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RIP Chuck Berry

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Chuck Berry has died.  It’s difficult to overstate the role Berry played in the early development of rock & roll, as it was known back in the day.  On his 90th birthday last October, it was announced that he would be releasing his first album since the 1970s, although I gather similar announcements had been made in recent years.

This might be my favorite live Rolling Stones performance.

 

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  • NewishLawyer

    Hail Hail Rock n’ Roll.

    Now of the original rock n’ roll stars the ones left are Little Richard, Don Everly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bobby Freeman. Maybe some more?

    The next generation from the 1960s is getting up there as well.

    • JB2

      Everly and Jerry Lee are awesome, but I consider them second generation. (Bobby Freeman?)

      Fats Domino and Little Richard are the final two.

    • FMguru

      Alas, both Everly brothers died in early 2014 (going less than a month apart). RIP Don and Phil.

      • pianomover

        Don Everly is still alive

        • los

          Ugh, there’s too much negativity here.
          Why can’t anyone of us remember just one sooper-musician who was born in 2017? (or 2018?)

          c’mon, we can do better.

          • los

            2017 BC?

            • los

              Alas poor Yokum…

              ugh, no.
              “COME ON PEOPLE.”

          • los

            Bart Simpson isn’t really born yet.
            but Bart is a tv star, not a musician.

    • John Revolta

      Hail Hail Rock n’ Roll.

      Ya gotta see this movie BTW. It’s got so many great moments, besides the music, like the smackdown Chuck gives Keef when Keef tells him “this movie is for people to see after we’re dead” (Berry was 60 at the time).

      My favorite scene though *HERE BE SPOILERS* is when Berry is showing off his collection of vintage Caddys. He had a garage full of them, that Chess used to give him when he’d ask them for his royalties. So, he’s walking through the garage and talking about how he’d tried to sell some of them and couldn’t get what he thought was a fair price. He told a dealer who’d offered him maybe 2000 dollars for one, “The hell with that. I’ll take it home and keep it. I’ll keep it for twenty years. Then he points into the camera and says to the viewer, “And then I’ll sell it to you. For FIF-TY THOU-SAND DOLLARS!!!”

      RIP the King.

      • Neddie Jingo

        There’s a scene where they’re rehearsing I don’t remember what iconic Berry tune — something that Keith cut his milk-teeth on, anyway. Chuck condescendingly belabors a subtlety of the riff, and Keith looks DAGGERS at someone offscreen. It is very, very funny.

        • Crusty

          That scene was really, really great. The online New Yorker piece about Chuck’s death (i.e., the one available now if you google it) talks about that scene in depth and gets at the resentment that drove Chuck to needle Keith like that- basically, the fact that while Chuck did already, Keith and the Stones and the Beatles, they became zillionaires. That rehearsal was Chuck’s chance to put Keith in his place. And that’s interesting in itself because to some extent, the movie project as conceived by Keith was Keith’s chance to push Chuck to his old higher standard and have Chuck play with top players, including Johnny Johnson.

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        I think that’s the bio-pic I saw where Berry is about to headline in a theater in St. Louis, IIRC, and notes that his father and he (as a small child) were turned away at that same theater for trying to buy a ticket, and that not that many decades before slaves were sold within a few blocks of the theater.

        A powerful moment.

      • Caepan

        My favorite scene is when Bruce Springsteen tells of when the E Street Band acted as a backup band to Chuck Berry at an oldies review show in the early 1970s.

        tl;dr version: when they asked Chuck on stage what songs they were going to play, he replied, “Well, we’re gonna play Chuck Berry songs!” They he counted them down and started playing that famous riff of his.

    • Ahenobarbus

      This list of oldest living pop/rock stars isn’t heavy on rockers near the top.

      http://www.ihopeidiebeforeigetold.com/oldest-living-rock-stars.php

      • Colin Day

        Dick van Dyke was a pop star?

        • Bill Murray

          he won a Tony and a Grammy

      • DrunkProwlingWolf

        Damn, Yoko Ono is the same age as Little Richard?

        • Not taking it well, however.

          ‘Yoko Is In A Very Bad Way’: Lennon Widow Confined To Wheelchair, Pals Fear Worst
          ‘Yoko talks about her John and how she’s hoping to see him again in heaven.’

    • rea

      And of course, “first generation” is a bit fuzzy; Robert Johnson died in 1938.

      • eh

        It’s not *that* fuzzy.

        • nixnutz

          Yeah, “Rock & Roll” was originally a term to market Rhythm & Blues records to white kids and R&B was a pretty mature style, so it’s easy to find examples of old records that sound like Rock & Roll. Whether in blues, boogie woogie, Kansas City swing, gospel, hillbilly, vocal groups… there are a million candidates. But at the same time there was something new going on in ’55 and ’56 and Berry and Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Earl Palmer, etc. deserve their due as genuine pioneers.

          Berry was a great guitarist and a great writer and also probably the most innovative stylistically in that group. Pretty short productive period and it’s fucked up that My Ding-a-Ling was his only #1 but he was a true giant.

    • David Allan Poe

      You forgot Elvis.

  • MaureenDowdsLudes

    Bye Bye Johnny from the 72 Stones tour is awesome as well. They were the best Berry tribute band.

    • vic rattlehead

      I think that’s selling the Stones a little short, but I’m not gonna get into it on a memorial thread.

      • MaureenDowdsLudes

        No beefs here. The Stones are my favorite.

        • vic rattlehead

          I wasn’t looking for a fight, I just was going to expound on how people write off the Stones as a Hooker/Berry/Guy et al rip off band. But cool.

    • los

      I read what you wrote as implying that the Stones were the the Stones, but additionally the best Chuck Berry tribute band.
      Of what I’ve heard, the Stones did well at capturing the sound yet adding Keith Richards guitar flavor (rather compatibly, imo) “Little Queenie”
      I don’t know anything rare, but Flight 505 goes beyond imitating Chuck Berry’s very catchy sound. (Richards turns rythm guitar into lead guitar)

      I wonder if Richards ever played with Berry (unrecorded, maybe)

      • los

        ‘Let It Rock’ by Chuck Berry, on Stones Sticky Fingers 2015 Superdeluxe Edition (youtube)
        generic Berry, and seems covered generically (the saxaphone?), but with 60s oomph (up the bass, then up everything).

    • Old No.38

      I’ve seen recordings of the Stones live performances from 1964, when they are playing no original material… and they were absolutely fantastic.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kT3kCVFFLNg

    they wanna get up and dance *so* bad

    • NewishLawyer

      Everyone in that video is listening so politely….

  • Dilan Esper

    Problematic person, great artist, amazing performer.

  • Ahenobarbus

    I was just thinking the other day how amazing it was he was still alive. Think of all the rock heroes who came after but died before him, and not all of them died young.

    This might not be great, but is cool.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9kgu71d81U

  • Bootsie

    Little Richard’s just gonna outlive fuckin’ everyone, isn’t he?

    • Srsly Dad Y

      I see he’s more than four years younger than Berry was. L’chaim.

      It’s interesting that Berry was already 30 or 31 when he recorded “Johnny B. Goode.”

      • los

        more or less popular musicians usually chart downhill at about 30 (when they last to 30).

  • wjts

    He is survived by his cousin Marvin of Hill Valley, California.

    • sibusisodan

      +1.21GW

  • howard

    He could play a guitar just like ringing a bell.

    Go go.

    • Or as I like to sing it, “just like a bat out of hell!”

  • JB2

    Chuck Berry is the inventor of the Rock And Roll idiom, basically. Johnnie Johnson deserves a large share of the credit for basic song structure, while Chuck laid down the four or five basic guitar solos that have been copied a billion times.

    But the lyrics are the thing. So brilliant. Less than two years into the whole R&R blowout, Chuck came out and claimed supremacy over Beethoven himself! The audacity – the sheer unmitigated gall! And he was probably right.

    • UkuleleIke

      My God, please no! There’s no more tedious subject than the origins of Rock.

      • Thom

        Could be, but JB2 is right. And if you disagree, you must think the subject is worthy of discussion.

      • los

        ukelele??
        bah! the guitar looted the lute!

        /s

      • JB2

        1) I guess you don’t agree, but the passing of Chuck Berry would seem to be an appropriate time to discuss the origins or Rock and Roll.

        2) If you find the subject tedious, why would you bother commenting?

    • N__B

      Bo Diddley’s rhythm played a big part, too.

    • ixnay

      Chuck came out of the boogie woogie playing of Johnnie Johnson and was originally a sideman in his trio. The keys of many of his tunes are those of piano players, flats mostly. The breaks are right out of piano licks moved to the guitar. It’s all a continuum and it’s all really fckn good. RIP

      • N__B

        It’s all a continuum and it’s all really fckn good.

        Yup.

    • mikeSchilling

      And he was probably right.

      And Dan Brown kicks Shakespeare’s ass.

      • Ahenobarbus

        LOL. But Chuck Berry is way better than Dan Brown. Although no, not better than Ludwig von.

      • Yawn. Ancient white men always made the greatest art. Yawn.

        • mikeSchilling

          I know you don’t like classical music, but, yes, a symphony is a much greater achievement than a three-minute song.

  • Hogan

    I met a German girl in England who was going to school in France
    Said we danced in Mississippi at an Alpha Kappa Dance
    It wasn’t me

    RIP

    • rea

      He was cold, tired and hungry, came a beggin for bread;
      The lady took him in and fed him breakfast in bed.
      It wasn’t me

      Jesus would have approved, though.

  • Mike in DC

    The Hendrix cover of Johnny B. Goode from the 1970 Berkeley concert is a blast.
    Chuck has a solid argument for being the father of rock and/or roll.

    • los

      Just a search find:
      20 Great Chuck Berry Covers By Bonnie Stiernberg | October 18, 2012 (youtube links to six)

      7. The Rolling Stones, “Bye Bye Johnny”

      4. Jimi Hendrix, “Johnny B. Goode”
      (borrowed in one of the Back to the Future movies)

      • los

        Lin Brehmer’s 10 Best Chuck Berry Covers [Playlist] « WXRT
        (youtube links to all)
        Santana-Havana Moon. Leave it to Carlos to take a lesser known track and take it to the bank.

        Dave Edmunds-Run Run Rudolph. This lesser known version of the Chuck Berry Christmas classic is superb.

        Hmm, though other Edmunds originals were retro.

        • petesh

          And, of course,the Stones titled their Cuba live album (which I happen to like a lot) “Havana Moon” even though it does not feature the song.

        • petesh

          Keith Richards also covered Rudolph as his first solo single

  • Scott Lemieux

    We played both the Ya-Yas cover of “Carol” and Berry’s original “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” at our wedding. Both absolutely killed.

    • John Revolta

      Chuck famously used to use local cover bands to back him up at concerts. Once in the 70s a friend of mine in Chicago got to do this. They wanted to be prepared so my friend got Berry on the phone to ask him what songs he was gonna do. Chuck told him “What songs am I gonna do? I’m gonna do CHUCK BERRY SONGS!!!”

      • howard

        I once heard Springsteen tell the same story!

      • No Longer Middle Aged Man

        Using local bands didn’t always work out. I saw him circa 1971-72 on Boston Common and he spent half the time trying to teach the local guys how to keep up. The worst part was that he introing for BB King who absolutely killed it when he came out but I kept think “couldn’t he just have lent some of his rhythm section to Chuck for the first set?”

        • Dennis Orphen

          See my comment below, and Chuck would also have had to pay them (what they were worth, unlike the local pickups he used), something he wasn’t big on. And they would have refused anyway, as Berry’s ‘antics’ would have made them look bad, which isn’t cool. I’ve been sincerely threatened with physical violence by my rhythm section if I fucked up anything, because it would make them look bad, and real pros ain’t having none of that.

          • David Allan Poe

            As an ex-bass player, I have engaged in multiple eye-rolling marathons with my drummer as we attempted to cover up whatever nonsense the lead instrumentalist or singer was pulling.

        • Gareth

          I saw him circa 1971-72 on Boston Common and he spent half the time trying to teach the local guys how to keep up.

          “All right, guys, uh, listen. This is a blues riff in ‘B’, watch me for the changes, and try and keep up, okay?”

        • Crusty

          I’d like to see a list of the local bands that did the Chuck Berry backing gig and what stage they were at their fame (if they ever had any fame). I know the E-Street Band did it, as did the Steve Miller Band. Those are the two I’ve heard of.

          • Thlayli

            ZZ Top. The story I heard was Gibbons threw in a bit of hot-dogging, to which Berry said “please don’t do that”.

      • Dennis Orphen

        Supposedly he wouldn’t rehearse with the band, and on top of that would change the keys from the original, sometimes in the middle of the song. I believe the movie with Keith Richards goes into this in some detail.

        • petesh

          It does. Also, Chuck tried to mess with the sound so Keith, as producer, got round it electronically — let Chuck mess with what he heard on stage, while ensuring that the recording tapes (and I think the PA) were unaffected. The two of them were quite a pair.

        • Crusty

          I think there’s also a number during the performance part of the movie where Chuck turns to Keith and seems to suggest a key change in the middle of the song and Keith glowers at him and tells him through gritted teeth that they are not doing that.

  • Joseph Slater

    C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

  • Sentient AI from the Future

    I seem to recall that at one point, we were so proud of his music that we sent it into fucking space.

    gee, I wonder if the Calamondin* Caudillo will mention his passing.

    *orange, thin-skinned, quite sour citrus fruit

    • The Dark God of Time

      Otherwise know as the Philippine Lemon. I have one in my back yard, it’s about 10 ft. tall.

      • los

        http://www.citrusvariety.ucr.edu/citrus/calamondin.html
        believed to be a natural hybrid, with kumquat in the parentage.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calamondin
        Calamondin (× Citrofortunella microcarpa[1] or × Citrofortunella mitis[2]) is an important citrofortunella, meaning that it is an intergenetic hybrid between a member of the genus Citrus (in this case probably the mandarin orange) and the kumquat, formerly considered as belonging to a separate genus Fortunella.[3]

        Calamondin is used mainly as an ornamental tree, rather than for food, although the fruit is edible.[4]

        What? I recall eating ripe calamansi (“calamanzi”) just straight.

        • The Dark God of Time

          As the name implies, it’s sour, but the juice is used in cooking and the juice makes for a great mixer with rum along with some sugar. I use it when the recipie calls for lemon juice.

          • Sentient AI from the Future

            I’d be totally fine with “kumquat caudillo” or any other variation. You run what you brung, and I remember calamondins as shriveled, orange, sour, and thin-skinned.

  • jim, some guy in iowa
  • “She’ll have to change her trend/And be sweet sixteenAnd back in class again.” The kids are alright!
    Chuck Berry – Sweet Little Sixteen (Live at Newport Jazz Festival 1958) – Color High Quality
    W/ clarinet solo.

  • Of interest from the Wack-O-Pedia:

    By early 1953 Berry was performing with Johnnie Johnson’s trio, starting a long-time collaboration with the pianist. The band played mostly blues and ballads, but the most popular music among whites in the area was country. Berry wrote, “Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of our black audience began whispering ‘who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?’ After they laughed at me a few times they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it.”

    Berry’s calculated showmanship, along with a mix of country tunes and R&B tunes, sung in the style of Nat King Cole set to the music of Muddy Waters, brought in a wider audience, particularly affluent white people.

    StealTake from the best & mash it up:

    Berry claimed on The Tonight Show he was influenced primarily by 1940s swing artist Louis Jordan. “The main guy was Louis Jordan. I wanted to sing like Nat Cole, with lyrics like Louis Jordan with the swing of Bennie Goodman with Charlie Christian on guitar, playing Carl Hogan’s riffs, with the soul of Muddy Waters.”

    • Hogan

      Louis Jordan! Seriously, check him out.

    • John Revolta

      Louis Jordan had tons of clever and funny songs. He was the original “King of the Jukebox”. He didn’t actually write that many himself, but you can see the influnce on Berry.

  • Dennis Orphen

    A case could be made that Chuck Berry was also the first bubblegum rocker, a criminally underrecognized genre of music.

    • “Yummy yummy yummy I got love in my tummy.”

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    it seems kinda Dick Clark-y, once I thought about it, that the Berry song linked in the original post is a fricken Stones cover

  • altofront

    I was going to post, “Was there ever a cooler opening line than ‘As I was motorvating over the hill’?”, but some light Googling suggests that this was Berry’s ad-lib on “motivating,” which makes it even cooler. RIP.

  • Simple Desultory Philip

    johhny b. goode is on the voyager record. so someday, the aliens will know that, in spite of it all, some of us humans were capable of being pretty damn great at rock n roll. (they won’t know about the poop sex thing or the minors-across-state-lines thing though so it may be an inaccurate representation of rock-n-rollers. i’ll still take it.)

    • DocAmazing

      “Send More Chuck Berry”

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    His concert riders were pretty cool: he basically “toured” by himself, just give him a solid backing band, a decent sound system and he was good to go. I’ve heard he’d also request a 1000′ guitar cable so he could wander through the crowd playing. This is unusual to say the least.

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/chuck-berry

    Of course he also need a roof over his head, a car to get around in, and some walking around money. heard he also requested…

  • Crusty

    One of the most amusing Chuck performances is this video of him playing Memphis with John Lennon. Watch Chuck’s eyes carefully when Yoko’s part comes in.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9kgu71d81U

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks talking a few years back about how he felt about Chuck Berry since his teen years, and that one time Chuck Berry played with them in St. Louis.

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=iwxNZFk5A3c&feature=youtube_gdata_player
    43:30 min to 51:00 min mark

    Keith may be a liar. Chuck may say that to all the bands. But I really would like to think that Chuck recognized just how tight a band the Circle Jerks became. And I try not to think that Chuck was just a fan because he saw the “Golden Shower of Hits” album cover.

    I’m not fully versed in all of the bad behavior of Chuck in his past (I did spend many years of my young adulthood wondering WTF “white slavery” was) but I did think to myself yesterday in the workshop, “Well, at least in my day, they didn’t pee on the underaged girls, like R. Kelly.”

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