Monday, January 4, 2010

Okay, So You've Heard Reelin' and Rockin' Ten Thousand Times

We can hope that soon you'll be able to own pretty much every legitimate Chuck Berry recording in pretty packages from Hippo-Select (a company that deserves thanks and praise).  And then of course, the new stuff! 

So where do you go then?

I'm not a collector.  I like the music itself, not the stuff.  So my advice, if you haven't already done so, is to back away from "My Ding-a-Ling," and even "Reelin' and Rockin'" and "School Day," and head for a tour of the original sources.

Chuck Berry has alwaaaaays said there's nothing new under the sun, (for a bit of bliss, listen to THIS!),  and he's always credited his own teachers.

The first, of course, is Louis Jordan and Jordan's guitarist Carl Hogan.  If you retain ANY DOUBT about where the "Chuck Berry" intro comes from, just listen to a few seconds of this.  And stay tuned for the rhythm guitar work, too.

Chuck Berry's contribution was to take that intro, add more strings and more power, and deliver it up with a bunch of classic songs.

Then there's T-Bone Walker.  If Carl Hogan provided the first part of the Johnny B. Goode intro, T-Bone provided the second part-- the famous slur.  T-Bone also gave Chuck Berry those beautiful sliding ninth chords (check below at about 2:25) a whole lot of string bending, and the splits.

This version of "Storny Monday" doesn't have a great example of the slur, but it's so doggone beautiful that I can't help pasting it here. 

Chuck Berry also credits Elmore James as an influence-- and during his career he's probably used the "Elmore James" lick almost as often as Carl Hogan's.  But remember-- James got it from Robert Johnson, who probably took it from Charlie Patton-- so that's just the way it works. 

Evidently no one ever had the decency to take a movie of Elmore James, but close your eyes and you'll see him.

Then there's Muddy.  There might not be any Chuck Berry hits without Muddy directing him to Leonard Chess.  And there wouldn't have been a "No Money Down" without this one being put down first.

For singing and style, Chuck would have liked to be Nat King Cole.  (Wouldn't we all?)

Chuck always credits the Dorsey brothers for early lessons in boogie woogie.  I posted a clip of Chuck's sometime pianist Daryl Davis explaining that TD and JD stole their boogie from a piano player named Pinetop.  Check back just prior to New Years for that clip.  (I'll have to watch it again, too, to get the name.  Not Perkins, anyway.)

Chuck Berry often mentions Illinois Jaquette a lot.  And he loved this song.

Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton and Charlie Christian recorded it first.  You'll hear Christian come in at about one minute and recognize a lot of the Chuck Berry feel there-- but check out the clarinet starting at 2:30 and you'll hear some future Chuck Berry guitar licks!  Amazing.

And we could go on and on.  But PART of the genius of Chuck Berry was to take all these disparate influences and make them into something new and completely original.  Technically he wasn't the guitarist that T-Bone was, or the singer that Nat or Muddy were-- but he was an original-- someone who took all these bits and pieces and turned them into something new and wonderful. 

The proof?

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