Monday, February 22, 2010

Blues for Hawaiians - Surfing Steel

In continuing my examination of all things Hawaiian, I finally have to disagree with Fred Rothwell.  In his liner notes to "You Never Can Tell: The Complete Chess Recordings 1960 - 1965" he calls "Surfin' Steel "a superior version of 'Deep Feeling' from three years earlier." 

He's half right, half wrong. 

First, there's nothing superior to "Deep Feeling."  "Deep Feeling" is up there with anything Chuck Berry ever did.  I remember a friend who heard "Deep Feeling " on a blues radio show in the early 1970s.  This friend didn't really know Chuck Berry and was a bit contemptuous of my interest.  Then he heard "Deep Feeling."  Then he heard who played it.  And he changed his mind.  "Deep Feeling" really is deep.  For Chuck Berry blues it's matched only by "Wee Wee Hours" and "Have Mercy Judge," and the three cuts would have made Chuck Berry a somebody in the blues world all by themselves.

But I finally really listened to these two "Hawaiian" "Surfin'" songs, playing them one after the other instead of miles apart on different disks and I can report that "Surfin' Steel" is:

A superior version of "Blues for Hawaiians."   "Blues for Hawaiians" is almost like a demo-- with the piano doing simple chords throughout, and a screech of reverb in the middle.  "Surfing Steel" is more refined, and structured a little differently.  But they are pretty much the same tune.

But when it comes to the blues, both cuts pale compared to the shatteringly deadly version Chuck Berry plays at the end of "Hail! Hail!"  ("Blues for Missourians?")  as the cameral flies in over the dirty swimming pool into the empty clubhouse. 

My view: while "Deep Feeling" and "Mad Lad" stand apart, the other three (including that stark live one that ends "Hail! Hail!") are versions of the same tune.  (And those strawberries-- pre-genetic engineering!)


Anonymous said...

I was born in the north of France in 1948 and I discovered Chuck Berry song and music on the radio in the sixties.He is still well known in my country.I saw him on stage in Roubaix, a city near Lille(France)in 1966, that's a great memory and I shook his Hand at the end of the concert! Great artists like CHUCK BERRY are the best ambassadors of United States!

Peter said...

I agree. Cool that you found this particular post-- hope you keep digging through the blog. Peter