a play station in order to play it. The cultures begin to come together, and you begin to see one another’s vein of life, then the music came together.”
Among the honors Berry received were the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000. He was ranked seventh on Time magazine’s 2009 list of the 10 best electric guitar players of all time. On May 14, 2002, Berry was honored as one of the first BMI Icons at the 50th annual BMI Pop Awards. He was presented the award along with BMI affiliates Bo Diddley and Little Richard. In August 2014, Berry was made a laureate of the Polar Music Prize.
Berry is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine’s “Greatest of All Time” lists. In September 2003, the magazine ranked him number 6 in its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. In November his compilation album The Great Twenty-Eight was ranked 21st in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In March 2004, Berry was ranked fifth on the list of “The Immortals – The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. In December 2004, six of his songs were included in “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time“: “Johnny B. Goode” (#7), “Maybellene” (#18), “Roll Over Beethoven” (#97), “Rock and Roll Music” (#128), “Sweet Little Sixteen” (#272) and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (#374). In June 2008, his song “Johnny B. Goode” was ranked first in the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”.
The journalist Chuck Klosterman has argued that in 300 years Berry will still be remembered as the rock musician who most closely captured the essence of rock and roll.
Rest in Peace, Johnny B. Goode…and thanks for all the rock and roll.
Your Comments are Welcome. Please scroll down and let us know what you think
Segarini’s regular column appears here because he has No Particular Place to Go
Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.