Saturday, June 10, 2017
This picture, which I've not done justice by reproducing with my phone, was taken by my friend Doug, at Blueberry Hill, and does a perfect job illustrating the beautiful musical and working relationship of drummer Keith Robinson and Chuck Berry. Robinson was the best drummer I ever saw live playing with Chuck Berry, and the two of them obviously loved playing off one another. Chuck never lost a bit of his rhythm on stage, and he loved bouncing riffs off a drummer who could match him.
I just saw a hack review of CHUCK in Rolling Stone magazine. Rolling Stone has some great political writing, but it rarely did justice to Chuck Berry. Except for a collage that included virtually everyone, he made the cover only once before he died, back in 1969. I don't guarantee this, but my fading memory tells me that The Captain and Tenille also made the cover at least once.
But it wasn't just the covers. Rolling Stone also blew the reviews. As I recall, their write up of the mostly brilliant album "Back Home" complained that Chuck Berry had not kept pace with the music he invented-- that he hadn't "grown." "Back Home" was a great Chuck Berry record-- a joyous return to Chess Records after a three year stint at Mercury-- with Lafayette Leake on piano and Phil Upchurch on bass and more swing than you could find in the rest of 1970 combined.
After that, and after his death, you'd think the magazine would try to make it up to the guy who started what they write about, but not so much. Easier to fall back on the same old bullshit. At best, an appearance or two in Random Notes, and an occasional (and these I appreciated) ranking in Top 100 Guitarists, or Song Writers, or Whatever. And of course, he made the cover again when he couldn't see it.
Anyway, in the hack review the hack reviewer calls the backup on CHUCK a "bar band" and suggests that the album could have been improved with a drummer like Charlie Watts.
No disrespect from me to Charlie Watts. He's great. But the drumming on CHUCK is great, too; a perfect fit, with all the pounding, beautiful energy of the best early Chuck Berry records. And so is the "bar band"-- a core of incredible professionals who've put down the best rhythm section I've heard on a Chuck Berry record since the 1950s and early 1960s.
Yes, they've played in a a lot of bars. And if you've been to some of those bars, you'll know that St. Louis has some of the best blues and r&b in the world.
But better yet, they played with Chuck, for years, and in one case, for decades. He couldn't have found, hired, recruited a better band for the last Chuck Berry album anywhere.
So, Rolling Stone writer. Thelonious Monk's band were often "bar bands." B.B. King's bands were "bar bands." Muddy Waters' band was a "bar band." And so, in his final years, was Chuck Berry's.
But none of them were hacks.