Saturday, October 29, 2011

Worth Repeating: Chuck Berry, A Poem by Cornelius Eady

The same sister who accompanied me to my first Chuck Berry concert some 40 years ago (I was 14) just gave me a poem by poet Cornelius Eady called "Chuck Berry."  I sent Mr. Eady an e-mail telling the story of that show, asking permission to run the poem here, and thanking him "for creating great art about a man that I consider one of our great artists."  He wrote back:  "Thanks for thinking of me, and sharing that wonderful memory. John Lennon once called CB one of America's great poets, and I have heard (and read) little to dis sway me of that notion."

I was going to wait until I had read more of Mr. Eady's poetry before running this-- but sometimes a gift is meant to be shared immediately.  As for the other poems, one's called "Amost Grown."  Could it be a coincidence?  "Almost Grown" shows up below, I think, along with bits and pieces and hints of "Carol," and "Nadine," "You Can't Catch Me," "Back in the U.S.A.," "Around and Around," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," "Little Queenie," "Sweet Little Rock and Roller," and "Go, Go, Go".  I love that he knows these songs so thoroughly.  (I never can remember the name of the Chuck Berry song that is made up almost entirely of lines and titles of Chuck Berry songs.  His work lends itself to that sort of thing.)  This is a poem that seems to celebrate all of what's celebrateable about Chuck Berry-- the energy, the beauty, the felonies, the hard work, the poetry, the dance, and the thing Chuck Berry himself might be most proud of: "The amazing leap, from nobody to stockholder,  (Look, Ma, no hands), piped through a hot amp."  When you've finished the poem in your voice, you can hear him read it in his at the bottom of the page.  And you can learn more about Mr. Eady (who is moving to Chuck Berry's home state of Missouri soon) here and here.

Chuck Berry

Hamburger wizard,
Loose-limbed instigator,
V-8 engine, purring for a storm

The evidence of a tight skirt, viewed from
    the window of a moving city bus,
Yelling her name, a spell, into the glass.
The amazing leap, from nobody to stockholder,
(Look, Ma, no hands), piped through a hot amp.

Figure skater on the rim of the invisible class wall,
The strength of the dreamer who wakes up, and it’s
   Monday, a week of work, but gets out of bed

The unsung desire of the check-out clerk
The shops of the sleepy backwater town,
   waiting for the kid to make good,
   to chauffer home

The twang of the New Jersey turnpike
   in the wee, wee hours.
The myth of the lover as he passes, blameless
   through the walls.

The fury hidden in the word almost.
The fury hidden in the word please.

The dream of one’s name in lights,
Of sending the posse on the wrong trail,
Shaking the wounded Indian’s hand, a brother.

The pulse of a crowd, knowing that the police
Have pushed in the door, dancing regardless

The frenzy of the word go.
The frenzy of the word go.
The frenzy of the word go.

The spark between the thought of the kiss
   and receiving the kiss,
The tension in these words:
   You Can’t Dance.

The amazing duck walk
The understanding that all it's going to take
   is one fast song.

The triumph in these words:
   Bye-bye New Jersey, as if rising
   from a shallow grave.

The soda-jerk who plots doo-wop songs,
The well-intentioned Business School student
   who does what she’s told, suspects
   they’re keeping it hid.

Mr. Rock-n-Roll-jump-over
   (or get left behind),
Mr. Taxes? Who, me? Money beat,
Money beat, you can’t catch me,
   (but they do),

A perpetual well of quarters in the pocket.
The incalculable hit of energy in the voice
   of a 16 year-old as her favorite band
   hits the stage,

And 10,000 pair of eyes look for what they’re after:
And 10,000 voices roar for it:

And a multitude you wouldn’t care to count
   surrounds the joint, waits for their opportunity
   to break in.

(You can find this poem starting at 7:00)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Blues, Jazz and Near Blues from Barcelona

A week or so ago I told about blues in Madrid.  Yesterday, when we climbed up to Parque Guell in Barcelona we found someone named Robert playing excellent slide guitar just below the peak. 
I wish I could tell you his name-- just looked at the cd's he was selling, and it said "Robert Live at..." (add name of club.  But he played some very good blues on that old resonator.

My bet was that street performers in Barcelona have to pass some sort of licensing exam. The ones we saw were all great.  One group outside the Cathedral played a sort of gypsy-tinged, new agey jazz.  You can see people were digging into their pockets.  They were really good.

Not far away was a brass band playing traditional Catalonian music.  Maybe my video will work here.  Unfortunately, it's reallllly short.

I could go on and on.  On the steps of the other cathedral (what city has two?!) there was a great choir.  Then behind that, a kids performance, with baby drummers, baby clarinetists, and a rapper.  All in all a great city.  But of course, you come here to see THIS guy!

Ah-- but he wasn't there.  That was a year ago.  In St. Louis.

Chuck y Pablo

Our last day in Barcelona and we went to the Picasso Museum.  The last time I was there I was 19, and my Chuck Berry problem was still in it's original full flower.  That was 36 years ago.  The hotel I shared with my brother Danny cost $2.  But in those days I wouldn't have made the connections I made today.  As I walked through the museum I saw that the series of paintings Picasso did on Las Meninas was made in 1957.  Pablo was already a superstar.  Chuck was getting there.  And I saw that a couple were painted in late August, 1957.  This one, on the 27th.

I knew that date!  When Pable was painting, Chuck was probably still enjoying the pleasure of having done a show in Sacramento with his idol Louis Jordan.  Heck, given the time difference, his ears were probably still ringing.

Picasso kept working on the series, and Chuck kept touring.  Picasso's life looked easier.  He was living in Cannes with a balconey overlooking the Mediterranean.  In October he was painting red versions of Las Meninas. 

What Pablo was doing was similar to what someone like Chuck did when he covered "Time Was" three or four times (probably the same year!)  Picasso was playing with a famous painting by Velasquez-- one we saw for the first time in Madrid a few days and several lifetimes ago.  In the painting, a little princess stares at the viewer while people paint her, and fuss over her, and enter the room to gaze upon her.  Picasso painted a dozen different riffs on it, often several in a day.  Here's the original.

Chuck, meanwhile, had joined up with the Fats Domino tour and by the time Picasso was seeing red, Chuck was back in Sacramento for what might have been the first of so many birthday shows.  The little town never had it so  good.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Want to Be Your Driver The Blues Project

I love finding evidence that Chuck Berry remained an influence after his "golden decade" had more or less passed.  If memory serves, my brother Stevo (who introduced me to Chuck) was a fan of The Blues Project. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

He Hit a High Fly into the Stands. Three Times!

Hey-- you could hear the pop across the Atlantic.

Of course, regular readers know that he was inspired by another 'brown-eyed handsome man's' visit to the Pujols foundation a few weeks ago. 

Or maybe by the stirring National Anthem a few weeks ago.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The thing that interests me is that, last night, sitting in a tiny place in Madrid, Spain, talking to my wife, that riff starts.  It's on the jukebox or soundtrack.  It isn't Chuck Berry-- it's someone doing Chuck Berry.  But it's there, 4216 miles and 55 years from when he first recorded it.  (I know he's not the first to play it-- but he's the first to play it that way, and it's his.)  Pretty cool.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wine, Beer, Salty Meat, and Blues

So I'm in Madrid with my wife, and we have vague plans to attend a concert of Flamenco and Baroque music tonight, but we're too late.  So we spend the evening getting wine and beer at tapas places along the Calle de la Cava Baja and in the Plaza de Santa Anna. This is, by itself, a good time.  You order a drink. They give you food.  You order another bit of food and you might get lucky again.  We stopped at three places and got a lifetime supply of delicious sodium and fat in the form of olives, cured meats, cold soup, cured meats, and meatballs.  Then on the way home we see "Blues" at a nice looking bar.  We drop off our shopping at the apartment and head back down the street to the Cafe Jazz Populart on Calle de la Huertas where we get a small beer and wine and stand at the bar for a while.  The star tonight is an American drummer, Rico McClarrin.  When we arrive he's asking if anyone's seen the movie Cadillac Records.  Since this is a Chuck Berry blog you know my hand is waving.  "Remember the big guy?" he asks.  "That's Howlin' Wolf."  Then they start into the Wolf/Wille Dixon song "I Ain't Superstitious."  We quickly realize that we have stumbled into something good here.  If you read this blog you may remember that I once saw Memphis Slim and Booker T. Laury in Paris.  (Read about it HERE.)  Tonight we didn't hear legends, but we heard good music, with Marcos Coll on harmonica, Carlos Delelane on bass, and __ o guitar.  These guys are good. (Here they are a month ago at a different club in Madrid.)

As they play in walks a man with dreadlocks and a trumpet case.  McClarrin yells out "Here's arranger and trumpeter Barney Fields."  (If Google has served me properly Mr. Fields is a co-owner of Highnote Records.  (See here.)  At any rate, the man can play.  A few minutes later Fields is on stage leading the band through "Further on Down the Road."

I said that Mr. McClarrin was starring-- but Marcus Coll was also wailing. 

What can I say?  Pretty nice night.  And a bit unexpected.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More From The Bootlegger

Daryl Davis on Chuck's guitar...

This clip, which features Ingrid on vocals and Karen and friends on stage, shows why going to Blueberry Hill can be a fun time...

And watch Daryl end it Chuck Berry style with that left leg lift!

Cool that Johnny Rivers, who made Memphis, Tennessee so famous, was there to celebrate.

It Ain't Long, but...

Doug took it from the front row...

Help Me Find The Party!

I first learned Chuck Berry through The Beatles and Johnny Rivers.  The Beatles didn't show up at the Blueberry Hill birthday show, but Johnny Rivers did.  That's him in the middle.  And that's Daryl Davis  filling in on this number on keyboards.  Thanks to Robert Lohr for the the shot, which I swiped from Facebook.

Chuck (and Jimmy) Had to Miss It...

... but for his birthday we can all be Cardinals fans.  (What?  You think I'll ever root for the Rangers?)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It Happens Again Tonight! (Please don't check the math.)

Tonight, Chuck plays again at Blueberry Hill, and a few days later, at a Casino across the river.  How often has this happened?  

There’s no authoritative or complete listing of the shows he has performed in his 60 years as a professional-- at least not in public.  Morten Reff lists as many of the international shows as he could find and it is a bigger number than I care to count—well over 500.  But I can make some reasonable (and I think reasonably conservative) estimates.  Let’s assume that from 1955 until 1961 he did an average of 200 shows a year.  That makes 1200.  Let’s say that from 1963 until 1971 he worked a little harder—say 225 a year.  That’s another 1800.  Then comes his “Ding a Ling” and even more work—let’s say 750 shows over three years.  We’re up to 3750.  Then let it cruise at 150 shows a year for the next 10 years.  That’s probably conservative, but it’s now 1986, and we’re at 5250 shows.  But he’s only 60 and still going strong.  Let’s assume 100 shows a year until he turns 70, 75 a year until 75, 50 a year till he turns 80, and then slow him down to something like 25 shows a year when he enters his 80s.  By my reasonably well educated (and carefully manipulated) fantasy count we’re at 7000 shows and counting.

It’s guesswork on my part, but you get the idea.  The man worked.  This isn’t some superstar who plays golf 300 days a year and then regroups for a tour every ten years to refill the coffers.  If there’s nothing else you take from this reading, take this: the man worked, and still does. 

So tonight, if you're one of the lucky 350, it's number 7001.  

Or thereabouts!

Have fun.  And Happy Birthday Mr. Berry!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Daryl Davis to Direct Centrum Blues Workshop

Here's a little post in the Seattle Times.  You can find my original post about seeing Daryl and friends at the spectacular festival that ends the workshop HERE.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Looked at my Watch, it was Kinda Scary

The place he sang his "Ding-a-Ling" is now the library!

Here's the story from Fred Rothwell, author of Long Distance Information: Chuck Berry's Recorded Legacy.  (A book you ought to get if you're a Chuck Berry fan.)

I wanted to find the exact address of the Locarno Ballroom in Coventry and took advantage of a business trip to visit the city to check out the local archived papers in the central public library.  After about two hours I'd read every contemporay report of the concert (which wasn't a lot because the Ding A Ling phenomena was still in the future) but still didn't know the address of the venue. In frustration I asked the female librarian, who was of similar age to me and therefore might know, where was the Locarno Ballroom. 'You're standing in it' she said. I gazed around me in wonderment and saw the whole thing, the dance floor and the balcony, all that was missing was the mirror ball hanging from the ceiling. The ballroom had been converted into the library later and I'd sat for two hours searching for the location I was actually sitting in!
I always envision places and people I've never seen.  I always imagined the Coventry show happening in some giant barn of a place with thousands and thousands of people, but it was probably hundreds and hundreds in a big dance hall.  Here are some pictures and a Link.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chuck Berry Does a Benefit at Lindenwood University

Thanks to Doug for this one.  (The date is really 10-3-11; otherwise I slept longer than I thought.)

Set list is below.  Tickets were $20.  Student ticket's were $5!  All to benefit the Chuck Berry scholarship fund.  (The school has a branch in Wentzville!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Happy Birthday!

The song is called "Ingo."  I always figured it was written for his daughter Ingrid, who had a birthday recently.

And They Said It Didn't Exist

A set list for a Chuck Berry show!  (Now I know Bigfoot and UFO's are real!)

This is courtesy Bob Lohr on facebook.  I experience heart palpitations seeing Havana Moon on the list, but evidently it didn't get played.  Ah well.  C'est la vie, I say.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

R-E-S-P-E-C-T : Aretha and Chuck

Aretha was in St. Louis and had some nice words for our man.  Read about it HERE.

Seeley and Baldori at Rock in Rio

If you read this blog you know that my favorite latter day Chuck Berry album was "Back Home," which featured the harmonica of Robert Baldori.  (Baldori's group The Woolies backed Berry in innumerable concert appearances and on the record "San Francisco Dues.")  Here he is with Bob Seeley at the Rock in Rio festival.

You can read Baldori's interview with Go Head On! HERE.