September 26 / 2002

New book release:
"Chuck Berry - The Biography"

By John Collis (hardcover)

Released: September 26th / 2002

Aurum Press - ISBN 1854108735

John Collis was the author of the legendary "Rock Primer" back in the seventies and has also written a biography of Van Morrison and a history of Chess Records, the American blues label. He lives in London, England.

Book Description:
Chuck Berry is one of the greatest talents in popular music, and also an individual legendary for his difficulty and capriciousness. It's no exaggeration to say that, with songs like "Roll Over Beethoven", "Johnny B Goode", "No Particular Place to Go" and a whole host of others, he invented rock and roll. Literally dozens of his songs are now timless classics still performed by bands in clubs and pubs every night across the world. As a wordsmith he also set a benchmark for intricate, dazzingly witty and memorable lyrics unequalled by perhaps anyone apart from Bob Dylan. And he invented the duck walk.

But as a musician he has been respected rather than ever loved by his peers - after producing the birthday-tribute film "Hail, Hail Rock and Roll", for him, Keith Richards even remarked that he "wouldn't warm to Chuck Berry if he was cremated next to me". Berry would always tour by himself, and use a different clutch of pick-up musicians in every town, to avoid the expenses of keeping a band on the road; he would always insist on payment in cash up front before he'd even go on stage; he'd usually perform the contractual minimum of a short set; and he'd not only invest his considerable wealth in property and a stable of cars but also shamelessly congratulate himself on his acquisitiveness. And his career has been overshadowed, and more that once stalled, by trouble with the law, and time in jail for a relationship with an under-age woman.

Until now, Chuck Berry's own maverick autobiography has been the main source for anyone wanting to read about the life of this extraordinary genius, for there is no other word. But now, John Collis has interviewed Berry's fellow musicians, as well as former promoters and tour managers, and researched the truth about Berry's life back in his home city of St Louis, to produce the first rounded, objective and sometimes shocking portrait of a man who, even in his seventies, is still treading the boards and singing of "Sweet Little Sixteen".


September 27 / 2002

Author chronicles life of rock'n'roll legend

Oneida Dispatch

Sep 25th / 2002

By Alex Bonafice

SYLVAN BEACH - It's an exciting time for local author and teacher Bruce Pegg. After a half-dozen years of work, the Sylvan Beach resident's first book, a biography of Chuck Berry, will hit the stores this fall.

"Brown-Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry" is the lead fall title of Routledge publishing. The book will be available Oct 29th. Besides Routledge's efforts in publicizing the book, the biography will get a boost into the limelight from a serializing of parts of the book in the National Inquirer.

Pegg, a native of Leicester, England, came to America in 1981 to go to college. After graduating from SUNY Brockport with master's in English literature he decided to stay in the county and the Central New York area. Peg is now employed as the assistant director of the Syracuse University Writing Program.

Besides writing, Pegg's other major interest is music. While he long-ago gave up the dream of being a rock star, he still enjoys playing. He has played with the Sylvan Beach area band, The East Shore All Stars, for about 12 years. Pegg plays guitar and sings for the band in occasional gigs around the Oneida Lake area.

Pegg says he began writing the biography in 1996. He had done some academic writing previously, and was ready to tackle his first book. For his subject he turned to one of his greatest interests - music.

"I've always been a fan of Chuck Berry", Pegg says. "I asked myself what's been written about him? and the answer is surprisingly little. All of a sudden it was like "there's your project".

Pegg started the book while he was teaching at Colgate University. Shortly after he began the book Pegg approached Routledge about publishing it.

"I was very lucky", he says. "You hear stories about publishers rejecting writers. I was one of those fortunate few that the first company I talked to was tremendously interested in the project".

The book is an unauthorized biography, says Pegg. He wasn't able to interview Berry and the musician didn't cooperate with Pegg's attempt to chronicle his life.

"Truthfully I didn't expect that to happen" says Pegg. "The man has a reputation as a recluse. Because of things that happened to him in the past he is very wary of publicity. I still tried to interview him; I had to try".

"But I did get fairly close to him", says Pegg.

Pegg interviewed dozens of Berry's friends, family and business associates and used trial transcripts and other documents to provide a picture of the man and America in the 1950s and 1960s.

One of the pivotal points in Berry's life chronicled by Pegg, were his trials and conviction for violating the Mann Act - transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. The charges stemmed from Berry's relationship with Janice Escalanti, a young woman from Yuma, Arizona.

The musician met Escalanti Dec 1th, 1959, and tried to help her out of a life of prostitution by offering her a job as a hat check girl in his St. Louis club. After working for just two weeks, Escalanti was fired and she returned to prostitution.

After a few days of living in a hotel she called Yuma police to try to find a way home, and the subsequent St. Louis police investigation led to Berry's arrest. After two trials - the results of the first trial were overturned when it was revealed the judge had made racist remarks - Berry was sentenced to three years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

He was released from prison in October of 1963, and began a comeback that resulted in a handful of hits.

Pegg believes the trial led to Berry's retreat from the public light and his reclusive personality.

Although the excerpts of the book will appear in National Inquirer, Pegg says "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" isn't a sensationalized version of the musical icon's life.

"It certainly isn't that kind of book", Pegg says.

Pegg has two main goals for the book. Besides helping readers learn more about the '50s and '60s, he wants people to know how much Berry influenced rock'n'roll.

"You look at the 1950s and you look at the musicians of the era; Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, they had volumes written about them", says Pegg. "But Berry, because he has resisted the public limelight, has been somewhat ignored. Musicians know what he did, but sometimes I think the general public overlooks his contributions".


October 23 / 2002

Chuck Berry wins suit
Blames Keith Richards

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Oct 23th / 2002

By Peter Shinkle

Rock'n'roll legend Chuck Berry has won his court dispute with piano player Johnnie Johnson, who claimed he helped write such classics as "Roll Over Beethoven" and deserved a share of the royalties.

U.S. District Judge Donald Stohr on Monday dismissed Johnson's suit in St. Louis on the grounds that too many years had passed since the more than 30 songs in dispute were written, between 1955 and 1966.

There was no question that the men had played together for years, but Berry simply asserted that he alone authored the songs.

Martin Green, attorney for Berry, said that the superstar, who is now 76 and lives in Ladue, has no hard feelings for Johnson, 77.

"He likes him very much, considers him a friend, and expects to play with him in the future", Green said.

"He doesn't blame Johnnie for the lawsuit. He blames some of Johnnie's advisers", Green added. Specifically, Green said, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and bluesman Bo Diddley recommended that Johnson pursue the case.

Mitch Margo, attorney for Johnson, said his client had not decided yet whether to appeal.

The songs under dispute include such classics as "Rock and Roll Music" and "Sweet Little Sixteen".

Normally, the statute of limitations to seek royalty claims under the federal Copyright Act is three years.

But in the suit, Margo claimed that Johnson was so addled by excessive alcohol abuse and a low IQ that he was incapable of understanding that he had a right to royalties that Berry collected for decades after the songs were written.

Johnson claimed in a deposition during the case that he gave up drinking after a 1989 incident in which he drank excessively during a concert with Eric Clapton in London. He got a nosebleed that lasted all the way back to St. Louis. "Johnnie is a man who is a genius at the piano but has trouble doing other things", Margo said Tuesday.

In his 19-page order dismissing the case, Judge Stohr said that "during his 70+ years, Mr. Johnson has lived independently and been generally competent to manage his affairs unassisted". The judge noted that Johnson bought cars, rented apartments, read the newspaper and managed his own finances.

In the end, the judge said he was "unpersuaded" that Johnson was not competent to recognize his rights. In dismissing the case, he also threw out Berry's own challenge to Johnson's trademark of the phrase "The Father of Rock and Roll". Berry failed to pursue the claim in court, the judge said.


October 28 / 2002

Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill, Nov 13

Chuck Berry will perform at Blueberry Hill, 6504 Delmar, St. Louis, Missouri, November 13th. Tickets on sale now! Music Rooms are 21+ only. Doors open at 8:00 pm. Guest TBA at 9.00 pm. Advance tickets at Blueberry Hill (no service charge) or through Metrotix outlets and by phone at (314) 534 1111. Online at:


October 30 / 2002

Chuckie and Johnnie
Judge tosses out lawsuit between rock legends

Riverfront Times

Oct 30th / 2002

By René Spencer Saller

On October 21, U.S. District Judge Donald Stohr dismissed piano legend Johnnie Johnson's lawsuit against Chuck Berry, almost exactly two years after the claim -- in which Johnson argued that he deserves co-writing credit for at least 30 of Berry's songs -- was filed. Lawyers for Berry's longtime sideman argued that although the statute of limitations for royalty claims is only three years and the songs in question were written approximately 45 years ago, the statute should be waived because Johnson is borderline mentally defective. The judge didn't buy that argument; in his order, he wrote that the 77-year-old appeared competent to recognize his rights. Unless Johnson's lawyers appeal, this sad chapter of rock & roll history is officially closed. The suit might be settled, but that doesn't mean both sides are ecstatic or that the real question of authorship is conclusively resolved. The judge took the simplest route possible, an outcome that's highly unsatisfying to anyone with an emotional hankering for the Ultimate Truth. The opposing lawyers both believe they could have won their cases before a jury.

Says Joe Jacobson, Berry's lawyer: "Let's say the copyright act had no statute of limitations at all. We'd still win because I think we could prove pretty persuasively that Johnnie Johnson was not a co-author and really made very few contributions to the songs, other than his actual performance."

Counters Mitch Margo, Johnson's lawyer: "If we'd have gone to trial, we'd have won. I believe it from the depositions we took, the mediation we had." Margo says he had lined up witnesses who could testify in Johnson's favor but declines to identify them in case his client appeals.

The lawyers agree on one thing: The case was complicated. One reason, Jacobson says, is that Johnson's lawyers changed their strategy. Initially they argued that the statute of limitations didn't apply because Berry purposely misled or took advantage of Johnson; later they argued that Johnson's judgment was impaired because he was an alcoholic and also mentally defective. But in a deposition, Johnson claimed that he was never incapacitated by his drinking and that the only reason he didn't bring a suit against Berry earlier was that he didn't think he could afford a lawyer. [This changed when Johnson met Texan multimillionaire, George Turek, who encouraged Johnson to take legal action and then paid his legal bills.]

Niggling questions remain: If Johnson is as mentally defective as his own lawyers argue he is, how can he be considered a credible witness about events that took place more than 40 years ago? If he's highly "subject to suggestion," as the plaintiff's psychologist attests, who's to say he isn't merely repeating charges he's heard fans such as Keith Richards make over the years? Moreover, Johnson's never claimed to have written any of the lyrics, certainly the most characteristic aspect of Berry's songs, and most of the music in question is derived from standard blues-chord progressions.

Asked how Johnson can claim credit for songs on which he didn't even play piano, Margo argues that the liner notes in the Chess boxed set are incorrect: "I can't tell you what songs they were, but certainly Johnnie Johnson can recognize his piano playing versus someone else's." But how to prove it, given that "mentally defective" Johnson is the only witness? "I would put him behind a piano and show you what he can do, and we'd compare it to what Chuck Berry can do," Margo replies.

The musical-proficiency argument doesn't hold water. Johnson might be a better musician than Berry from a technical standpoint, but that doesn't mean he wrote the songs. Country-soul great Arthur Alexander (whose songs "Anna" and "You Better Move On" were famously covered by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, respectively) didn't play an instrument at all and couldn't read music. He hummed the melodies to his backing bands until they worked out the arrangements he wanted, and Alexander received the full songwriting credit. Because no one was rolling tape during Berry's and Johnson's jam sessions, it's one man's word against another's.

Interestingly enough, the two principals seem to be the least acrimonious people in Johnson v. Berry. During the proceedings, Johnson and Berry chatted about old times and seemed downright friendly. Berry didn't blame Johnson for the lawsuit. In an interview with Radar Station last year, he said, "It's not Johnnie that's doing this. I've known him 40 years. Someone inspired him to go along with him and seek their desire to try for an easy dollar."

Source: Riverfront Times

November 12 / 2002

Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill, Dec 11

Chuck Berry will perform at Blueberry Hill, 6504 Delmar, St. Louis, Missouri, December 11th. Tickets on sale now! Music Rooms are 21+ only. Doors open at 8:00 pm. Guest: Ingrid Berry Clay at 9.00 pm. Venue info at (314) 727 0880. Advance tickets at Blueberry Hill (no service charge) or through Metrotix outlets and by phone at (314) 534 1111. Online at:


November 12 / 2002

Chuck Berry on TV, November 22

Chuck Berry at Saturday Night Live, November 22th
Episode: (#048) Ruth Gordon / Chuck Berry 01/22/1997
Network: (ETV) E! Entertainment Television
Time: 03:30 pm - 04:30 pm ET


December 12 / 2002

Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill, Jan 15, 2003

Chuck Berry will perform at Blueberry Hill, 6504 Delmar, St. Louis, Missouri, January 15th. Tickets on sale now! Music Rooms are 21+ only. Doors open at 8:00 pm. Guest: TBA at 9.00 pm. Venue info at (314) 727 0880. Advance tickets at Blueberry Hill (no service charge) or through Metrotix outlets and by phone at (314) 534 1111. Online at: