One thing leads to another. I go to Mississippi. I come home. I tune my guitar to E. I try, for the 100th time to play slide guitar without much success. I go to a record store. I spend too much. I come home with Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters from 1941 (sounding exactly like Robert Johnson) and Little Walter. I listen to them all (haunted by James, surprised by Waters). I play Little Walter’s “Mean Old World,” and because one thing leads to another, I put on disk one of the “Johnny B. Goode: The Complete 1950s Recordings.” I wear myself out trying to play backup rhythm, country style, to Maybellene. I actually sound sort of good playing “Together We Will Always Be.” By the time I get to the last track, “Oh Baby Doll,” I’m almost comfortable. Along the way I listen to “Deep Feeling,” the slide number. I notice the key (E) and how high up the frets the high notes are.
“Deep Feeling” has always been one of my favorites. On my first Chuck Berry record, “The Golden Decade,” it stuck out as something pretty special on the first side. I remember an older friend who didn’t really know Chuck Berry telling me that he’d heard a remarkable blues song on the radio, listened transfixed, and then found out it was Chuck. Later I’d hear “Blues for Hawaiians,” and maybe another song or two recorded on the little Fender 400 Hawaiian/ Country Western guitar that Berry bought sometime in the 1950s.
I never saw him play it, of course. I figured it was long gone until that great final scene in “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll,” where you hear “Blues for Hawaiians,” a cappella, as the camera pans in over the guitar shaped (muck filled) swimming pool, through the door at Berry Park, to find our man sitting stiffly at the little pedestal guitar, doing a solo number on a 30 year old number.
(Steel guitar afficionados took notice. Here's a link.)
During the movie Eric Clapton says that he should play more ballads at his shows—that people would love it. I’ll add: he should have the steel guitar on stage, too, just in case the fancy strikes him. But I know you don’t tell, can’t tell, Chuck Berry what to do.
But this morning I go downstairs and find the guitar still tuned to an open E, and the glass slide still sitting there, and it occurs to me for the first time in my 100 or so failed attempts to pass over “Dust My Broom” and try “Deep Feeling.” The sliding notes are all deeply embedded into my memory and nervous system. I pick up the slide. I poke for the notes. I reach up for the zinging high note. I let the slide pour down the fret board like water from a pitcher.
It sounds terrible. But I’m a late bloomer.
Maybe by the time I’m 82 I’ll have it down!
(Go about 2:50 into this and you'll hear someone who does have it down!)