Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Charlie and Chuck

It's interesting that Chuck Berry scholar Morten Reff says that "I grew up with swing jazz from my father’s collection. People like Benny Goodman (Charlie Christian), Lionel Hampton, Fats Waller (Al Casey) and Eddie Condon caught my attention" since Chuck Berry himself often cites Christian as an influence, and has recorded the Christian, Goodman, Hampton, Jaquette number "Flyin' Home" a number of times.  I got to Christian and Goodman through Chuck Berry.  Berry got to himself and Reff got to Berry the other way around.

My favorite version of "Flyin' Home" is the one on "Back Home" that Chuck Berry recorded with Bob Baldori on harmonica and probably Lafayette Leake on piano.  A couple of writers have said it is not the Goodman/Christian classic, but that's definitely where it's got its roots, and you can hear traces of that original 1930s recording if you listen close.  The most fascinating example, for me, is near the end of both versions.  In the original, a clarinet and some other instrument (another clarinet?) repeat a little riff that nearly knocked me off my couch with its familiarity the very first time I heard it.  It was deja vue all over agin, with Benny Goodman playing a Chuck Berry riff about 15 year prior to Maybellene!  I don't know how to introduce a soundbite, so I'll try to imitate it with typed scat (the biological definition best describes my system of musical notation):

baa- doo-bop, da-bop, 
      doo-bop, da-bop,   

I'm sure you recognize the riff! 


(As I often say-- learn to read and write music, kids!)

Anyway, change those clarinets to guitar notes, and add a little rock and roll punch, and you've got a fine Chuck Berry lick.  If only I could pull a sound bite and show you.

But recently, listening to the "Back Home" version of "Flyin' Home," I realized that Chuck Berry never forgot where the lick came from, and put it back into the song, on guitar, at the end, just where it fits into the original.  (I haven't gone back to listen to versions he recorded for Mercury, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it there, as well.)

I do know this: in those Mercury recordings, including the Live version at the Filmore, Mr. Berry stuck more closely to the original tune-- dee-dee bop, diddley-diddley-deedie-bop, etc.  On the "Back Home" version Baldori's harmonica takes over the lead and changes the melody of the song (which is built on the "rhythm changes.")  But if you listen close, especially towards the begining, you'll here that Chuck Berry is indeed fingering "da-de-da, dudly-dudly-deedly-bop" just like he did at the Filmore for at least some small portion of the song.  Then: they take it home, in the most delightful way, with cascading piano rills, great guitar chords, and beautiful interchanges between the two.  What a song!  I put it up there with "Deep Feeling," "Rockin' at the Philharmonic," and "Woodpecker" as one of Chuck Berry's all time finest instrumentals--

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