Wednesday, February 20, 2013
An Interview with Author Morten Reff: The Chuck Berry International Directory
How did you first get interested in Chuck Berry and his music?
I heard his “Let It Rock” on Norwegian radio in the Autumn of 1963 ( I was almost 14). It was the swingiest music I have ever heard. The next day I ran down to the nearby shop and bought the Pye single, coupled with “Memphis, Tennessee”, and I was saved.
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. And my brother (6 years older) had singles with Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Little Richard and others, and this was something that appealed to me. I didn’t fancy the ‘60s beat stuff, never have, never will.
You must have a ton of his records. Can you tell us about your collection?
I have the most. Some 800 LPs, and about the same amount of singles and EPs, from all over the world. The latest achievement was an album from Hong Kong (1976), the very first I have seen.
The only important record I know I miss is the French EP on London from 1958. I have the vinyl but miss the EP cover. It’s a terrible situation.
But I also collect Berry cover versions and soundalikes. I have around 700 singles with different artists covering a Berry tune, and 100s of albums, both LPs and CDs, tributes and you name it. Berry’s music appeals to all kinds of artists and musical styles. That’s what makes it so interesting. I listen to music I am sure I would never have considered if it wasn’t for Berry’s music.
Can you describe what it is about the music that got you hooked?
The beat, the beat, the beat !
And of course his guitar playing and the lyrics. John Lennon said that Berry wrote intelligent lyrics when people were singing about “Be Bop A Lula”, “Long Tall Sally” and “Great Balls Of Fire”.
How many times have you seen him perform live? What are some of your best memories of that?
The first time was in 1975, in Paris at the Olympia (2 shows), which is also the most memorable moment. I thought he would never make it to Norway. Well he did, in 1977. He’s been to Norway another 7 times, and I have also seen him in Sweden once, in 1984, when Johnnie Johnson joined him for the very first time outside the US.
Who are some of your other musical heroes?
I am also a big fan of Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis, Narvel Felts, Tommy Steele (UK), Willy DeVille (bless his soul) and would you believe Garth Brooks. But I also dig Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash (before ’94), and Elvis (‘50s & ‘60s).
You keep churning out books about CB-- can you tell us how that started?
It began already in the mid ‘60s when I started writing down cover versions, soundalikes and everything that had to do with Berry’s music. I wrote small articles for various magazines both in Norway, UK and USA. In 1982 when US author Howard DeWitt wrote a book about Chuck Berry “Rock N Roll Music” (the very first) I found that it was quite defective so I sent him a heavy envelope with material and we collaborated on the second editon in 1985. It included a discography for 100 pages. Now when the new book titled “The Chuck Berry International Directory Vol.1” came out on Music Mentor Books (UK) in 2008 the discography had expanded to 500 pages, so the one I did in 1985 was quite defective too.
What's the next one?
In 2009 came Vol.2 of the CBID, and this year will see the publishing of Vol.3 and 4. All books will have around 500 pages. Check out the web site of Music Mentor Books for contents, http://musicmentor0.tripod.com
What do you do in your other life (when you're not writing about Chuck Berry?)
Besides being married, I work daily in a nearby building supply business. However, I did run a record company, Fox Records, here in Norway from 1991-1994. I released albums with 3 Norwegian artists, one Swedish and also with Linda Gail Lewis and Narvel Felts.
Have you ever met the man?
Yes once, in Paris in 1975. That was very quick(!) In any case I have the picture.
Let's imagine you had a chance to sit down to eat with him at Berry Park. What would you want to tell him? What would you want to ask him?
That’ll be the day! Anyway, this is a very hypothetical question, but I would at least have asked him about who actually wrote “Run Rudolph Run”?*
Anything else you want to say about him?
No, but I love the music.
*Editor’s note: I think there’s only one person who could write the lines “Run, run Rudolph, Santa's got to make it to town! Can't you make him hurry? Tell him he can take the freeway down!” Freeways were a big deal in the 1950s, and celebrated in at least a couple of other Chuck Berry songs. (”Did I miss the skyscrapers, did I miss the long freeways?” ”New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours...”)