December 1, 1959

On this day in 1959, Chuck Berry met a young girl named Janice Escalante in Juarez, Mexico while his band had a show in El Paso. Berry invited her on the tour and took her back to St. Louis. Bad move – she was just 14.

That day Berry and his band hit up a few strip joints and they had lunch at a local cantina, this is where Berry starting flirting with a girl at the next table, Escalante. Berry says she claimed to be a full-blooded Apache Indian and  21. He invited her to work as a hostess at his nightclub; his idea was that she would dress in Pocahontas-style attire. Escalante was willing and joined the band for the rest of the tour.

Escalante asserts that she and Berry became lovers while on the road. In Berry’s autobiography, he states that those allegations are false, and he was waiting until she got older. When they arrived in St. Louis, Escalante began hostessing at Club Bandstand. While Berry was back on the road, he got word that Escalante had not shown up to work in some time. But worse, the police had been looking for him regarding a teenage employee of his who’d been arrested for prostitution at a downtown hotel.

After going to court twice with failed appeals, Berry eventually ended with a $10,000 fine and only served 20 months of his 3-year sentence in prison from Feb. of 1962 to Oct. of 1963.

Berry denied the whole incident for years. In a 1972 interview, he said, “That’s the misconceptions that people have, that Chuck Berry went to jail. They’re just totally wrong. You take a look at any of the local papers and you will see that I was acquitted. I never went to jail.”

Johnny be good? No, Johnny be crazy and he was very, very bad.


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