Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chuck Berry in Paris, 18 Mars, 2008

So, I'm heading to St. Louis to see Chuck Berry and couldn't be happier.  Unless, of course, I was heading to the place where the other Peter, and Jan, and Jean all saw him.

Thank you Peter K for the photos, which I stole.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chuck Berry to Receive PEN Award for Songs of Literary Excellence

Chuck Berry and Lenard Cohen will receive the Pen New England award for Songs of Literary Excellence in Boston on February 26.  Judges include Pal Simon, Roseanne Cash, Salman Rushdie, Bono, and Elvis Costello.  Read more HERE.  You can read more about PEN New England and maybe even get yourself admitted to the ceremony HERE.  Pretty cool!  Read my take on it Right Here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Got a Chance, I Oughta Take It!

So my Christmas present got better.  Now, instead of a 36 hour trip to St. Louis and back to see Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill it's become 100 hours, two shows, at least two states and maybe three, or four, or five.  The highlight, for me, will be a chance to see Mr. Berry at the Argosy Casino in Alton, Illinois in the company of Rebecca, the sweetie who planned the trip.  She's never seen him.  (She's never even watched "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" with me!  It seems to be a point of pride with her.)  But she has always supported my habit.  She sent me to Blueberry Hill the first time, and let me go again in 2010.  And she has gone with me to see B. B. King, Macy Gray, Dr. John, Cassandra Wilson, Taj Mahal, Sonny Rollins, and more.  So it's fitting and proper that, at least once, she go with me to see my surrogate dad, the Father of Rock and Roll.  

But here's the deal-- there are two shows!  One on Wednesday, one on Saturday.  Rebecca can't attend both.  Something at work prevents it.  But I can!  The luxury of it overwhelms me.  And in between, I might have time to squeeze in a mad dash to Memphis, a town I've never seen.  I won't see much if I do-- I'll have to be back in 30 hours to pick up Rebecca at the airport.  We'll eat out.  We'll honeymoon at the Moonrise.  The next day we'll tour city.  And then we'll cross the Mississippi and see another Chuck Berry show.

Life is short.  The first of these two shows will start 41 years and 48 hours after my very first live Chuck Berry show on February 13, 1971.  Seems like a long time ago, and like yesterday.

RIP Etta James

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tulane's Ancestor, Joe.

The title of this blog comes from the Chuck Berry song "Tulane."  Jean in France posted this clear predecessor from Chuck's hero Louis Jordan on Facebook today.


No trip to St. Louis this month.  Got too complicated.  But maybe next month.  Maybe TWO Chuck Berry shows, and a quick side trip to Memphis and Clarksdale.  Here's hoping for splendid mid-February weather in Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chuck Berry Fans Will Enjoy This

Omar Sharriff a/k/a Dave Alexander

The video of Chuck Berry on ABC's Wide World of Entertainment (below) aired December 8, 1972.  I remember watching it.  The song St. James Infirmary, above, was recorded three days prior, on December 5, 1972.  You should listen.  I would see Dave Alexander the first time a few months later at an on campus coffee house at San Jose State University, where I did time in 1973 and 1974.  The coffee house was free.  It was run by someone smart enough to bring in Alexander and Mark Naftalin for shows that spring.  And Alexander's show was seared into my brainstem.  It was some very serious blues.  He had a serious demeanor that day.  (Maybe it was the crowd, which numbered about half a dozen.)  He didn't smile much, or chat, or try to "entertain."  But there was a fine piano, and he played some extraordinary blues and boogie woogie on it. A few days or weeks later I found the promotional album you see in this video-- "For Review Purposes, Not For Sale"-- which I bought for less than $3.  Dave Alexander got nothing from me at the show, nothing for the record.  That's the way it too often works.

When I told my sister Maggie about Dave Alexander the next weekend I learned that she and her husband were fans and went to see Alexander often at Minnie's Can Do Club in San Francisco's Fillmore District.  That was undoubtedly a happier place to see him, with a trio, and dancers.  I was too young, but they got my sister Ann in one time because, hey, the rules weren't made for young women, they were made for boys.

I saw Alexander one more time at the first or second Sacramento Blues Festival.  It was a great festival, with Alexander, L.C. "Good Rockin'" Robinson and Queen Ida Gilroy, but though big hearted, the organizers were not so good on details.  Alexander was given one of those blond wood uprights you'd see at primary schools. He grimaced and grumbled, but played great music.

For a while Alexander actually moved to Sacramento.  I didn't live there any more, but I googled him and learned that he was living and performing there under the name Omar Sharriff and the nickname Omar the Magnificent.  I think that one of the articles I read mentioned a history of mental and emotion difficulties.  I wrote about him on my other blog, Can't Be Satisfied.

Then one day last December I found a tiny newspaper article explaining that Omar was moving back home to his hometown in Texas, a place called Marshall, where he'd been given the position of Artist in Residence. The town was giving him a place to stay and steady work.  Once he did a show with Robert Baldori, who played on Chuck Berry's "Back Home" and "San Francisco Dues" albums.  (The show was actually with Seeley and Baldori-- Baldori's current two piano boogie woogie group.)  I followed Alexander's progress as best I could, and enjoyed the videos from Marshall.  Here's the last one I saw:

I love this video.  I love the "easy" way Omar has of playing such difficult stuff.  I love the drummer.  I love the repartee.  I love the way the kid on guitar looks like he might die when told to play a third verse.  (He was blessed, undoubtedly knows it, and will probably never forget his apprenticeship in the blues.)

When I saw the video, a few weeks ago, I actually looked up Marshall again, saw it's proximity to Shreveport, Memphis, New Orleans and St. Louis, and tried once again to mentally chart my cross country drive to musical nirvana.  (If I were a kid without kids I'd have done it years ago.)

Anyway, Omar Sharriff ended his own life yesterday, at the age of 73.

I don't know anything about Sharriff, but I was hoping he'd found some real happiness back home in Marshall, a town he'd fled as a youth.  I know that he was a man of huge talent.  My guess is that, like many great artists, he lived in poverty at the edge of greatness.  This is a man who played with Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker, and who, in his prime, probably got $50 or $75 to entertain a handful of us at a coffee house in San Jose.  (A few minutes after posting, I found a great article by Alexander on Facebook.  Check it out HERE.)

It's weird that December, 1972 came up twice for me yesterday.  Must be the stars.

And I thank the people of Marshall for their efforts to support one of their own during his last year.  It's what every community should do.

In the meantime, I'm getting ready to go to Missouri.  And still planning the road trip.  Maybe with a kid.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Chuck Berry Wide World of Entertainment, December 1972

For me you can't beat those shows from the days I first saw Chuck Berry.  My first show was February 1971.  Here he is 20 months later, enjoying the thrill of victory after The London Sessions.  I'd see my last 1970s show about a year and a half later.  When I see performances like this, all the elements that drew me in are there.  And you've got to admit-- the practice of constant touring made him pretty perfect in those days!

By the way, it wasn't 1973.  I figured that out a long time ago but forgot.  It was December 1972.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

1950s Radio in Color by Christopher Kennedy

I'd seen the photographs circulating around on the internet, but had no idea of their historical context.  Chuck Berry in a wood paneled room, with a strange guitar, short blue pants, and a pale blue jacket.  Same string tie. Behind him, the usual assortment of children on backup.

What amazes me, now that I've found the source, is that this picture was taken at the very beginning, mid August 1955, a month after the release of "Maybellene," by Chicago deejay and photographer Tommy Edwards.  Check out the story, and some of the photographs HERE.  It's part of a whole bunch Edwards photographs found in a basement and turned into a book by Christopher Kennedy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chuck Berry, Mean Old World 12-31-2011

There's loads of clips out there, but I always like hearing him play and sing the blues.  (Missing something on stage right, though.)  (Or is it stage left?)

You Never Can Tell: Bonne Annee!

The best of the many tidbits posted by a fan at B. B. King's on New Years.  (But the lack of a piano just SHOUTS!  Need to plan ahead Mr. Berry!)

Monday, January 2, 2012


How many millions of times has this song been played?  Anyway, here's a good one.

Which led me to his earlier hit, "Carol."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tools, you know. Deductible!

Which would lead some people to think about just possibly carrying two, and hiring a kid or just asking some happy stage crew member to tune whichever one was not being used.  But he isn't anybody's some person-- so he keeps taking one, and cranking it out of tune, and then borrowing someone else's.  Ah well-- I guess that's why we love him?  (In his relative youth he is said to have snatched one out of the hands of Howlin' Wolf and had to apologize on stage!)  But in his old age he's going to start being known as Mr. Fender!

Thanks to Ida May for the picture from last night at B. B. King's.  Wish she was there!

The Little Things: Chuck Berry: How You've Changed

The LAST time I went to Missouri to see Chuck Berry (October 2010) I was lucky and saw two shows.  The first, at The Pageant, was spectacular.  Berry was feeling good and played the guitar well.  The second show, four nights later at Blueberry HIll, was fun but fell apart for a few minutes when Berry untuned his guitar.  Both nights he played the riff you hear behind the singing in this song.  The way he plays it (from a barre chord at the root position) requires fingers a yard long and a little finger with the strength of ten ordinary men.  (Well, anyway, it makes my finger hurt in the key of C and becomes nearly impossible for me in G, where he so often plays slow blues.)  Both times he played it while his daughter Ingrid sang.  The first time it worked beautifully.  The second time it was immediately after he'd cranked every knob and the riff became unrecognizable-- a series of strange bleats from his Gibson that he stubbornly refused to stop playing.  But it's a reason I enjoy seeing him.  Each time I learn something.  In olden times (a phrase my daughter used to use while discussing my youth) I was too overwhelmed by the scoots, the laughs, the splits and the songs to see or hear the littler things.  Now I can pick and choose-- and always seem to walk away with something.