Saturday, December 31, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Traffic of the Forbidden!

Well, not quite the original, but what ever is?  A good idea, anyway, and a fun version.

Chuck Berry New Years Eve 2011

Chuck Berry will play TWO SHOWS at B. B. King's in Times Square tomorrow night.  Get tickets  HERE.  It will probably cost more than a night at the Club Cosmopolitan, but hey...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chuck Berry in The New Yorker

There's a great little write up about Chuck in this week's New Yorker.  "[I]f Elvis was Apollo (beardless, beautiful) and Jerry Lee Lewis was Mars (virile, sometimes savage), Berry is Mercury: Silver-tongued, fleet, and the inventor of the lyre..."   The New Yorker, which has run a couple of nice Chuck Berry pieces over the years, is publicizing Chuck's upcoming New Years Eve shows at B. B. King's in New York City's Times Square.  Wish I were going-- but hey: I'm going to St. Louis!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Again! (Rebecca allows me.)

Three years ago Rebecca ignited all of this fury by getting me a $25 ticket to BBH.  My Chuck Berry problem had been on a low simmer from the late 1970s until 2008-- but that trip turned it into a full fledged fever.  Heck-- I even wrote a book!  Now, in the most amazing surprise, she's done it again.  My girls were getting all giddy as the box came to me.  I had no clue.  Then I open it, see the ticketmaster receipts and those instantly recognizable words.  But this time TWO $35 tickets and TWO mileage plan airfares.  So I get to go with her!  Her first time!  (And she never even read my post about her first gift!)  Thank you!  And thanks to everyone for a wonderful Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


It's hard for most people to give me Chuck Berry presents.  In the last five years or so people have given me old records, forgetting, maybe, that I pretty much own them all.  (Not all the records, but pretty much all the songs.)  My lovely wife Rebecca gave me a tattered copy of The Chuck Berry London Sessions to put next to the tattered copy of The Chuck Berry London Sessions that I've owned from the moment it was issued.  She also gave me a weird and tattered compilation of Mercury sides that I also bought used (and now tattered) pretty much as soon as The Chuck Berry London Sessions was issued.  But Rebecca is also the one who gave me two of my most treasured items.  The first was an autographed photo of Chuck Berry, which she gave me four months after we met and which, I believe, sealed the deal.  That was in 2003.  I don't even remember talking about Chuck Berry in those days, (I usually wait until I'm related by blood or decades to admit to someone that I'm certifiably insane) but I obviously did, and obviously with enough intensity and repetition to allow her to make an e-bay purchase and have it delivered in time for my birthday.  But then, three years ago, the bigger, cheaper gift: a $25 ticket to see my hero at a St. Louis bar and restaurant called Blueberry Hill.  I do remember talking about that, often.  I'd heard rumors, read short accounts, knew this was the place he liked to perform, and that many people came from miles-- thousands of miles-- around to hear him make his music there.  I didn't want the sun to go down on me, or on Chuck Berry, or on the Blueberry Hill shows, before I did, too.  I wasn't even that much of a fan at the time.  But it was something I had to do.  It was the logical and illogical finale to a lifetime of worship.

But things kept getting in the way.  Mainly depositions.  I used to sue car companies a lot, so I flew to Detroit a thousand times, but nothing ever took me to St. Louis.  Things just kept me from going there.

Then along comes Rebecca, and cuts past all of that.  She bought me the ticket, gave it to me on Christmas, a flat out surprise as we ate cinnamon rolls and drank coffee and filled the living room with wrapping paper.  And somehow, in the next few weeks, I wrangled a free ticket out of Delta Airlines, and a cheap motel, and learned on line how to ride Metrolink, and how to walk, frozen, from Metrolink to the King Henry the Eighth Motel and then to Blueberry Hill.

The rest of it is all in this blog someplace or another.  The rest of it is this blog: the whole thing is Rebecca's fault.

The name Rebecca only made it into one Chuck Berry song, and here it is.  But in my world it's Delilah who's worried!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Elephant's Memory, Chuck and Bo

Remember Elephant's Memory, who backed Chuck and John Lennon on Mike Douglas, then backed Chuck on the more interesting cuts from Bio?  I never knew that they recorded a song called "Chuck 'n' Bo."

You can find a photograph of them all together Here

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chuck Berry Back at Chess, 1970

So they made him a lefty-- it was a great song and a great album!

The Hoochie Coochie Gal, Etta James

Hope she's comfortable.  This is about as good as it gets.  Chuck seemed to like it well enough, too.

Check out the dialogue at the end:

CB:  I didn't KNOW you!

EJ:   I was singing background on your songs!  (To Keith)  You know him.  I told him 'I was singing background on your songs.'  He went 'Oh Yeah?'

She wasn't alone, either.  Marvin Gaye was with her.  So was Reese Palmer, who recently passed.  Read about him HERE.

Chuck Berry Christmas

(I'm still looking for the song "Christmas" from the "Back Home" album.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Great New Article About Chuck Berry in Esquire

Photo by Danny Clinch
A GREAT article by Luke Dittrich.  Read it HERE.

I love this article.  Wish I'd written it.  The stuff about Ingrid is very touching-- that she bought his records when he was on the road and listened to them in her room.  That she cries when thinking what it's like to play on stage with him now.  As Dittrich sees while writing, the shows at BBH aren't about the money.  There's gobs of money at this point.  He's doing it-- they're doing it-- for some larger satisfaction.

I also love that he's still creating, still working.  I'd love to hear it all, but it doesn't matter.  What matters is that it's something he can't stop doing, and he's still doing it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chuck Berry: Tulane

For Leila T. on her first birthday!

(I thank whoever posted it but this copy sounds bad.  Someone who knows how needs to remake the Youtube video with a new soundtrack!)

Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill

The money line from keyboardist Bob Lohr:
    • "‎...when Chuck sits down and hits some blues, you hear why Chess Records signed him..." (That's what it looks like when you rip it straight off Facebook!")

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Blog Post about Chuck Berry, Michael J. Fox, and How we Get There.

Here's a blog post that is indirectly about our man.  The blog is called Folk Thief.  He almost apologizes for getting to Chuck Berry through Michael J. Fox-- but think how many millions got there through The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  I only learned that "Rock 'n' Roll Music" and "Roll Over Beethoven" were Chuck Berry songs on the way home from my first Chuck Berry concert.  And of course, it keeps going-- because there's another million of us who only learned about Muddy Waters, Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, Charlie Christian and a hundred others through Chuck Berry.  Why, just the other day, I first heard the music of Floyd Smith-- and I thought THAT was a Chuck Berry song!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Letter from Barack Obama to Chuck Berry: at Blueberry Hill, December 14, 2011

It's amazing how quickly these get around.  It's amazing that there have been 175 shows at Blueberry Hill.  It's amazing how much fun they still can be.  It's amazing that Doug keeps sending them to me.  (Love how he introduces three of his children.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Willie Dixon Interview in the Jas Obrecht Archive

I mention in the post below that the index in the linked story is a goldmine.  I've spent the morning reading about the origins of "Dust My Broom" and one of my guitar heroes, Jesse Edwin Davis.  Then I clicked on the "Home" button, and found the front page of the Jas Obrecht Music Archive.   There's a story about Willie Dixon on the first page, and it includes a 1980 interview.
"[W]hen Memphis Slim and I was workin’ in Europe [circa 1962], a lot of the young artists, they didn’t have no rock around then no more than the little bit that Chuck Berry had done started, you know. So the kids over there was all interested in the blues and was askin’ me about how could they make this in the Chuck Berry style and like this. And I would go to work, just try to explain it to ’em. " 


Monday, December 12, 2011

Floyd Smith Interview

Here's a GREAT INTERVIEW of electric guitar pioneer Floyd Smith, whose song "Floyd's Guitar Blues" became Chuck's "Blues for Hawaiians."

(P.S.  One learned reader points out that the INDEX of articles on the side of this interview is an absolute goldmine.)

Chuck Berry in Stockholm 1980

Thanks to Peter K. for this one, a bit chopped up, but cool to see.

Better yet, check out the still photos from the same show that Peter posted on the CB website HERE.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Chuck Berry Recording Session

I'm told it's Reggie Boyd on bass, Matt Murphy on guitar, and LeRoy Davis on sax.  If those are right, what do we think?  1960?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chuck Berry Rocks-- a collection with some great pictures.

From my friend Peter K. in Sweden, with a zillion photographs I've never seen.  Somebody did a nice job putting together this collection!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hubert Sumlin

A story here in Sumlin's words about a battle royal with Wolf himself: Link.

RIP Hubert Sumlin: Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Hubert Sumlin at Jazz Alley (A Repeat. RIP Mr. Smith)

Alas, just got the news.  Here's my account of the one time I saw him-- with Willie Smith, also now gone.  

“Music heals,”  said Hubert Sumlin, between breaths.  “It cures you.  That’s why I’m here.”
Then he proceeded to cure us all.
Last Wednesday I went back to Jazz Alley where, a year or so ago, I saw Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes Smith” perform.  Pinetop was 97 years old at the time, bent and frail, but played and sang beautifully.  (Read about it HERE.)  
Last night Smith returned with a revamped band and special guest Hubert Sumlin, who brought his own special guest, Jimmy Rogers, Jr.  
The night was billed as a tribute to Pinetop Perkins, but I don’t think Perkins was even mentioned.  What we heard and saw, instead, was, as Mr. Sumlin pointed out, an example of the healing powers of good music.
Except for drummer “The Amazing” Jimmy Mayes, (who once worked with Jimmy Reed, and started the night with “Bright Lights, Big City,” Smith’s band was different from last year’s version.  Maurice John Vaughn played guitar and could have headlined the show himself.  He started with a request for “The Thrill is Gone,” and then played his own “Everything I Do (Got to be Funky).”  And it was.  You can read about him here.  Dave Kaye replaced Bob Stroger on bass.  I missed Mr. Stroger’s calm smile and dapper outfit, but Kaye did a fine job.
When Willie Smith came on stage after three or four songs by the bandmembers, I was a little worried.  He seemed under the weather.  He is a master showman, singing, playing his harp, making people smile, but this time, at the start, he seemed to be struggling.  (When Pinetop Perkins played last year, Smith was, at 74, the youth of the group.)  If Smith was indeed ailing, the music didn’t hurt any for it. He sang his “Born in Arkansas,” and a song from “Joined at the Hip,” his Grammy winning album with Pinetop Perkins.
Then came Mr. Sumlin, tubes in his nostrils, oxygen tanks behind.  He sat slumped on a chair.  He spoke his short words about healing.  He made a few tentative riffs.  And then magic.
I’d never had a chance to see him play before except on video.  He obviously doesn’t have the strength he once had.  But he is wonderful to watch and hear.  His fingers flash up and down the frets touching down to bend and slide impossibly, sometimes fingering the strings so quietly and subtly you have to watch his hands to hear, other times scratching and grating the strings to produce rough percussive sounds, usually adding a little flourish by tapping the downstream end of his strings after a lick. 
They began with “Sitting on Top of the World,” which Sumlin sang.  As he did so, whatever might have ailed Mr. Smith was cured, and the entire band came came alive.
From then on it was impossible to stop them.  Mr. Sumlin’s anxious manager sat next to the stage and seemed to try, at least twice, to get him to quit.  He kept saying “One more!”  They did a song that sounded like Killin‘ Floor, but wasn’t.  They did “Big Boss Man.”  They did Sonny Boy II’s “Don’t Start me Talkin’.”  Most of the time Sumlin seemed perfectly happy to be sitting as another sideman, keeping up a constant rhythm and providing perfect little fills, either loud and raw, or wiggly and refined.  Jimmy Rogers, Jr. did beautiful solos that sounded more like a young B. B. King or Buddy Guy than his father.  Maurice John Vaughn stuck primarily with rhythm but was happy to solo in his own, unique, finger picking style whenever he got the nod.  Mayes kept a close watch on Smith, who led the band with quick nods.  And bassist Kaye just seemed overjoyed to be there, surrounded by legends and blues journeymen, healing us all.   

Daniel Glass and the History of Early Rhythm & Blues Drumming at The Drum Exchange in Seattle

Earl Palmer and Daniel Glass

Put on an old blues or r&b record.  You always know the drums are there at the very center of it all, but sometimes it’s hard to hear exactly what the drummer is doing.  (The bass drum is usually the hardest for me to find on an old record.)  But that’s exactly the sound and the feel that I want-- so when I started trying to learn how to play drums I looked for some help.  That’s when I learned about The Commandments of Early Rhythm and Blues Drumming by Daniel Glass and fellow drummer Zoro.  (Find it HERE.)  It’s a goldmine, packed with drumbeats from a hundred or so r&b classics, but also packed with history-- stories and information about people like Earl Palmer and Fred Below.  I’ve only skimmed the surface of what it contains, but it’s there for me.

Then yesterday Glass, a regular member of the Royal Crown Revue, came to Seattle and put on a free drum clinic at a local drum store called The Drum Exchange.  I took my seven year old, who likes to steal and scatter my drum sticks and knows how to do a rock beat or two.  (At one point during the clinic Glass thrilled him by saying, “We all started with something like this, right?” and then played Raff’s first drum beat.)  The Drum Exchange provided a beautiful room for the clinic, with a raised stage so that everyone (there had to be 50-75 people--  a full house) could see.  Rafferty and I were in the first row.  It was all a bit like Christmas.  Glass and the Drum Exchange passed out dozens of gifts-- drumsticks, cymbals, t-shirts.   Rafferty got a pair of sticks of his own, and a chart of r&b beats for his wall.

But the real gift was Glass.  For more than two hours he told and played the history of drums and rhythm in America, starting with military and marching beats that got turned “ragged” down in Louisiana close to New Orleans.  He told about the introduction of tom toms from China, bass pedals, cymbals from China and Turkey, high hats, and the smaller bass drums and ride cymbals courtesy of be-bop stars like Max Roach and Kenny Clark.  He put it all in the context of slavery, the gay nineties, prohibition, World War II, the swing era, be-bop, rock and roll, and finally, even a moment or two about Ringo Starr on Ed Sullivan.  (If Glass saw it first hand he is remarkably well preserved.)  And he did all this with incredible respect for the drummers and history that came before him.  Glass is a true historian.  He’s gone back and talked to them, interviewed them, listened to every beat, even played with them.  (He can tell you the first time a drummer hit the crash cymbal on the "one," and the first record to include the high hat.)  And then he shows you.  That, of course, was the other treat-- when Glass would turn to his left handed drum set and play.  Rafferty was squirming a bit during the lecture portions (prohibition?  be-bop?) but no one squirmed during the drum exhibitions.  

(Well, I take that back.  I was squirming.  Whenever I see someone so good I wonder why in hell’s name I even bother to head down to my basement and irritate my neighbors.  As the saying goes, you can’t get there from here.)

But-- if you ever get a chance to hear Glass talk or play, take advantage.

And if you love early r&b, get his book.

As for my squirming-- it doesn’t matter.  I can’t get there-- but like the duffer who once in a while hits a soaring drive-- I like trying.

Learn more about Glass HERE.  Learn more about The Drum Exchange (great store, with expert help and cool stuff) HERE.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Daryl Davis on Chuck Berry's Performance at The Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival

I'm re-running this one because of the great comment I just got, below, from a fan who stepped on his blue suede shoes during the show.  No warning required-- check out his reaction when she tracks him down to apologize!

A long time  ago I asked the amazing Daryl Davis if he'd consider writing a "review" of Chuck Berry's performance at The Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival from his rather unique position on stage.  He agreed to do so once he'd completed a bunch of other projects that included recording sessions, performances, and a performance with his buddy and mentor Pinetop Perkins.  I was pretty excited.  But as usual, what we got from Daryl Davis is bigger than what you might hope for.  Everything not in italics comes straight from Mr. Davis.

The Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival started in 1998 and is still going strong and growing in popularity, due to the wonderful insight, professionalism and dedication of its founder and visionary, Don Hooker and his staff. This festival is very unique in that apart from the performing talent, all the producers, stage hands and other festival workers, are volunteers. All the proceeds are distributed to charities. There’s an old saying that I normally live by; “You get what you pay for.” It is been my experience on a number of gigs that if the promoter tries to cut corners and go cheap by not paying for quality and professionalism, then you don’t get it. This festival proves that old cliché can be wrong. I have played festivals all across the country and I can tell you that many with paid professional staffing will find this one very hard to beat.

The 2010 musical lineup for the 2-day weekend Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival included Tinsley Ellis, The Yardbirds, Shemekia Copeland and Buddy Guy on Saturday. The entertainment culminated on Sunday with the talents of among others, Joe Louis Walker, Jimmy Vaughan, and Chuck Berry who closed out this year’s festival.

I arrived at the airport and met a great guy named Jay from the festival staff who was there to pick up Chuck Berry. While we waited, Jay briefed me on the background and history of this particular festival. He was very passionate about his work with the festival, considering the fact that he wasn’t being paid for it. He does this one weekend every year just for the festival. I was soon to learn that everyone I met, including the producer/promoter Don Hooker was equally as passionate, dedicated and nice to work with at the festival. This certainly translates well to the performers who come to do the show. They are treated extremely well with genuine respect and it immediately puts them at ease.

Chuck arrived and Jay took him to the hotel to get checked in. From there, I took Chuck to the festival. It had been calling for bad weather in the area for that day. While the stage is covered, the audience is not and would get wet should it rain. As I drove Chuck to the venue, we rode through cloud bursts of rain which would alternate with sunshine. I crossed my fingers in hopes that the bad weather would hold off and festival goers would not be deterred from attending. Amazingly, my finger-crossing trick worked!!! We arrived to beautiful weather. No expense was spared. Very nice mobile trailers served as dressing rooms, not the tents that one sees at some of the other festivals.

I got Chuck situated in his dressing room and went to listen to some of Jimmy Vaughan’s set. When Jimmy’s set was over, I went up on stage and assisted the stage hands with the correct placement and electronic knob settings of the two Fender Dual Showman amps and speaker cabinets that had been specially rented for Chuck Berry.

Looking out from the stage was a sea of people and behind them was the beautiful Chesapeake Bay complete with passing boats. A performer could not have asked for a better setting. I returned to the dressing room and tuned Chuck’s guitar as well as my own which I brought for backup. When it was time, Chuck followed me to the stage and when the MC announced his name, thousands of people rose to their feet clapping and cheering to acknowledge the person who 50 some years ago created a whole new form of music. I handed him his guitar and took my place on the piano. He waved at the audience and then went into the familiar Chuck Berry guitar riff that starts "Roll Over Beethoven" and many other Chuck Berry songs. By the second song, the moist salty air blowing off the Chesapeake Bay had affected the tuning of his guitar. He switched to mine, but it too had been affected. A couple of stage hands were right on top of it and rescued each guitar and quickly re-tuned them.

This being a Blues festival, Chuck mixed in some Blues tunes with his Rock’n’Roll repertoire. He has a number of his own Blues compositions and one of my favorites which I immensely enjoy playing with him is Wee Wee Hours. But he did not pull that one out this particular evening.

There was a slight pause in the show when during one of the songs, Chuck asked a videographer to not videotape. The cameraman didn’t understand and Chuck came to me at the piano and asked me to take care of it. I called over one of the sound techs and informed him that Mr. Berry would not continue the show until the camera was turned off. The tech explained that the video was not being recorded it was simply being used for the closed circuit big screens so the audience far back would be able to see the performance on stage. I advised him to still have it cut off. He did and Chuck continued the show. About halfway into the performance, Chuck motioned to the cameraman who was standing in the wing, that it was now okay to continue filming. I don’t think he understood what Chuck was saying because he had a puzzled look upon his face and didn’t pick up the camera that was sitting at his feet.

Chuck is a master of pacing himself. This comes not just intuitively but through over 50 years of seasoned performance experience. He began to kick the show into high gear. More often than not, he will close his show with Reelin’ & Rockin’ by inviting women on stage to dance. This time, we had about 20 minutes left and he decided to invite the girls from the audience on stage during his performance of "Nadine." Ironically, the great Blues and R&B singer Nadine Rae who had performed earlier that day was backstage watching the show. She came out with some of the other women and shook her stuff to the delight of the audience. The party continued with "Johnny B. Goode" and "Reelin’ & Rockin’."   (read more about Nadine Rae on her website.)

As he will sometimes do when I play with him, Chuck came to the piano and handed me the guitar to play while he took over the roll of pianist. Many people may not know it, but Chuck can play piano. In fact, piano was his first instrument before switching to guitar. While one of his older sisters was being trained in Classical music on the piano, little Chuck taught himself to play some Boogie Woogie by ear.

Chuck is as fond of harmonies as he is of melodies. When one hears his guitar licks and solos, many of them are what are known in the guitar world as double stops. It means he is playing two strings at once. These notes harmonize with each other. He plays the piano much in the same fashion by playing two notes at once in harmony. Chuck has often mentioned T-Bone Walker as one of his influences. If one were to strip away the harmony note and leave just the melody note to some of Chuck’s leads, one would easily see the influence as T-Bone played similarly but less syncopated and using a single note line instead of the double stop approach.

The performance concluded with the aforementioned "Reelin’ & Rockin’" and Chuck made his way back to the dressing room. I packed up Chuck’s and my guitars. Don Hooker who makes this festival possible every year is an affable, hands-on person who enjoys the performances and enjoys mingling out front with the audience. He is very respectful of the talent he brings and their privacy. At this point he had not even met Chuck. I introduced him and some of the other charitable workers to Chuck who had already read up on the great work that Mr. Hooker was doing and was pleased to meet him.

We said our goodbyes to the wonderful festival people and Chuck signed some autographs for fans, before getting in my car for me to drive him to his hotel. Along the way, we stopped to get something to eat and as we drove through Washington, DC that evening, Chuck reminisced about playing there in the 1950s. He mentioned the Howard Theatre. Having graduated from Howard University, I knew exactly where it was. I also knew he would be stunned and disappointed to know how run down it had become. I made a detour and under the cover of darkness drove Chuck his old stomping ground.

This guy had not been there in over 50 years but still knew the area and was telling me about what was on which corner and little tidbits of information. Sure enough, when we turned down the street, everything he had said was accurate. He pointed out the rooming house where he would stay because in those days, Blacks couldn’t stay in the White hotels. He had named a bar next door to the Howard where the entertainers would hang out. Sure enough, there it was. It had since changed names but it was still the same bar in the same building.

As I suspected, when he saw the now decrepit Howard Theatre, his excitement turned somber and he shook his head. I explained there has been a lot of talk about refurbishing the Howard and that while there is hope, so far it’s been nothing but talk. The neighborhood is now very crime- and drug-ridden. As we drove around the building and through the backstage alley, he pointed out the backstage door he used to use. I could tell these were bittersweet memories; the good times he had there, countered by the racism he would have to face off stage at hotels and restaurants to coming back 50 years later and reliving the fun times in his mind of this once thriving area, only to face the reality of the run down neighborhood and it’s decrepit landmark. While the neighborhood has new faces, there are still people who reside there from back in the day and would remember seeing Chuck Berry at the theatre across the street from their homes. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would have thought had they been able to see through my tinted windows on my car and seen their idol from their youth, fifty years later sitting in front of the Howard.  (For more about the Howard Theater, see

He continued to tell me more stories about playing in DC and some of the places where he performed. I drove him by these places as well. Then it was on to the hotel to get him some well-deserved rest before his early morning flight. I drove back to my home with my life that much more enriched from not only playing with him but from receiving an historical education from him as well.

- Daryl Davis

(Daryl Davis will be coming to my cold, gray neck of the woods in August to teach and play at the Centrum Blues workshops and festival in Port Townsend, Washington.  Read about it here.  Find his website here.