CHUCK BERRY: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Harmony Books: $17.95; 346 pp.).
"He could play the guitar just like ringing the bell," Chuck Berry sang of his mythic alter ego Johnny B. Goode. Unfortunately, the St. Louis carpenter's son writes prose more like dropping a tool box. A typical sentence: "Whatever has bestowed longevity on my career, be it learning, luck or ad-libbing, I owe it to the ignorance of any talent I knew I had at the time of these first (concert) appearances."
Berry's eventful life--and the fact that he's rarely been forthcoming about it--makes the effort required to penetrate his syntax worthwhile. The material on his childhood is new, if not especially fascinating. Later, the triumphs and the trials piled up, with three prison terms counterbalancing his role as a rock 'n' roll titan. The book offers some insights about his remarkable songwriting, and we get a bit of juice about shady music-biz dealings. But the only really memorable encounter with a fellow rocker is an attempted dressing-room seduction of Berry by Little Richard.
Ultimately, the book doesn't fully penetrate the privacy Berry has cultivated, and he remains especially evasive about his relationships with the many women who came into his life. He's been married for 35 years, but Mrs. B. virtually disappears from the narrative once his career swings into gear. Go, Johnny, go!