Guest Author - Lizz Shepherd
From humble beginnings as an unknown artist in 1955, Chuck Berry transformed the face of popular music. His early hits "Maybelline" and "Roll Over Beethoven" were on the forefront of the earliest days of rock 'n roll. By 1957 he was all over the charts with a number of songs blending his R & B roots with the burgeoning genre of rock. His popularity soared as rock 'n roll continued to grow and evolve.
John Lennon once said "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." By the end of the decade, Chuck Berry was both a pioneer and a classic. In 1961 an amusement park opened outside Chuck Berry's hometown of St. Louis. It was called Berryland to honor the city's most famous son.
Unfortunately, as Chuck Berry continued to conquer the R & B and pop charts simultaneously, he was caught violating the Mann act and spent time in federal prison. St. Louis not only housed a Berry-themed amusement park, it was also the site for his club, Berry's Club Bandstand. One of his hires was a 14-year old girl from Arizona. Working as the club's hat checker, she soon became trouble, demanding attention from Berry and being arrested in a local hotel and charged with prostitution. This made Berry responsible for the incident, which violated the Mann Act's edict forbidding minors to be transported across state lines for prostitution or other immoral purposes. Berry was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison. This was later overturned for a 3 year sentence, which was carried out.
Before the media circus surrounding the incident had died down, Chuck Berry released more music and toured for ecstatic crowds. His character may have been attacked, but his music never has been. The bands that were influenced by Chuck Berry were to numerous to name, but many were firmly rooted in the stratosphere of classic rock. The Beatles and the Beach Boys were just two bands who admitted to a strong influence from Chuck Berry. The Beach Boys' influence was a little more blatant than some- "Surfin' U.S.A. was so similar to Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" that he sued to get a writing credit for the song and won. He continues to exert his influence today in subtler ways, as the bands he influenced continue to inspire new music.
Chuck Berry: The Definitive Collection
Chuck Berry Box Set of 3 Discs