Friday, April 29, 2011

World in the Palm of his Hand

According to this ARTICLE in the University City Patch, they're hoping to install the Chuck Berry statute on Delmar around June 10.  (There will be a Blueberry Hill show June 15.)  Photo by Kathy Bratkowski.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Matt Hill

Bob Lohr will be playing with guitarist/singer Matt Hill tonight at Beale on Broadway in St. Louis.  Check out samples of the music on Hill's website.  Based on my quick listen to the song "Hellz Bellz," with its Little Queenie-esque intro, Bob should be feeling very much at home.  Here's a slower blues.

El Ritual Siempre es el Mismo: Chuck Berry a Blueberry Hill

Thanks Doug for another one...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bendi Straw Losers

Here's Chuck's grandson and his band--

Charles III is the one playing guitar.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More About the Monterey Show, 1974

Here are some more memories of the long, glorious show I saw in 1974 in MONTEREY.  They come from the backup band, Butch Whacks and the Glass Packs.  One of them had a good time, the other not.  (See the original post for additional comments from the band.)  I'm afraid I was one of the people terrorizing them on stage after the show.

Still trying to figure out when this show occurred.  I have some photos of four of us in the Salinas/Monterey area, and I know from my hair cut (only down to the shoulders) that they were taken after 1974.  So I have to wonder if it might have happened in 1975.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chuck Berry in Jazz on a Summer's Day

Tonight I ordered up “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” on Netflix and watched most of it for the first time.  I’ve skipped through it before.  There’s something magical about much of the film.  It makes the 50s look palatable.  The girls are pretty.  The styles seem contemporary.  The scenery is spectacular.  The crowds are diverse.  The music is great.  Legends play to small but appreciative crowds.  Boats race on wild seas.  Moving water provides an abstract background for the jazz.

There's a lot to see and hear the film.  A short appearance by Thelonious Monk is worth the price of admission.  He plays to mostly empty seats.  Anita O'Day is fun.  Dinah Washington is spectacular.  At the end comes Louis Armstrong, someone I enjoyed but took for granted as a little kid.  I was small.

I watched it in part because I read the other day that Keith Richards saw it 14 times as a teenager and credits the Chuck Berry scene with changing his life and ambitions.  It was filmed in 1958 not long after the Berry family had moved into the mansion on Windermere Place.  He was at the height of his success.  He was about to be taken down.

Odd in a sense that the takedown started on home turf, among musicians and music fans, at least in the one song that made it into the film.  I wish I could see the others.

It’s a lesson in how to play “Sweet Little Sixteen” on guitar, because he was pretty much doing it alone with a drummer until a clarinet started wailing.  The band, which had just done an incredible job backing Big Maybelle, seems to be on strike when the author of Maybellene gets on stage.  It’s mostly cold sweat for Chuck.  The bandleader, Jack Teagarden, stands laughing.  The drummer smirks-- too easy.  The rest of the band appears to be silent.  When my man starts a wailin’ clarinet, Chuck seems so happy he starts yelling “blow! blow!” or somethng to that effect.

The story is that he played three other numbers, including “Johnny B. Good” and “No Money Down,” and the young people in the cheap seats went crazy.  The old farts did what old farts do.

But it was an honor.  John Hammond booked Berry and Big Maybelle and Big Joe Turner.  They all deserved to be there.  Not many other rock and rollers would have fit.  Maybe Fats Domino.  

Whatever he said about modern jazz (and I’m betting those musicians had heard it) Chuck Berry had jazz and swing roots that could have flowered nicely with a good backup that night.  I wish they’d have given him what they gave to Big Maybelle.  (* See Below.)

But he did what he could with what he got and drove them wild enough that police were summoned.

And the joint was rockin’.

But wait, there's more!  Paul Harvey used to tell the rest of the story.  After posting I did some reading.  Fred Rothwell has actually heard the rest of the story, which I have not.  He says in his book Long Distance Information that "The band appears to start rather tentatively, but by the end of the set they are won over by the young pretender."  Now that makes me happy.  That makes the whole thing seem more than palatable.  I want to go there!  

Boogie-Woogie in B Flat

Here's a pretty interesting POST on the whole silly Johnnie Johnson as author controversy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

No Money Down

Here's a second try at one that I tried to do a few months ago.  This one is better.  (Hey, all I can say is that lots of people play golf badly.  I play Chuck Berry badly.  But it's fun.)

Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill 4-13-2011

Haven't listened yet, but based on Doug's review, I'm looking forward to it.

Ah!  And now I have.  What a beauty, and just as Doug described it on  First Chuck spends a long time with Bob Lohr.  (Bob-- the quarter tone is way too refined for the likes of me.  The solos sound great.)  One of the best things that's happened at BBH lately is the spindly little chair where Chuck can settle in, play, and rest his legs.  Then some great harmonica by Ingrid, a little back and forth with drummer Keith Robinson, and finally the wonderful interplay between Chuck and bassist Jimmy Marsala.  VERY nice clip.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chuck Berry in Monterey, 1974 (An old post with a great new comment-- see below!)

I've been lucky enough to see Chuck Berry live 10 different times. Several shows are described here already-- my first, at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium in about 1970; my second, at a tiny, packed South Lake Tahoe rock hall in about 1971; I saw him once at a Lake Tahoe casino (hardly counts); my eighth and ninth times were at Seattle Paramount and the Experience Music Project; my last time, last January, was at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis. I saw him a couple more times in the early 1970s as part of the Richard Nader Rock and Roll Revivals-- fun shows with a good backup band, a half dozen acts (The Shirelles, Bill Hailey, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bo Diddley), giant crowds, and, it turns out, definite federal tax liabilities. Ah well-- they were good fun for the money, and the only tension I felt at those rock and roll revival shows was whether Chuck would dominate the lineup—especially after Bo Diddley blew the crowd out of control with his routinely incendiary showmanship.

(Enjoy Bo:

I shouldn’t have worried. Chuck Berry always closed the show with a knockout performance.

But also in the mix during this time was an outdoor show in Monterey, California at the fairgrounds where they filmed "Monterey Pop."

Once, years ago, I found that someone wrote about this show in a book about Chuck Berry. (The book used to be at our local library; but, alas, it seems to be gone. Can't cite it here. Can't recommend, pan, cite or review it, because I don't know who wrote it, or what it was called. Help me out, somebody!)

But anyway, whoever wrote that book saw a different show than I did, citing it, mysteriously, as an example of "how far things had fallen" for the mighty Chuck Berry. He complained about the performance. He complained about the backup band. He even complained that in the middle of the show the promoter gave away an old Cadillac-- an act that happened to fill my own young heart with great glee and cheerfulness.*  (Editor's note:  No He Did Not!  See my comment below.  It goes to show you never can tell about my memory cells.  Peter.)

Maybe the author was just having a bad day. (Although I don't think so. I think he had a good time. Because I met a fellow, crazed, well-informed Chuck Berry fan at the foot of the stage that day. I'd bet an old Cadillac it was my man the author.)

So for me, that Monterey show will always be one of the best I got to see-- a long, slow-building, totally enjoyable powerhouse of a show, with a great backup band, great guitar, lots of happy people, and all witnessed by me from the very edge of the stage, just a few short feet from Chuck Berry's big leather bound ones.

I apologize for the bad photos--- they are as faint (and vivid) as my own memories. Damn those instamatics!

As you can see, Chuck came out in a black shirt, bolo tie and the red pants that he writes about in his autobiography. The same pants, in fact, that he wore 15 years later at the Seattle Paramount, and that YOU have probably seen him wear one time or another. They were nearly new at Monterey, purchased, if I recall, for $7 on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles just two years prior.

He was backed by the band that served as a warm up act-- Butch Whacks and the Glass Packs, a Sha Na Na sort of act, and a great choice to back up Mr. Berry. At first Chuck pretty much ignored the crowd. He knelt about three feet from me, behind a big monitor, plugged in a nutmeg Gibson, and riffed on a slow blues number, tuning, picking, tuning, picking— luscious bunches of bent double string notes. I was mesmerized—just like I was at my first live show—but now I knew the riffs, and there was Chuck Berry, three feet away, making them happen.
Butch Whacks and the Glass Packs is evidently still working in the San Francisco Bay Area, and at least one of its members cites this show as a career highlight. (Under fondest memories he writes: "Backing up Chuck Berry for two-and-a-half hours in Monterey , with no set list, no idea what song we're doing next or in what key, and doing a piano solo for 96 bars (I thought Chuck would only want me to do a standard 12 so I went all out, and then he let me go for 12 more, and then another 12 and I was having severe arm fatigue and cramps by bar 72) and then having Chuck invite the crowd on stage only to find out seconds later that he's boogied out of there, and we have to finish and then get our equipment off stage before it's toast.")

After jamming for a while, maybe playing one or two more numbers, Chuck jumped into Nadine. It wasn’t an inspired rendition, but it was long and good and the crowd started moving. And then, when it was over, and when I'm thinking "This is pretty good. People like him." Chuck says:

“I think we are warmed up now—so with your permission we will now begin our show!”

And from them on, there followed what seemed like hours of perfect music, great dancing, splits, and guitar wizardry. Chuck Berry’s most exciting guitar bits are the blistering solos on the original records—but during the late 60s and early 70s he was at his peak of virtuosity. If you doubt me, listen to the guitar work on “Back Home” (with, in the words of Michael Lydon, its "bitingly fine quality of etched steel") or the “London Sessions,” or, for an accessible and endlessly entertaining example, this spectacular and refined 1972 version of “Oh Carol."

But back to Monterey. I think I may have wound up on stage at the end of that show, though I’m hoping for dignity’s sake that this is a false memory. I know that I have a photograph of the young cop who stopped us from chasing Chuck Berry after the show. (My brother made it past the cop and watched him drive away in a Cadillac convertible). One girl near the stage got his autograph on a scrap of binder paper. I must have looked envious, because she gave it to me after the show. (I still search my old boxes trying to find that thing.)

By the time of that show the album Bio had come out—and I wanted Chuck Berry to play something newer than his classics. (I still do!) I handed him a note asking for my favorite—“Got it and Gone.” He leaned over, read the note, and laughed. He probably barely remembered recording the song and sure as hell wasn’t going to play it.

Ah, well. It was the second time I got to communicate directly with my idol.

More reading:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fran Calls them My Rock and Roll Shoes...

Sounds like early 1989.  I saw him and that shirt that year at the Seattle Paramount.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Change of Pace

My friend Al sent this incredible video.  Evidently the musician, Shiyani Ngcopo, just died.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chuck Was All Those Artists Rolled Into One...

George Thorogood talking about the blues, Chuck Berry, Jimi, et al, before his show in Salinas, California.  Read it HERE.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Heeeeeeeeeere's Chuck! And Johnny!

I haven't even watched these, but I used to love the days when he'd show up on the Johnny Carson show.  I remember the time he took over the whole hour-- an unprecedented thing.  He seemed to have fun with Johnny.  Thanks again to our vice president for audio-visual entertainment.

Part two:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

More Shapeshifting!

Gracias a Doug for this video of Enrique playing the heck out of "Roll Over Beethoven!"  I love the energy of this one.  Great job!

Friday, April 1, 2011


I've always considered myself a pretty big Chuck Berry fan (and getting bigger and bigger in my in old age, especially around the waist,) but I haven't changed my name to Chuck, or gone on stage to become Chuck!  (Of course, my granddaughter's middle name is Tulane.  Top that!)  But in Europe it's different.  On both sides of the Channel you'll find them.  First Dominic "Chuck Berry" Cooper and his band Rollin' Home.  (I'd rather post the live version found on facebook, but it's evidently not on youtube.  But this one sounds really good.)

Then, across the water, or tunnel, Jean "Red Chuck" Million, (born with a stage name,) not doing his Chuck Berry licks here, but killing it just the same with his band Red S'Alamandre. (Maybe ought to be called Cameleon Rouge.)

And it's not just in Europe.  My Mexican friend Enrique ("Berry") seems to scoot and duckwalk around town and practices splits in the hall.

Like me, this other guy, (who sometimes takes the name of Chuck Berry's chief tormentor and imitator,) has a guitar that looks like a Chuck Berry guitar.

And Doug duckwalks and scoots without a guitar.

Post Script:  Of course, no matter how well Dominic and Jean play, no matter how low Enrique can go, no matter how red Jan's guitar is, or how well the admiral's had fits Doug, the truth, the only verifiable, true, scientific proof of who really stirs the girls, is that one immutable piece of evidence: the photograph.  And it's worth a thousand words!  (Eat your hearts out, fellows.)