Tag Archives: Chuck Berry

And Maybe Rock’n’Roll Began When…

Jackie Brenston recorded “Rocket 88“?

Sixty years  ago todayaccording to Al Gore’s Internet – the first rock’n’roll single was recorded. Cars? Yep. Girls? Yep. Booze? Yep. Hmmm…maybe so.

I dunno, I can’t help but point back at people like Chuck Berry and Little Richard as the true architects, but there are some who will point at this song as the genesis of rock’n’roll. Sam Phillips was able to tout it to such an extent that it financed the beginning of Sun Records, and we know where that went.

Of course, sixty years turns a lot of fable into truth, but I’m more concerned about the survival of the art form that it’s zygote moment. Brenston was dead by age forty-nine, and for a guy serving a tenure with Ike Turner, that’s probably a long life. Maybe he was the guy. Maybe not.

But considering the historic occasion, why not give a listen?

And if you want to start an argument in a bar, research this page first!

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T.G.I.F. – Ten More Rocktober Chart Toppers

Since it’s Rocktober, I thought I’d revisit the charts.

A couple of weeks back I revisited the number one songs for the first week in October from 1963-1972, a classic era for AM Radio. Almost without exception those songs are still resonant today. Maybe it’s a result of when you hear music in your life, but when radio formatting became so formulaic and segregated, the impact of chart toppers just died for me. But when every artist fought to climb the same hill…man, that was some list of great songs.

So here are Ten More Rocktober Chart Toppers – the Number One hits from the third week of October during my Wonder Years.

1963 Sugar Shack (Jimmy Gilmer) – An unexpected hit and year-end chart-topper even though it only had one more week at the top than The Singing Nun. Recorded at Norman Perry Studios, just like Buddy Holly.

1964Do Wah Diddy (Manfred Mann) – A Jeff Barry / Ellie Greenwich classic, this was prime Brit Invasion Manfred Mann long before the Earth Band and their Bruce Springsteen covers.

1965Yesterday (The Beatles) – Really just Paul McCartney and a string quartet, of course. Still listed as the most covered song in pop history.

1966Reach Out, I’ll Be There (The Four Tops) – Stone cold classic with a great Levi Stubbs vocal. Michael Jackson (at Berry Gordy‘s request) used a line from it in the 1970 song below.

1967To Sir With Love (Lulu) Another song that wound up as the top single of the year on many charts thanks to the hit movie. Didn’t realize until today that The Mindbenders were the backing band (two of whom would form 10cc not long afterwards).

1968) Hey Jude (The Beatles) – Well, since we covered this last time – it was a nine week run at the top of the charts, you know – let’s highlight the flip side (and a much better song, IMHO) – Revolution. Their only other #1 hit that year was Hello/Goodbye ( the first two weeks of January).

1969I Can’t Get Next To You (The Temptations) – David Ruffin gets a lot of credit but if you ever doubted that Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks were just as good, this song will fix that. .

1970) I’ll Be There (The Jackson 5)  – After three straight bubblegum hits, The Jackson 5 won over a whole new audience with this ballad. Maybe Jermaine Jackson‘s best vocal, ever.

1971) Maggie May (Rod Stewart) – Another song that dominated the charts for the month, but like the Beatles’ single it was a two-sided hit. The flip was his dynamic cover of Tim Hardin‘s Reason To Believe.

1972) My Ding-A-Ling (Chuck Berry) – Sad but true: this was Chuck Berry‘s only #1 hit single. I think you should instead pick up The Great Twenty-Eight, a wonderful collection that gives Chuck his due.


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T.G.I.F. – Back To Schooldays

I don’t have to anymore, thankfully…

But September, and especially this weekend, brings the official end to summer and the start of the school year. (Feel free to substitute the word “football season” if you are a childless male past the age of eighteen.)

Music has always captured the essence of every emotion and occurence in our lives, and there certainly are many anthems that document the drudgery and celebrate the rebellion and pinpoint the pain. Many of these are obvious, although “School’s Out” will have to wait for June! And I didn’t want to go to hardcore teenage angst like Big Star‘s “Thirteen” and Ultimate Fakebook‘s “A Million Hearts” (an under-known classic!).

So as you hopefully are preparing for a safe and happy holiday, here are Ten Tunes to take you Back To Schooldays!

01 – “Schooldays” (The Kinks)

02 – “Be True To Your School” (The Beach Boys)

03 – “Back To Schooldays” (Graham Parker)

04 – “Hot For Teacher” (Van Halen)

05 – “My Old School” (Steely Dan)

06 – “School Days” (Chuck Berry)

07 – “School Days” (The Good Rats)

08 – “Teacher Teacher” (Rockpile)

09 – “High School Confidential” (Jerry Lee Lewis)

10 – “Rock and Roll High School” (The Ramones)

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Remembering Link Wray

It was almost five years ago to the day that I finally got a chance to see the late, great Link Wray perform. He blistered a small club in town despite being seventy-six years old, and just six months later he would be gone forever.

Last Sunday would have been his eighty-first birthday, and if you heard thunder from above it was probably Link showing God how to play that barre chord properly. Rumble, baby! I’ll spare  you my summation of the opening act that night, but below are my thoughts on seeing the master five years ago that were etched into the ether that was Cosmik Debris

Link Wray’s “Rumble” ripped through the air in 1958, so my first inclination was to think how fifty years could not have passed by so quickly. One sight of the frail Wray being helped up onto a two-foot stage not only reversed that thought but also made me appreciate the fact that the two of us were there at all. Him to rock me…and me to be rocked.

Once the guitar was draped over his shoulders and that immortal “D” chord was struck, it was a totally different story. Backed by an almost three-piece band (energetic jungle drummer, bass player who needed a much smaller cabinet and a woman – Link’s wife? – playing tambourine), Wray planted himself front and center and let his fingers do the talking. With his leather jacket, wrap around shades and fiery rhythms, he looked like the world’s oldest Ramone.

Nimbly bashing out every surf/punk/rock riff in the book with his textbook swagger and grin, with the occasional shimmy of the hips and/or guitar, it was a textbook lesson in the simple power of rock and roll that is still well-taught by the seventy-six year old legend. Sometimes it was hard to tell where one song ended and another began (my friend Bill quipped that the set list was comprised of two songs; “Rumble” and “not Rumble”) but it was one hell of a ride.

After almost an hour of non-stop tornado activity (the exception being an Elvis cover that featured his surprisingly sweet singing voice), he was helped back off the stage and into the dressing room where I imagine a stiff drink and a towel soaked in Ben Gay was waiting. I was torn between the desire to see more and the realization that I just witnessed a man older than my father kick my musical ass and I should be grateful for what I got. I settled on the latter, an emotion that a lethargic music industry should also sign on to. Here, indeed, is a living legend. Appreciate him before it’s too late.

Of course, it’s too late now…

But apply that same lesson to Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King or whatever trailblazing genuine icon crosses your path. Get your ass out to a show. Hell, go see the Stones and Macca and Springsteen. Don’t expect they’ll always be there for you, and be thankful you were fortunate to have shared time with them on this mortal coil.

Link Wray wiki

His bio and discography at AllMusic

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rock Survivors

TGIF

Pay attention, puppy bands.  Ian Hunter is 70 years old and he still releases new music! Jerry Lee Lewis is 74 and Chuck Berry is going to be 83 next week! So you’d better be bringing it when you saddle up, boyo, because there are still some old dogs running wild down that street. Of the group below only Graham Parker is on the short side of sixty; compared to Chuck and The Killer he’s a mere tot!

Mark Farner, 2008 –  “We’re An American Band”

Rick Derringer, 2009 – “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Coo

Leslie West, 2007(?) – “Goin’ Down”

Graham Parker, 2009 – “Local Girls

Johnny Winter, 2009 – “Red House

Ray Davies, 2009 – “Sunny Afternoon

Todd Rundgren, 2009 – “Black & White

Ian Hunter, 2009 – “Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Chuck Berry, 2009 – “Johnny B. Goode

Jerry Lee Lewis, 2009 – “Roll Over, Beethoven

And finally, a bonus cut. Ain’t new, but that is a supergroup!

Still bite with that bark

Still bite with that bark

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Blast From The Past: Humble Pie

Road Warriors of Rock'n'Roll

Road Warriors of Rock'n'Roll

I remember playing cuts from Rock On and Rockin’ The Fillmore as a college radio DJ, and the several Humble Pie shows I was blessed to witness are seared into my brain. And witness is an operative verb here; while the early shows were piledriver blues/boogie rock’n’roll, in his later years Steve Marriott was part rocker, part white soul singer, part rock evangelist. At the time it was probably the closest thing to having a gospel preached at me and to me since the I stumbled into a Baptist church.

But back in the early Pie days, when Peter Frampton played and sang alongside Steve, they were a bit more straight-ahead. Determined to break and break big, they toured incessantly in the States and lit arena after arena on fire. For a couple of years in the early 70s, it was far more likely you’d hear Humble Pie blasting out of dorm windows than the latest Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin cut. America loves their meat and potatoes, and Humble Pie was meaty.

Looking back at BBC tracks from famous 70s bands is always fascinating and Humble Pie is no exception. While not a purely focused disc – leave it to Fuel 2000 to license rather than create – there is some great music within. Here’s what I wrote about Natural Born Boogie release for PopMatters back in 2000:

Steve Marriott Boy Howdy

Like the blues players he idolized, Steve Marriott may finally be getting his due after he’s no longer here to reap the rewards. Bands like The Black Crowes openly admit his influence, while a waft of inferior vocalists trying to emulate him prove that his talents are sorely missed. Marriott had the fortune to shine in two majestic bands early in his career, and both The Small Faces and Humble Pie are enjoying a new wave of popularity as classic radio vaults open wider.

Although Rockin’ The Fillmore will stand as their definitive concert recording, Humble Pie did cut several solid sessions for BBC One between 1969 and 1971. “Natural Born Boogie“, the band’s Chuck Berry-flavored hit, finds Marriott in great vocal tone, while “The Ballad Of Shakey Jake” boasts some guitar noodling that would bring a smile to the face of any Deadhead. Fluid and creative, Peter Frampton, still years away from his megastar status, is the perfect axe partner for Marriott’s more bar-blues approach. Ex-Spooky Tooth bassist Greg Ridley and (then) teenage drum whiz Jerry Shirley flow from folk to rock as easily as their more famous counterparts. Consider their take on the Buddy Holly chestnut “Heartbeat”; heavier and blusier than the original, but not so cool that they couldn’t slap some handclaps in there too. And in “Desperation” we see the worm turning as Mod Steve starts to establish his soul roots with the band.

The later sessions (1970-71) are probably closer to the Humble Pie most people are familiar with. “Big Black Dog” is as close to “Walkin’ The Dog” in structure as it is in name, and “Four Day Creep” (perhaps the highlight here) is close to the album cut. “Rolling Stone” is an abbreviated version of the one on Rockin’ The Fillmore (thankfully), while “The Light” lets Frampton get a parting shot in before leaving. The final two tracks are from the Old Gray Whistle Test, and while “Black Coffee” (complete with The Blackberries on vocals) sounds great, “I Don’t Need No Doctor” is horrible.

In fairness, the CD cover contains a disclaimer that the sound quality on the tenth cut is very poor, but even with those expectations it sounds like a fifteenth generation bootleg tape. Recorded underwater. Left on the dashboard in the summer with the windows rolled up tight. Chewed on by the dog. Am I making this clear enough? Sure, the band smokes the tune, but are you telling me there was no other version, or other cut — of ANYTHING — available? Considering that “Doctor” was the cornerstone of Rockin’ The Fillmore, there is no reason under the sun that this should have been included here. Did the songwriters really need the royalties that badly?

And sure, the liner notes could have been more expansive, and some proofreader should have known the difference between Brian Jones and Mick Jones, but you can’t have everything. Since Steve isn’t around to thrill us with new music, having treasures like these get cleaned up and sent our way is something we should be thankful about. Well, nine out of ten times, anyway.

Humble Pie old

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Under The Radar: Cover You

Pretty hip, even for Hip-O.

Pretty hip, even for Hip-O.

Under the radar and a blast from the past…and playing at my house today. Not much to add to my original take (below) and although I can’t rate it alongside deliberate tribute albums, it’s well worth a listen.

Hip-O’s tribute collections gather previously recorded versions of an artist’s work rather than commission current bands to take a whack at the catalogue. So where the latter project might have the benefit of one-upmanship as bands try to come out on top of the pile, the older versions were done individually as true tips of the cap, especially when you consider the caliber of the artists involved. Like Meet The Covers and Chuck B. Covered, this gathering is as eclectic as Hip-O’s Beatles and Chuck Berry discs.

While many have heard Linda Ronstadt‘s tepid version of “Tumbling Dice”, few will have heard Sugar Blue‘s jazzy harp-laden “Miss You” (he played harmonica on the original cut). Ditto a nice collaboration between two of the better guitarists on Earth, Charlie Sexton and Ron Wood. And while I miss Devo‘s unique attack of “Satisfaction”, soul legend Otis Redding sounds a lot more like a man in need than Jagger did. White soul shouter Mitch Ryder issued one of the most intense rock albums of the era with Detroit; the inclusion of his growling “Gimme Shelter” is the best thing on the record. Dueling soul Queens Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner are here also, with Ike and Tina ironically offering “Under My Thumb”!

Country blues is the bastard father of rock and roll, and while Jason & The Scorchers rip it up with “19th Nervous Breakdown”, Johnny Cash‘s 1978 version of “No Expectations” sounds like “Folsom Prison Blues” with different words. Steve Earle and Johnny Winter (with Rick Derringer blazing alongside him every step of the way) close out the disc with live versions of “Dead Flowers” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, respectively.

There are fourteen songs, and besides the Ronstadt cut, the only mistake that Hip-O made was in the liner notes which begin: “Mick Jagger and Keith Richards may not be thought of as one of the great songwriting teams of the modern era…” Maybe not on your planet! As a die hard, long time, watched-them-on-Sullivan-as-a-kid fan, I’ve known better all my life. Even during that period of the 1960’s when the unwritten rule said you had to choose between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (couldn’t – gasp – like both!), I knew which side my rock was buttered on. So does Hip-O.

Album now out of print but cheap used copies available.

Also check out the Chuck Berry and Beatles tributes referenced above.

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