Thursday, December 31, 2009

Can't Help It, But I Love it (Volume Three)

Then there’s the cultural impact.

During random outbursts of embarrassing news, bouts of crankiness, or tired renditions of “My Ding-a-Ling,” I become a little defensive about my Chuck Berry problem. But ultimately I am consoled that my obsession has got legs and staying power. He really is good. His legend and influence grows. He’s our Michelangelo-- our Dante.

Last night I challenged my wife to name someone with more cultural impact. She said “Shakespeare.”

OK, she got me, first time.

“But he’s the only one!” I said.

I am quick to acknowledge other musical geniuses—greater ones: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Muddy Waters. But Chuck Berry’s importance goes beyond the music itself. He changed a culture. He is one of the big daddies of modern history. He didn’t do it alone, but he is at the center of a storm that swept out the old and replaced it with something new and different. He is one of the big daddies of post renaissance history—a guy who could tell Tchaikovsky the news and get away with it.

Back when internet research was something new I typed his name into something called “Lexis.” I got 684 hits.

I hear him every day on the radio—not his own songs, perhaps—but his influence.

He’s an American giant—a world heritage giant.

And you could go see him, tonight. At B.B. King’s.

(That guy is pretty great himself!)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year (Featuring Chuck Berry and His Guitar)

HERE's a nice little story about Chuck Berry at B. B. King's in NYC tomorrow night that includes several tiny revelations and quotes and-- an e-mail from CB himself??!!!  (My e-mail address is long but easy, Mr. Berry: goheadon(at)!) 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Can't Help It, But I Love It (Volume Two)

There’s the pure, simple, very powerful charisma. He’s got loads of it. You’ve got to stare. You’ve got to laugh.

One of Keith Richards’ best observations in “Hail! Hail!” was that his personal presence sometimes got him past bad pickup bands, bad moods, bad tuning, and no rehearsal.

I’ve seen it happen. At the EMP in Seattle back in 2001 there was nothing wrong with the band, but Chuck Berry arrived in grumpy humor. He started the show by pulling all the plugs from the sound system and watching sternly as a young man struggled to get everything hooked up again. Then he kicked a guitarist off the stage. “Drum, bass and piano,” he told him. For 20 minutes or so his performance was cranky and lackluster—best during the blues number “Wee Wee Hours” (during which he nonetheless complained about the piano’s inability to do what he wanted with the song.) Every once in a while he made the band stop playing and did songs by himself—“Ding-a-Ling” and “South of the Border.” It was interesting in a clinical psychology sort of way.

But at a certain point professional responsibility must have kicked in and he got us going, a master puppeteer, pulling our strings and making us laugh and dance and clap for more. It was pure skill at that point—a showman’s knowledge of how to heat things up.  (Pretty good guitar playing, too!) 

Back in the early to mid-1970s he used a thousand tricks, mugging, joking, making faces as he strummed his guitar—but back then it was primarily the music. I was usually lucky to see him with good bands, and he was happy. At a couple of shows he played for hours, turning each song into a six or seven or ten minute jam.

When I saw him last year at Blueberry Hill it was the same, but different. The show was stripped down to a dozen or so songs, all short, but there wasn’t a phony bone in it. It was Chuck Berry surrounded by love, on stage and off. His son calls it “Chuck Berry in your own basement.” He definitely used his skills. He pulled out shtick he was doing in 1963 (a letter from home). He laughed with Bob Lohr on piano, mugged with Keith Robinson on drums, and sidled up to his son Charles and his backbone Marsala. He was happy. And by the end a dozen 22 year old girls were on stage vying for his attention.

Which is, of course, another part of it. He is a brown eyed handsome man, for sure.

The girls and women keep jumping on stage even when he’s 83-- and the guys are all jealous.

Ah well!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

He Went to Make a Motion Picture... (B. B. King's did, anyway)

B. B. King is doing for Chuck Berry what needs to be done for Chuck Berry: they recorded these September shows with multiple cameras.  I hope they do it again New Years.  Most of the recent Chuck Berry concerts are recorded with shaky flip recorders-- it's nice to see some of these.  And he's obviously having lots of fun hearing John Colianni go crazy.  Thanks BBL!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hear Them All!

Click here to hear "Back to Memphis." For me this website LaLa is a revelation.

What I've Learned Already From Morton Reff

A few weeks ago I wrote that it would be nice to reissue the Mercury stuff with better sound engineering.  And then I began flipping through Morton Reff's book and learned that it happened back in the late 1980s.  (Actually, in a way I sort ofknew this, since I have a CD of Live at the Fillmore that sounds considerably better than my old vinyl version.)  So my current task?  Find "Chuck Berry in Memphis" on CD to see how it sounds.  (I've been online already.  The task doesn't look easy!  Wish me luck!)

Here's an old post about my favorite song from that collection:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Lucky Me!

Merry Christmas to me!  My wife (a few months after she she met me she gave me an autographed picture of Chuck Berry;, last year she gave me a ticket to Blueberry Hill!) sent to distant lands for Morton Reff's Complete and Unbelievable Dictionary of Chuck Berry!  My! My! My!  Already, minutes in to skimming, I am piecing together my life story.  I've mentioned here that the second time I saw Chuck Berry I was awakened late at night by interesting sounds and found my brothers Stevo and Danny watching Chuck Berry on the Dick Cavett show.  I open Reff's wonderbook to page 566.  Dick Cavett, December 1970, and he was playing: "Tulane!" 

Thank you Mr. Reff for your obsessions.  Thank you Rebecca for the book and turntable.  (Delilah's got nothing on you!)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tell Tchaikowsky the News

I remember one Christmas about 15 years ago when every store in Seattle was playing The Nutcracker.  It's nice music till they gag you with it.  Right now every time I hit the malls I hear Chuck Berry and "Run, Rudolph, Run!".  That's better- but if they overdue it, it'll have me running, too.

(Don't tell the stores about "Ding-a-Ling")

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'm Getting Old

It was forty years ago today—(which has the makings of a good song all by itself—something about a musician who goes in and out of style, but always manages to raise at least a couple of smiles during a short set)—anyway, forty years ago, December 22, 1969, when Chuck Berry recorded two of my favorite Chuck Berry songs—“Tulane,” and “Have Mercy Judge.”

The songs are bookends, of course—“Tulane” being the fast moving rocker, and “Have Mercy Judge” the consequence—one of Chuck Berry’s best original blues.

Both songs appeared on the album “Back Home,” which, of course, I love. It’s got extra sentimental value for me because it was my second Chuck Berry album, after the collection of hits called “Golden Decade.” But it’s a great album anyway—at least by Chuck Berry “album” standards. (How much better can you do that a record with three great songs, two or three very good ones, and none that are downright bad?) And then you top it off with a cohesive sound? Unheard of!

It was quite a lineup, with Lafayette Leake (of “Johnny B. Goode” fame) back on piano, Phil Upchurch on bass, Bob Baldori on harmonica, and Chuck Berry at the top of his game on guitar.

According to the list in the back of Berry’s own Autobiography the crew recorded everything from the album “Back Home” at the same session—which seems impossible. Fred Rothwell has the second set happening several months later in springtime. Based on little evidence I’m siding with Berry and thinking that the whole record was done in a couple of days at about the same time—and most likely in December given that one of the songs is a lonesome bluesy number called “Christmas.” But I say this primarily because the music and instrumentation sounds pretty uniform, all of it tied together by a lively bass, great piano, and Baldori’s harmonica.

I love the record, which has moments as alive as anything Chuck Berry recorded. My favorite song might be the instrumental “Flying Home,” Berry’s third attempt at the Goodman/Christian/Hampton classic, reworked with a new melody and a rock and roll feel. It’s the real “Concerto in B. Goode,” as far as I’m concerned—a little symphony of excitement with cascading piano runs, great harmonica, and all the bubbling energy you feel on the tarmac when you’re returning home after a long absence.

“Have Mercy Judge” and “Tulane” should be staples of Chuck Berry’s live shows. “Tulane” is as good as any of his early rockers, with a great story of another strong woman in the “Maybeline” and “Nadine” line, and “Have Mercy Judge” stands with “Wee Wee Hours” as one of his very his best blues numbers. And why not? This is stuff he’d lived-- a hero, “held by the state patrol,” waiting to be tried by “the same judge I had before,” expecting no mercy himself, but asking for it for his little Tulane who’s “too alive to try to live alone.”

Tell her to live, and I’ll understand it
And even love her more when I come back home

Berry has too much to say on “Have Mercy Judge” to be restricted to the AAB pattern that so many blues songs follow.

Lord have mercy, I’m in a world of trouble
I’m being held by the state patrol.
I am charged with traffic
Of the forbidden
And I almost finished doing my parole.
Now, I'm on my way back downtown
Somebody help me, have mercy on my soul.

This is a blues that Chuck Berry sings in his own voice—and his best voice, actually shouting the lines and sounding like a real blues singer. And no wonder. Chuck Berry was held by the state patrol once. He’d been in a world of trouble more than once. He’d been charged with traffic of the forbidden in the form of a teenage Navajo girl he’d brought to work at his St. Louis club. And before they could make that stick he was arrested for charges of dating a French girl.

I go to court tomorrow morning
And I got the same judge I had before
Lord, I know he won't have no mercy on me
'Cause he told me not to come back no more
He'll send me away to some stoney mansion
In a lonely room and lock the door

The story of his trials are well documented in his own book and in “Brown Eyed Handsome man. He faced a nightmare of a judge in his first trial. He’d gone to stoney mansions of one sort of another twice by the time he wrote this one.

The final lines are wonderful in themselves, going back to the girl who’d jumped the counter in the first song.

Have mercy on my little Tulane
She's too alive to try to live alone
And I know her needs
And although she loves me
She's gonna try to make it
While the poor boy's gone
Somebody should tell her to live
And I'll understand it
And even love her more
When I come back home

This is a song worth reviving.  Put it in your act, Mr. Berry!

The whole record is good, though-- the whole thing held together by Baldori’s harmonica—a sound that turns this collection of songs into an album. The other sound that makes this record special was supplied by Phil Upchurch, who played a bass that drives “Tulane” and makes several of the songs interesting. I’m guessing (without evidence) it wasn’t a good experience for Upchurch, however. On his website ( ) you’ll find an amazing list of the people he played with over the years, but no mention of Mr. Berry. Maybe it’s just payback for the fact that the musicians on this record aren’t identified. (Things would finally change with Berry’s next record, “San Francisco Dues.”)

Monday, December 21, 2009


Back to Mercury

According to Chuck Berry’s notes he recorded 16 songs on this date 42 years ago—which seems ambitious but unlikely. Fred Rothwell pares it down to just two—“I Can’t Believe” and “Soul Rockin’”—and puts another eight of them (including one of my Mercury favorites, “Ma Dear Ma Dear”) a few months later at the same San Francisco studio.

I got all of these after the fact in a jumbled two-fer that included songs from Chuck Berry in Memphis and Live at the Fillmore. I bought it used in 1972 or 1973 and played it a few hundred times on an old turntable that I had fished out of a dumpster a few years before that. It occurred to me recently that this history—a used record played on record player that was somebody else’s garbage—might explain my oft-repeated claim that Mercury records sound “tinny.” (My only other Mercury records are another jumble that includes the Memphis songs and the remakes, and “Concerto in B. Goode.”) But I don’t think it’s strictly a matter of being misled by circumstance. I think they sound bad—like the guitars, drums, organ and vocals are being squeezed through a transistor radio, and the bass is pretty much gone.

Otherwise, they are better than I remember. Not, for the most part, up to the standards of the first couple of dozen songs, but, but pretty much up to the standards of the rest of the career, with real gems (and maybe a little coal) scattered through the semi-precious stuff.

What I tend to like best are the horns, which come up front on several of the Mercury records and give a new feel to the music. (Horns were always there, but you could hardly tell sometimes at Chess, where it was all bass, guitar and piano.)

I’ve said it before—they should put this Mercury stuff out again after a thorough re-engineering. Move those horns back just a tad. Pump of the bass. Turn down the treble. The stint at Mercury wouldn’t seem so wasteful then. There’s good music on these disks. You just can’t hear it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Maybe Some Day (Chuck Berry Art)

I have always seen references to a bronze statue of Chuck Berry here in Seattle.  I finally found an image, however, dim.  If this is it, it looks like artists are having trouble getting that image.  (To me, the face on this one this one looks like Jimmy Carter.)   Here's where I read about it.  (Since the website seems to be built for something other than comfort, I'll paste the verbiage here: "Darryl beat the odds, the clock, and his day job to finish his lifesize statue of Chuck Berry for the corporate office of a music business here in Seattle. It's beautiful work. A balance of roughness and precision, like Berry's playing itself, fuzzy but the detail is there--buttons on shirt, guitar toggle, and strings that make a delightful sound when you strum 'em, 350 lbs of bronze balanced on the soles of a moment duckwalking between release and tension.") To be fair, I'll have to search out the real thing.  The artist is evidently the same person who made the statue of Jimi Hendrix on Broadway in Seattle.

Maybe Some Day (Chuck Berry Art)

See it made HERE.

Maybe Some Day (They'll Paint You. And Sculpt You.)

Find it HERE.

Friday, December 18, 2009

If You Love It You Ain't Ever Too Old!

Here's a nice story about the Chuck Berry statue project, feauring bits of live performance (one song I've never heard!), ("But if you love it you ain't ever too old!"), and some shots of Blueberry Hill and Delmar, and commentary by Joe Edwards.  You also get a bit of a better look at the mockup of the statue.,0,1294776.story.  And get this-- make your tax deductible contribution, and you get an invite to the unveiling! 

Another One

Another good performance at B. B. King's last September-- well edited, exuberant, with errant fingers, but great Rock and Roll.  A few days later he played Blueberry Hill, and properly warmed up, put on a show that seemed to take him 15 years back in terms of guitar virtuosity.  But what interests me about these later day performances on the guitar is the rhythm and the efficiency.  He doesn't play a lot of notes, but he hits them like a talking drum.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

That Sound

I’m writing this from a bench at the airport, so forgive any slips. I’m writing from memory of songs and sounds that have carved their ways into my brain and brainstem.

Everybody knows that there is something about the Chess sound that sets it apart. As a teenager I used to say it sounded like it was recorded in a garbage can. That was a bad analogy, although I was on to something. I later learned that some parts were recorded in the tiled bathrooms to get a form of prehistoric reverb. Once electronic reverb was available Chess records were flooded with it. But this didn’t result in a spacey sound. The bass was deep. The piano was sharp. The drums were slamming. And there was an electric bite to Chuck and Muddy’s guitars that I’ve seldom heard elsewhere.

In other words—Chess records sound like live performance.

It helps that they were, essentially, live. Mistakes hardly mattered compared to the energy—and that energy could only result from a single, charged performance with all instruments blasting. (A little overdubbing of lead guitar didn’t erase the energy of the original jam.) (Great picture HERE).

Years later record producers at other labels would leave a few false starts on their albums just to show they were still creating music. But within a few more years pop music became an oil slick of electronic bumps and buzzes. The magic is gone.

But the Chess sound was (is) more than the live nature of the recording. Chuck Berry kept doing that at Mercury—but even the best of the Mercury records don’t have anything close to the texture of the early Chess recordings. The sound at Mercury is tinny, and weak. It probably sounded great in the studio, or at the Fillmore, but it didn’t get through on vinyl.

It may have been as simple as losing Leonard Chess’s peculiar genius. He knew what he wanted, and got it, even if he had to kick out the drummer and slam the bass by himself.

More probably it had a lot to do with losing Malcom Chisolm, an engineer at Chess who kept working on Chuck Berry’s records as late as the “Back Home” album, which sounds more refined than the early records, but just as alive on cuts like “Tulane,” “Have Mercy Judge” and “Flying Home.” I posted Chisolm’s CV elsewhere on this site. Here it is again. (Click Here).  It’s amazing. He sat almost anonymously at the center of cultural history.  (For a look at lots of old studios, click here).

And you have to say—that Chess sound (gone, I think, on "San Francisco Dues,” lived on through parts of “Bio” (the parts recorded with Elephant’s Memory, which, at their best – i.e., “Woodpecker”!-- sound like a live jam happening in the same room where you’re sitting.)

And the sound, in a slightly modernized form, made it to England for “The London Sessions.” Both sets sound live—even the studio session. The drums thud. The guitar has bite. There’s not so much echo as immediacy. You feel like you’re there—and Chuck Berry’s guitar playing, though rougher and meaner than what we hear on “Back Home,” is just as good. As for the live session (now spoiled for me by the lasting legacy of “My Ding-a-Ling,”) it just sounds great. You feel the room and the crowd.  Compare it to another fine live set—“Live at the Fillmore”—that was recorded for Mercury. That one sounds dead and tinny. The music itself is wonderful.  The song selection is grown up and serious. (It's a relief not to her the hits.)  The guitar playing is great. The backup musicians are fine and know the blues. But the whole thing is lost in space. There’s no sense you’re there. It’s like you’re listening through tin cans and string. The audience was probably going mad, but sound like they had all left, or were involved in a sleep-in on the floor of the Fillmore.

I sometimes wonder what could be done with the master tapes from the Mercury years by someone like Malcom Chisolm or some other competent authority. I don’t have enough background or knowledge to know—but I think someone should try. Pump up the bass. Increase the middle. Accentuate some of those great horns. Fatten up the guitar. Put CSI to work on the crowd noise in San Francisco.

Some of those Mercury songs are as good as a lot of the Chess material. “Ma Dear Ma Dear.” “Back To Memphis.” “It Hurts Me Too.”

When they get re-released in a box, they should put out two versions—an historical set, as was, and a set that’s reengineered to exploit what’s likely there on the tape: great music, recorded almost live, by a great artist and some fine musicians.

(The Mercury remakes of the greatest hits? Just dump them. They’re not terrible, but they’re unnecessary.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Interviews (Eddie "The Chief" Clearwater)

I'm not really familiar with the music of Eddie "the Chief" Clearwater, but I've often heard him described as a disciple of Chuck Berry.  (I also saw one of his stage costumes hanging at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale).  I haven't found a video that shows him really sounding like Berry, but click here for a nice interview where he talks about Berry's influence.  There's a nice story about the two of them appearing together at a suburban Chicago club and Chuck telling him to play "Johnny B. Goode." 

And here he is at work:

By the way, there are some nice videos of him in the 1970s that I'm not able to embed here.  But you might want to look them up on youtube.  A couple have him playing with Chuck Berry sidemen like Odie Payne.

The Interviews (and a performance!) (Johnnie Johnson)

Johnnie Johnson didn't get interviewed much-- but here's a long, rambling one that you'll enjoy once your eyes adjust to the jarring background.  Check it out here. 

I once got a chance to see Johnson perform at the Seattle art and music festival, Bumpershoot.  That performance had to be after "Hail! Hail!" when Johnnie had become pretty well known in his own right.  Of course, Chuck Berry fans always knew him.

There's talk that he didn't get enough credit for his work on Chuck Berry's big hits.  There's truth to that talk, of course-- though it's really only because no one bothered to put the names of the players on those records.  In another sense, of course, he got a little too much credit.  He was the only Chuck Berry piano player I ever heard of before I started seeing better notes, published recently, that list people like Lafayette Leake and Otis Spann, both of whom played on giant hits.  And, of course, there were many others.

But Johnnie and Chuck obviously had a special something.  You can see it in Chuck's eyes, or in his manner when the two start trading riffs.  (Johnnie's eyes were congenitally sleepy.)

And beyond the music, Johnson is credited with the single best line from the "Hail! Hail!" experience.  When  Chuck Berry war reportedly heard flipping out in the background about "beating that rap," Johnnie is said to have shrugged and told  the all star musicians: "You know him just as well as I do.  I've just known him longer."

Here he is playing at Montreux.

The Interviews (Muddy Waters)

Sometimes it's just nice to hear or read someone else talk.  And it's Muddy Waters!  Check it out here.  More about Muddy here at Gibson's website/ 

Monday, December 14, 2009

And Tax Deductible!

My New Year's resolution is to donate to the cause on January 2, 2010-- because frankly, this year, the deduction doesn't help!  But for the rest of you-- give till it hurts!  NOW!  (Even if it does look a little like Andy Griffith in this shot!)  Here's a link where you can use your credit card or paypal!  Click here to donate! Now! Without Delay!

(Euros, Pesos, Pounds and every other sort of money gladly accepted!)

The Interviews (Chuck Berry circa 1977, with Jane Pauley)

This is a nice little interview that I've never seen.  You can get there from here

The Interviews (Willie Dixon)

Willie Dixon, of course, played bass on most of Chuck Berry's early work.  He also wrote dozens of songs that are now standards of the blues industry-- "Hootchie Cootchi Man," "Spoonful," and on and on.  (If Chuck Berry had an equal in song writing it might have been Dixon.)  His influence is heard in Berry's songs as well-- "Jo Jo Gun," and "No Money Down," to name a few.  Anyway, here's a nice but short bit of Willie Dixon talking about the blues.  And click here for some nice pictures and even nicer words.  I learned, for instance, that Dixon was both a Golden Gloves Champion boxer, and imprisoned for a year as a conscientious objector.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Contribute to Public Art & History in St. Louis

Well, based on the mockup you can see in the linked article I have artistic criticisms of the proposed statue, (looks like Elvis!), but no criticism of the IDEA (which is fitting and must be done)-- so if you want to do something good for St. Louis check it out HERE and buy us all a good time at Happy Hour.  But I've got to say, I like my concept (my old story here) better.  Both statues have the same hair, anyway.  We could fit mine with red pants.

(I mos def made the guitar too big [fits him like the Gibson fit Mos Def in Cadillac Records] but I was in a hurry and don't have photoshop.  We'll fix it in the final casting.) 

We Still Care! ("He sent a genius!")

Here's a nicely edited clip from Doug showing one of the September performances at B.B. King's in New York City.  (I put up some shakey youtube stuff the day after the show).  The performance starts a little shakily, too, but turns out to be a very good one-- especially vocally.  Berry didn't use his St. Louis band for the gig (except for Jimmy Marsala on Bass.  According to the youtube notes John Colianni is on piano, and Andy Began is on drums.  As I recall, the show started with some friction when Berry thought Colianni was in the wrong key.  Turns out the guitar was tuned wrong.  And as you'll see, Chuck always acknowledges a musician when he meets one!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I Wish I Could Interview Every Member of the Band

(Hint!  Hint!)  But since I might not get that opportunity I've got to share what I can find.  And since I don't want to get sideways with the authorities at the University of Missouri, all I can do is provide you a link to a cool little interview of Ingrid Berry Clay from 1983.  You'll find it at the bottom of the page after you click this LINK.

Some of the questions ("Do you know...?") are a little funny-- but she tells a great story about visiting the Apollo Theater in Harlem and going on stage with her dad, and another about him sometimes driving up to her house with his tools.  Nice stuff.  And somewhere in the collection, there's an interview of Billy Peek-- but I'm guessing you have to go to St. Louis to find that one.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Man Himself

And here's the man himself-- the guy CB watched through an open doorway or window when he was 16 and too young to get into the club. 

Wash Your Face and Hands

Back when we were exploring that song and Bob I tried to find Dylan's version of "Nadine" but couldn't.  Maybe it's been cleaned from Youtube.  So here's a version of the Big Joe Turner song "Shake Rattle and Roll."

The Chuck Berry connections here are numerous.  You've got a song by one of Chuck's teen idols (he describes sneaking a look through the window of a club in his autobiography.)  You've got Chuck's friend and admirer (and enemy and slanderer) Keith on guitar.  And I think that's Steve Jordan (from "Hail Hail!") hiding underneath the braids and playing drums. 

And of course, Bob Dylan, who in his wooden way is one of Chuck Berry's closest relatives in American rock and roll-- the other towering genius of the genre.

You Can Walk Down Beale Street, Honey, Wearing... THESE!

A great photo sent to me by Jan.  It's from a website I can't find-- Johnny King?-- so I have stolen it with apologies.  Great photo!  Great... (I'm betting he's still got those pants!)

And Now For Something Completely Different (Thank You Al)

I guess you could say this doesn't have anything to do with Chuck Berry.  Then again, maybe it does.  Anyway, it's incredible. 

Here are the notes from the youtube.  "Sex machine par staff Benda bilili li STAFF BENDA BILILI are like nothing you have ever seen or heard before. A group of paraplegic street musicians who live around the grounds of the zoo in Kinshasa, Congo, they make music of astonishing power and beauty. Four senior singers / guitarists on makeshift wheelchairs are supported by a young, all-acoustic rhythm section, plus a 17 year-old prodigy performing infectious guitar-like solos on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can. Please welcome the utterly soulful and mesmerising sound of STAFF BENDA BILILI. Recorded and produced by Vincent Kenis, their debut album "TRÈS TRÈS FORT" will be released in late February 2009. Crammed discs A feature film about Staff Benda Bilili is about to be completed by film producers Renaud Barrett and Florent de la Tullaye."


Marcelo (Durex) Varella

MySpace Video

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And How It's Really Done.

Since we've been talking about "Nadine" so much I thought I should post some versions.  When I first say Chuck Berry at some long and leisurly shows in the early 1970's he'd do a couple of slow blues jams to get warmed up and then play "Nadine."  It always got the crowd going a bit.  And then  he'd say-- "Well, I think we're in tune now.  With your permission we'll begin our show!"  And then the crowd would go crazy.

It only occurs to me now how NEW "Nadine" was in those days.  The song was only 5 or 6 years old.  Maybe 7.  "Nadine" was still young and sleek, and moving like a wayward summer breeze.  Go, driver, go! Go!  Catch her for me please!

Anyway, here's one from London, 1972, right back in the days I first used to see him play it.

Here's one from a decade or so later.  Still a nice performance.  I bet there are more songs from this concert, but I've only seen a couple. 

I think Chuck's doing it way down in B flat, where you need big strong fingers.  (I still haven't figured out the little bell ringing thing he does after "you?")

Doug sent me this one way back there.  Can't beat it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chuck Berry Was In Redding California For Crying Out Loud!

This blog is mostly about how Chuck Berry influenced and affected my life.  I found this article from a town 150 miles north of the town I grew up in to be pretty interesting.  So are the comments.  (One guy backed him up at Humboldt State University in 1971.  He was probably going to or from one of the Sacramento or Lake Tahoe shows I saw!)  I agree with the author-- that it's worth it just to go.  Because he's still there performing.  I just wish it wasn't just casinos and such.  Casinos are sad and desperate to me-- a forced, drunken joviality while life goes down the drain.  That's why I love Blueberry Hill.  That's why I had such hopes for the British tour.  That's why I wish he'd drop the greatest hits, set down on a stool, and play 10 songs that are important to him.  Anyway, the attached story shows that people care.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How To Play Nadine Like Chuck Berry

Ah well, you can't.  But for earnest beginners, here's a good trick that took me about 37 years to learn. 

Most of you probably know this.  But I am slow. I’ve been trying to learn various Chuck Berry licks ever since I first started learning to play the guitar at age 16. Or sort of anyway. I never put enough effort into it. Once I could play a few I think I satisfied myself by mixing and matching and filling the rest with generic blues.

I’m telling this trick to one of my readers who 1) loves “Nadine” and 2) wants to learn to play the guitar.  I figure it might jump start him towards his bliss.

"Nadine" always gave me trouble because of it's unique bass line.  I could never figure out a decent way to play the rhythm. Then one day I saw the attached clip of Chuck Berry playing “You Never Can Tell” (very delightfully) and Eureka!  A whole new world opened up.

The first thing is to learn to make this sort of chord.

Or at least part of it. I do the three notes on the third, fourth and fifth strings with my wedding ring finger. Mine doesn’t bend backwards. It would help if it did. Anyway, I’m suggesting you learn to play this chord and start the song in whatever key feels comfortable for you to sing in. “E flat” actually works for me—and the frets are tight enough there that it’s not too difficult to do the next part, which is the difficult part.
I’ve always know that Chuck Berry plays a lot of his songs starting with this “A” style barre chord—especially songs that he’s doing in a key like “E flat” or even “C” that would be way up the fret board in the primary position.

But when I was watching “You Never Can Tell” I saw the key to playing “Nadine.” While playing this type of chord you need to reach your little finger over to the first, fat string. Hit it when you sing “Bus” and “Seat.” 

Go back and watch Chuck.  He's doing this in the video of "You Never Can Tell."

If you’re into Chuck Berry your little finger’s going to be strong and limber anyway. Work on this a few days and it’ll be even tougher. And you’ll start getting that sound from Nadine.

(And if you really get down in dumps—I think he does it on “Ding-a-Ling,” too.)

Years after writing the above I found this very cool video.  He does a lot better job than me, and gets to the second part, too!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Someone Opened Up The Closet Door And Out Jumped-- Something Unexpected!

The other gift from Dietmar was a disk of live recordings of Chuck Berry straying from the Great 28 at concerts in Europe. (Sie Dietmar's note below in the comments section.)  Some of the songs weren’t too unsual. He plays “Wee Wee Hours.” And “House Lights?” He plays that one to end a lot of shows. But there are songs on this record that I’ve never heard him play, like the late 1970s number, “A Deuce,” and Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom.”

(Picture by Alan White at

One of the saddest “rarities” heard in this collection is “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” He struggles through a verse or two and tells the audience “I haven’t played that one in about 14 years.”  How could he have ignored THAT song-- a landmark in music-- for 14 years!?!?!

Eight or ten years ago I took my daughter to see Paul McCartney. At one point he played the song “Getting Better” from “Sergeant Pepper.” He told the audience “You know, we recorded this, and then I never played it again for 30 years.” It was a revelation to me. Here, you and I had heard it thousands of times, but it had only been played enough to get the track down.

I remember passing Chuck Berry a note asking him to play “Got it and Gone” at a concert in Monterey, California in the summer of 1974. He just chuckled. For him that song probably existed as notes scribbled in a studio somewhere and an hour or two of recording time. For me it was a minor anthem, ingrained in the molecular stucture of my brain, and I wanted him to play it so that the audience would know he didn’t stop creating music in 1965.

But “Brown Eyed Handsome Man?” It’s amazing he doesn’t throw it out there more often.

Or “Promised Land.”

Or “Thirty Days.”

These aren’t minor album fillers—these are classics. And he has a regular band now.

And what about later day classics? “Tulane?” “Have Mercy Judge?” (Why play “Every Day I have the Blues” when you’ve got a significant blues of your own that you NEVER play live?)

This collection also has a live version of “Havana Moon.” Who’s ever heard that one live?

Its existence here, live, tells me something: that around the time of “Rockit” Chuck Berry really did make an effort to play his new stuff. There’s a youtube video of him playing “House Lights” on one of the late night TV shows. “Rockit” also had a strange (and I think sort of wonderful) version of “Havana Moon.” (There are those who disagree! But I value weirdness.) I guess the song “A Deuce” (which I didn’t like; sorry) comes from the neon “Chuck Berry” album. But it seems moderately significant that he played these songs live.

But he should do more of it. When you’ve recorded 300 or so songs, there’s no reason to stick to 15 or 20 of them.

I’ve sometimes compared Chuck Berry to Bob Dylan. They are obviously the two great pilars of American rock and roll. Dylan understands. In his book he wrote about his own crisis in the mid 1980s.

“I had written and recorded so many songs, but it wasn’t like I was playing many of them. I think I was only up to the task of about twenty or so.”

Later he writes: “Benmont Tench, one of the musicians in Petty’s band, would always be asking me, almost pleadingly, about including different numbers in the show. “Chimes of Freedom”—can we try that? Or what about “My Back Pages”? Or “Spanish Harlem Incident”? And I’d always be making some lame excuse.”

I’m sure Chuck Berry isn’t making any lame excuses. But he’s squeezing 55 years of musicial genius into 15 or 20 songs.

He should open the floodgates and let out 55 years of wisdom.

It wouldn’t be easy. I assume he’d need to learn the lyrics. Although, I’m not sure of that. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knows more of them then you’d expect. He seems to have a talent for spoken poetry.

But boy, it would be nice.

I was a little appalled at Blueberry Hill to hear “My Ding-a-Ling” when I knew it would cost me another, better song. And I was surprised to hear people complain after the show because they hadn’t heard “Johnny B. Goode.” I’ve heard that one three hundred thousand times. I still like hearing it. I still like “School Day,” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

But how about “No Money Down?”

I’d like to see Chuck Berry devote some of his Blueberry Hill shows to the unusual—to the wonderful songs that he’s left behind. To the ballads he loves to sing. To the newer songs that we hear ABOUT but never get to hear.

I don’t think it’s an impossible dream, even if it’s an unlikely one. Maybe he could pay the band to rehearse a few new numbers and then he could just wing it, as usual.   Or maybe the band could surprise him-- "Hey, we're ready to play "Cottage for Sale."  Or "My Dream."

I think people would love it. I think he’d sell tickets. I think he’d get attention. I think he could set up a chair on stage and attract an audience he hasn’t seen in years.

And  they'd be awed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Much Too Much Too Much Monkey Business For Me! (Dietmar's Gift)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about “Too Much Monkey Business.” And a couple of months ago I mentioned the album I saw on the internet featuring 30 versions of the song. So you can imagine my happiness the other day when I opened a brown paper package from Essen, Germany and found that a person I’d never met had SENT ME THE ALBUM! (And more! More about that later.)

And not just any person. The person who took the trouble to send me a gift was Chuck Berry scholar and collector Dietmar Rudolph, whose WEBSITE, "The Collector’s Guide To The Music Of Chuck Berry," can be found in the “Particular Places To Go” section of this site. Go there. Dietmar is one of those people (Morton Reff, Fred Rothwell, etc.) who know more about the recordings of Chuck Berry than most of us know about our own noses.

So, finally and publicly: Thank you Dietmar! (I wish I had something to repay you with—but my own Chuck Berry collection consists of a bunch of tattered and worn records I picked up between 1970 and 1975, with a bunch of boxed sets thrown in later. I did nothing to preserve any of it—I just played them into the ground. But I may think of something!)

Anyway, the CD has been in my car for a few days, and whenever I’m running errands I listen to as many versions of the song as I can until I have to come up for air.  I've heard them all at least once now.  I can't say I know them all.

But let me make this one observation: it’s a measure of your musical greatness when one of your lesser known songs is recorded at least 29 times.

And let me make one other observation: your musical greatness is pretty grand indeed when not one of those versions matches yours.

Lots of times covers beat the original—or at least renew it in some important way. If you have heard Otis Redding sing “The Tennessee Waltz” you know what I mean. Or "Last Train To Clarksville" (speaking of Monkies' business) by Cassandra Wilson.  Usually there’s no reason to record a cover unless you think you can spin it in a way that is new and different.

But here, after listening to them all, no one could deny it: there are a lot of great versions here, but the best, by far, is Chuck Berry’s original, recorded at his third session along with “Roll Over Beethoven.” It’s a song that sounds fresh every time, with gritty vocals and real world complaints that don’t pander to the teenage audience Chuck Berry was consciously trying to develop. The guitar solos are great. (You can tell the middle one was recorded the same day as “Roll Over Beethoven.” It has many of the same elements.) And there’s a fire to the song that marks the beginning of rock and roll as rebel music. And it’s the only version on this disc where I don’t get tired of hearing the chorus.

But some of the others are pretty danged good. Surprisingly, the one guy who really makes it his own is Dion.  (Dion's website HERE.)  His version is a relaxed blues shuffle, mostly acoustic. If Chuck Berry is spittin’ mad singing his song, growling “ahhhhhh!” after the “dollar gas” line, Dion is more the slacker, asking “do they think I’m crazy?” It’s not that the stuff is making him angry—he’s just ignoring it all. And in the relaxed new rhythm he’s got time to throw in the extra pronouns and auxiliary verbs that Chuck’s mad lad doesn’t have time for. It’s a version with all the humor of the original, but a completely different feel. Bravo, Dion!

Freddy Cannon  also made the song his own—or maybe he made it Bo Diddley’s! He recorded it to a strong Bo Diddley beat, wild, energized guitar, and a vocal track that sounds like it’s coming through a Sputnik era transistor radio. It’s pure rock and roll, and worth hearing.

I also liked a version by Sleepy LeBeef, (LINK ), someone I’d never heard of but have now. Sleepy does it country style, with a deep baritone and backed by a zipping lead guitar. In fact, the country western versions of the song probably are among the best. Elvis did it country, and several people on this record seem to have modeled their versions on his. My favorite part of Elvis’s cover (also mostly acoustic) is his scatting of bass guitar sounds in the middle of the song. I get the feeling that the biggest chip on Chuck Berry’s shoulder is Elvis and his inflated reputation—but I hand it to Elvis for doing a number of good Chuck Berry covers during his career.  This is one of them.

All of the British Invaders seem to have recorded the song—The Beatles (ouch!), The Yardbirds (go Eric!), The Kinks and The Hollies. Nothing new there. And lots people are singing it here in their second language. (One of the more interesting country versions, by the way, is by Luca Olivieri, who sings in a thickly accented country baritone. I didn’t know they had country western in Italy, but I should have known better. After all, I once say a baseball diamond from an airplane there.  Here is Luca's website.)

And finally, there’s Anne Feeney, who wrote witty new lyrics into the original spirit of the song but kept the chorus. I like that, because ultimately Chuck Berry’s songs, despite his copyrights and legal rights, belong to the world. They are modern folk songs, people’s songs, and they are evolving and mutating the way those early blues did.  Anne is new for me, too-- which shows why it's a good thing to study Chuck Berry.  He'll take you everywhere.  From her website, Anne sounds like female Utah Phillips.  And since she got Utah's endorsement, I know she's good.  So here is her website.

And although I celebrate the people Like Dion and Feeney who’ve taken the song and made it their own in some way, I also understand why all these people recorded it even thought they couldn’t add to it.

They did that because it’s a great song. One of his many. One of his best.  And fun to play!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another T-Bone Treat Worth Revisiting

The miracles and wonders of YouTube never cease to amaze me. Here's T-Bone Walker joining Chuck at Montreux. He even takes a turn on Chuck's Gibson, which makes Chuck become rubber legged with joy. Dang! (There's a similar scene in the out takes on Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, where Chuck Berry crawls on his knees to honor Etta James. "I didn't know you!" he cries.  He knew T-Bone but seems just as happy.)

According to the YouTube angel who put this clip on the web Chuck and T-Bone are backed by the Aces - Dave and Louis Myers on bass and guitar, Fred Below on drums, with Lafayette Leake on piano. Below and Leake played on a ton of Chuck Berry's classics, including Johnny B. Goode.

By the way-- I've read that T-Bone liked his strings thick and stiff.  Berry, of course, uses slinky.  It must have been like driving on ice for Mr. Walker to grab that guitar-- but I guess he'd grabbed a few in his lifetime.

Wish me luck in Motown.  I'll be thinking of Chuck Berry's comeback performance in 1963 with the Motown backup musicians.  That'll get me through the jet lag.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from Taj Mahal

I couln't think of a Chuck Berry angle, but every Thanksgiving Seattle is blessed by a week or two of Taj Mahal at Jazz Alley, a huge and classy jazz dinner club downtown.  He's there now.  Sometimes I go see him there in November, but this year-- although I'm thankful as all get out-- I'm too busy.  So here's a song about food and family from Taj. 

I always have considered Taj Mahal one of my personal heros and one of my modern instructors in the blues.  This song is pretty easy to pick out in the chords D G E and A.  Just move your fingers around a little and slied the A up from the bottom fret.  You won't sound like Taj, but you'll know a good song.

And someday, if I don't feel too foolish, I'll tell the story about when I think a young Taj Mahal walked up and listened to a young me play a Chuck Berry song on the streets of San Francisco.  But I feel too foolish to do that now.

So happy Thanksgiving, y'all.  And if you don't have turkey, try some buttermilk corn cakes with fish fried nice and brown.  Or go see Taj at Jazz Alley.  It's allllllwwwwaaayyyyys good.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Don't Want Your Botherations, Get Away! Leave Me Be!

Imagine a single day’s work where you create:

“Roll over Beethoven,”

“Brown Eyed Handsome Man,”

the ballad “Drifting Heart,”

and then you top it off with “Too Much Monkey Business.”

All of these songs were recorded at Chuck Berry’s third or fourth professional recording session. Still a rookie, but already telling Beethoven to hit the road. And making good on it.

“Too Much Monkey Business” has always been a special one for me. In his autobiography Berry said he wrote it to describe “the kinds of hassles a person encounters in every day life” and says he “would have needed over a hundred verses to portray the major areas that bug people the most.”   I just knew it was funny as hell, with perfect rock poetry. 

Weirdly, he doesn't seem to play it often.  I wish he did.

It begins with Chuck’s lead guitar ringing just about exactly like a bell.

Deedlee-dee, deedlee dee,
deedlee-dee, deedlee-dee,
deedlee dee, deedlee-dee,

Then comes Willie Dixon’s jazzy acoustic bass, answered by Chuck‘s chords and Johnnie Johnson’s rippling piano. The song doesn’t have the boogie woogie rhythm work that Chuck Berry became so famous for (almost none of the early songs have it); the roots here are jazzier, with strummed chords. But when the band jolts to a stop to make room for the lyrics it’s pure rock and roll.

Running to and fro
Hard working at the mill
Never fail in the mail here come a rotten bill

Chuck’s 29 when he sings that first verse, but his voice sounds older—not too different from the 82 year old I saw Blueberry Hill in St. Louis. A little meaner, too. And it makes sense. Unlike “School Day” or “Oh Baby Doll,” this isn’t teenage stuff—it’s real world frustration, 16 Tons to a backbeat.

Too much monkey business
Too much monkey business
For me to be involved in it.

He doesn’t use his famous fine diction here—“business” is pronounced “bidness,” or just “bi’ness,” “here” is “hiya.” The singer’s pissed off.

Salesman talking to me
Tryin’ to run me up a creek
Says you can buy it go and try it
You can pay me next week—Ahh!

This is one of the places where Mick Jagger, an accomplished Berry scholar, first hears absence of Satisfaction:

(Man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be,
But he can’t be a man cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me.
I can’t get no)

And of course, Bob Dylan cites it as an inspiration for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

It’s a radical song too. It’s 1956 in America and Chuck Berry is singing about:

Blond has good looks,
Trying to get me hooked
Wants me to marry, settle down,
Get home, write a book. Hmmf!

In 1956 it was against the law in some states for Chuck Berry to marry a blond, and frowned on in all the rest. Of course, maybe it’s not Chuck.

But we know it is.

It’s Chuck Berry the same day he recorded “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” another radical song, and he’s rounding third and heading for a home he admits had always tantalized him. And somehow, in a way, predicting his own future-- since in just two months (according to his book) he’d meet the good looking blond who would share much of his life and ultimately help him write his book. (Maybe his chronology was off a bit in the Autobiography.)

But since it is still 1956, Chuck cools things by switching quickly to a safer schoolboy persona.

Same thing, every day
Getting up, going to school
No need of me complaining
My objection’s overruled—Ahh!

The next verse is about a pay phone breakdown. These days it would probably be about a cell phone call breaking up.

Pay phone something wrong
Dime gone will mill
Oughta sue the operator
For telling me a tale.

Watch him sing this verse 13 years later at a Toronto rock festival filmed by D. A. Pennebaker. The tale still gets a laugh of recognition. But in Toronto he updated the next verse to Vietnam.

Been to Yokohama
Been fighting in the war
Army bunk, army chow
Army clothes, army car

I first heard the song during the Vietnam War. The complaints sounded a little too mundane to me. But how many popular entertainers dared protest anything about an American war so soon after the McCarthy hearings?

The final verse he’s back at work at another job. Since I used to buy a dollar’s worth frequently, it made me a little uneasy. But in my day it was self service.

Working in the filling station
Too many tasks
Wipe the windows, check tires
Check the oil, “Dollar gas!”

Too much monkey business
Too much monkey business
I don’t want your botherations
Get away leave me be!

The song ends with a guitar solo that everyone who thinks he or she plays “Chuck Berry” guitar should study. Most people figure they’ve got it down when they can play the five note blues scale on double strings and add T-Bone Walker’s slur—but Berry, who came of age in the swing era, mixes blues with double note major scale melodies, (with heart stopping rhythmical flips and turns thrown in for good measure on later songs).

It ain’t monkey business, that's for sure.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Work In Progress ("In a Wee Little Church")

It's not enough to listen, or to think about it for a year, or read, or blog.  I try to play it, too.  I finally figured out how "Johnny B. Goode" really begins, and how to play the rhythm guitar on "Nadine," and I'm getting better at "Maybellene."  And I think I've figured out his instructions for the "turnaround." 

And every 10 or 15 years, like the clockwork of his convictions, I take out the acrylics and try to make a painting. 

My skills have not improved much since kindergarten, but that doesn't stop me.

This one is still in the sketch phase-- but I got past the part that scared me-- getting CB himself roughed into the picture within the picture.  I modeled it from memory of the shots on the back of "Back Home."

Two of my favorite things are Italian gothic and Chuck Berry.  So I put them together.  (It occurs to me now that I should have put a nighttime scene outside the door, and a sky full of stars.  The triumvirate would be complete.)  Someday soon I'll light some of the candles on that table.

Why, I don't know.  Too much time on my hands, I guess.

P.S.  Suddenly the mind is buzzing.  Jacob Lawrence did a whole series telling the history of the Haitian General Toussaint l'Ouverture.  I may do a series to the song cycle of Chuck Berry.  Maybellene waiving from the top of the hill.  Alone in a wee little room.  Johnny by the railroad tracks.  The long legs of Nadine disappearing into a yellow cab.  Johnny's mother at the kitchen door.  Tulane jumping the counter.  The view from 903.

Lordy!  I could be famous!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I was looking forward to it even though I wasn't going to be there.  And far away friends bought plane tickets.  Ah well.

Here's another one.

And another.

C'est la vie, I say.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bessie and the Zinc Buckets

ACTUALLY, Sunday night at The Tyne Theatre in Newcastle, in northern England there will be some excited musicians from a group called "Bessie and the Zinc Buckets."  Read about 'em HERE.  And HERE.  (Apologies to whoever's picture I used here.  But the bass had to be seen.)  Or check them out on Myspace HERE.

I don't know why I'm so excited about a bunch of shows I can't go to.  But I am, and I'm jealous!


Wait!  No!  He plays the day before!  At the Tyne Theatre! 

But how??!!  And why have all of our U.S. rock heroes gone to England?! 


But see for yourself (and get tickets to Chuck's show) HERE!

Anyway, maybe they will finally meet?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Riding Along in WHOSE Automobile???????????

David St. John is a British comic and singer.  You can find out more about him, or maybe even book a performance, by clicking here.  But there was a time when David St. John was just a young kid, perhaps a bit like like the boys and girl standing and waiting by the convertible door in this picture from what I assume is mid-1960s England.  (It sure isn't mid-1960s Central California.  We didn't wear ties, or sweaters, or tweed.)  But in at least one important respect David was different from these polite Britains.  You note that they are standing outside the car, hands in pockets, silent, keeping a respectful distance while the photographer and Chuck Berry did their thing. 

Not David.  He was respectful, I'm sure-- and probably awestruck.  But that didn't stop him.  After a Chuck Berry concert in 1965 David escaped the auditorium through a side door, found the idling limo, and ...

But that wouldn't be fair of me.  David tells it much better.  And you can find it right here!

David is, of course, still out there.  "I'm now 61 and an established professional comedy entertainer all over the UK. Stand-up gags, impressions and some vocals although I also cover longer times with the music including many Chuck classics of course!"  David used to be in local bands, and still plays music.  "I do play electric 12 string guitar, which I started to learn a bit late in '72 when leaving bands so needed back-up. Still play blues harp and some keyboards, drums but for fun."  As a kid he was in all the right places.  Around the same time that he jumped into Chuck Berry's car and got a ride and an autograph he also found his way to a famous tavern in Liverpool!

David is planning to see Chuck Berry in downtown Birmigham.  (England, that is.)  "I'm counting the days to the Birmingham concert and have a seat near the front! I doubt if I'll be able to jump in Chuck's car again, like I did way back in the Sixties!"   That probably wouldn't be wise. (16 year olds get it easier than 61 year olds when highjacking a ride.) But I hope he gets to say howdy-do and shake a wise and legendary hand.

But read the whole thing here on the forum.

Weirder Teen Television

A reader gave me this one.  WOW!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ahmad B. Goode, Too!

Backed up by a jazz band, layin' on the wood,
Mixing Ahmad Jamal in my Johnny B Goode.
Sneaking Errol Garner in my Sweet Sixteen,
Now they tell me Stan Kenton's cutting Maybelline! 
Oh baby!

Lyrics, "Go Go Go" by Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry's got no kicks against modern jazz.  Or the older stuff.  Count Basie's band backed him up at an early, but weirdly rhythmically challenged concert that's on the "Complete 1950s Recordings" (they must have had kicks against rock and roll!) and he played the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. 

But who's that mixing into Johnny B. Goode?

Years ago I was lucky to be able to see Ahmad Jamal at Seattle's Jazz Alley back when it cost two drinks and a tip and that's all.  (They had good dinners, too!)  He was one of my favorites.  Here he is as a mere child!

Errol Garner?  Never got to see him, or Stan Kenton.  But thanks to the miracle of youtube...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

His Hips Are Getting Weaker When He Tries To Do the What????

"Too Pooped to Pop" is a guilty pleasure-- one that I would have stricken from my "Golden Decade Volume One" album in favor of "Promised Land," or "You Never Can Tell," or "No Money Down." But it's one that sticks to the inner brain like glue.

Casey is an old man who wants to be a teen
He goes to all the dances and they call him "Cha Cha King."
He cha-chas when the band is playing rock and roll
He tries to keep in time but the beat leaves him coooooooold
Beeeeeecause heeeeeee's:
Too pooped to pop
Too old a soul
His hips get weaker when he tries to do "The Stroll"
Every time his feet get a movin' one way
Here comes a new dance and he's gone astray...

Feeling like Casey these days?  The following link will take you to a lesson on doing The Jitterbug Stroll.  But if you're like me (premature Caseyitus) you'd better just watch the teenagers.  Here you go:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Off Schedule Train!

Dominic, who commented on Nadine, supplied this one via his youtube playlist.  Only 29 people were shown as having seen it.  You can be Number 30!