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Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry Hardcover – October 18, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0415937481 ISBN-10: 0415937485

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Elvis might still reign as the king of rock'n' roll, but Chuck Berry clearly invented the form. Strangely, not much has been written about the seminal songwriter ("Maybellene," "Johnny B. Goode"). Berry himself had the last word in his rather explicit 1986 autobiography. Here Pegg (writing, Syracuse Univ.) attempts to clarify his often troubled life, chronicling Berry's childhood in a segregated and racist St. Louis, successes and failures with Chess Records, run-ins with the law, and ultimate icon status. Interviews with friends and associates shed light on the shadows that Berry was reluctant to reveal in his autobiography (e.g., he was arrested under the Mann Act for allegedly having sex with a minor). Pegg also examines each of Berry's records in depth, tracing the development of his groundbreaking blend of blues, hillbilly, and jazz. Well-known as a gifted guitarist, Berry is also revealed to be a serious businessman. Pegg alternates between hagiography and harsh judgments of Berry, making the book feel off-balance. In spite of this shortcoming, Pegg provides an often-engaging portrait of a musician so devoted to his music that he is duck-walking his way into his eighties. The only biography on Berry in print, this is recommended for most libraries. (Photos not seen.) Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Pegg reminds us that if Elvis led the youthquake of the 1950s, it was Berry who became its unlikely poet laureate. -- Shepherd Express
A measured, carefully constructed tome built upon meticulous research, yet it avoids the sort of dense, impenetrable style of so many scholastic rock bios. -- St. Louis Riverfront Times
The staggering amount of research Pegg has done into Berry's southern roots and St. Louis makes its own statement about Berry's stature as an artist, while the analysis of individual songs...places Berry in a historical continuum while still conveying his out-of-the-blue uniqueness. -- Montreal Gazette
Pegg's scholarship is tidy, his writing is clear and straightforward. -- The Los Angeles Times
Ambitious. -- Mojo
Pegg's research is impressive. -- Boston Herald
Pegg provides an often engaging portrait of a musician so devoted to his music that he is duck-walking his way into the eighties. -- Library Journal
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (October 18, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415937485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415937481
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,009,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
5 star
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See all 11 customer reviews
This book was the cited reference for the incident.
J. Hand
He has always had some sort of remarkable, unique spark as a performer.
Michael Dickson
It contains information that is both provoctive and endearing.
eric albert

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert R. Amis on February 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a long time fan of Chuck Berry, I have tried to read everything I could find about him, from enclyclopedia's to Rolling Stone Magazine. Over the past 20 years, I have tried to piece together the various differing messages about him, from musical genius to "difficult to work with" entertainer. This book puts it all together in an extremely well written and well documented manner. Pegg ties together all of the pieces with a lot of information and insight otherwise unknown, with interviews of principle persons in Chuck's musical and professional life. He is obviously a fan of Chuck's, but the book is very honest with the facts and never sensational.
If you are a fan of Chuck Berry, please do yourself a favor and get this book. You will not be able to stop reading it! I think it also would be helpful for anyone interested in the social/historical milieu of this time period in relationship to black entertainers in general as well.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By johann on September 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I've been reading this book for the last few months (it's been my reading material on the train on the weekends hehe) and it's been an enertaining read of the life and hard times of Chuck Berry.

Previous to reading this book, I had only heard Chuck Berry's music and loved it, but did not know much about the man himself.

Bruce Pegg has done a good job of detailing Chuck's life, from the early days in The Ville, his begginings in music, Racism in the USA in the 50's, Chuck's relationship with Chess Records, concerts, all his court appearances (the Mann Act Trial, the Southern Aire Restuarant Video Tape Scandal (which I first heard about on E! News!) plus much more.

There are some great photos in the book which i'm not sure have been seen before.

Pegg also has also rounded up all the important people in Chuck's life and they all give interesting comments.

I haven't read Chuck Berry's offical Autobiography, but upon reading this, i'm sure this gives a much better view into his life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By eric albert on March 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great Book. Very informative. A thorough body of research was completed in order to have this book published. I thought I knew all about Chuck Berry until I read this book. I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Chuck's. The book is balanced and pulls no punches. No wonder the biography is unauthorized. It contains information that is both provoctive and endearing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Hand on October 3, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What a read! I first sought this book out after reading elsewhere about Chuck Berry throwing Keith Richards off stage at a peformance where Keith was sitting in. This book was the cited reference for the incident. Intrigued, I sought out and bought this book. I knew very little about Chuck Berry, the man, previous to reading it. While his career was sadly similar to many old rock stars and especially the Black blues artists, the rise, the self destruction, the inevitable fall, the ever present cheats, the too frequent double crosses, and the tragedy of it all, it still was all original enough to hold my interest. The way that law enforcement went out of its way to destroy the man was disturbing. While Berry certainly didn't help his case at times with his desires for pretty young women, it's a very uneasy contrast with the way Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley got more of a pass for similar actions. Well written and an easy read, if you are interested in Chuck Berry, Rock History, or just good Rock and Roll stories, by all means, buy this book!

EDIT UPDATE: Either before or after reading this book watch the film Cadillac Records. While I can't say it's 100% factual I think it captures the way of life of the times. It shows the way things were done including everything I mentioned above that was in this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sir Gerald Wordsmith on February 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Bruce Pegg's book is what a biography should be: well researched, beautifully written, encompassing the subject and the cultural and historical background, and a story that speaks to our times today as much as the past. I have seen Chuck many times, here in St. Louis, I have met him, been impressed by his contributions to music and his influence on many rock and roll stars. I know of the places Pegg mentions in his book. Now that I have read it (just last week) Chuck Berry becomes an even more imposing, three-dimensional force, as well as a genuine human being whose art will always outshine and outlast any imperfections he has. Like so many creative giants, his work is what he is all about. Thanks to Bruce Pegg for this extraordinary book. He obviously put a lot of work and thought into it, and it comes through smoothly. He even explains how some of Chuck's songs are constructed, how the lyrics and the licks and the musicians all came together. I had read Chuck's autobiography, which I enjoyed immensely, especially his writing, his rhythms, his attitudes and perspectives. Pegg completes the picture. If you have any interest in American music, in rock and roll, in cultural and social changes in our country over the last 60 years, boogie on down to the bookstore, the library or log on to Amazon and start reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael Dickson on May 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have been a huge fan of Chuck Berry since 1956 or so when I was a lad of 12. Loved him then. Love him now. He has always had some sort of remarkable, unique spark as a performer. I never read his autobiography, and I never saw the movie made at his 60th birthday, which is strange since I am such a monster fan. So this book was fascinating to me. Chuck is married and has been most of his adult life. He has three children. Who knew? Not me. I was aware of the Mann Act conviction, of course. And I had vague knowledge of the accusations of the videotaping in women's bathrooms. I was happy to read in this book that those latter were almost certainly false accusations, made in an attempt to shake Chuck down via the legal system.

I knew that he never traveled with entourages, that he traveled to most of his gigs through his career alone or nearly so. He is an odd bird, obviously. He had a real taste for the ladies, too, especially real young ladies, which got him in trouble on more than one occasion. I imagine his wife had the patience of the ages. My few complaints of this well-researched book is that it goes just a bit too deeply into the legal issues which tend to drone on at times to excess. Also, the Kindle version needs at least one more read-through by a good editor. Reign and rein are not the same. Houston socialite Candace Mossler with whom Berry had a, uh, very close friendship, is spelled Mossier more often than the correct Mossler. Plus, misspelled words pop up too often.

But I quibble. If you're a Chuck Berry fan, you'll really be interested in this book. It's not fluff. Very interesting and informative.
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