Monday, November 29, 2010

In the News

Here's a nice review of "Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!" that was inspired by Keith Richards' recent bio.


And here's a little article about Bob Margolin, who began his musical life copying Chuck Berry, then became a sideman for Muddy Waters.  Now he's a blues star in his own right, and frequently collaborates with people like Daryl Davis and Pinetop Perkins.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blues 101 by Robert Lohr

Bob Lohr is always ready to advance my musical education.  Check the comments to the story about Lohr's records below and you'll find names of other folks that Bob Lohr has recorded with.  One he mentions is drummer Sam Carr, who Bob describes as one of the best performers of the "delta shuffle."  Here he is playing with Frank Frost on a version of "Big Boss Man" from 1962.

Here you can see him at work (but not working very hard!  Mainly smiling.)

And here's Arthur Williams, also mentioned by Bob. 

Where Hamburgers Sizzle (at the back door).

I picked up my copy of “Chuck Berry: The Autobiography.” I need to read it again. I’m especially interested in reading it after just reading B. B. King’s book.

Anyway, I open it and stumble upon a paragraph that I missed last time.

He’s talking about a teenage road trip with a couple of friends. It’s a trip that ends in trouble for Chuck Berry. And on the way towards Kansas City and the reformatory, he stops at his future home.

“It was high noon and I was seventeen years old. My running buddies and I got in my ’37 Oldsmobile sedan and we set sail westward. We stopped in Wentzville at the Southern Air Restaurant to get some zoo-zoos (food). The colored lady cook came to the little window built in the back kitchen wall that solely catered to black patrons, and she asked what we wanted. She overfilled the paper plates of our order, which was the one good result that can be remembered about a jim crow cafĂ© policy: getting more on our paper plates than we would have been served on china out front.”

"Chuck Berry: The Autobiography,” page 50.

This is 13 or 14 years before he started touring, but the same laws and same customs prevailed in the mid 1950s when carloads of rhythm and blues musicans risked life and limb and indignity when taking their music out on the road. Listen to Bo Diddley:

“When I was goin’ through the South, I used to cook all the time. The reason for that was: here am I, gotta go in some white dude’s back door, an’ I’ve got ten—maybe fifteen thousand dollars in my pocket! I’m gonna get a 95 cent hamburger ‘cause I can’t go n the front door. So I said: “To hell with your Iback doorI! I’ll go buy me some chicken an’ put it in the trunk, get some utensils, put it all on the bus, an’ I’ll do my own cookin’! I ain’t goin’ to your daggone back door! You got a black cook sittin’ up there cookin’ up all this shit, an’ gonna tell me I can’t comein the front door? I gotta go round the back an’ get a hamburger because of the color of my skin? BULL-SHIT!

…We’d go in a grocery store, buy all our stuff an’ stick it in our little cooler on the bus. When we got hungry, we’d just get up an” grab somethin’. Chuck Berry did the same—he always carried a little electric hot plate with him, you know.”

“Bo Diddley: Living Legend,” page 81.

According to Marshall Chess, Berry “carried a little electric plate in his suitcase. He’d buy like canned beans and he’d cook it.”

“Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry,” page 164.”

So when he had money, Berry bought the restaurant that had once forced him to order  at a back window. (In typical Berry fashion, the Southern Air got him in trouble again in his later years-- or rather, Berry got himself in trouble there.  Ah well!)

But I don't care that much about the mistakes.  What I know for certain is that all of us benefitted when Chuck Berry, B. B. King, Bo Diddley and so many others took their music on the road in the 1950s. In their own nitty-gritty way, the early rock and roll shows did as much as the marches and lawsuits and laws to begin breaking down the racial barriers that have crippled this country for centuries. Berry, Diddley, Little Richard and King didn’t do it for us. They did it for themselves and their families, risking life, limb and dignity to make a little money by delivering their astounding art and music to screaming teenagers. But in the process, they delivered all of us another few inches away from the days of old.

As I often say, “Hail! Hail!”

And thank you!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Here's a Place to Hear (and Buy) Bob Lohr on CD

Pretty cool, recording with people like Willie Big Eyes Smith.  Check it out AND LISTEN TO BITS HERE.  (Of course, what we're really waiting for is the new Chuck Berry CD, with Lohr and the rest of them.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Roll 'em Pete

Carmelo and the Boogie Ramblers posted a great video of Chuck Berry playing "Roll 'em Pete" on Soul Train on their facebook page.  I couldn't find that one on youtube, but it got me to this beauty, by Berry's childhood hero Big Joe Turner.  Pretty cool.  And since it was cut in 1938, it shows the truth of Berry's frequent statement that "there's nothing new under the sun."

And if it works, here's a link to what the Boogie Ramblers posted-- a great version, with some fun questions and answers at the start.  ("Roll 'em Pete" is the only Chuck Berry single I bought. I think it had "Bio" on the flip side.  I bought it because it was the only way to hear the song, which didn't come out on the London Sessions album.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Idle Thoughts

You may have noticed a drop in verbiage since my trip to St. Louis.  What can I say after an experience like that one?  Two Chuck Berry shows in less than a week.  A trip to Wentzville.  Numerous excursions into North St. Louis.  A view of the old Crank Club.  An opportunity to attend a sound check.  A chance to see Bob Lohr again and meet Jim Marsala, CBII, Keith Robinson, Karen and Judy for the first time.  And an opportunity to shake my hero’s hand and tell him, as best I could, how I feel about him.

Suffice it to say, I came home pretty satisfied.  (Of course, I'll feel more satisfied if I can give you interviews from Mr. Marsala or Mr. Robinson or Ms. Clay or the son of rock and roll.  Hey-- I'm an optimist!)

I suppose some fantasies remain-- but they are just that: fantasies, idle thoughts.

I suppose I would like to have dinner with the man, or ride in his car while he talks-- some sort of extended chance to know more certainly who he is, what he thinks, etc.  But I don’t need it.  I don't think he’s held back that much.  I think his book, and the better interviews over the years, tell us a whole lot. 

But I do have this one vision.  It's a silly one, because it involves telling Chuck Berry what to do on stage, and he doesn't need advice about that.

But I’d like to see a Chuck Berry show that settles down for a few minutes of quieter stuff, with a chair on stage, and some ballads and blues.  A sort of “Chuck Berry Unplugged.”

It happens now and then, without the chair.  Daryl Davis tells of a Nat King Cole song during the Strathmore show.  He tells of a blues, too.  And I’ve certainly seen Chuck dismiss the band for a time, and play solo-- but usually something funny like "My Ding-a-Ling," or "South of the Border."

Some of the best, most interesting performances I’ve seen or heard from the man were him leaning back during “Hail! Hail!” playing those sad ballads, or the beautiful “Annie Lou” done with just him and his guitar on the “Have Mercy” set.

So I’d love for him to sit down for a bit, settle back, and give us a taste of what we might hear if we somehow found him at home, in his study, strumming or singing something he especially loved.

And of course, I would like to hear some of the “new” songs, or some of the stone cold classics that just don't get played enough.  "Thirty Days."  "Havana Moon."  "Oh Louisiana."  Now that he's got a band, it would be nice to take advantage of it.

But why even say this?  What we get, night after night, year after year, is so good, so classic, that I'd be a fool to complain, and feel foolish imagining something different.  When all is said and done, what more would I want, and what more could he give?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I’ve been relatively quiet since my trip to St. Louis a month ago. I’m still absorbing that experience.

One thing this year of blogging has done (and I’m afraid it’s gone beyond a year now) is to allow me to think and wonder and perhaps discover why Chuck Berry means so much to me.

I’ve said before that I’m convinced part of it is simply genetic—some inborn disposition to a certain sound from the guitar. My dog likes to swim. I like Chuck Berry’s guitar. And songs. And the way he moves around on stage. And he makes me laugh.

And part of it is undoubtedly luck. I “discovered” him when I was 14. That will sometimes do it. I hear that some animals will adopt whatever face they first see as their mother—so something like that obviously happened. But, the truth is, I’d had lots of powerful musical experiences before I saw my first Chuck Berry concert. I remember going crazy over Otis Redding’s stuttering climax to “Try a Little Tenderness” when I was only 12 or 13. I remember the same feeling when the bass jumped in at the end of Sly Stone’s “Stand.” One of my earliest concerts was a young B. B. King, who put on a thrilling show at the California State Fair of all places. And I’d paid due attention to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and all of the popular acts who were actually good.

So I think that the real clue came earlier this year when an archivist in Sacramento dug up the date of that first live Chuck Berry show that I saw at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. It was mid-February 1971. I was 14. And within a few weeks my father would die.

He was probably dying at the time.

My father was pretty different from Chuck Berry. He was way older—born in 1901. He was white. He wasn’t thin—at least by the time I knew him.

The only song I ever heard him sing was something called “Down Among the Dead Men.” (Actually, that sounds a bit like “Downbound Train.”) He didn’t play music, but he seemed to like it. I know he went to see Louis Armstrong several times when I was a little kid.

And he drank way too much.

He was an alcoholic, and that’s what ultimately killed him.

I was the youngest of his seven children. When I was little he was, of course, my hero. And he was a worthy hero—a nice, nice man, funny, a former athlete with a host of famous ex- ball players as friends. (They used to come to our house on his birthday and get drunker than skunks. We tended to leave.)

He was well known in his home town, with more friends than he could recognize. We’d be accosted by some guy, they’d talk for ten minutes, and as we’d walk away my dad would ask my mom “Who WAS that guy?”

He was on the right side of all things political. He was a Democrat. He was for working people. He was for civil rights. He was against Nixon.

Unfortunately, by the time I turned into a budding teenager his drinking had become such a problem that whatever was good about him was usually overwhelmed by the evil of the alcohol. He never became angry or violent, but he lost a lot of dignity. We’d find him on the floor unable to get up. He’d lose his mind for a few days or a few weeks. There was a time he began to speak “Indian talk,” which he kept up for several days for reasons only he understood. I was just a kid, and it was more than I could handle.

Around this time, my brother Stevo first told me about Chuck Berry.

I was probably not the intended recipient of the wisdom. My other brother Danny must have been there. But I heard and retained all of it.

There was this guy Chuck Berry.  He’d played recently at the Fillmore.  Stevo saw him.  Stevo said that he was more important than Elvis, and better.

And he talked about Chuck Berry’s roots, and the show he’d put on, which had been steeped in the blues. And what I remember is that he said “He’s not really a blues man, but he grew up with all that, that’s where he came from, and he plays it well.”

This was probably 1970. These words have been said many times since, but in 1970 this was some pretty original thought coming from Stevo, and pretty right on.

Of course, since then, Chuck Berry’s blues have become my favorite Chuck Berry music. His blues style is so unique. Sure, he shows the influence of his heroes, T-Bone Walker, and Elmore James, and others—but the style he’s patched together is unique and (to me) instantly recognizable as his own. He wasn’t the bluesman that Muddy was—but he had it, and it became more powerful with time.

By the time I first walked into the Memorial Auditorium, in February 1971, his blues were deep, and so, undoubtedly, were mine. My father was dying (killing himself) (being killed by his addiction).

So I push open those doors, and there he is, playing blues, slow, bending those notes two at a time, playing the licks that would work their way deep into my soul. The auditorium was a quarter full. (The archivist told me: 800 people.) He was alone at the mike stand, a cherry red Gibson, jeans, a sad look, opening a show he was supposed to headline, probably just to get out of town and back home.

I’ve written about that show elsewhere on the blog. It was a good one. Despite a mediocre band he got it going, playing hit after hit, all of them sort of familiar, sometimes because of the Beatles. It was a classic, Chuck Berry show.

The next day I bought “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” and my life was changed.

And two or three weeks later, my father died.

He had almost died so many times that it took me by surprise when he actually did. I remember getting the call and then walking out into a little pasture in front of our house and cried for a while.

Part of the loss is never getting to know the man who was my father. The eight year old me knew him, but only the way eight years olds can know an adult. I idolized him.

But on the eve of my ninth birthday, like a freight train, I was hit by his faults.  That night my sister, my dad and I were spending the night in our new home.  He christened it accidentally with a bottle that broke on the cork floor of the hall.  He had me clean it up, and he was prickly, because he'd just dropped his supply for the night.  Somehow, as I bent to clean up that fould smelling bourbon and broken glass, I figured it all out: that this was the cause of so much that was weird and hard in out lives.

And for the next several years there, the weirdness just got worse.

So like a bird in a nest, looking up at some kindly but unrelated fowl that passes by, I looked up one day and saw Chuck Berry, alone on stage, and something clicked.

I was helped by a lot of symbolism. He was “The Father of Rock and Roll.” He strutted across stage between songs looking out at the crowd and saying “All my children!”

Anyway, I took him on as a substitute father.

Which in later years seemed absolutely crazy: he was a crazy rock star, surrounded by rumors and controversy. What sort of father figure could that be?

But he was family. I put up with his faults. And I got to know him better than I ever got to know my poor father.

I read every tidbit I could find, bought all the songs, saw him live as often as possible, drove to his house once, and obsessed. I took my mother to see “Let the Good Times Roll.” I took my friends and family to see him at Tahoe and in Monterey (they came, anyway). I took my ex wife to see him at the Seattle Paramount. I took my two little girls to see him at Seattle Center. My brother and his wife Liz joined me for two shows in a week in St. Louis, last October.  (My now and forever wife keeps sending me, or letting me go! Someday, she’s got to go with me, too.  Another reason for another "last" Chuck Berry show.) That time I got to meet him briefly, and although I didn’t tell him “Hey, I adopted you as a substitute dad forty years ago!” I did try my best to tell him, quickly, how much he means to me and to so many of us. He’s heard it a million times before.

And that show cemented something that I’d only begun to understand when I went to Blueberry Hill in the winter of 2009: that my adoption of Chuck Berry as father figure was not so far fetched after all.

When I first saw him at Blueberry Hill, I was struck by how his son, CBII, moved about the stage, cautiously protecting his 81 year old dad from the women and girls dancing on stage at the end.

Ingrid wasn’t at that show, but when we saw him at The Pageant this October it was a full tilt family rumble, with Ingrid blowing harp and singing, Charles II on guitar, and Charles III doing the scoot and playing his own Stratocaster a little further down. Chuck’s wife Themeta was seated to my right with a host of other people I took to be family, and there cute girls dancing up front who might have been Berrys, too (or maybe fans of CBIII!). At that show there was a moment when Chuck Berry mouthed the words “I love you” to Ingrid, and instructed CBIII on the art of scooting. At the next he showed his incredible pride in CBII during a solo.

And of course, there are so many other examples. The scene with his dad in “Hail! Hail!” The pictures with his brother and nephew that recently surfaced. The songs themselves, with their mothers, and fathers and children: “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Dear Dad,” “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Ingo,” “Johnny B. Goode.”

He once said he didn’t write love songs—but he does.

So, not such a bad choice for a 14 year old to make, searching for someone to symbolically take the place of a dad who was slipping away. I was smarter than I knew.

As for the real one? I keep him by my side. And maybe someday, I’ll get lucky, go backstage, and meet him again, for the first time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chuck Berry: Mean Old World, BBC, 1972

Here's a beautiful new "print" from the great BBC special from 1972.  It's a great version of "Mean Old World" to compare with that other great version from around the same time that you can find on "The London Sessions."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blew It

I saw this picture on Ida May's facebook page and it reminded me of a moment at the Blueberry Hill show in October.  I was there in the front row with my camera.  And Chuck saw me and was looking right at me for a small eternity.  I was mesmerised-- so much so that by the time I realized "he's giving me a chance for an incredible photograph" the opportunity was gone!  Actually, it was worse than that: I pressed the shutter button, and the camera wasted precious time focussing or doing whatever it is that my camera does when I want to take a picture. 

Got to bring an old fashioned one next time.  Oh well.  The show itself was worth a thousand pictures.

Into Each Life a Little Luck Must Fall

And today I stumbled across this interesting looking blog, Squeeze My Lemon.  If you've seen the Chuck Berry blues enough, (a great one from the 1972 BBC concert) click on the masthead of the blog and see what else is there. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chuck Berry In Concert – 10/22/10 Strathmore Music Center Rockville , MD, (and Bo, and Jerry Lee, and Nat, and Jimmy, and More) by Darl Davis

What could be better than to open my e-mail and find this-- a story of the Strathmore concert by one of the performers-- Daryl Davis!  As "editor" I was thinking for a minute about holding half of it back to lure you all in another time.  But hell-- If Daryl took the time to write all this for you, you get to read it all now.  Enjoy.

Chuck Berry In Concert – 10/22/10 Strathmore Music Center Rockville, MD, by Daryl Davis.

The Strathmore is a top notch operation. The concert hall holds 1,976 and was sold out. People were starting to come in while the musicians were treated to a gourmet dinner in the Green Room. The entire staff from the sound crew, security, backstage attendants to the promoter, Ms. Brown and her assistant Georginia, were absolutely fabulous. The hall itself is a magnificent structure, acoustically designed to perfection and there’s not a bad seat in the house.

The idea for a Chuck Berry concert actually started almost two years ago. The new and beautiful Strathmore Music Center in Rockville , Maryland had not been open very long when almost 2 years ago they hosted my friend Jerry Lee Lewis in performance there. He was the second of the original wave of pioneering Rock’n’Rollers to play that venue. The late, great Bo Diddley was the first just a couple of years prior, shortly after the venue first opened. I had a night off from performing the night Jerry Lee was scheduled to perform and I made it a point to go by the Strathmore to see his show and visit with him. I had known Jerry Lee and all the guys in his band for many years. In fact, one night in Washington , DC , my own band, The Daryl Davis Band, had the pleasure of being Jerry Lee’s backup band for a show when he didn’t bring his band with him.

Jerry Lee’s band arrived at the Strathmore a short time ahead of their boss and proceeded to the stage to do the sound check. Jerry Lee himself, like Chuck Berry, rarely makes a sound check appearance. Much in the fashion that I or Jimmy Marsala, Chuck’s bass player will take a guitar and conduct the sound check, Jerry’s bandleader and primary guitarist, Kenny Lovelace usually sits at the piano and makes sure that the volume and tone is dialed in with the sound tech the way Jerry likes it. Since I was there before Kenny did this, he asked me to play a couple of numbers with the band for the sound check. So I got behind the grand piano and Kenny got on his guitar and the rest of the band took their places and we rocked!!!

When the sound check was over I was heading down the hall to Jerry’s dressing room when I ran into Shelley Brown who was responsible for booking Jerry into the Strathmore. Shelley had been a good friend of mine for many years and had booked me at the Strathmore Mansion as well as the Kennedy Center in Washington , DC . We chatted a bit and I said, “You should bring Chuck Berry here sometime.” She looked at me and said, “You’re absolutely right, I’ll do it, get me his booking contact info.”

Jerry Lee Lewis put on a great show that evening and the following day I gave Shelley the contact information for Chuck’s agent. A lot of performances at the Strathmore, get booked months and even a year in advance. But true to her word, as soon as she had an open date she contacted me in early 2010 and said, “Hey Daryl, I want to book Chuck Berry for October 22nd of this year and I want you and The Daryl Davis Band to open for him.”

I said, “Shelley, I’ve never opened for him. I usually play piano with him when he comes to this area.” She said yes she knew that, but wanted my band and me to open and back him up. I explained that in Chuck’s contract, it clearly states that the backing band cannot perform on stage before playing with Chuck Berry. She asked if I thought he might make an exception and I agreed to find out. Sometime before the date arrived and in time to advertise, I called Chuck on his cell phone and explained what I wanted. Shelley is a wonderful and generous supporter of my music and was very interested in providing me with maximum exposure by wanting to have my band perform before a huge audience. Chuck is equally a wonderful and kind friend who has provided me with numerous opportunities that have elevated my music status and helped me make a living as a musician. Chuck made an exception to his rule and allowed me the opportunity to have Shelley showcase my band and additionally play with him immediately following my own performance.

Now, let me digress for a moment. In 1976, I was a senior in high school in Rockville , MD. Every year, the last edition of the school newspaper is dedicated to the graduating seniors and the student staff will come around to each senior and ask, “What are your future plans when you graduate in two weeks?”

Some will respond that they will go to University of Maryland , major in chemistry and become a pharmacist, while others might answer, they will take liberal arts, take a semester off and take it easy before attending college, or some will opt not to go to college, but to work in their father’s plumbing company. When the paper was published, the entire senior class was listed alphabetically and by their names were written their responses to the status of their future plans. However, when someone was asked about what their future plans were and they responded, “Duh, I don’t know,” politely next to their name in the paper, was written the word, “Undecided.” The term, “Undecided,” was a polite code word, synonymous with the word, “Stupid.” In other words someone has gone to school for 12 years preparing for this time to graduate and hopefully have some inkling as to what they want to do with their future and if they have no clue, it is commonly thought that they are stupid. The “Undecideds” usually fit into this category and were most often the ones in my school who were always in trouble, in detention or suspended at one time or another for being lazy or doing something stupid.

A group of students from the school newspaper staff approached me and asked the aforementioned question, to which I responded, “I’m going to go to Howard University , major in music and play piano for Chuck Berry.” They went on down the hall laughing. A week later when the paper came out, next to my name was printed the word, “Undecided.” Despite the fact that I often got straight “A”s and was well respected academically, a lot of my fellow schoolmates thought I was a dreamer and a laughing stock when it came to my thinking that one day I would play piano for the legend, the man who invented the whole thing, the King, Chuck Berry. I graduated from high school a week later in June of 1976 and graduated from Howard University in May of 1980 with my Bachelor of Music Degree.

Fast forward to October 22nd, 2010. I am now 52 years of age and in addition to leading my own band, I have been playing many gigs with Chuck Berry for almost 30 years; my first gig with him was in 1981, a year after I graduated from Howard. So in essence, as of now, I’ve played with Chuck Berry for a little more than half my life!!! And I was called a dreamer? Hmm??? Well guess what? My dreams come true.

I headed over to the Strathmore that afternoon and made sure the Fender Dual Showman amps and speakers were placed on stage where Chuck likes them. The Strathmore is a top notch operation. The hall itself is a magnificent structure, acoustically designed to perfection and there’s not a bad seat in the house. All 1,976 seats for that evening’s concert with the creator of Rock’n’Roll were sold out. My band met me there and we conducted a sound check with me at the piano. Once that was done, I took my cherry red Gibson ES-335, which Chuck has played many times when he has broken a string on his, and plugged it into the amps that were rented for him. Then we proceeded to have the sound man set the sound for Chuck Berry while I played the guitar and sang some verses to some of his songs at the microphone he would use that evening.

A little while later Chuck’s bassist, Jimmy Marsala arrived and we exchanged jokes until dinner was ready. Jimmy is has vault full of funny jokes in his head and every time I see him, he has to unlock that vault for me. He is one of the few people I know who can a joke that I haven’t already heard.

In the lobby, throngs of people of all ages were milling about. A friend of mine named Michelle came with her 8-year-old son Daniel who was there to see Chuck Berry for the very first time. Ironically, Daniel and I have something in common. We both like Johnny B. Goode as our all-time favorite song. Michelle would later email me a cute video of Daniel at an open mic, playing guitar on Johnny B. Goode. The conversations of the waiting crowd went from, “This is my first time seeing him,” to, “The first time I saw Chuck was in 1956,” to “I saw him back in the ‘70s,” or “We saw him in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” to “I just saw him a few months ago at the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival.” It was amazing to think about all those people who were so positively affected by his music over all those decades. My goodness, 1956, the ’70’s, 80’s, and ‘90s? Wasn’t that back in the 20th century? Talk about Back to the Future, this man, Chuck Berry and his music have transcended time!!!

When the doors to the main house opened, people started coming in and taking their seats in the audience while the musicians were treated to an excellent gourmet dinner in the Green Room. The entire staff, from the sound crew, security, backstage attendants to the promoter, Ms. Brown and her assistant Georginia, were absolutely fabulous.

It was soon time and my band and I waited in the wings of the stage until we were announced. As we walked out, we were greeted with cheers and applause. Having played and lived in this area for a number of years, I was no stranger to many in the sold out crowd. Ironically, a good number of my former high school classmates were there. Many of them contacted each other and came out in full force to support the now grown up kid some of them had called a dreamer so many years ago. Even though I’m originally from Chicago , I’ve been in the Maryland/DC area long enough to also call it home. It was great to know that so many of my hometown people and classmates were there to see Chuck Berry but to also support one of their own and I truly thank them for that.

We played a rockin’ 30-minute set with a Blues thrown in. Anyone who has ever played Rock’n’Roll has been influenced by and owes something to Chuck Berry. He must have taught me well, because the sold out crowd gave my band and me a standing ovation for the set we played.

Chuck arrived by limo and I escorted him to his dressing room. He looked great having turned 84 just 4 days prior to this concert. I sat in his dressing room with him marveling at his youthful spirit and remarkable agility for that age, hoping that I too will be that blessed when I reach that age. They say, “You don’t quit playing music because you grow old; you grow old because you quit playing music.” People like Chuck Berry and 97-year-old Pinetop Perkins have proven that!!!

Jimmy Marsala had already hooked up Chuck’s wireless guitar system earlier. When it was time to go, Jimmy flipped on the switch on the transmitter and he, my drummer and I took our respective places on stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, CHUCK BERRY!!!,” came a voice over the sound system. Then from the wings, but unseen by the audience came the familiar classic Chuck Berry guitar intro. He came strolling onto the stage playing the guitar just like ringin’ a bell. The audience once again leapt to its feet, screaming in glee and excitement as Chuck approached the microphone and started to sing something about wanting to write a letter to his local deejay about a rockin’ little record he wanted his jockey to play.

He continued playing hits from his catalogue of 278 songs. For most of the songs he would only sing a couple of verses, take a guitar solo, give me a solo, end it, or do another verse then end it. Occasionally, when he would cut a song short, he would tell the audience that he didn’t remember the words to the song and apologize. The audience was happy to see him regardless. They knew that he had nothing he had to prove. His legacy has and will always be, cast in stone. They knew they were not going to see Chuck Berry 1956. They were seeing Chuck Berry 2010, a living legend still does his best to please his fans. This was very evident when he did his duckwalk several times. I don’t know too many if any, people who would attempt this feat at the age of 84.

The master of pacing himself, Chuck interspersed his rockers with some Blues numbers including his own Wee Wee Hours, to give himself the opportunity to re-energize. He even pulled out For Sentimental Reasons, which was a hit by his idol, Nat King Cole. The audience was also treated to an original poem by Chuck. They sat in total awe as he vividly described the house he would build. All the amenities such as the fireplace, and his dog came to life has his words flowed effortlessly from his mouth. His oral descriptions were as detailed as a painting by Andrew Wyeth. His innovative guitar playing and fact that he had created a new genre had long ago established his musical genius. But it was moments like this that reminded people of his lyrical genius as well.

About half way through Johnny B. Goode, Chuck and I traded instruments. He played the piano and I played his guitar. This is always a treat for the audience, many of whom don’t know that Chuck plays some piano. On the other hand I’m trying to play all of these Chuck Berry licks on the guitar in front of the Man himself!!!!

On his last number, Reelin’ & Rockin’, Chuck invited some girls from the audience to join us on stage and dance. Out of crowd of girls up there dancing, almost half were my former high school classmates!!! If I had known back then that some of them could shake it like that back in high school, hmm…….. Let’s not go there, I’m married now and so are they!!!. The show ended the same way it started, with a standing ovation and 1,976 screaming fans.

Back in Chuck’s dressing room, I invited him and Jimmy to come over to my house for some more dinner. They agreed. I dismissed his limo driver and told him that I would get Chuck back to the hotel. I drove Chuck and Jimmy to my house where my wife and secretary prepared the food. We made some doggy bags and I took them back to the hotel. The next morning, I picked them up and drove them to the airport. Within hours of their landing in St. Louis, they would be driving to a nearby casino to perform that evening with Chuck’s home based band consisting of my friend and excellent pianist Bob Lohr, Keith Robinson on drums, Chuck’s son Charles Berry, Jr. on guitar. Yes indeed, a [rock’n’] rolling stone gathers no moss. Long live Rock’n’Roll, the spirit is there body and soul!!!!

Daryl Davis

Good Stuff from Gibson

The Gibson website always has interesting stuff.  Here's a recent article:

Now all they need is one or two Chuck Berry tribute guitars. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Will Chuck Play It?

Dick Cavett was on CBS Sunday Morning this Sunday morning and it reminded me that the second time I saw Chuck Berry on television was in December 1970 on the Dick Cavett show.  Can't find it on youtube, but word from Morten Reff is that he played "Tulane," a song that would become a favorite of mine when I finally got the record "Back Home" about half a year later.  The song was never a hit, but it was never forgotten and gets played in basements and bars all over.  Here are some random versions.  The most elegant (which says "by me") is by a different me and is second down.  And Joan Jett's version  may be my favorite because hey-- a song about a cool girl ought to be sung and celebrated by one.

This guy (not me) nails the intro-- which has an interesting twist from the standard "Chuck Berry" intro.  (I just figured it out myself.)

Here's another:

These guys got the beginning of the intro right:

Here's the best produced of the lot so far:

A hit version:

And of course, good to see a woman do a song that celebrates a woman:

Have to say, Mr. Berry: the people can't be wrong.  If we love the song enough to cover it in our bars and basements, you should play it for us once in a while!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Did Johnnie Write It?

There was a special on Jimi Hendrix tonight, and I saw him playing the blues classic "Killing Floor" at Monterey (same stage where I saw Chuck Berry do a dynamite show in 1974).  And since my guitar is always near my television I checked the key.  A flat.  I guess it was those piano keys, again.  What would Keith say?  Wouldn't a real guitarist move up to A to take advantage of those open strings?  (Insert smiley face or Dr. Evil's laugh here.)  Anyway, what a version!

I couldn't find Howlin' Wolf doing it, but I found something better: Hubert Sumlin, playing it at B.B. King's last May.  My brother Paul (who just accompanied me to Blueberry Hill, Wentzville, and The Pageant) was there that night.  He might enjoy this clip.  (I haven't actually been able to watch yet.  Bad connection.  But I'm betting from the first couple of notes that it's great.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Right at the Moment I'm Not!

But I know what makes us great.  (Watch this, or look at the pictures of Muddy and Chuck below.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Muddy and Chuck, Chuck and Muddy

In shorty shorts, the Father of Rock and Roll, with the Godfather of it all....  Thank you Jan, from whom I stole these beautiful shots.

(Back in the 1970s, when I first discovered the beauty of the then beautiful NBA, I had a dream where I "learned" from a dreamstate news report that Chuck Berry had been an early NBA great before he became a rock star!  Here, he sort of looks the part!)

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Whole Package (It was a Brown Eyed Handsome Man that Won the Game). (Two of them!)

In baseball Willie Mays is often described as the first "five tool" player, who could throw, hit, hit with power, field and run.  In the attached article, a music teacher from Canada explains that Chuck Berry was the musical equivalent: "He was the whole package: talented showman, singer, song writer and musician. Rock guitar's pioneer. "  It's a good article.

Willie, Chuck, Bo, Rosa, and CompanY (On the Occasion of the Giants' World Series Victory over George W. Bush-- er, I mean, Texas

Ah what the heck.

I’ve been reading about Willie Mays in the book of that name by James Hirsch, and it’s hard not to think about how in the 1950s Mays, Berry, Parks and others followed in the footsteps of Robinson, Armstrong, et al, to change the world we live in forever.

We think of the 1950s as a staid, weird, strained time—and it was; but it was also a time of enormous change.

I’ve written before about what I see as Chuck Berry’s accomplishments in changing the racial history of the United States. Sometimes it was the songs. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” begins with one brown eyed man being “arrested on charges of unemployment” and ends with another “rounding third and heading for home.” “Promised Land” (released five years before King’s fateful speech) talked about a trip to the Promised Land with the bus breaking down in Birmingham, home to Bull Connor and regular dynamite bombings, (including the most famous, that killed several little girls, just months before the song was released.) (On the other hand, Birmingham was also home to Willie Mays’ first professional team.)

But somehow Willie and Chuck got me thinking about Bo.

We know that Chuck Berry is Rock’s first great poet.

But man—Bo could write poetry, too.

I got 27 miles of barbed wire
Got a cobra snake for a neck tie
I got a brand new house on the roadside
Made from rattlesnake hide
Got a brand new chimney built on top
Made from a human skull
Now come along and take a little walk with me Arlene
And tell me who do you love?

Well, I’m not Arlene, but I love Bo Diddley.

When you see him talking with Chuck Berry and Little Richard in “Hail! Hail!” he seems almost tongue tied. Richard is preaching. Chuck is professorial. Bo—he can barely get the words out.

But in his songs, when he tried—totally different.

Night was dark and the sky was blue
Down the alley an ice wagon flew
It hit a bump
I heard a scream
You shoulda heard just what I seen
Who do you love?

But the reason I bring this up? Because in the Willie Mays book someone uses the term “boys” to describe the African American players on a team.

And suddenly I remember Bo and a song that had to be sung.

Now when I was a little boy,
At the age of five,
I had somethin' in my pocket,
Keep a lot of folks alive.
Now I'm a man,
Made twenty-one,
You know baby,
We can have a lot of fun.

I'm a man,
I spell

All you pretty women,
Stand in line,
I can make love to you baby,
In an hour's time.
I'm a man,
I spell m-a-n

I goin' back down,
To Kansas to
Bring back the second cousin,
Little John the conqueroo.
I'm a man,
I spell m-a-n

The line I shoot,
Will never miss,
The way I make love to 'em,
They can't resist.

I'm a man,
I spell m-a-n

Hail all these people. They changed the whole world.

Thank you.

Who Wouldn't Think This Man is Cool?

I first found Chuck Berry in 1971, and even then record stores like Tower already put his music in the “oldies” section, near Fabian and Frankie Avalon—pretty pathetic considering that his most recent masterpieces (“Nadine,” “You Never Can Tell,” “No Particular Place to Go” and “Promised Land”) were just six or seven years old at the time.

By the early 1970s he played at “rock and roll revivals,” and Ricky Nelson, perhaps thinking himself advanced, wrote about how “someone opened up the closet door and out jumped Johnny B. Goode.” (I like the song—but there’s no way Ricky should have put himself in the same stanzas as Chuck Berry.)

Back then a 45 year old rock and roll star seemed ancient—an amusing thought now that the most famous rock and rollers seem to be wrinkled men in their 60s and 70s.

The truth is that Chuck Berry kept making good, new music throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

In fact, my own Chuck Berry experience focused squarely on the newer material. My first record was the original volume of “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” a double record of big hits from 1955 to 1964. But my second Chuck Berry record was “Back Home,” released in 1970, and some of my favorite Chuck Berry songs are grown-up songs that he released over the next ten years on albums like “San Francisco Dues,” “The London Sessions,” “Bio,” and other late albums.

Those later albums are not uniformly great—but Chuck Berry “albums” never were (and few albums by other people are, ever.)  The early Chuck Berry LPs usually contained a bunch of great songs, some good ones, and a few clunkers. The only thing that changed with the 1970s LPs was the ratio (in the later records there are a few great ones, a bunch of good ones, and a few clunkers).

Everyone makes boxed sets and compilations these days. When I first did this post there was no such thing as the "Have Mercey" box, which has all of the 1970s recordings from Chess.  But someday, someone should put together the best of the later material. My own compilation would include:
  • Tulane,” (Back Home) often described as the last “great” Chuck Berry song, it’s a great story about Johnny and Tulane running from the law.
  • Have Mercy Judge,” (Back Home) an original blues song, an ode to “Tulane.”
  • Flying Home,” (Back Home) a wonderful (and complete) reworking of the Benny Goodman/Lionel Hampton/Charlie Christian song, with a new melody, Bob Baldori on harmonica, Lafayette Leake on Piano, and Phil Upchurch on bass.
  • Oh Louisiana,” (San Francisco Dues) a GREAT song of homecoming, nostalgia and sensuality and sorrow (“your beautiful delta, and bayous of green”).
  • "Annie Lou,"  the great solo blues just realeased for the first time on "Have Mercy."  Just Chuck and his guitar, and incredible-- a missing link between rock and roll and Rober Johnson.
  • Mean Old World” (The Chuck Berry London Sessions) a powerful version of the song by Chess label mate Little Walter, and one of Chuck Berry’s hardest hitting blues recordings ever, with stunning guitar work. (Put it with “Wee Wee Hours,” “Deep Feeling,” and “Have Mercy Judge” and you’ve got a credible blues career, forgetting the rock stuff altogether.)
  • Bio” from the album of the same name—a miniature life story, set to the Elmore James riff.
  • "Hootchi Cootchie Man," from Live at the Fillmore.  Just because.
  • Got it and Gone,” (Bio), a nice Johnny B. Goode type story about “just him and his guitar.”
  • Woodpecker,” (Bio) a loosey-goosey, feel-good instrumental, with hand claps, saxophone, lots of shouts and laughter and some great guitar.
  • Move it!” (Rockit) just a good song from his last (but not last!) album of original material.
  • Cottage for Sale/I’m Through with Love” (Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll) (Mr. Berry, we hardly knew ye.)
I might throw in a couple of songs from the Mercury years, too—like the wonderful “Back to Memphis,” recorded in Memphis with the Memphis Horns.

You know the home folks here
They let you do just like you wanna.
You can walk down Beale Street, Honey,
Wearin’ your pajamas!

From “Back to Memphis” © Chuck Berry, Isalee Music Pub. Co.

Put these songs together and you’ll hear that Chuck Berry never stopped making great music. I just hope he’ll let us all hear the latest stuff some day.

Drop your Ballot Right into the Slot!

Here's Chuck Berry's vote for sanity-- a concert designed to bring the 2012 Democratic Convention to St. Louis.  Please Vote.  (And use your brain when you do it!) 

Great Photos of the St. Louis Chuck Berry Concert in Keiner Plaza

Danke Jan!

Photographer Todd Owyoung tells how he got some of these great shots at the show designed to lure the Democratic Party convention back to the heartland.  See/read HERE!  These shots make me happy, because they look so much like the Chuck Berry we just saw last month in St. Louis.