Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Berry’

Buried Treasure: American Graffiti

3 February 2011

[Today: The nostalgia trip…]

“You just can’t stay seventeen forever.” That cold splash of reality was provided by Ron Howard’s character, Steve Bolander, in American Graffiti. But that 1973 film was part of a burgeoning nostalgia industry geared toward making those who came of age in the 50s and 60s feel young again. The American Graffiti soundtrack was a brilliant piece of product, containing 41 golden oldies from stars (Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, and more) and lesser lights (The Diamonds, The Cleftones, The Heartbeats, etc) that all evoked a bygone era. Legendary DJ Wolfman Jack makes a few cameos, lending this album the feel of a radio show spinning off the AM dial – which is exactly how the music was presented in the movie.

Cars played a central role in the film, and they were key to my own enjoyment of its soundtrack. My dad owned the American Graffiti soundtrack, but only on 8-track. That, plus Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Oldies were the only 8-tracks he owned, so going anywhere with him in his mid-70s green Datsun pickup was like climbing into a time machine. When I was a 7, 8, 9 year-old kid, this music sounded ANCIENT to me. My brother and I would elbow each other in the ribs and smirk about The Big Bopper and Bill Haley, so it’s funny to think that I’m dipping even further back in time than my dad was when I put on Pearl Jam’s Ten or Nirvana’s Nevermind.

But the truth is that Rock & Roll underwent seismic changes in the mid-60s, and almost all pre-Beatles music sounds fresh and innocent in retrospect. ‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’, ‘At The Hop’ – even the song titles speak to the teenage drama that once fueled rock music. Every performance on the American Graffiti soundtrack was recorded between 1955 and 1965, and these songs capture the raw emotion of love lost, the sweet exhilaration of love found, and the limitless possibilities of a Saturday night. For my dad, and so many others like him, this soundtrack represented an opportunity to revisit the not-so-distant past, and hold onto seventeen for just a little longer…

Listen: Rock Around The Clock [Bill Haley & The Comets]

Listen: Chantilly Lace [The Big Bopper]

Listen: Do You Wanna Dance [Bobby Freeman]

Listen: Runaway [Del Shannon]

[Happy Birthday to my dad, who turns 61 tomorrow – may you always feel like a teenager…]

Sleeve Notes: Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs

28 January 2011

Joni Mitchell called it starmaker machinery and Billy Joel claimed it was just a fantasy, and not the real thing, and both got it right. So much of the music industry is about selling an image, and always has been. From murder ballads about Stagolee (or Stack-o-Lee, or…) to the supernatural blues of Robert Johnson, to the souped up R&B of Ike Turner and Chuck Berry, to the outlaw fables of Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, to the shimmer and fire of Elvis and Jerry Lee, to the fab-ness of the Beatles, to the drugs and free love of Woodstock, to the satanic debauchery of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Kiss, to the dancefloor freedom of Disco, to the androgynous sexuality of Boy George, Annie Lennox, Madonna and Prince, to the leggy models in ZZ Top videos and the g-string clad butt-shakers in hip-hop videos, there’s always some kind of fantasy lurking beneath the music. It might be death, sex, money, fame, freedom, or less mundane spoils, but it’s usually there. If you’re looking for a connective thread that ties together every kind of music over the last hundred years or so, you could do a lot worse than that…

Buried Treasure: The Boss Of The Blues

19 August 2010

[Today: The Grandfather of Rock…]

Well before Elvis shook his thang, before Chuck Berry had Beethoven rolling over in his grave, before Bill Haley was rocking around the clock or Ike Turner was singing about his Rocket 88, Big Joe Turner was shouting the blues raw and getting banned from the radio for his troubles. Make no mistake, Turner’s music wasn’t rock & roll – rather, he sang what was called “Jump Blues”, a spirited pre-cursor to R&B and Rock. On paper, the configuration of his band looks like a jazz group, but their driving swing is punctuated by Turner’s powerful, primal growl. If his voice was raw, it wasn’t nearly as raw as his lyrics, which usually touched on skirts, skin and sex.

The term Rock & Roll was originally slang for sex, and in that respect Turner has certainly earned his designation as the “grandfather of rock” (he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987). The Rolling Stones would eventually sing about not being able to get any satisfaction, but Turner sang like a man who couldn’t get enough of the stuff. “You can take me pretty mama, jump me in your Hollywood bed/I want you to boogie my woogie ’til my face turns cherry red,” he sings on ‘Cherry Red’, the first cut on The Boss Of The Blues. ‘Roll ‘Em Pete’ is named for his piano player, Pete Johnson, but there’s no question that the rolling Turner references here involves a mattress and box spring.

Joseph Vernon Turner Jr. was born in 1911 in Kansas City and was singing professionally by the time he was 14 years old. He worked his way up through the nightclubs of Kansas City, washing dishes, tending bar and waiting tables before eventually stepping behind the microphone. He earned his nickname (‘Big Joe’) through sheer girth – he was 6’2″ and weighed nearly 300 pounds. But his voice was by far the biggest part of him, and his urgent, booming vocals led him to become one of the first artists signed to Atlantic Records.

The Boss Of The Blues was recorded on March 6th and 7th, 1956, well after the rock & roll revolution was underway. This album doesn’t include his breakthrough hit ‘Shake, Rattle & Roll’, but it’s a fine introduction to the original voice of rock and roll sin…

Listen: Cherry Red

Listen: Roll ‘Em Pete

Magic Moment: James Brown On The T.A.M.I. Show

8 March 2010

The T.A.M.I. Show was a pioneering concert film that was recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Center on October 28th and 29th, 1964 and released to theaters later that year. The movie featured a variety of top performers of the day, including The Supremes, Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys. James Brown’s performance has been oohed and ahhed for decades, but with no video to back up the delirium, his brilliance has been little more than a rumor – until now. On March 23rd, the complete T.A.M.I. Show will finally get its release on DVD.

After previewing the video, I now understand what all the fuss was about – Brown is at a performance peak here that matches the grace and power of Muhammad Ali prowling the ring or Willie Mays patrolling centerfield. His dancing is off the charts, as he presages Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and moves around the stage in a constant blur of motion. This performance shows why he was nicknamed Mr. Dynamite – when he’s forced to stand behind the microphone he looks like he’s about to burst out of his skin.

In a profile of Brown that he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine, Rick Rubin describes seeing video of Brown’s T.A.M.I. Show performance:

I remember going to Minneapolis to visit Prince years ago, sitting in an office waiting for him — and there was an endless loop of James Brown’s performance in the 1964 concert film The T.A.M.I. Show running on a screen. That may be the single greatest rock & roll performance ever captured on film. You have the Rolling Stones on the same stage, all of the important rock acts of the day, doing their best — and James Brown comes out and destroys them. It’s unbelievable how much he outclasses everyone else in the film.

This clip features Brown and his Famous Flames ripping through ‘Out Of Sight’ and ‘Night Train’ – two of the four numbers they performed for The T.A.M.I. Show. Pity the Rolling Stones – they had to follow this…

Buried Treasure: Beatles For Sale

2 October 2009

[Today: The dark side of the Fab Four…]

The Beatles | Beatles For Sale

Before they became the Fab Four, The Beatles were just another band of young lads trying to catch a break. To that end, they spent the better part of 1961 in Hamburg, Germany – playing endless sets for drunken tourists and mafioso, popping pills and drinking beer to stay awake, verbally assaulting their audiences, and honing their sound to a razor sharp edge. In The Beatles Anthology, Ringo Starr describes their diet at that time, “This was the point of our lives when we found pills, uppers. That’s the only way we could continue playing for so long… We never thought we were doing anything wrong, but we’d get really wired and go on for days. So with beer and Preludin, that’s how we survived.” Hamburg was musical boot camp for the band, and the experience of playing six-hour sets in grim conditions undoubtedly helped them become the greatest band in the world.

By 1965, Beatlemania was in full bloom, and the group was fresh off the cinematic and musical triumphs of A Hard Day’s Night. So it was surprising – and perhaps reflected their weariness at living in superstardom’s white hot spotlight – when they elected to release an album that was nearly half covers, and featured some of their darkest material yet. Beatles For Sale is an odd mixture of tunes – ‘Eight Days A Week’ ‘Mr. Moonlight’ and ‘Honey Don’t’ are lightweight stuff, but elsewhere The Beatles revealed what kind of group they were becoming. The opening trio of ‘No Reply’ ‘I’m A Loser’ and ‘Baby’s In Black’ is gloomy stuff, and heralded some great, emotionally complex songwriting to come.

But what makes Beatles For Sale a real keeper is the moments where that earlier, hopped-up band of drunken kids slips briefly through. On ‘Rock And Roll Music’ they sound like they’re playing for their lives, while turning out the greatest Chuck Berry cover of all-time. Paul McCartney’s vocals on ‘Kansas City’ mark his most fierce performance on record, and the group sounds ground down on ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’. When George Harrison sings “Fifty women knocking on my door…” it’s with a weariness that isn’t make believe. At that moment, The Beatles sound like they’re at the end of a long shift on the Reeperbahn, and the beginning of an exhausting bout of fame.

Listen: Rock And Roll Music

Listen: I’m A Loser

Listen: Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby

Masterpiece: The Great Twenty-Eight

1 October 2009

[Today: The first man up the mountain…]

Chuck Berry | The Great Twenty-Eight

Humankind must be hardwired to admire pioneers. Whether it’s naming islands and countries after those who “discovered” them, or cataloguing the names of the first men to scale Mount Everest and run a mile in less than four minutes, we love us some firsts. Naturally, a lot of time and energy has been spent debating who was the first true Rock & Roll artist. Elvis Presley deserves mention for his Sun Sessions LP, but even The King is clearly trumped by Chuck Berry. Some critics have floated swing artist Louis Jordan or Ike Turner or Jerry Lee Lewis, but even Jerry Lee’s mom knew the real score. According to the Killer, “[My mama] said, ‘You and Elvis are pretty good, but you’re no Chuck Berry.”

Chuck Berry wasn’t just one of the first artists to play Rock & Roll, he was also one of the greatest. He created a catalog of now-standard tunes and transcendent guitar licks that continue to inspire contemporary rockers. If Elvis encapsulated the physical presence and attitude of Rock, Chuck Berry had the sound. When Keith Richards inducted him into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986, he acknowledged his debt, “I lifted every lick he ever played.” AC/DC has made a career out of super-charging Berry’s licks and tossing in naughty lyrics. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and even Elvis himself, were heavily influenced by his sound.

In 1962, in an effort to shut down an important black voice, the government sent Berry to jail for two years on a trumped-up charge related to the Mann Act (which guarded against “immoral” behavior). But the cat was already out of the bag, and by influencing the main architects of 60’s rock, Berry ensured himself a permanent place in the sound of modern music. Fame has its rewards, but as Berry can attest, fortune isn’t guaranteed to be among them. “Of the five most important things in life,” he once shared “health is first, education or knowledge is second, and wealth is third. I forget the other two.”

Listen: Johnny B. Goode

Listen: Maybellene

Listen: Rock And Roll Music

Buried Treasure: Thunder Express

29 May 2009

[Today: Motor City is still burning…]

MC5 | Thunder Express

MC5 is a band whose music has been completely overshadowed by its myths. From their involvement with the White Panther party to their refusal to edit the phrase “Kick out the jams motherfuckers!” on their debut album, they led with their politics and charted a loud, uncompromising, and ideological route to oblivion. Since their demise, they’ve acquired status as punk rock godfathers and become metaphorically linked to a state that has been decaying for decades from its auto industry out. By design, it’s nearly impossible to hear their music without any preconceived notions about what they stand for.

During a 1972 interview with Nick Kent, guitarist Wayne Kramer waxed philosophical about the group’s dedication to its sound, even in the face of commercial failure. “When you’re putting over an alien vibration on a high energy level you’ve got to be tough to that kind of backlash,” he said. “But it’s the only way for us, we can’t do anything else and it’s too late to stop now. We’re totally committed to our thing – it’s a highly emotional thing and in that respect it’s always a calculated risk.”

Thunder Express captures the group live in the studio in March of 1972, just months before they went kaput. The recording retains the primal fury of the Motor City Five’s live act, but the studio environment does wonders for their sound. Over seven tracks – including a blistering 10-minute version of ‘Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa’ – MC5 exhibit the kind of driving musicianship that one wouldn’t normally associate with them. Under these conditions, it’s easy to filter out the politics and spot the influence of Motown, Chuck Berry, and John Coltrane upon their music.

The album was recorded during a one-day session at Chateau d’Herouville, an 18th century castle that was converted into a recording studio in 1969. It would later host sessions for Pink Floyd’s Obscured By Clouds, Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, and David Bowie’s Low, as well as two of the Bee Gee’s songs for the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. It was an unlikely location for Kramer, Rob Tyner, Fred “Sonic” Smith, Steve Moorhouse, and Denis Thompson to make one of their last stands, but Thunder Express is the sound of a band going out in a hail of brutal riffs, raw and uncompromising to the bitter end…

Listen: Motor City Is Burning

Listen: Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa

[Very special thanks to Jeff Marshall for passing this album my way…]

Guitar Gods – The Cover Art

19 November 2008

Here’s the cover art for one of my latest mixes – a four disc box-set called Guitar Gods. A compilation like this invites furrowed brows, lists of corrections, and plenty of harrumphing from all corners. Strike up the chorus: “But what about ____________?” There were dozens more guitarists that ideally would have been included, but four discs seemed like enough, and the line had to be drawn somewhere.

World B. Furr (sometime commenter on this blog) was kind enough to collaborate on this mix with me, and help me figure out where to draw that line, and it was a clear case of two brains being better than one. We had a lot of back and forth about who to include and who to leave out, and inevitably there were compromises to be made.

From the liner notes to this mix, here’s a six-pack of guitarists who just missed the cut:

Ace Frehley – When I was a kid I thought every guitarist should sound like The Spaceman. But then somewhere along the way I grew up. Still, I have a strange desire to shout “ACE FREHLEY! SHOCK ME!!!” and put him in the mix. Didn’t happen… [dk]

Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman – Scott Ian of Anthrax once said that if he goes to Hell, there’s no doubt Slayer will playing on the loudspeaker. These two guys have spent the better part of the last 25 years kicking out some of the heaviest and most sinister riffs of all-time — never once losing the fire that first got things started. [Furr]

George Brigman – Brigman is a Guitar God for me because he represents the dreams of the everyman player. As a 17 year-old kid, Brigman self-released his debut album Jungle Rot in 1975 and then watched it disappear. Time has proven it a fuzzed out, lo-fi classic. [dk]

Mick Taylor – Although we ultimately chose ‘Satisfaction’ and the Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones, I feel it’s imperative to point out the genius of Mick Taylor. Few could argue that the Taylor years were the Stones finest, and that’s largely due to the “other” Mick. [Furr]

Peter Green – The driving force of the original, bluesy Fleetwood Mac, Green was one of the best guitarists of his generation. Unfortunately, he lost his sanity in a worm hole of drugs, and disappeared from the music scene for decades. But his is a brilliant, if truncated, body of work. [dk]

Alex Lifeson – There are a lot of excuses people will give for hating Rush. Alex Lifeson’s guitar work is never one of them. This guy is one of the greatest players ever and he’s one-third of the reason why I absolutely LOVE Rush. [Furr]

Without further ado…

[Here’s the front cover…]
Guitar Gods | Front

[Here’s the inside front cover…]
Guitar Gods | Front Inside

[Here’s the inside booklet cover…]
Guitar Gods | Booklet Cover
[Guitar pick photos courtesy of Umlaut!]

[Here’s the guts of the inside booklet…]
Guitar Gods | Inside Booklet

[Here’s the back inside…]
Guitar Gods | Back Inside

[Here’s the back…]
Guitar Gods | Back

[Here’s the track listing…]

Disc 1ne
Chuck Berry * Johnny B. Goode
The Rolling Stones * Satisfaction [Keith Richards]
The White Stripes * Seven Nation Army [Jack White]
Link Wray * Rumble
Dick Dale & The Del-Tones * Let’s Go Trippin’
Cream * Sunshine Of Your Love [Eric Clapton]
Quicksilver Messenger Service * Mona [John Cipollina and Gary Duncan]
Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia etc * Keepers (Live)
The Allman Brothers Band * In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed (Live) [Duane Allman]
The Faces * Around The Plynth [Ron Wood]
Santana * Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen [Carlos Santana]
The Who * Won’t Get Fooled Again [Pete Townshend]
ZZ Top * La Grange [Billy Gibbons]
U2 * Bullet The Blue Sky [The Edge]

Disc 2wo
John Fahey * St. Louis Blues
Robert Johnson * Sweet Home Chicago
Mississippi John Hurt * Frankie
Muddy Waters * Baby Please Don’t Go
Bo Diddley * Who Do You Love?
Howlin’ Wolf * Smokestack Lightnin’
Albert King * Born Under A Bad Sign
Otis Rush * I Can’t Quit You Baby
Freddie King * Key To The Highway
Buddy Guy * A Man and The Blues
Johnny Winter * Dallas
B.B. King * Everyday I Have The Blues
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble * The Sky Is Crying
Albert Collins * Frosty
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band * East-West [Mike Bloomfield]
Roy Buchanan * Sweet Dreams

Disc 3hree
Nirvana * Come As You Are [Kurt Cobain]
Deep Purple * Smoke On The Water [Ritchie Blackmore]
Aerosmith * Sweet Emotion [Joe Perry]
Black Sabbath * Fairies Wear Boots [Tony Iommi]
Ted Nugent * Stranglehold
Spinal Tap * Sex Farm [Nigel Tufnel]
Sex Pistols * God Save The Queen [Steve Jones]
The Ramones * Judy Is A Punk [Johnny Ramone]
The Clash * Clampdown [Joe Strummer and Mick Jones]
Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers * One Track Mind
AC/DC * Highway To Hell [Angus Young]
Van Halen * Eruption [Eddie Van Halen]
Ozzy Osbourne * Flying High Again [Randy Rhoads]
Guns N’ Roses * Mr. Brownstone [Slash]
Judas Priest * You’ve Got Another Thing Coming [Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing]
Iron Maiden * The Trooper [Dave Murray and Adrian Smith]
Metallica * The Four Horsemen [Kirk Hammett]
Rage Against The Machine * Bombtrack [Tom Morello]

Disc 4our
Andrés Segovia * Suite Compostelana: I. Preludio
Buena Vista Social Club * Chan Chan [Ry Cooder]
Jeff Beck * Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers
Led Zeppelin * White Summer/Black Mountain Side [Jimmy Page]
The Jimi Hendrix Experience * Little Wing
John McLaughlin * Peace Piece
Funkadelic * Maggot Brain [Eddie Hazel]
Neil Young * Cortez The Killer
Pink Floyd * Comfortably Numb [David Gilmore]
Buckethead * Lone Sal Bug
Dire Straits * Ride Across The River [Mark Knopfler]
The Beatles * While My Guitar Gently Weeps [George Harrison]
Les Paul * Lover


[I’ll be extremely disappointed if there are less than two dozen fired up comments about how we screwed this up. This mix couldn’t possibly cover off on everyone’s personal list of Guitar Gods, so I look forward to hearing who you think we missed, and what we got wrong. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to slip into my flame retardant Kevlar suit…]