March 29, 2020 – Music pioneer Chuck Berry got in hot water with the Milwaukee mafia in the 1960s after refusing to show up for a booked concert at a mob-owned nightclub in Wisconsin because he was angry for not being paid by the establishment for previous appearances, per FBI records obtained and released by the Chicago Sun-Times this week. The club was The Scene, located on North 2nd Street inside Milwaukee’s Hotel Antlers.
According to the federal documents, longtime Milwaukee don Frank Balistrieri had an enforcer of his threaten Berry with physical harm at his hotel if he didn’t get up on stage at The Scene and perform one chaotic night in 1966. Berry followed orders, avoiding any violence, and Balistrieri paid him the delinquent tab and for the concert that evening. The Scene played host to a who’s who of rockers, blues musicians and jazz legends, from Berry to Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers to Miles Davis.
Dubbed the “Godfather of Rock’n Roll,” Berry fused early rock music with R&B and heavy usage of guitar solos and showmanship to bring the genre to the masses. His five Top 10 Billboard chart hits in the 1950s laid the foundation for the explosion of the artform into pop culture in the subsequent decades. He was part of the first induction class into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Balistrieri led the Milwaukee mob from 1961 until he died of cancer in 1993 at 74 years old, having spent the final six years of his life in prison for skimming millions of dollars from a group of Las Vegas casinos in a conspiracy that included mafia crime families from Chicago, Kansas City and Cleveland. Balistrieri’s Milwaukee regime was under the thumb of the Chicago Outfit and Balistrieri reported directly to his counterpart in the Windy City, Tony (The Big Tuna) Accardo.
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