Chuck Berry was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest songwriters and became one its savviest businessmen.
According to Billboard, he controlled more than $17 million in music assets, which generate up to a half-million bucks in annual royalties.
Like many artists, black and white, Chuck was taken advantage in business dealings with his label during the early years of his career. But, quoting a favorite saying of his mother — “Don’t let the same dog bite you twice” — Berry became a savvy negotiator over time. By the early ’70s, his chart-topper “My Ding-a-Ling” earned him $250,000 (that’s $1.5 million today). Berry also invested in real estate, including a 30-acre spread in the St. Louis suburb of Wentzville, Missouri.
One of Chuck’s attorneys, Martin Green, said that he “negotiated a lot of contracts for himself. He handled more of his own business than most musicians could.”
Well known for demanding he be paid in cash before concerts, Chuck even insisted on receiving $2,500 in a paper bag before appearing in Hail! Hail! Rock ’N’ Roll, the concert documentary celebrating his 60th birthday.
That fee was a bargain. Musician/attorney Bob Baldori, who occasionally played piano for Chuck, noted that he did nearly 100 shows a year in the ’80s and ’90s — at $20,000 to $35,000 a gig.
The man who wrote “Rock and Roll Music” found the way to make it pay!