Today’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Storytime focuses on the pastor at our church of worship.
John Lennon said, “if rock ‘n’ roll had another name it would be ‘Chuck Berry.'”
And if watching women pee without their knowledge had another name it would also be named “Chuck Berry.”
But we’ll get to that later.
Berry’s songwriting about America, cars and teenage ideals along with his guitar playing and superior showmanship set the course of rock music today. Chuck Berry was the first person inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and his recording of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ was the only rock song included on the golden record that was launched into space aboard 1977’s Voyager 1. The Beach Boys even gave him the song writing credits to “Surfin’ USA” because it sounded so much like ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and as for his semi-autobiographical ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ who hasn’t covered that song at some point? All of this almost didn’t happen because like most holy men, Mr. Berry was a criminal…
In the early 40s while many of America’s heroes were serving their county Chuck was serving time for armed robbery at age 17. After three years in federal prison it was time to make some life decisions. Luckily for humanity he took a different path, but it’s hard to live a straight life.
Even after becoming an international star there were things you just couldn’t do in late 50s America. Like, I dunno, breaking the Mann Act by driving across state lines with 14-year old girls you were suspected of sleeping with. See, if you were gonna pull that shit you had better made sure you were white and the underage girl was at least your cousin. Ain’t that right Jerry Lee Lewis?
So Chuck goes back to prison and now you feel creepy when you hear him sing songs like ‘Little Queenie,’ ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and ‘My Ding-a-Ling.’ But just wait…it gets so much creepier.
Luckily Berry didn’t give up the dream even after serving hard time again. Though he was twice-convicted and spent almost two years in jail, Chuck was more popular than ever thanks to The British Invasion – you know, when all the white kids started copying his style? But something changed with Chuck. He became a little more erratic and a little less trusting.
Berry started traveling to shows with just a guitar. He didn’t even have a backing band. He would play with the local house bands without any direction or even a set list, assuming everyone knew his songs and could keep up. He also started demanding to be paid in cash. And even though his fan base was dwindling due to spotty shows and lack of new material someone was interested in Chuck by the 70s. Unfortunately for him it was Uncle Sam. He ended up doing 4 months back in the hoosegow for good ol’ tax evasion.
Berry continued to tour throughout the 80’s and even bought a restaurant in Missouri called The Southern Air. The investment did not turn out as planned when a few years after opening he received a class-action lawsuit from 200+ women claiming he secretly taped them using a toilet-cam. A TOILET-CAM. A CAMERA…FOR WATCHING WOMEN…GO TO THE TOILET.
Oddly enough, that toilet-cam was eerily similar to the one being used to unknowingly film you pee in your bathroom right now. I kid, I kid. No, but really, you should check just in case…
When cops searched his house they found all of his bathroom tapes along with a couple ounces of weed.
With some out of court settlements and other legal magic Chuck was relieved of over $1MM but only had to spend six-months in jail. (That’s jail, not prison, for those playing at home.)
Regardless of his shenanigans, Chuck Berry is the rock ‘n’ roll icon. But the story you didn’t know was from where he got his rock inspiration which led to the secret of his success. As legend has it, in late 1955 Chuck was headed nowhere in his career until he got a phone call from his cousin Marvin…Marvin Berry. Yes, that Marvin, of Marvin Berry and the Starlighters. While the sound quality on the long-distance call that night was spotty, Marvin told him to listen to the new sound he was looking for. Chuck could feel the electricity coming through the line. The next day he packed his beat-up Ford and started a trek across the U.S. in hopes to find the person responsible so he could pledge allegiance to his tutelage. Having heard the wave of the future he began writing a handful of his most popular songs along the way.
Once he arrived in California, Chuck relentlessly grilled Marvin and the band on details about their performance with this young guitar virtuoso. The stories from the band were all the same. They were taking a smoke break between sets of a high school dance when they heard a thud in their trunk. (The sax player would later describe it as “an angel falling to earth.”) Marvin, the band leader and guitarist, injured his hand trying to free this mysterious person from the locked trunk. Thinking their night was over, this stranger offered to fill in on guitar for the injured Marvin. After what can only be described as “the shittiest goddamn rendition of ‘Earth Angel’ ever played,” the man bounced back, ordered the band play a blues riff in the key of B, told them to watch him for the changes, and to keep up. The song they played next ended up changing rock history forever.
Chuck did eventually find out the name of the man- Calvin Klein, however after the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance Calvin disappeared during a freak lighting storm never to be seen again. Only one known photo is thought to exist of the mysterious Calvin…
This has been Rock ‘n’ Roll Storytime.
PS- if you’re upset that today’s RnRST had a fictionalized ending, then I apologize. Yes, a portion of it was made up…except for Chuck Berry’s criminal history and the whole “filming girls pee” part. That…oh that was totally true. But hey look, they can’t all be coke-fueled misadventures about guys like guitarist Randy Rhoads crashing a Beechcraft F35 airplane into Ozzy Osbourne’s tour bus, can they? Randy Rhoads? Where we’re going we don’t need Randy Rhoads.
PPS- Click here for a pretty sweet Spotify playlist that will….uh….well, it’s a little all over the place. Urq tends to draw some weird connections from songs sometimes. Hell, at some point I’m pretty sure he just started throwing the top songs of 1985 in there….and yet it’s still better than your “Friday Night Booty Mix vol 8” playlist…