October 18, 1926 - March 18, 2017
Berry was a rock and roll legend; part of the first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class and a hero to Keith Richards, among others. He had a reputation for being prickly, but by some accounts was quite personable. Years of getting burned by promoters and journalists left him untrusting.
The 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll is about Berry's life. Keith Richards was a producer on the film and assembled the musicians. It did not go as planned: After extensive rehearsals without Berry present, he completely changed the arrangements when they began filming. Berry's capricious nature is evident in the film, but he approved of it.
He joined The Sir John Trio in 1953. The piano player, Johnnie Johnson would continue working with Berry and collaborate on many of his hits. Years later, Johnson sued Berry because he was never credited on any of the songs he helped write, and never received royalties from them. Johnson claimed he did not understand his legal rights at the time, but in 2002, the judge ruled that too much time passed between the writing of the songs and the lawsuit, and ruled in Berry's favor.
He got a degree in cosmetology from the Gibbs Beauty School.
He spent time in a reformatory from ages 18-20 after a carjacking incident. In 1959, he got in trouble with the law again for transporting a 14-year-old girl named Janice Escalanti across state lines when he brought her up from Mexico to work in a St. Louis club he owned. After a few weeks, their relationship soured, and Berry brought her to a bus station, giving her money for a ticket home. Instead of going home, she went to the police, who arrested Berry.
Berry's side of the story was that he fired the girl and she was retaliating against him. He claimed, rather dubiously and against Escalanti's account, that they never had sex. Berry was found guilty and spent about 20 months in jail, getting out in1963.
Berry was very mathematical, and came up with his own way of notating music using numbers instead of letters.
After going to prison and studying accounting, Berry became very concerned about the business side of his performances - he wouldn't take the stage until he was paid in full, in cash. Another one of his rules: the opening act could not mention his name.
He married his girlfriend Themetta in 1948 when he was 21. They remained married until Berry's death, although he was blatantly unfaithful.
The now-defunct Spy magazine ran a scathing report on Berry regarding a 1990 lawsuit involving a group of women who claimed that Berry used hidden cameras to record them in the bathroom of his restaurant. Berry denied the charges but settled the case out of court.
Most bands work hard to sell merch at their shows: T-shirts, CDs, etc. Berry never did this, even though it would have made him a lot of money.
In 1996, he started playing monthly gigs at the Blueberry Hill club in St. Louis. He did 209 shows, his last on October 15, 2014.