"By fusing blues and country, Berry also invented a signature guitar style — like "ringing a bell," as he put it in "Johnny G. Goode" — that was imitated by bands from the Stones and the Beach Boys to punk rockers. His lyrics — largely about sex, cars, music and trouble — introduced an entirely new vocabulary into popular music in the Fifties. In his songs, Berry captured America's newfound post-war prosperity — a world, as he sang in "Back in the U.S.A.," where "hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day." ''I made records for people who would buy them," Berry once said. "No color, no ethnic, no political — I don't want that, never did.''
Yet Berry, in his role as rock & roll pioneer, also dealt with racism and bigotry, particularly when he was accused in 1961 of violating the Mann Act (transporting a woman or girl across state lines for purposes of prostitution). Berry claimed he had met Janice Norine Escalanti, a 14-year-old Native American, during a show in Texas and hired her to work at his St. Louis club, Club Bandstand. Imprisoned after a second trial (the first conviction was overturned due to the judge repeatedly using the word "nigra"), Berry, who pleaded not guilty, wound up serving nearly two years in prison and emerged a noticeably changed, bitter man. In recent years, he had mellowed somewhat, thanks in part to receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 1986 and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."