Monday, August 14, 2017

Chuck Berry - The Autobiography

I think that I recently had come across a story about Chuck and thought “I’d never heard that before;  I should learn more about his life” and so I found this 1987 autobiography. This does seem to really be written by Chuck and not a ghost writer as it reads in his cadence and with his stylistic embellishments. That said, I think he is a much better song writer than story writer, but regardless, this is a fun read.

Of course, he starts with his family and early years and quickly gets to his trouble-making adolescence, where he ends up making some very stupid decisions and spends several years in jail. He was a model prisoner so he got out early, settled down on the straight’n’narrow (more or less), got married and eventually decided that making music was a better livelihood than continuing as an apprentice to his carpenter father. When Muddy Waters told him to check out Chess Records, he did so and immediately got a hit with “Maybelline” and the rest is rock’n’roll history!

He talks of his early days of touring and the temptations found on the road, his decision to manage himself after discovering dirty dealings by the man he had hired, and his reasoning for going out as a solo artist, picking up a new band in every city to back him up. There’s a chapter in which he discusses the background on some of his songs, and although there’s not too much real depth here, it still is intriguing.

As his career was accelerating, he hired a white woman as his personal secretary/gal Friday – something that naturally caused a bit of a stir in the late 50’s – and they talk about each other with extreme fondness, to the point that you wonder what really went on between them and wish that there was an impartial observer telling the story. Of course, he gets into his arrest for bringing an underage female over state lines, which he swears was for innocent reasons and he blames his lawyer for his conviction. He made the most of his incarceration, wrote songs, finished his high school degree and took business classes.

I won’t get into his entire life here, but he (obviously) continued to have a successful vocation, he exposes some romantic dalliances (that he, apparently, did not hide from his wife – even having some of these women come to work for him!), and then gets into trouble with the IRS due to some bad judgement and dumb mistakes. It is there that he started the book in earnest and he kinda glosses over the years following this stint in the slammer – barely even mentioning the movie Hail Hail Rock’n’Roll and not mentioning the star-studded band (led by Keith Richards) at all – although maybe he figures the movie speaks for itself. His final chapter is a hodge-podge of random thoughts, apparently, from favorite foods to ideas for further books to recollections of gigs, to a repudiation of interviews and interviewers. 

Sometimes the story of a life is best told by an impartial observer, but it is intriguing to hear it in the first person, as well. As I said, while I enjoyed this, it does make me want to read an objective viewpoint, as well.