♪ (rock guitar solo) ♪ Narrator: His sound, explosive... ♪ ♪ Darius Rucker: He had a sound that was like, nobody else.
♪ ♪ Narrator: His stage presence, seismic.
♪ ♪ Steve Miller: He was a phenomenal entertainer.
He was a phenomenal player.
♪ (Chuck Berry "Roll Over Beethoven") ♪ Narrator: His impact, unparalleled.
Richards: This is inspiration, y'know, that's what it was, Chuck Berry was sheer inspiration.
Robert Cray: Everybody's gotten something from Chuck Berry.
♪ (Chuck Berry "Roll Over Beethoven") ♪ Slash: He really created a sound that epitomizes rock and roll.
♪ ♪ Taylor Hackford: I don't care who it is.
If they're going to pick up the guitar, and they're going to play rock and roll-- (crowd cheering) Chuck Berry: Rock-n-Roll!!!
(crowd cheering) Hackford: --you're gonna start with Chuck Berry.
♪ (guitar riff) ♪ Narrator: Chuck Berry rose from the segregated streets of St. Louis.
Bernie Hayes: It was the way America was constructed.
The racism, the separation, the inequities, and Chuck grew out of that.
Narrator: To face discrimination-- Steve Jordan: I cannot imagine being on a bus, traveling through a part of the country that you didn't know whether you were going to make it out alive.
Narrator: Endure persecution-- Charles Berry, Jr.: He was a big target... Miller: He had a lot of enemies.
There were a lot of people after him, who didn't like what he was doing.
Narrator: And confront corruption.
Marshall Chess: He had a very strong feeling that he was worth more than he was getting.
Hayes: Once you lose a lot of money because of your color, it burns inside your heart.
And you never forget it.
Chuck Berry: ♪ ...man's a lot of trouble ♪ ♪ with a brown-eyed handsome man ♪ ♪ Narrator: But his musical genius would be at times overshadowed by sex, scandal, and stubbornness.
Hackford: Chuck Berry was by far the most difficult star I have ever worked with.
Chess: He wanted his way.
And is he didn't get it, he could really be a (bleep).
Hackford: He was diabolical.
♪ (Chuck Berry "Sweet Little Sixteen") ♪ Narrator: Through it all, Chuck Berry refused to surrender.
For seven decades, he would chart his own course, and will always be remembered, as the man who made rock and roll.
Slash: He'll always be considered the King of Rock-n-Roll.
Chuck Berry: ♪ ...beyond St. Louis ♪ ♪ Way down in New Orleans ♪ ♪ All the cats wanna dance with ♪ ♪ Sweet little sixteen ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ (slow guitar music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Charles Berry, Jr.: My dad grew up in a segregated enclave of St. Louis.
The Ville was precious to him.
Y'know, everybody knew everyone on the street.
Hayes: The Ville is the place where most African-Americans of stature, your doctors, your professional people, grew up.
Everything that an African- American would want, they'd find in the Ville.
It was self-sustained, more or less.
But it was segregated.
♪ Bruce Pegg: Chuck's father was a deacon in the Antioch Baptist church.
Also, he was a contractor.
And I think what Chuck learned from him, is just this spirit of independence and entrepreneurship.
His mother was a trained school teacher.
From her, Chuck got his interest in poetry.
♪ Chuck Berry: I'm a great lover of poetry.
From five to nine years, all that I heard around the house was poetry.
Stuff like that to me is like heavy baby!
And I remember some of them to this day: ♪ (guitar strumming) ♪ Once in Persia reigned a King, ♪ Who upon his noble ring, ♪ Craved a maxim true and wise, ♪ Which, when held before his eyes, ♪ Gave him counsel, at a glance, of his life of change and chance.
♪ Pegg: At one point, Chuck's father decided that he was going to take the family to the Fox theater, to see a Tale of Two Cities, which he felt had great literary merit, only to be turned away at the box office, to be told that they did not allow blacks.
♪ (soft dramatic music) ♪ Hayes: For that to happen to Chuck as a ten year-old was quite a shock, because he was used to getting what he wanted.
♪ (rock-n-roll guitar music) ♪ He loved the entertainment, he loved to entertain.
He loved to play guitar.
He began about 12 or 13, he became proficient.
♪ (rock-n-roll guitar music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Chuck Berry: My first time on stage was high school.
At the age of 14, I sang blues.
Pegg: Chuck was not a very good student at Sumner.
He remembers being beaten by one of his teachers for not paying attention and eventually he drops out before graduating.
♪ ♪ He and several of his high school friends decided they were going to run away from home and they were gonna go to Hollywood.
♪ (dramatic music) ♪ They made it as far as Kansas City before the money ran out.
While they were there, in order to get some money, he took part in a robbery... ♪ (dramatic music) ♪ ...in which Chuck maintains that he only had the barrel of a gun, not the whole thing.
♪ They left Kansas City and then their car broke down.
They flagged down a passing motorist, stole his car.
♪ They tried to get back to St. Louis, only to be pulled over by a state patrolman, who immediately arrested them.
Chuck was sentenced to ten years... (sliding prison door clacking) ...but served three of them and was released on his 21st birthday.
♪ (soft music) ♪ ♪ (soft music) ♪ Themetta Berry: We met on Annie Malone's offering home day, May the 23rd, 1948.
I took my niece for the parade and as we were walking across, Candy Park Seminole High School is there, I saw him out of the corner of my eye, and I said, 'Hmm... he's kind of cute.'
We married six months after we met, and he said, "I'll be with you forever" and I said, me too.
♪ (soft music) ♪ ♪ Charles Berry, Jr.: They loved each other.
She was his queen, and he was her king.
Every minute that I saw the two of them together, they were in heaven, absolute heaven.
♪ Joe Edwards: Chuck Berry's main motivation in life was to provide for his family.
Themetta Berry: Working construction with his dad and brother, he didn't like that, but he did it, because he had a family.
♪ (guitar music) ♪ He played his guitar and I enjoyed it.
And I would tell him how great it was.
♪ ♪ Edwards: He grew up listening to radio, like a lot of people did in his era, some of the late night stations that you could get were coming from Tennessee.
And he listened to a lot of country music, but it was called hillbilly music at the time.
Chuck Berry: I wanted to sing like Nat Cole, with lyrics like Louis Jordan, with the swing of Benny Goodman, and with the soul of Muddy Waters.
Themetta Berry: He would get two paragraphs of lyrics, and he would take it and say, 'How this sound, Toddy?'
And I'd say, 'Oh, that sounds great.'
He loved poems.
And when he would write songs it would always be in a poetic form.
And then he would take his songs and go on the street to little side cafes and that was how he really got started in music.
♪ (upbeat piano music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Hackford: One night, he goes to the Cosmo club-- ♪ ♪ Hayes: It was a blues dance club.
Hackford: And there's a band there, The Johnny Johnson trio.
♪ (boogie woogie piano music) ♪ Edwards: Johnny Johnson is the greatest boogie woogie piano player of his generation.
♪ Pegg: Johnny was missing one of his bandmates and asked Chuck if he would sit in at the very last minute, which Chuck agreed to.
Chuck was an immediate success in Johnny's band.
What Chuck was able to do is first of all, bring the element of performance into the band.
Hackford: Y'know Johnny's not a singer, Chuck's a singer.
He can 'sell' a song.
And all of a sudden he's a regular.
♪ (boogie woogie piano music) ♪ They just sounded so fantastic together.
Cray: Well, I mean blues and country are really close in the fact that, it, y'know, a lot of times it's just three chords, y'know?
And the most important part about playing that music ♪ is the story.
♪ (playing guitar chords) ♪ ♪ ♪ Jordan: So the way Johnny plays that kinda stuff, it's swing, it's more boogie woogie.
But when Chuck is playing it, it's got that new motor, that straight A. Cray: Chuck brought the tempo up and just rocked it.
♪ (fast guitar chords) ♪ ♪ ♪ Jordan: So there you have that push and pull.
Johnny is swinging, Chuck is going straight like a locomotive.
(making train sounds) ♪ (guitar and piano music) ♪ --and you have that, tchu tchu tchu tchu... and that's the excitement, that's the whole-- that's the secret sauce.
♪ (guitar and piano music) ♪ Pegg: Somewhere there in between Johnny's boogie woogie piano and Chuck's hillbilly music, ♪ ♪ you have the genesis, the basis, ground zero for rock and roll.
♪ ♪ Hackford: Now, people keep coming, they keep coming in larger numbers, and they're going 'Let's go see that guy Chuck Berry!'
Steve Litman: Johnny Johnson was the most humble, gentle guy.
Hayes: Johnny was pretty shy, really laid back, but not well-educated.
And Johnny was a heavy drinker, and all he wanted to do was perform, have a drink, and go home.
Pegg: Chuck being the entrepreneur that he was, saw this is as an opportunity to take over the band-- ♪ (soft dramatic music) ♪ --to start to go into bigger clubs, to start to make music for better pay.
Hayes: Without Johnny Johnson, there would have been no Chuck Berry.
The man that gave Chuck the spotlight.
Hackford: So, the name of the group got changed, from the Johnny Johnson trio to the Chuck Berry quartet.
Themetta Berry: Charles said, 'I got to take this to Chicago, and see if I can sell it.'
♪ We went to Chicago, and we heard Muddy Waters playing the blues.
Chess: He went and saw Muddy Waters.
Afterwards, went up to Muddy and said, I'm an artist, I have a tape.
What do I do?
How do I get out a record like you?
And Muddy said, 'Go see Leonard Chess and tell them Muddy sent you.'
Reskinoff: Chess Records was an independent label out of Chicago, run by Leonard and Phil Chess.
The music business was very much a regional business.
There weren't as many major international labels as there are today.
And you had these labels that were discovering talent that was not being discovered by the major labels.
The Chess brothers had a studio and they brought these artists in.
Chess: Chuck Berry went to Chess Records, it was just a store-front, you know, it wasn't any fancy office.
And he had a reel-to-reel homemade recording.
It was called Ida Red.
♪ (upbeat Ida Red melody) ♪ And they said that was something special.
That was something different.
They were always looking for something different.
The different sound of the guitar echo, a different drum beat.
They understood the novelty amongst the people who were buying the blues records then.
♪ Chuck Berry: The Cadillac pulled up to 104 ♪ ♪ The Ford got hot and wouldn't do no more ♪ They told Chuck, 'It's great, it's different.
We like that.
We want to do something, but we don't like the title.'
And I guess my dad saw a Maybelline cosmetic box.
♪ ♪ Chuck came back a week later with Johnny Johnson, his piano player, and they recorded Maybelline.
And that was in 1955.
Pegg: It took 32 takes to get the song right, but by the time they did, they had a smash hit on their hands.
The song immediately took off.
Hayes: He finally broke into the music business and became a star overnight.
Announcer: Chuck Berry!
The swingin' singer doin' 'Maybelline'!
♪ (Chuck Berry "Maybellene") ♪ ♪ Oh Maybellene, ♪ ♪ why can't you be true?
♪ ♪ Oh Maybellene, ♪ ♪ why can't you be true?
♪ Billy Peek: When I heard Maybelline, man, that changed my life.
I mean, I turned completely around with my music and thought you can do that with a guitar?
You don't believe it.
Bernie Hayes: It was different.
The changes in the chords, the lyrics were different.
It just grabs you.
I just loved it.
It was certainly different from anything else that we'd heard.
♪ Oh, Maybellene, why can't you-- ♪ Keith Richards: It was amazing, to a guy like me at that age, and to listen also to the cats that are playing behind him and saying, how is this possible?
You know, what I mean, where does this come from?
This, I have to learn.
♪ As I was motivatin' over the hill ♪ ♪ I saw Maybellene in a Coup de Ville ♪ ♪ A Cadillac a-rollin' on the open road ♪ ♪ Nothin' outrun my V8 Ford ♪ Steve Miller: All of a sudden Chuck Berry was singing about going to school and driving the car and the hot rod Fords and all that stuff.
I couldn't get enough of it.
Slash: It's gonna sound corny, but you know, when you just think of a girl in high school that was hot, that you just couldn't nail down.
It's the perfect background music to that girl, and we all, you know, have met them in our, in our past.
That's the thing about Chuck Berry songs is they paint a picture, they tell a story, and you can instantly sort of get a visual.
Chuck Berry: ♪ ...why can't you be true?
♪ ♪ Oh Maybellene, why can't you be true?
♪ Chess: How did he, how did the black guy in that era, before civil rights, a segregated era, get inside the heads of young, teenage white kids?
- Here, play it.
- It's really terrific Suzy, wait'll you hear it!
- 'Scuse me, ladies, I have a special request.
♪ (Chuck Berry "Maybellene") ♪ Chess: That was a crossover record.
That was white kids buying that single.
Miller: As soon as I heard it, he was singing directly to me, and all my friends.
Chuck Berry: ♪ Maybellene, why can't you be true?
♪ Jordan: He figured something out and he said, 'This is the untapped market right here.
We have an explosion.
People have cars.
They have some money.
These kids are looking for something.
I'm going to give it to 'em!'
Chuck Berry: Every kid doesn't have any allowance, to try to keep carburetors, or try to put dual carburetors on for a little speed, and this is a big thing, so I wrote about it, but, it was a way of life.
Joe Edwards: Gosh it was an exciting time.
It gave a whole new generation its own music.
Reskinoff: What made Chuck unique, is that he was able to follow it up with hit after hit after hit.
He wrote great music, he wrote great lyrics, but his performances were legendary.
He was able to convey that music in a way that no one else could.
His stage presence and showmanship were second to none.
- Chuck started this new way of playing a guitar.
♪ (guitar solo) ♪ Edwards: From the duck walk, to playing the guitar between his legs, he just mesmerized people.
♪ His mother told him, "Someday you will be a man, ♪ ♪ And you will be the leader of a big ol' band ♪ ♪ Many people comin' from miles around, ♪ ♪ Will hear you play your music... ♪ Themetta Berry: I would put my hand and say, "Oh my god, look at Charles!"
I didn't know you could do that!
♪ Johnny, Go go Johnny go...!
♪ James Marsala: His hands were-- just huge!
Joe Edwards: Massive hands.
Richards: His span is like another 50% more than mine.
Jordan: His hands were so big, his stretch was unbelievable.
Cray: I don't see how he played the chords that he did.
Litman: I mean, there's just a lot of hand to go around the neck of that guitar.
♪ (guitar playing) ♪ Marshall Chess: My father heard about this station in New York, W.I.N.S with a disc jockey named Alan Freed.
♪ ♪ Alan Freed is the man who coined the word 'rock and roll', actually invented the word.
Singer: ♪ ...and you're rockin' and you're rockin' around ♪ ♪ Roll, roll, roll, roll everybody ♪ ♪ Roll, roll, roll, roll everybody ♪ ♪ Roll, roll, roll, roll everybody ♪ He did rock and roll shows and he did movies and he played all the great records that independents made that could never get on the air.
But he took payola to play records.
You made a record, you paid the disc jockey to play it, it was legal, and it was the only way we could compete with the big corporations.
It was a very primitive time for the record business.
Slash: Business and art don't really coincide for the actual artists themselves, you know.
Artists just want to create.
And the business side of it is people who know how to exploit the creation.
Pegg: The record label would offer cash, or a songwriting credit, in order that the DJ would play the song.
Chess: The deal was is that Alan became the writer on Maybelline, in order to play it.
Pegg: The more Alan Freed played it, the more interest there would be in it, the more records would be sold.
The more he would get money back in royalties.
Hayes: And he knew that these African-American people didn't know what to do when they came to royalties.
Sugar Pie DeSanto: Leonard Chess would give you money, but you never would see what records sold.
You never knew anything about that part.
If I wanted something, I would tell him and he'd... he would just say 'there ya go Sugar Pie' give it to me off the cuff, y'know?
But I was so... ...so glad to play, (chuckles) I'd take the little 50 cents or whatever, you know?
I remember my first time, I made $3.50 (chuckles) for one week.
(laughter) Chess: It used to bother me.
And I've had conversations with my father about that.
And he'd say, all that money we'd pay off to get the record played, that's part of the artist's expense.
Hackford: Chuck realized, wait a minute, I wrote the song, but they got the publishing and they have got the songwriting share, and I'm not getting that revenue.
Hayes: He called it theft.
Chess: He had a very strong feeling that he was worth more than he was getting.
Chuck figured out, he could never make as much on record royalties, as he could playing live.
He knew that if it was on the radio, and he had a hit, he could tour.
Pegg: Chuck left St. Louis after Maybelline became a hit, and performed in front of rabid teenage crowds.
(screaming fans) Charles Berry, Jr.: The layfolks didn't like it.
What's he doing with these white children, dancing with these other negros?
Rucker: They just didn't want black and white folks to get together.
And they knew that, Chuck Berry showed, you can't stop kids from partying, you can't stop kids from dancing, when you got that music and they wanna hear it, they don't care who they're standing next to dancing.
And the authorities and the powers that be didn't like that.
And that made Chuck even more powerful.
Hayes: They knew he was entertaining white audiences, they didn't like that.
They knew that he was making money, they didn't like that.
But he knew he had to work, so he continued with his career.
The racism, the inequities--, Chuck tried to break through that.
But that was the way of the times.
Billy Peek: He went on the road and he told me on the bus you might have Jackie Wilson, Bo Diddley, and Bill Haley and the Comets.
And he said, they'd come to these southern towns, and Bill Haley and the Comets would get off the bus and go into the hotel.
White hotels and white restaurants back then, they didn't allow black people there.
Joe Edwards: To be turned down city after city, after city, that's crazy.
He was sleeping in his car many, many times.
Hayes: Entertain me, but don't get close to me.
Peek: Promoters didn't treat him very well either.
He was being booked for $500 a night.
And he did this for almost a year, $3,000 a week, which back then was immense.
The promoters, he finds out, that they were booking him for $3,000 a night.
So he's only getting $500 of that.
Chess: He wasn't going to take that (bleep).
Themetta Berry: Right then and there, he stopped and said, 'I'll take care of my money'.
He was a man who stood up for his rights.
Hayes: He figured the only way that he could be independent was to take charge of his money.
But he was angry.
Hackford: I think Chuck's anger was, "I'm black, I can't do what somebody else, is less talented than I am, can do."
Chess: He started to demand his money in a paper bag, before he started playing.
He'd been screwed, he only learned that by not getting the bag or opening the bag after, and it was half as much.
He would just walk off and go home, if you didn't pay him.
So he was a tough cookie.
(laughter) Melody Berry Eskridge: I remember him coming home and he'd love to open up his attache, he always had an attache.
And he'd open up and show us the cash in there.
Interviewer: What advice would you give to a young musician starting out in the business today?
Chuck Berry: Ok. Major in math!
Then take up music, which is really half math.
Then major in human nature, and then go right into business.
Slash: Once you get (bleep) around and you know it's wrong, and you understand how it happened, you're never going to have that (bleep) happen to you a second time.
He got massively burned and he resented it, and he carried it with him to his grave.
Johnny Carson: Have you ever been ripped off?
Chuck Berry: (resentful laughter) Carson: No names, no names!
Carson: No names, please!
Chuck: In more ways than one.
Chuck: (chuckles) ♪ (dramatic drum beat) ♪ Litman: Chuck's reputation among promoters, you know, preceded itself.
♪ (dramatic drum beat) ♪ If you wanna book Chuck, it was basically, don't mess with Chuck's money.
Make sure you've got his amplifier.
Chuck's going to drive himself to the gig.
Make sure he's got a place to park right near the stage door and make sure that the band is there when he's ready, and no, he's not going to rehearse.
Edwards: Chuck decided that he's gonna do pick up bands in various cities and he just assumed, rightfully, that everybody would know his music.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
Litman: If you're a rock musician, you know Chuck Berry tunes!
You're gonna, it's not, it wasn't like I said, 'Hey, come in and play Rachmaninoff off the top of your head.'
Hayes: He figured if you hired me, you would know what Chuck Berry played.
And if they didn't follow him, he'd fire them.
Simple as that.
Get off stage.
Chess: He felt he deserved a level of respect and if he didn't get it he could really be a (bleep).
Charles Berry, Jr.: There's a bunch of folklore about my dad being tough to work with.
No, he, he really wasn't.
Just do what's on this contract, psh, you got it!
You'll see the most jovial, laid back cat on the planet.
Cross him, that's a different story.
Host: Here he is, the one and only, Chuck Berry!
♪ (Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode) ♪ ♪♪ Chuck: ♪ Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans ♪ ♪ Way back up in the woods among the evergreens ♪ ♪ There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood ♪ ♪ Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode ♪ ♪ Who never ever learned to read or write so well ♪ ♪ But he could play a guitar ♪ just like a-ringin' a bell Go go ♪ Reskinoff: Throughout the '50's, Chuck Berry was probably unmatched by anyone of that era and unmatched by, a handful of artists at best in the entire history of the industry.
Chuck B: ♪ Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music ♪ ♪ Any old way you choose it ♪ ♪ It's got a back beat... ♪ Charles Berry, Jr.: There was no stopping the train.
Chuck B.: ♪ Any old time you use it ♪ ♪ It's gotta be rock and roll music ♪ Themetta Berry: It was nothing for him to write songs.
He just wrote one song after the other.
Chuck: ♪ ...sixteen ♪ ♪ She's just got to have ♪ ♪ About half a million ♪ ♪ Framed autographs ♪ ♪ All the cats wanna dance with... ♪ Chess: He was on a rise.
He was rising like a meteor.
And boom!...It ended.
Pegg: Chuck had a problem.
♪ (dramatic music) ♪ Hackford: Chuck Berry loved women.
Marsala: I think he liked women.
Chess: He liked women!
Hackford: But he liked young women.
DeSanto: He liked those young women.
Hayes: He liked young girls.
♪ (dramatic music) ♪ Hackford: He was traveling on the road, he met this girl.
♪ He brought her back to St. Louis to his club and she worked there.
He was out on the road.
Uh, he said she was turning tricks.
Pegg: Well, the story goes that when she was picked up for prostitution, she told authorities that she was 14, that Chuck had brought her into town and they had had sex.
In the trial that followed, Chuck claimed that she told him she was 21, and they'd never been intimate.
Hackford: The Mann Act basically says you cannot transport a minor across the state line for illicit purposes.
Billy Peek: But I think it was pretty much law enforcement were out to get Chuck no matter what it took.
So when they got the chance, they went after him big time.
Pegg: What we know about that particular trial is that Chuck was sentenced to three years in federal prison, but served just short of two.
Interviewer: Why'd you stand by him?
Themetta Berry: It was love, and the way you were reared.
You were brought up to respect your husband, respect your wife, for better or for worse when you married.
He was a rockstar!
I just thought, that's the way it was designed to be.
I accepted that.
That was his lifestyle.
♪ (upbeat rock and roll music) ♪ Hackford: So at the same time, Chuck is in prison.
The Beatles, they started to realize, first of all, if they were going to learn rock and roll, gotta play Chuck Berry.
And once they realized what a good song was, 'cause Chuck wrote good songs, they said, "hey I can do this."
I'm going to start writing my own songs.
And that's what the Beatles did.
That's what the Rolling Stones did.
♪ Richards: I'm getting on a train to go to art school.
This guy who I used to go to high school with, Mick Jagger, under his arm, he has these records I would die for.
A Bo Diddley record, The Best of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry's Rockin' at the Hops.
♪ So now I'm looking at this man with a sudden new respect.
(chuckles) ♪ He came over and we played in my house, and then I went over and I played a little guitar, and it was all because of Chuck Berry, you know, who put us together.
♪ (rock-n-roll guitar music) ♪ Hackford: The British Invasion happened and everybody in America went, 'Wow!
The Beatles: ♪ There's clouds in the sky, ♪ ♪ you can dry your eyes, ♪ ♪ When there's rain up above, ♪ ♪ You can give your love ♪ Chess: Now that was a different kind of energy, bigger than Chuck experienced.
The Beatles: ♪ When you're smiling at me ♪ ♪ I can see you're giving ♪ ♪ All the love that we share ♪ ♪ And it's all I'm living for ♪ He wanted that, I think, he wanted that same attention.
He just wanted to get back.
He wanted to get back to being a star.
♪ (slow dramatic music) ♪ Hayes: After he was released-- Chuck was very bitter.
He lost a lot of money, lost a lot of prestige, and he lost a lot of friends.
Chess: Chuck, right from prison, appeared at Chess Records, wearin' dungarees, a little bag on his side.
My father said, 'Here's a $100 bill, take Chuck down to Chicago Avenue and buy him some new clothes.'
From prison, and recorded and on the road all in a four-week period.
We were thrilled.
♪ (guitar riff) ♪ Chuck Berry: ♪ Riding along in my automobile, ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ My baby beside me at the wheel, ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile, ♪ ♪ ♪ Chess: On those records, Johnny Johnson played with Chuck.
But shortly after, they drifted apart.
A long term friendship that slowly turned sour.
Chuck didn't like sharing his money.
♪ (slow guitar playing) ♪ Litman: He became more hardened.
Miller: They put me in a penitentiary for a year and a half, when I got out, I would not be the same person.
Richards: I was in a dressing room just to see Chuck, y'know, popped in and he'd left the guitar case open in his dressing room, and I just wanted to see what he was playing, and I just went... and I was just sort of (mumbles) Chuck comes storming in the room, 'Boom!'
and he gives me... a great black eye.
And I understand, hey guitar players, Hey, don't touch my axe!
Ok, I get it, I didn't know it was that serious but-- (laughter) Okay!
Yeah, I wore it for a couple of weeks, um-- but to me it's like a badge of honor.
Chess: At that time, Chuck got a big offer from Mercury Records.
It was such a big advance for a black artist.
Chuck wanted to know if my father could match it.
My father says, 'No way, you know, I can't do it.
It's too much, take it and run.'
He lost the magic, and he didn't have a producer like my father.
Miller: He got very, very, very, very casual about his work.
I wanted to help him, so I agreed to do all these gigs with him.
♪ (guitar music - Johnny B Goode) ♪ ♪ ♪ And so, Chuck Berry started doing these shows, and we would go, and it would be Steve Miller band and Chuck Berry.
Chuck Berry would headline.
Chuck: ♪ Roll over Beethoven ♪ I gotta hear it again today ♪ ♪ Miller: And he would go out, and he would have 6,000 kids going nuts.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ But all of a sudden, at 45 minutes-- 'Gotta go!'
Duck walk off the stage.
Chuck would not go back unless he got a thousand dollars more in cash.
One night, when we got to the most precious part of the show, he completely dumped on it and did My Ding-a-ling, which is this crude song, which we had not rehearsed with him.
And that was like really strange.
But that was the biggest reaction the crowd gave him.
Chuck: ♪ I remember the girl next door ♪ ♪ We used to play house on the kitchen floor ♪ ♪ She'd be the queen ♪ ♪ I'd be the king ♪ ♪ And I let her play with my ding-a-ling-a-ling ♪ Audience/Chuck: ♪ Oh, my ding-a-ling ♪ ♪ Oh, my ding-a-ling ♪ ♪ Oh, I want you to play with my ding-a-ling ♪ Miller: People go 'did you see that?
That was great!'
And I was just kinda going, 'Man that was the saddest thing I've ever seen.'
Jordan: He invents an art form, that becomes part of our culture forever, right?
I get out of jail and I record My Ding-a-ling, and it's the biggest record that I've ever done.
The dude must've been like, 'What?'
Hackford: Chuck didn't care.
He had a number one song.
Hayes: Chuck thought it was a wonderful vehicle to make money.
And he says to hell with everybody else.
Thank you so much for the money.
♪ (guitar music - My Ding-A-Ling) ♪ Pegg: After that point, Chuck goes back into this routine of touring constantly.
Jordan: I'm gonna book all these places here.
I'm gonna jump from country fair to county fair to, state fair, whatever.
He's dumbed down his own material, just so he can make a lot of money.
Hackford: Chuck was on tour in Europe.
And of course, Chuck demanded from the promoter that he get paid in cash.
When he came back, the IRS came to him and they said, "where's your money?"
And he went, "No, no, no.
I never got paid.
They never paid me."
They went to the promoter and the guy says, "I paid him here in cash.
Here's all the receipts.
So, at this point, all Chuck had to do was say, 'All right, you caught me.
I'll pay my fine, and my tax.'
He went to jail.
Hayes: He saw other people not paying taxes.
You know, he thought he can get away with that.
Chess: I asked Chuck about prison.
Why did you do that?
Why didn't you just pay the (beep!)
', he said, 'I deserve the (beep!)
Carson: You have been a guest of the government, um, a couple times.
Chuck: Yes, I have served-- Audience: (laughter) Chuck: --with the government, yeah.
Carson: I don't mean in the military service, as I was talking, people maybe misunderstood... Chuck: Make it clear Johnny, make it clear.
Carson: Well I mean-- You talk about being in jail.
'Bout, it seems like every 17 years I make a big mistake.
Audience: (laughter) Host: 17 years!
Chuck: Every 17 years.
Hackford: That was the pattern that he had followed for maybe 25, 30 years.
Peek: He hit bottom after he got out of prison.
Miller: He was a great artist, a phenomenal originator.
And at the end of the day, you know, his estate was worth 50 million bucks.
He owned his publishing.
He bought a restaurant.
He did all the stuff he wanted, but I don't think he ever really got the love and appreciation he needed, and I think when people tried to give it to him, I think that made him even more defensive.
Litman: In my experience, with any artist it's often about this seeking, this validation, of your self-worth.
♪ (slow dramatic music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Hackford: I got a call from a woman named Stephanie Bennett, who was producing a documentary on Chuck Berry.
And she said, do you want to direct it?
I thought, Chuck Berry is a subject I can't pass up.
He's too fascinating.
And she said, Keith Richards is gonna be the musical director.
And I thought, Ooh, that'll be really interesting to see what happens with the two of them, and I signed up.
(audience cheering) ♪ (guitar music) ♪ Chuck: ♪ Maybellene, why can't you be true?
♪ Richards: If they're going to make a movie of Chuck Berry and he's gotta be up there with some (bleep)y little band behind him, which he usually hires because they're cheap...
I've got to put a top band together.
It was a task.
Jordan: We rehearsed at a place called Berry Park.
It was like going on to, driving into a compound.
Edwards: Berry Park, Chuck bought in the 1950s, when he started getting a lot of royalties.
There are several lakes, beautiful land.
Themetta Berry: Charles had a love for open space.
Bernie Hayes: It was a place for African Americans to gather, to have picnics, to dance, sing, drink.
That was Chuck's vision.
Peek: It was like a country club, and there was a lot of mixed couples there.
And then he decided to open it up and let people have concerts out there that they would promote.
♪ ♪ ♪ (dramatic music) ♪ Jordan: I can only imagine, what-- Berry Park was back in the day.
Well, a few years earlier, crowds had gotten so out of control, things had gotten really out of hand, so Chuck had to like shut it down.
So when we showed up-- - It was like we were walking into a place where time stood still.
It was really wild, the place was cold, and damp, and this is where we're going to rehearse, you know, really weird.
But at the same time, perfect!
Richards: --you sing, and they just play the rhythm, and I'll, and I'll put the fills in and-- --in between those vocal lines.
Chuck: Say that again?
Keith: If you're-- Jordan: Keith was hell bent on refamiliarizing Chuck with his own genius.
Keith: Don't need the rhythm guitar at least-- Chuck: Okay.
Keith: You know-- because it would be too much probably for you to sing and play the lead fills as well, right?
Chuck: Well, it wasn't... Robert Cray: Keith was paying homage to his hero, but Chuck treated him like a son.
He wasn't trusting him all the way.
♪ (guitar chord playing) ♪ Hackford: I had always planned on shooting rehearsals.
Didn't realize how hard that would be.
Chuck Berry is just too complicated.
Chuck: Leave the amp as I set it!
It's my amp and I'm setting it the way I wish!
Richards: That's how it's gonna sound in the field, baby!
Chuck: I'm interested in how it sounds here!
Sounds the way I wish it to sound!
Jordan: 'Cause he thought, this is a tribute to me, this was gonna be done his way or no way.
Keith: You gotta live with it afterwards!
Chuck: I've been living for 60 years with it!
Keith: I know that!
Well then, realize it!
Keith: But is it gonna be here, after we're all dead and gone?
It ain't you and me and... Chuck: Well, I ain't died!
Hackford: Chuck punished Keith throughout my whole film.
Richards: It didn't matter.
I mean, he could yell at me.
I mean, I can take him on.
I was made to do this job.
That was a, it was one of my dreams, would be second guitar behind Chuck Berry.
This movie gave me the possibility to do that.
In the meantime, I've been working with the biggest prima donna in the damn world!
Any trick Chuck could pull, Mick has already done it!
I'm the man for the job.
♪ (soft music) ♪ ♪ Hackford: Saturday night we have a concert at the Fox theater.
Litman: It was very, very intense.
Very tentative, but very confident at the same time.
Hackford: Chuck was exhausted from a whole week of fighting us and then rehearsing, which he didn't want to do.
♪ (dramatic music) ♪ (audience cheering) Chuck was terrified.
They are here.
I can't tell him to go away.
(audience cheering) Chuck: Thank you!
Thank you St. Louis!
(audience cheering) Thank you!
(audience cheering) Thank you!
(audience cheering) ♪ (rock-n-roll music) ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Well I'm-a write a little letter ♪ ♪ Goin' mail it to my local DJ, ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Well I just got this little record ♪ ♪ I want my jockey to play ♪ ♪ ♪ Richards: Half way through the damn song, Chuck Berry comes up to me and says, "Gotta change the key!"
I said, "No!"
♪ ♪ --and sent him back to the mic.
Chuck: ♪ Early in the mornin' I'm givin' you my warnin' ♪ ♪ Don't you step on my new shaggy shoes ♪ Richards: As the show went on, Chuck realized that this is it, man.
The cameras are damn rolling.
And this is who you are.
Now, you can either piss around with it, or you can give out.
♪ (guitar solo) ♪ Hackford: He ultimately got out there and he delivered.
Chuck: ♪ I know Venus like a beautiful lass, ♪ ♪ She had the world in the palm of her hand ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ She lost both her arms in a wrestling match ♪ Edwards: It's fascinating watching this.
For him to be out on that stage, and playing with Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, and Robert Cray and Etta James, and Julian Lennon and Johnny Johnson.
♪ (piano solo) ♪ Hackford: Johnny and Chuck had not played together for years.
I mean, maybe twenty.
Keith went out and found Johnny Johnson.
He was driving a school bus.
Traveled so many miles together.
They were brothers.
Chuck: ♪ She lost both her arms in a wrestling match ♪ ♪ To win a brown-eyed handsome man, ♪ Hackford: The concert was Chuck's realization, 'Hey, I finally have this moment.
♪ ♪ I must deserve it.
They must love me.'
♪ ♪ (audience cheering) Chuck: Rock-n-Roll!
(audience cheering fading) One word, from Keith Richards!
Richards: As we finished, I remember the look in his eyes, that did sort of vindicate himself, that he was revered.
He got that.
I loved it.
Interviewer: Did he ever thank you?
Richards: (laughs) He didn't go that far.
God bless his heart.
I would have been very suspicious if he did.
(laughter) ♪ (soft piano music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Edwards: One time, Chuck Berry and I were sitting around fairly late in the evening, just talking about things, and he was reminiscing.
And he just turned to me and said, "You know, Joe, I'd love to play a place the size of the ones that I played when I first started out."
And we looked at each other for like a split second, said, 'Well, let's do it.
Let's do it at Blueberry Hill.'
♪ (upbeat guitar music) ♪ He performed 209 monthly concerts at Blueberry Hill.
♪ ♪ Melody Berry-Eskridge: It's like he had pure joy playing in St. Louis.
♪ Charles Berry, Jr: Because, this was home!
♪ (soft music) ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ When he died in 2017, it was devastating to all of us.
♪ ♪ Richards: I think Chuck Berry never believed how great he was.
To him it might've seemed that it was all too easy, therefore, I can't be great.
That is not necessarily the case with talent.
And it just oozes out of you and you better believe it.
Edwards: My goodness, he was the very first person inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
(launching rocket whooshing) Chess: When Carl Sagan sent Voyager into outer space, they put a disc on it.
And guess what was on it kids?
What could be a bigger thing than that?
♪ ♪ Hackford: You know, Chuck Berry was a controversial star.
He was a rebel.
Melody Berry-Eskridge: He didn't apologize for being himself, but he did apologize for maybe some of the things that may have hurt other people.
You know, he had that empathy.
Richards: I mean, for all of his ups and downs and everything, Chuck Berry, I loved the man.
Y'know, this is (chuckles) Chuck, you gotta love him.
(chuckles) Stupid, eh?
(laughter) ♪ (dramatic music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Melody Berry-Eskridge: Mom's dream is to get a museum started and we've got just an abundance of stuff to put exhibits together.
♪ There is something from every era.
It's just so much.
Themetta Berry: I think of Charles all through the day.
I don't miss him.
He's with me, 'cause he's not gone.
He's here, right here with me now.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Okay... ♪ ♪ The end.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Announcer: In Their Own Words is available on Amazon Prime Video.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪