Chuck Berry

Highly Appreciated

Chuck Berry  (born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926) is an American guitarist, singer and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music.  With songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics focusing on teen life and consumerism and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music.   (More from Wikipedia)
There about midway through the fourth side of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 was a song that I didn’t think quite fit in:  “Farmer John” by the Premiers.  It was earlier than any of the other tracks, dating from 1964, and it sounded like it was recorded live at somebody’s picnic.  The lyrics were simple – “Farmer John . . . I’m in love with your daughter . . . whoa-oh-oooh” – as was the beat and the slow, loping groove; but it just kept growing on me.  Eventually Neil Young recorded a cover of the song in the same style on his excellent 1990 album Ragged Glory.  The songwriter is Richard Berry – he is not related to Chuck Berry but has some seminal songs to his credit nonetheless; “Louie Louie” heads the list, but “Have Love, Will Travel” is almost as good.  (See below).
(January 2011)
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There have been so many great guitarists that I have enjoyed hearing over the years, for many different reasons:  The old-fashioned blasts of Chuck Berry and Keith Richardsthe unexpected dexterity and ear of Bob Dylan and Glen Campbell, the pounding virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allmanthe nearly unsung anonymity of Tommy Tedesco and Jerry Colethe steady precision of George Harrison and Tom Petty, the sheer power of Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi, the blues-based thunder of Jack White and Eddie Van Halen, lesser known greats like Nikki Sudden and Chris Spedding, and so many more.
(August 2011)
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Stiv Bators, the front man for one of the best punk rock bands the Dead Boys was trying to reinvent himself as a pop singer and released one excellent album in 1980 called Disconnected and a lot of other singles.  
In about 1985Stiv Bators was recording a new version of a Moody BluesB” side, “The Story in Your Eyes”; and the flip side was going to be a cover of the Richard Berry anthem “Have Love, Will Travel”.  (The connection to the popular TV western of 50-some years ago, Have Gun – Will Travel is likely not well remembered these days).  Richard Berry (no relation to Chuck Berry) is the author of the immortal “Louie Louie”.  
(September 2012)
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I am pretty sure that I must have heard a track or two by the Dutch progressive rock band Ekseption on college radio back in the day; otherwise, I don't know how Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” would sound so familiar to me.  The opening track on their self-titled debut album in 1969Ekseption – simply called “The 5th” – is based on Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  This might be the first pop treatment of the symphony, though there have been many others over the years.  One of the Electric Light Orchestra’s earliest hits is a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” that incorporated some parts of the symphony
(January 2013)
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You can talk about your pioneers of rock and roll – Chuck BerryLittle RichardElvis PresleyJames Brown, just to name a few – and you can even bring up your British Invasion greats – the Beatlesthe Rolling Stonesthe Animalsthe Yardbirds, the Kinks, just to name another few.  All of them are already in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and deservedly so.  However, you can play a lot of more modern rock records all day long and not really discern more than a hint of their direct influence; no question it’s in the DNA, but actual Elvis Presley-style vocals or Chuck Berry guitar licks or James Brown wails are elusive. 


That is not so with Link Wray:  His influence is front and center on a good 50% of the records that I play, because he is credited with introducing the “power chord” on electric guitar to rock and roll, a technique whose effect is often enhanced by distortion

(February 2013)
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I'm not sure where I got the idea that “Farmer John” was written by Richard Berry, but I was mistaken about that; the song was actually written by Don “Sugarcane” Harris and Dewey Terry, who originally recorded the song in the mid-1950’s under the name Don and Dewey.  Sorry about that.  I’m still glad that I had something to say about Richard Berry though; he wrote some great songs, and not just “Louie Louie”.
(January 2014)
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Pat Boone hit the top of the charts with his second single, “Ain’t That a Shame”, which came out in July 1955 – yeah, a little earlier than you expected I’ll bet.  For context, that was just two months after Chuck Berrys first single,Maybellenewas released; and Elvis Presley wouldn’t hit #1 until early 1956


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Ritchie Valens released just two 45’s but still showed incredible versatility.  His first, “Come On, Let’s Go” is now regarded as a straight-up rock and roll classic, but it failed to chart.  Writing in 1998Billy Vera recalls “first hearing [Come On, Let’s Go] on Alan Freed’s TV Dance Party, a local New York equivalent of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.  It was a record which really grabbed my teenaged ears.  I had never heard anything quite like it.  It had a much ‘thicker’ sound than anything by Elvis, Chuck BerryGene Vincent or even Eddie Cochran.  For thickness, the only thing that came close was Bo Diddley.” 


(June 2013/1)


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Train Kept A-Rollin’” is a jump blues song that was originally recorded by Tiny Bradshaw in 1951; the 1956 rockabilly recording of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” by the Johnny Burnette Trio is said to be the first rock and roll record to deliberately use distorted guitar.  (The trio is also known as the Rock and Roll Trio but are not to be confused with the Johnny Johnson Trio, where Chuck Berry started out).  This song even predates Link Wray’s “Rumble in this regard (that instrumental came out in 1958), though Wray is still the man credited with bringing power chords to rock guitar.


(July 2013)


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David Gates had been in various local bands in Tulsa, and his high school band backed Chuck Berry for a concert in 1957.  David Gates also wrote “Saturday’s Child”, and the Monkees included this song on their first album, The Monkees.  Writing for Allmusic, critic Matthew Greenwald says that “Saturday’s Child has a “proto-heavy metal guitar riff” and is “one of the more interesting curios of the early Monkees catalog”. 


(January 2015/1)


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In June 1963the Rolling Stones released their debut single, a cover of a Chuck Berry song called “Come On” which reached #21 on the UK charts.  The flip side was Willie Dixon’s “I Want to be Loved”.  Wikipedia reports about “Come On:  “During the June 6, 2013 concert in Toronto, Canada, as part of the 50 & Counting TourMick Jagger sang a few bars (with Charlie Watts drumming the beat) after mentioning the single being released exactly 50 years ago that day.  It was the first time the song was heard in any capacity during a Rolling Stones concert since 1965.” 


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Ron Silva and Steve Potterf of the Crawdaddys grew up as neighbors in Point Loma, California and began listening to records together in the ninth grade.  Silva recalls of those early days:  “After a while Steve started getting into the music I liked – Beatles, early Stones.  I remember sitting in his room playing guitars along to my dad’s Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley 45’s.”   


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Jeff Scott phoned Ron Silva, and they patched things up over Silva’s leaving the Hitmakers.  Scott was about to go to L.A. to play their band’s demo tape for Greg Shaw at Bomp! Records, and he offered to bring him and Steve Potterf along if they could lay down some tracks first.  The Crawdaddys assembled in the Silva garage and recorded two original songs plus Chuck Berry’s “Oh Baby Doll” and Bo Diddley’s “Tiger in Your Tank”. 


As described above, the resulting debut album, Crawdaddy Express by the Crawdaddys was comprised mostly of covers of R&B classics by Bo DiddleyWillie DixonChuck Berry, and John Lee Hooker; plus a few from other sources, such as the old Hank Snow tune “I’m Movin’ On” and the magnificent Van Morrison song “Mystic Eyes” that opened the first album by Them.  Only a few familiar songs were included on the album, such as “You Can’t Judge a Book” and “Down the Road a Piece”.  Just two original recordings were included on the album, the title song “Crawdaddy Express” and “Got You in My Soul” (both written by Ron Silva and Steve Potterf). 


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Anyway, it is hard for me to complain about what the Crawdaddys have included on Here ’Tis:  The CD starts off with a blistering rendition of a rockin’ Chuck Berry song, “Thirty Days”, followed by an Allen Toussaint song called “Why Wait Until Tomorrow” that had been recorded by Lee Dorsey – best known for two charming hits, “Ya Ya” and “Working in the Coalmine”.  Also on hand is a criminally obscure Leiber/Stoller song called “That Is Rock and Roll”, the flip side of the Coasters’ hit “Along Came Jones”.  The Coasters, one of my favorite American R&B bands, had emerged in the 1960’s essentially as a showcase band for the best songs by this dynamite songwriting duo. 


(January 2015/2)


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There is a great story in Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life about a chance meeting that he had with Mick Jagger; I saw something on TV about it also, probably on CBS Sunday Morning.  In a series called Letters of Note that was printed (or reprinted) in The Huffington Post is this section of a letter that Keith Richards wrote to his aunt about this meeting – I think the very next day: 
“You know I was keen on Chuck Berry and I thought I was the only fan for miles but one mornin’ on Dartford Stn. [that’s so I don’t have to write a long word like station] I was holding one of Chuck’s records when a guy I knew at primary school 7-11 yrs y’know came up to me.  He’s got every record Chuck Berry ever made and all his mates have too, they are all rhythm and blues fans, real R&B I mean (not this Dinah ShoreBrook Benton crap), Jimmy ReedMuddy WatersChuckHowlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker all the Chicago bluesmen real lowdown stuff, marvelous.  Bo Diddley he’s another great. 

“Anyways the guy on the station, he is called Mick Jagger and all the chicks and the boys meet every Saturday morning in the ‘Carousel’ some juke-joint.  Well one morning in Jan., I was walking past and decided to look him up." 

I think I also remember Keith’s saying in that letter, or telling his mother or something, that Mick Jagger was going to be famous. 


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Tell Me was one of the earliest Rolling Stones singles and the first song credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – that is, Jagger/Richards – that was used as the “A” side of a single release.  “Come On, a Chuck Berry song was their first 45, as I wrote about several months ago.  


(May 2015)


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Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts played dance hits of the day interspersed with bawdy songs that included “My Ding-a-Ling” (long before Chuck Berry had his sole #1 hit with “My Ding-a-Ling” in 1972), “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” (later played at the end of the New York porno cable program, The Robin Byrd Show), “Big Jugs” (a reworking of the Jimmy Dean song “Big John”), “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”, “Two Old Maids”, and “Gay Caballero”. 
(June 2016)
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The Rolling Stones’ bootleg album, The Greatest Group on Earth is mostly familiar material as might be expected in a live concert.  However, until I got this album, I did not know or at least remember the song “I’m Free” (a different song from the well-known track, I’m Free from the Who’s album Tommy); it had been the b-side for the Stones’ second #1 song, “Get off of My Cloud”.  The album also includes two Chuck Berry songs, Carol and “Little Queenie”.  “Carol” was released as a single in January 1964, charting only in France, and was also on their first album, The Rolling Stones.  While Little Queenie was never recorded by the Stones on a single or a studio album as far as I have been able to tell, Carol as well as Little Queenie are included on their second live album, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (1970).  According to Wikipedia:  “It [Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!] was reported to have been issued in response to the well known bootleg Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be” (the alternate name of The Greatest Group on Earth). 
(September 2017)
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In point of fact, ground-breaking music often doesn’t sell all that well.  For artists who catch the zeitgeist at just the right moment, like Elvis Presleythe Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the sky’s the limit.  Although they are household names now, however, none of the other rock and roll pioneers – Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo DiddleyBill Haley, etc. – made it nearly that big.  That will likely be the subject of a future UARB post. 
(December 2017)
Last edited: April 8, 2021