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Daily History

October 28 1961 Chuck Berry goes on trial for the second time


On October 28th 1961, the second so-called “Apache trial” began for rock-and-roller Chuck Berry. Although his earlier conviction for transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes in violation of the Mann Act was thrown out on appeal, the prosecution decided to retry Berry.

Born October 18th 1926 into a middle-class family in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry had an interest in music from an early age and gave his first public performance at Sumner High School.

While still a high school student he served a prison sentence for armed robbery between 1944 and 1947.

On his release, Berry settled into married life and worked at an automobile assembly plant.

By early 1953, influenced by the guitar riffs and showmanship techniques of blues player T-Bone Walker, he was performing in the evenings with the Johnnie Johnson Trio.

His break came when he travelled to Chicago in May 1955, and met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records.

With Chess he recorded “Maybellene,” Berry’s adaptation of the country song “Ida Red,” which sold over a million copies, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart.

By the end of the 1950s, Berry was an established star with several hit records and film appearances to his name as well as a lucrative touring career.

He had also established his own St. Louis-based nightclub, called Berry’s Club Bandstand.

Chuck Berry was one of the biggest pop stars of the late 1950s when he began to have legal problems.

While charges in yet another Mann Act violation were pending (which were dismissed in 1960), Berry met Janice Escalante, a Native American with roots in the Apache tribe, in a bar near El Paso, Texas.

According to Berry, who took the young woman on the road with his travelling rock show, Escalante claimed to be 21 years old.

After there was a falling out between the two, Escalante complained about Berry to the authorities.

During his second trial, Berry was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

After a short stretch in Leavenworth Federal Prison, he was transferred to a Missouri jail, where he spent his time studying accounting and writing songs.

Among the songs he wrote before his release from prison in October 1963 were “No Particular Place to Go” and “You Never Can Tell,” later memorialised in the film Pulp Fiction.

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