As one might guess from his aggressive guitar playing and the defiant tone of many of his songs, Chuck Berry had a hard edge. He was a self-proclaimed bad ass mother fucker! Although Berry complained bitterly that he spent his life as a victim of racism, it was difficult to blame all his offences — including armed robbery, tax evasion and secretly filming dozens of women in a restaurant lavatory — on white prejudice. Back in the day black entertainers had to enter clubs and hotels from the back door… Chuck was too good and disregarded the Jim Crow laws. He did the proper thing and entered through the front door.. Berry always demanded to be paid up front in cash by promoters at each gig. An encore would be an additional $3k..thank you very much.
His first significant brush with the law came when he was 17 and still in high school. He and two friends from his racially segregated neighborhood of Missouri decided to drive to California to live the dream of going out west.. Berry took along a broken pistol and the trio began an armed robbery spree in Kansas City. At gunpoint, they held up liquor stores and absconded a replacement automobile until they were caught and arrested by a police officer.
Berry, insisted it was nothing more than adolescence doing “jack-ass” things.., Even though this was his first offence he received the maximum sentence of ten years in prison but served only three years in a reform school.
The defining moment of his life in incarceration came in 1959 when the 33-year-old star was convicted under a law prohibiting the transportation of women or girls (she was 14 years old) across state lines ‘for immoral purposes’. She reported to police that he had kidnapped her and had intercourse… It later came out that she was far from innocent and had already been busted for prostitution.
Because she was a child the he was tried before an all-white male jury and portrayed as a sexual predator, although his initial conviction was thrown out on appeal because the original judge had shown clear evidence of racial bias. The was retried claiming that the jury was prejudice because of associating with white women. His jail time was cut to 20 months. While in jail he wrote some of his most inspiring songs.. “The Promise Land” and “Havana Moon”.
When released Berry was known for his “high- handed petulance” and his attitude towards other musicians… In his contracts, it clearly stated that no artist was allowed to perform after him. This attitude is what provoked Jerry Lee Lewis to light his piano on fire and while walking off stage looked at Berry straight in the eye and said, “Let’s see what you can do after this.. asshole?”
Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis
Astoundingly his greatest admirer and influence, Keith Richards had his run ins with Chuck Berry when he was thrown off the stage for playing too loud at the world-famous Hollywood Palladium and would continually had lit matches flicked down his shirt…
In 1979 Chuck Berry was charged for tax evasion and submitting erroneous deductions. The IRS conducted a five-year investigation and he was in jail for 120 days…. Unfortunately, in spite of these run-ins he had no repentance towards the law and seemed to land in one dramatic mess after the other. In 1987 While performing in NYC he was charged for assault and battery by a “white” woman following his show… The charges were lowered due to hearsay evidence to harassment and paid a $250 fine.
Chuck Berry and Keith Richards..
When Berry was well into his 60s — there was one final scandal. The husband of one of his employees at his St. Louis restaurant accused him of being a ‘peeping tom’ after a hidden video camera was discovered in the ladies’ toilet there. Berry claimed that he thought she was stealing cash from the register so he set up the camera in order to catch her “red” handed. His accuser said the tapes were ‘created for the improper purpose of the gratification’ of his ‘sexual fetishes’.
While his guilt was never established at trial, he paid off 58 women by settling a class action lawsuit. It cost him an estimated $1.2 million as well as substantial legal fees. A subsequent police raid on his home reportedly found guns, drugs and videotapes of women using the lavatory as well as underage girls in sexual poses. Berry escaped from being charged with sex abuse with a minor and admitted to the possession of cannabis. He got off with a six-month suspended sentence and a small fine.
Little Richard, Berry and Bo Diddley…. Eric Clapton, Berry and Keith Richards
Chuck Berry was certainly not the Johnny B. Goode person he sung about… Perhaps Johnny B. “Bad” would’ve been more appropriate.