Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chuck Berry in London!

Dates from

2009 Octagon (Sheffield, England)

20/11/2009 Palace Theatre (Manchester, England)
21/11/2009 Olympia Theatre (Liverpool, England)
22/11/2009 Journal Tyne Theatre (Newcastle, England)
23/11/2009 O2 Academy (Glasgow, Scotland)
24/11/2009 Town Hall (Leeds, England)
25/11/2009 Alexandra Theatre (Birmingham, England)
26/11/2009 New Theatre (Oxford, England)
27/11/2009 Hammersmith Town Hall (London, England)
28/11/2009 Troxy Limehouse (London, England)
29/11/2009 Cliffs Pavilion (Southend, England)
30/11/2009 Pavilion Theatre (Bournemouth, England)
01/12/2009 Newport Centre (Newport, Wales)
02/12/2009 Brangwyn Hall (Swansea, Wales)

A Cool Blog

Stumbled across this one just now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Invisible Man

"Arrested on charges of unemployment, he was sitting in the witness stand..."

from "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," by Chuck Berry.

For several years now I've had unread copies of "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison sitting in my bookshelves-- first an old used paperback that I started reading several times, and then a nice new trade paperback that I just looked at and felt bad about.

Then, during the last couple of weeks, I read it and loved it.

I actually read it, in part, because of this blogging about Chuck Berry.  I remembered, wrongly, as it turns out, that Michael Lydon had mentioned "Invisible Man" in his liner notes to "Back Home."  I checked them recently and found out I was wrong.  But I thank Mssrs. Lydon and Berry for getting me to the book, anyway.

And when I read the funeral oration for handsome Tod Clifton, I couldn't help but remember why I started reading it in the first place.

"Tod Clifton's one with the ages.  But what's that to do with you in this heat under this veiled sun?  Now he's part of history, and he has received his true freedom.  Didn't they scribble his name on a standardized pad?  His Race: colored!  Religion: unknown, probably born Baptist.  Place of birth: U.S. Some southern town.  Next of kin: unknown.  Address: unknown.  Occupation: unemployed.  Cause of death (be specific): resisting reality in the form of a .38 caliber revolver in the hands of the arresting officer, on forty-second between the library and the subway in the heat of the afternoon, of gunshot wounds received from three bullets, fired at three paces, one bullet entering the right ventricle of the heart , and lodging there, the other severing the spinal ganglia traveling downward to lodge in the pelvis, the other breaking through the back and traveling God knows where."

Chuck Berry never wrote stuff like that, but he made his point, travelling "'cross Mississippi clean," and putting his hero on trial for not having a job.  Later some of the teenagers that Berry taught even read "Invisible Man." 

Even me!

Jolene, Nadine, Tulane and Maybellene

Several reviewers said that Dylan's new song "Jolene" sounds like a Chuck Berry number.  It sure starts that way:

Well you're comin' down High Street, walkin' in the sun
You make the dead man rise, and holler she's the one
Jolene, Jolene

Compare that to:

As I got on a city bus and found a vacant seat
I thought I saw my future bride walking up the street
I shouted to the driver "'Hey conductor you must
Slow down I think I see her, please, let me off this bus!

But the similarity falls apart with Dylan's next line:

"Baby, I am the king and you're the queen"

On Nadine and Maybellene the narrator is anything but a king-- he's (almost) always one step behind, watching that bad girl disappear over the hill or into a Caddie.  And in Tulane he falls flat on his face and winds up in jail as the girl makes it over and runs.  At least half the time Chuck Berry's hero's are lagging behind, frustrated, or standing on the sidelines dreaming.

I got a chance, I ought to take it...

In a wee little room, I sit alone and think of you...

Can you imagine the way I felt?
I couldn't unfasten her safety belt

The only real "king" (other than Johnny) is the Brown Eyed Handsome Man.  He gets alllllll the girls and smacks the home runs, too.

Milo Venus was a beautiful lass

She had the world in the palm of her hand
But she lost both her arms in a wrestling match
To get brown eyed handsome man
She fought and won herself a brown eyed handsome man

Two, three count with nobody on
He hit a high fly into the stand
Rounding third he was headed for home
It was a brown eyed handsome man
That won the game; it was a brown eyed handsome man

Anyway, here's "Jolene."  I might get to hear it live October five!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

DISCUSSING CHUCK BERRY AT HARVARD: (“I think periodization has gained specious validity over the last 40 years,” says Rock Critic Greil Marcus)

Ahem, well, yes.  I got no kicks against modern academia....

In fact, how can I dis a book that puts Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and Moby Dick together, no matter how incomprehensibly?  Here's the link:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

From The New York Times: "The Essence of America" (Chuck Berry!)

"With entries on the porn star Linda Lovelace, the indie film “Wild Style” and Hurricane Katrina, it is clear that “A New Literary History of America” is not your typical Harvard University Press anthology. Although it has many features of an academic compendium — page numbers that reach into four digits and scores of scholarly contributors — this new collection of essays, being released on Wednesday, roams far beyond any standard definition of literature. Aside from compositions that contain the written word, its subjects include war memorials, jazz, museums, comic strips, film, radio, musicals, skyscrapers, cybernetics and photography."

"Each topic begins with an event, a moment that something changed, an act of creation, the editors said. Chuck Berry was included rather than Elvis Presley, Mr. Marcus said, because Mr. Berry wrote his own songs. A similar analysis favored the country singer Hank Williams."

Hail! Hail!  And here's the link:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gettin' Sideways (Literally) with Every Day I Have The Blues

Here are some shots from Doug "busseybootlegger" who went to the Duck Room last week and shared it with us-- and further down, a video of Every Day I Have The Blues with Ingrid Clay Berry on harp.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Review of the Latest Show at Blueberry Hill

I was going to chop it up and feed it back, but that makes no sense.  Here's a link to the forum and "busseybootlegger"s review and photos of a show where it sounds like everything clicked:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

RINGIN' Like a Bell! (This Week At Blueberry Hill, and Berry Goode Indeed!)

Bussey, Thank You!

(Coming Soon, excerpts from BusseyBootlegger's Rock 'em Sock 'em [and, as it turns out, very true] REVIEW of the September 16, 2009 SHOW at Blueberry Hill!)

Friday, September 18, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want (But You Can Ask!)

Photo by Alan White,

Darlin', your father's growing older, I fear;
Strains of gray are showing bolder each year.
Lay your head upon my shoulder, my dear:
Time is fading fast away.

“Darlin’” (copyright) Chuck Berry

These lyrics, quoted several years ago in The New Yorker, are what we hope to hear sung one day—on record, sure, but preferably on stage, with Darlin’ Ingrid Berry somewhere nearby.

If it’s true, as reported back in 2002, that the song “goes on to sing of death and tells how tired he's grown of playing his ancient hits and doing his trademark duckwalk for the pleasure of baby boomers” then by all means, he should stop singing them, and trust us to love the new stuff—the stuff that’s gone more or less unheard for 30 years now, since 1979’s “Rockit.”

That’s what Blueberry Hill should be—a place where real fans can go and hear Chuck Berry be himself, singing ballads and blues and rarities along with a “hit” or two.

I have heard “Nadine” played as well as it can be played. I have heard “Johnny” be very, very good lots and lots of times. I’ve heard “School Day,” and “Reeling and Rocking” and His “Ding-a-Ling.”

But I’ve never heard “Darlin’,” or “Lady Be Good,” or “Big Boys.”  Nor have I heard “Oh Louisiana” sung live, or even classics like “Havana Moon.”

Chuck Berry—you’ve got a band that loves you, and fans that love you, and some years left.

Maybe at Blueberry Hill you play the new stuff, the unheard stuff, the stuff you’d really like to play before it’s all over.

I promise you this. If you do it, we will come.

I sure will, anyway.

For more GREAT photos of Chuck, Ingrid, and Charles, Jr., see this website:

For The New Yorker article, check here:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Few Weeks Ago in the Rocky Mountains

He takes as many liberties with the "tunes" of his hits as Bob Dylan.  He's with a pickup band and longtime bassist Jimmy Marsala.  It's sort of fun.  (Thanks to Jan for posting this one on!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

You Can See For Yourself-- (although hearing can be difficult!)

Again from B. B. King's-- "Let it Rock!"

And The Reviews Are In (Wasn't Me! Uh Uh, Babe, Wasn't Me!)

I was using the word "Weird" a lot yesterday, but "it must have been some other body" who called a recent CB/Little Richard show "weird."  (They can be interesting, though!)

Here's a review from Berry's show at B. B. King's in NYC a few days back.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Joint is Rocking. Chuck Berry! Live! Tonight! Right Here!

So, I have seen "Hail! Hail!" and "Let The Good Times Roll," "The T.A.M.I. show," "Jazz on A Summer's Day," the Toronto concert footage, the London concert footage and a couple of dozen television appearances over the years-- but nothing I've seen on film or video has captured the best of what I saw live. I can do without most of the guest appearances on "Hail! Hail!"? Julian seems like a nice guy, but his screeching "Go Johnny Go!" doesn't send me. "Let the Good Times Roll" was a good time-- but I don't need to see oldies acts and don't consider Chuck Berry to be one. The Toronto concert is a masterful performance by Berry himself-- but that band? How does it feel to be captured, with all your rhythmic challenges exposed, backing the rhythmically seismic Mr. Berry? He triumphs despite them.

Well, this won't match some of the shows I saw, either--- but it's the best I can do with what I've got. Help me out. Send me your best clips. (But NO ding-a-lings!)  This is just one show-- there are 300 more to do this year, and for 55 more years.

Anyway, a ragged instrumental to start things off and get in tune.

Then maybe a little blues. Why not Wee Wee Hours?

Memphis, Tennessee

Nadine used to always be a turning point

After Nadine he'd say "We're warmed up-- with your permission we'll start the show!"

Maybe Roll Over Beethoven

Sweet Little Sixteen dropped the tight dress for jeans and hot pants for a while-- then put on the dress again.

Mean Old World (wish I could put on the one from The London Sessions!)

Let It Rock (I always get the feeling this is one of his favorites)...


Carol (This version is THE BEST!)

A mellow, masterful version of You Never Can Tell

I NEVER saw him play No Money Down

Reelin' and Rockin' can get lot raunchier than this-- but I like this one.

In those innocent days before "House Lights" he used to end the show in French, tapping at his guitar...

Bon Soir Cheri
Je dois partir
Bon Soir Cheri
Je dois partir
Je vous aime, beaucoup, Cheri (or, alternatively "Jabeljame")
Bon Soir Cheri, Bon soir!

The crowd would sway happily, until he translated...

Good night sweetearts
Oh but I've got to go now
This little song
Ends our show now
It's been so wonderful
I don't want to go
But good night
Bon soir
Bye bye

And then the guitar starts flailing, and warned that our time is short, so do we.  Johnny B. Goode doesn't HAVE to end the show anymore, but it used to...

You have to use your iagination now, to watch him backing off stage playing those high notes, bowing, the guitar held vertically before him, bowing, backing, disappearing through the curtain, or just back behind the amps, packing his guitar, blowing a kiss, finding that girl, jumping into the Cadilac, and driving away to the airport and tomorrow's show. No encore but hey-- you got your money's worth.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Always in Lights

When he’s singing “Johnny B. Goode” nowadays Chuck Berry usually sings “Maybe some day your name will be back in lights,” as if a comeback is in store.

When I was a kid I used to think the song “Sergeant Pepper” described Berry’s situation.

They’ve been going in and out of style,
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile.

But the truth is that Chuck Berry never went out of style. His name has always been in lights, in part because he worked like a hero to keep it that way, doing show after show, night after night for 55 years.  (Wait-- it didn't start with Maybellene.  Make that 60 years!)

The records didn’t always sell. He had three clear bursts of record sales— 1955-1960, 1964-1965, and 1972, and it probably would have been an uninterrupted selling spree from 1955 to 1965 if it weren’t for a prison sentence that he didn’t deserve.

But in between and after the record sales he was always out doing concerts, keeping his fans happy and keeping name “in lights.”

Almost as soon as he got out of prison in October 1963 he recorded one of the best live shows I’ve heard him do at a Michigan casino. The 10 song set—with backup by a group of Motown studio musicians-- is included on the boxed set “Chuck Berry: You Never Can Tell: His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966.” It’s the reason I bought that package, and made it worth every dime to me.

In 1964 he made two tours of Europe, focusing, it seems, on England, where his influence was huge and fresh. Groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many others were recording his songs and talking up his music to the press.

In October 1964 he was part of the T.A.M.I. show, a live concert that included Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Bo Diddley, and the Rolling Stones. It came out as film, probably in 1965. (Berry’s performances are short but very sweet—but unfortunately the cameras focus on the go-go dancers behind him.)

Then, in 1966 or 1967, things take a new turn. Berry is courted by San Francisco’s Bill Graham and becomes a staple headliner at the Fillmore. The pay sounds incredibly bad to me, but the venue introduces Berry to an important audience—boomers born a bit too late for the original hits, but who probably heard “Nadine” and “No Particular Place to Go” as teeny boppers. This is a big wave that runs from brother Stevo, who introduced me to Chuck Berry, all the way to me, and “My Ding-a-Ling.” (Actually his ding-a-ling. My curse.) Berry was suddenly bigger than ever, playing mega-shows like the Toronto festival, and able to let his music mature a bit. He played more blues, and his guitar playing matured. For me, these are the golden years of Chuck Berry guitar playing.
And he kept making records—some of the first I was able to buy, including “Back Home,” “San Francisco Dues,” “The London Sessions,” and “Bio.” Only “The London Sessions” was a big seller, but all of these albums were good, all got reviews in the major magazines, and all of them probably sold decently.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he kept touring regularly, always a headliner now. He was part of the Richard Nader “Rock and Roll Revivals” (got himself into serious tax troubles) and worked as a single doing shows all over the country with a pickup band or, if you were lucky, with The Woolies.” Then Casinos, and State Fairs. And Europe—always Europe, and Asia.

One of the problems he faced in the early 1970s was the classification as an "oldies" act.  It never made sense.  He was still making great records-- and his music is too fundamental and fundamentally sound to be oldy or moldy.  Its roots in the blues are too deep, and the lyrics are too good.  It's just great music-- the U.S.A.'s most enduring legacy.

And then 1986-1987 and another burst—the movie, and the The Autobiography, and a decent soundtrack album, all of which got noticed.

Now the legend began to grow. His music has already been launched into outer space.  He get's a Lifetime Grammy.  He's honored at Kennedy Center by the President (dear God I hope it wasn't Bush!)  He's first into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame.  ( He was and remains a fixture in Rolling Stone’s incessant lists of “greatest.” Best Guitar Songs—“Johnny B. Goode” comes in at number one. It’s on the “best songs” list as well, and he’s way up there on the lists of “best guitarists” and “all time best.” He even gets a credible shout out on the “best singers” list.

In the 21st century books started coming out, including two full scale biographies, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” by Bruce Pegg and “Chuck Berry” by John Collis. There are also a couple of books about the music, including “Long Distance Information: Chuck Berry’s Recorded Legacy,” by Fred Rothwell.

And finally, Blueberry Hill, one of his coolest moves ever, where month after month Chuck Berry has played shows at a tiny venue in his home town of St. Louis that can’t be too profitable, but which have become legendary for their spirit—fun, loving shows with a stable house band and fans that come from around town and around the world to see and hear a legend.

All told, nearly 55 years—an incredible legacy— and the name has been in lights just about the entire time. Pretty cool.

And no accident. In this case, I’d say 99% inspiration, and 101% perspiration.

Good job, Mr. Berry. And thank you.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Runnin' To and Fro Hard Workin' At The Mill (Happy Labor Day)

Never fail in the mail
Here come a rotten bill...

(Speaking of Labor, Work and Monkey Business-- e-mail your senators and congress people and ask for a PUBLIC OPTION!)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

THIS is Why I Have E-Mail (goheadon(*)

Doug sent this all the way from Iowa!  Thanks Doug!  Bravo Gus!  (If you go on youtube, you'll find an entire community of Berry picking ukeleleists.)

You Never Can Tell!

I often talk about how beautifully Chuck Berry played the guitar in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Here's a nice example.  This is as sweet as it gets. Never saw him with a backup band that played so gently!

I had read that Bruce Springsteen was playing "You Never Can Tell" on tour this year. ForeverChuck68 posted this hard rocking version from Bilbao, Spain on . Thanks FC!