Monday, March 13. 2023
On this site we maintain a database containing all Chuck Berry recordings ever published on CD or Vinyl. We welcome every user comment enhancing the correctness of the data listed, such as reader Martyâs recent email regarding the recording of Little Queenie:
We believe thereâs a ride cymbal over dub on the original version, what do you think? Because you can hear drum fills and the ride cymbal continues.
As even Odie Payne couldnât play a two-handed drum fill and a cymbal in parallel, this is a very valid comment. Martyâs email triggered some in-depth investigations and a huge number of emails floating between the contributors to this site.
Todayâs technical possibilities allow you to extract, modify and single out parts of a historical recording. This allowed our technical expert Arne Wolfswinkel to both verify Martyâs findings and to discover some additional astonishing facts.
You should know that besides the original 1958 record release we have another, slightly different take of Berryâs classic tune. This âpreviously unreleased versionâ (later called âTake 8â) of Little Queenie came into light in 1986, when Steve Hoffman presented to us lost recordings from the vaults of Chess Records. (âRockânâRoll Raritiesâ, CHESS CH2-92521)
Overdubbing was a common practice with Chuck Berryâs recordings at Jack Wienerâs Sheldon Recording Studios. That way the producers could add more Chuck Berry guitar to a recording or more Chuck Berry voice. Even a classic such as Johnny B. Goode was created in such a two-step process. (See the blog article âThe Johnny B. Goode Sessionâ)
Overdubbing means that a first recording was made using the full band. During recording, Berry played some of the guitar elements and sung the main vocal. Later the engineer and Berry worked out the finer details such as additional guitar solos or a second voice without the need of the band. The engineer played back a tape containing the original base track, Berry sang or played, and the result was recorded to a second tape. This procedure was necessary, because in the 1950s Chess could not record multiple instruments separately and mix them later.
One example for a guitar and vocal overdub is take 9A of Merry Christmas Baby from the Little Queenie session. This is the variant released on Chess single 1714.
With Little Queenie this overdubbing happened a bit differently. As Marty found, some parts of the drums were recorded for the base track while other parts were recorded during the overdub. And comparing the two slightly different takes of Little Queenie which survived, it becomes obvious that in this session the overdubbing involved not just Berry or Odie Payne, but also Lafayette Leake.
Both takes of Little Queenie are based on the same base track which consists of Berry playing rhythm guitar, Willie Dixon playing double bass and Odie Payne playing the drum rhythm. This base track is 100% identical on both takes.
Different, and thus overdubbed onto this base track, is Berryâs singing, some additional guitar playing, Odie Payneâs cymbal or hi-hat, and Lafayette Leakeâs piano. As due to sound degeneration overdubbing was reasonable only onto the first-generation tape, we have to imagine that Berry, Payne, and Leake on this 19th November 1958 were listening to the base track and together added their overdubs.
The correct recording details for both takes of Little Queenie will therefore be:
Chuck Berry guitar, vocal (overdub), 2nd guitar (overdub)
We will alter our database accordingly. We will keep the âTake 8â distinction for the alternative even though it is completely unclear where it comes from. The count-in preceding the song (âAre you ready, Chuck?â) on the 1986 album is probably not from the original tape as the guitar intro overlaps the engineerâs announcement which would usually result in an immediate stop to the recording. It is known that Steve Hoffman shuffled such segments around and even created completely new songs from segments of different takes. (For details, read the blog posts âSweet Little Eight Variants of Sweet Little Sixteenâ and âChuck Berry in Stereoâ)
Run Rudolph Run from the same session uses the same melody and the same rhythm as Little Queenie. And here as well we hear both a guitar overdub and additional cymbal or hi-hat playing.
We would like to thank reader Marty for finding the cymbal overdub and especially for telling us.
Tuesday, January 31. 2023
Several Chuck Berry songs have been recorded multiple times - not only live, but also in the studio.
Sometimes a second recording was made for commercial reasons, e.g. when a new record company tried to generate additional income from old songs. A typical example is Roll Over Beethoven, initially recorded in 1956 in Chicago for Chess Records, re-recorded 1966 in Clayton for Mercury Records.
Sometimes a second recording was made for artistic reasons when Berry tried to make a song sound better or at least different. See for instance Havana Moon, initially recorded in 1956, then in 1979, and finally in the late 1990s.
In addition, songs evolve over time during the recording process itself until a final version pleases both artist and company. See for instance the song recorded as 21 (Twenty-One) of which some studio tapes survived. There are fairly different variants until a final result was reached and published under the title Vacation Time.
Lonely School Days is another song which evolved over time. One surviving variant has been recorded in late 1964 and released on the back of Chess single 1926, Dear Dad, published in March 1965. This variant is a slow, emotional song. It can be easily identified by the prominent use of a sax, probably played by Bill Hamilton. This variant is almost three minutes long and commonly referred to as the "Slow Version".
B side of CHESS single 1926 (DJ Copy)
Somebody really liked this song. Just one and a half years later it made it again to the song list of a recording session. In the spring of 1966, a second variant of Lonely School Days was cut. This time it had no sax, but more guitars. Most importantly it was much more rocking, played much faster. Singing the same song at much higher speed reduces the run length to a little over 2:30 minutes.
Surprisingly, this "Fast Version" immediately was used again as the B side of a Chess single. Chess 1963 having Ramona, Say Yes on the plug side was released in June 1966. So we have two Chess singles, released not far apart, having the same song in two different versions.
B side of CHESS single 1963 (DJ Copy)
Soon after the release of the second single, Chuck Berry left Chess Records to work for Mercury. The "Slow Version" never made it to a contemporary album. Only in the late eighties and nineties it was found on some rare LP albums.
However, the "Fast Version" was included on an official Chess album: San Francisco Dues (Chess 50008) was published in 1971, five years after the song's initial release. Berry had returned to Chess and to fill his second new album a few recordings were added which had not made it to LPs before. Interestingly the LP contained a Stereo mix of the "Fast Version" while both singles had been in Mono - as were all Chess singles in the 1960s.
This is the track listing from the back of San Francisco Dues (Chess 50008) containing the Stereo mix of the shorter, fast version.
Remember: San Francisco Dues contained the Stereo mix of the "Fast Version". Simple, isn't it?
However, who listens to Vinyl albums any more? If you listen to San Francisco Dues from one of the streaming services, Lonely School Days isn't fast at all. Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube all play the "Slow Version" as part of San Francisco Dues. Due to this a reader recently emailed and wanted us to correct our database of all Chuck Berry recordings. We are happy for every hint or correction, but here we refused to do any changes, as our listing is correct!
How can it happen that online services play the wrong song - all of them alike? This is due to how they get their playing lists. Record labels such as Universal provide the streaming platforms with the files to play. If the record company is in error, so are all their customers.
We assume that this specific error was introduced as early as 2013. That year Universal in the U.S. published a CD re-release of San Francisco Dues (Geffen GET-54058-CD). And on this re-release they included the wrong variant of Lonely School Days. Morten Reff noticed this and complained about it in his review on this blog soon thereafter. It was not the only thing to complain about: Over and over on label, box, and booklet the company managed to spell "San Fransisco" with an s! One really has to wonder about quality control at Universal.
This is the track listing from the back of Geffen's CD re-issue of San Francisco Dues (Geffen GET-54058-CD) containing the wrong version. Note the mis-spelling of San Francisco and the missing run lengths.
Universal in Japan did a much better job with their re-release of San Francisco Dues (Geffen UICY-94635). They not only included the correct "Fast Version" where it belonged, they also added three bonus tracks: the "Slow Version" in Mono and two different mixes of Ramona, Say Yes.
Moral of the story: In today's digital world errors reproduce fast and are hard to correct. Always double-check with a reliable source.
Many thanks to reader Andy for pointing us to the error in the streaming services - though not for complaining about our database
[Addition by reader Andy: "I should mention that my initial email was actually a failed attempt at correction rather than a complaint. Why would I ever complain about so meticulous and thorough a database regarding one of my favorite artists? Keep up the good work."]
Sunday, January 29. 2023
On July 5th, 1987 Chuck Berry performed in BĂ„stad, Sweden.
This site's contributor Morten Reff and the Berry fans Johan Hasselberg and Thomas Einarsson had the opportunity to talk to Johnnie Johnson, long-time partner and pianist for Chuck Berry. Thanks to Morten and Johan we can reprint the questions and answers.
Left to right: Morten Reff, Johnnie Johnson, Thomas Einarsson, Johan Hasselberg, and Herman Jackson at the Park Hotel in BĂ„stad, Sweden, July 5, 1987. Herman was Chuck Berry's drummer during the summer 1987 tour. Thomas had done a painting by Chuck Berry that he handed over to Johnnie Johnson.
Photo: Carl Hasselberg
The interview is made over a cup of coffee at the hotel's outdoor seating. Johnnie takes a big chunk of coffee and starts telling about himself:
I was born in West Virginia on July 8, 1924. When I went to school I played piano, drums, and bass. But piano was my main instrument. I was in a High School band until 1943, when I started my military service at the navy. When I pulled out in 1946, I started my first own band. In 1949 I moved to Chicago, and then on to St. Louis.
DID YOU PLAY MOSTLY RHYTHM & BLUES?
Well, most of the time there were nothing but standard songs, such as "Stardust", "Body and Soul", Sunny Side of the Street", or whatever. It was before this rhythm & blues breakthrough.
WHAT PIANISTS DID YOU LISTEN TO AT THIS TIME?
I'm a Oscar Peterson-fantast. Yeah! Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, and Pete Johnson. Pete Johnson was my first favorite. It was late 1930's and 1940's. I used to play a Pete Johnson song, called "627 Stomp". That was my signature then.
HOW DID YOU TO GET IN CONTACT WITH CHUCK BERRY?
I heard him at a club in East St. Louis called Hoff's Garden. I liked the way he played the guitar. One evening when I was playing, my saxophonist became ill. I called Chuck and asked if he could have the possibility to play the guitar. And he said, "sure, I can play". He came home to me and we played through the songs and then we drove to the show.
Chuck Berry in concert, Norrvikens TrĂ€dgĂ„rdar, BĂ„stad, Sweden, July 5, 1987
Photo: Johan Hasselberg
WHO PLAYED THE SAXOPHONE IN THE JOHNNIE JOHNSON TRIO?
His name was Alvin Bennett. But it was only until 1954. Now he is paralyzed. He can't even... yes, you know.
WAS IT A BASS PLAYER IN THE BAND?
No, it was drums, piano, and saxophone, and then guitar when Chuck came along. We played most at Club Cosmopolitan in East St. Louis. Ebbie Hardy, who played drums, suffered a heart attack and died a few years ago (1983).
CHANGED THE BAND NAME WHEN CHUCK CAME?
No, it was still called The Johnnie Johnson Trio. It was only when Chuck went to Chicago and met Leonard Chess we renamed the band. We recorded the single "Maybellene" and Chuck said, "Johnnie, is it okay that I call it The Chuck Berry Combo?". I said, "Of course, you paid the gas to Chicago", and then it became The Chuck Berry Combo.
Left to right: Chuck Berry, George French, Johnnie Johnson in concert, Norrvikens TrĂ€dgĂ„rdar, BĂ„stad, Sweden, July 5, 1987
Photo: Bo Berglind
YOU PLAY A MELODY ON THE PIANO ON MANY OF CHUCK BERRY'S SONGS.
That's what Chuck Berry wanted me to play. I play as I feel so everything rolls smoothly, just like ice cream on a cream cake!
IT WORKS AS A SOLO INSTRUMENT.
That's right and that's what Chuck Berry likes with my pianoplaying. That's why he doesn't like someone else's pianoplaying than mine! Let me give a good example. Chuck and I have recorded some songs that have not been released. For example, Frog's "Good Times Boogie" and "Honky Tonk Train". It was in the 1950's. It was my music style, but Chuck and I could play together and it sounded like Chuck Berry's music. Chuck is still playing some jazz, as for example, "Jazz at the Philharmonic". He plays all kinds of music!
DO YOU STILL PLAY IN THE CLUBS IN ST. LOUIS?
Yes, three nights a week.
DO YOU PLAY ALONE OR DO YOU HAVE A BAND?
I have a band called Johnnie Johnson & The Magnificent Four, and when Chuck comes to town he plays with us.
WHAT REPERTOIRE DO YOU HAVE?
There are blues, jazz, rhythm & blues, and usually rock when Chuck visit us.
DO YOU EVEN SING?
No, no, I can always talk, but do not sing!
YOU HAVE BEEN AWARDED A DISTINCTION AT ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME.
Yes, I was chosen as the fourth biggest rock'n'roll pianist throughout the ages. It was Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and myself. I didn't know about it, but they sent me a magazine afterwards.
THANK YOU, JOHNNIE !!
Thank you, I hope to see you again!
And, Johan tells, they met again: "Johnnie gave me his address and two years later I greeted him in St. Louis, and listened to Johnnie Johnson & The Magnificent Four."
Many thanks to Morten and Johan for sharing these memories with us!
Thursday, January 12. 2023
Thereâs a new book out about Chuck Berry. Hachette Books was so kind to send me a review copy and I spent much time of my holidays to read through it. But with every chapter read I became more and more frustrated and angry. Until I came to RJ Smithâs remarks on the next to last page:
âWhat we have is more interesting. A choice of threading through the details of his life or working around them completely â your call! - and simply hearing him. To pull the joy and poetry out of the music he created and have it take us where it wants to go â not where he went. To live our lives with it, and not live his life. Thatâs a lot.â
As the creators of this website we have made our choice a long time ago. These pages here are about the music of Chuck Berry and only about his music. We do not discuss any other aspects of Berryâs life in this blog or on the main page. For us there were at least two very good reasons for this decision. For one, we are deeply convinced that Berryâs music is much more entertaining than his criminal, sexual and business affairs. And secondly we think that with recordings and records we have at least a small factual base to build our research upon. RJ Smith in his new âChuck Berry: An American Lifeâ decided to concentrate on all the other stuff instead.
Chuck Berry was a control freak, a sex maniac and business-wise everything but a nice person. His criminal records included armed robbery, tax evasion, and what we would call today child abuse, plus many more. All this is no new news. We have read about these in newspapers and books as well as all over the Internet.
RJ Smith quotes Berry saying he wants the people to tell the truth about him. But there are many truths. There is the truth about a strange man with a weird character and perverse habits. But there also is the truth about the musical artist whose output had a huge impact on what became popular music during the last 70 years.
It might have been interesting to discuss Berryâs personality from a psychological perspective. Or it might have been interesting to analyze how this pathological mindset affected Berryâs music or lyrics.
None of this you will find in this book, though. Instead RJ Smith has taken a huge effort to document Berryâs failings. Most has been known before and is documented in detail e.g. in Bruce Peggâs excellent biography. Smith dug even deeper into court documents and he tried to get quotes from witnesses not published before. However, most of the contents is a simple repetition from old sources such as Berryâs own autobiography â even repeating errors included.
Where Smithâs book enhances the previously published biographies is the coverage of Berryâs last years. Thatâs the advantage of a biographer who waits until his subject has deceased. So here we get a few additional pages about his latest tours, the release of his last record, and we learn how his family declared Berry incompetent.
Smith in many aspects tries to write a different biography and succeeds in doing so. He completely concentrates on Berryâs personal and business matters, almost ignoring his musical work. Only for one song Smith reserves a complete chapter: My Ding-A-Ling. And again the author accomplishes something different as this song was left out of any serious discussion about Berryâs Ćuvre so far.
One peculiarity of this text is a bit confusing for European readers: All over the book RJ Smith tries to find arguments to justify Berryâs behavior as a result of black versus white America. As being no part of the American society, we are not qualified to judge on RJâs findings. From a musical point-of-view I think it is a bit far fetched to locate racially related hints in the lyrics of e.g. Promised Land.
Is this a book you want to read? If you love Chuck Berry, donât do it. If you are interested in Chuck Berryâs music, thereâs nothing to gain from reading it. But if you want to learn about Berryâs porn collection or any other aspect of his life, thereâs almost too much information in âChuck Berry: An American Lifeâ. But in the end it definitely is âyour callâ: a choice of threading through the details of his life or working around them completely.
âChuck Berry: An American Lifeâ by RJ Smith (Hachette Books, ISBN 978-0-306-92163-6) is available in every better book store near you.
Monday, June 27. 2022
Around Christmas 2021 Dualtone Music released a "new" Chuck Berry album containing live recordings from 2005 and 2006.
Since 1996 Berry had played regular shows at Joe Edwards "Blueberry Hill" in St. Louis, more than 200 of them. In contrast to the huge concert halls typically used for Berry concerts, the 300-seat "Duck Room" brought back the club atmosphere from the 1950 when Berry started to perform in St. Louis.
Also in contrast to his other concerts world-wide, the Blueberry Hill shows always had the same line-up for almost twenty years. The "Blueberry Hill Band" consisted of Berry's children Charles, Jr. and Ingrid, his band leader and bass player for 40+ years Jim Marsala, plus Robert Lohr on piano and Keith Robinson on drums.
As we already know from Dualtone Music, "Live from Blueberry Hill" is sold in many different ways: on CD, as a digital download, and in various Vinyl variants. The music is always the same, and this is what this site is about.
The liner notes to the CD tell a bit about the shows, but very little about the music. There's not even a recording date given, just "All songs recorded live at Blueberry Hill, St. Louis, MO from July 2005 - January 2006". I therefore contacted Bob Lohr, who played piano on all tracks, to find out more about how the recordings were created. Here's what I learned.
Bob Lohr (to the right) and the band (Jim Marsala, Charles, Ingrid, and Chuck Berry) live at the Blueberry Hill 2009
photos courtesy of Doug Spaur, many thanks, Doug! Click to enlarge.
Bob, do you remember when you started playing with Chuck at the Blueberry Hill or at other venues?
1996âŠon Chuckâs 70th birthday. The first three shows were in a different club room at Blueberry Hill called the Elvis RoomâŠcould probably fit 100 people maximumâŠabout the size of a basement recreation room w/ Elvis memorabilia in glass cases on the walls. Joe Edwards later built the Duck Room in 1997 after he took over an adjoining restaurant (Ciceroâs) which moved up the street. Ciceroâs had a music club in the basement which was very smallâŠhad a lot of local acts plus well known national acts occasionally (I played there in local blues bandsâŠalso saw the Doorsâ Ray Manzarek live w/ poet Michael McClure once!). Joe Edwards expanded Ciceroâs club space, including digging out the floor a couple of feet deeperâŠand the Duck Room was born!
Please tell our readers a bit about your musical work. How often did you perform with Chuck, with whom did you share stages?
With Chuck I played almost all the shows at Blueberry Hill (over 200) and at least 100 on the road/private gigs/local gigs outside of Blueberry HillâŠan estimate would be some 350 shows in total.
Thinking back at the Blueberry Hill shows, what made them special in comparison to playing at large halls?
It was a 300-seat venue which made it a more intimate experience for the fansâŠthe St. Louis version of Liverpoolâs Cavern Club. Chuck always had a lot of interaction with audiences wherever he playedâŠcheck out various YouTube clips. People flew in from all over the world to see Chuck at Blueberry Hill. After tickets became obtainable online, people would come up to me after the show from all over the world. Oftentimes I would take them to downtown St. Louis to either BBâs Jazz Blues & Soups or Beale on Broadway to hear some serious blues/r&b. A lot of these tourists were traveling through what I call âBlues/Rock Ground Zeroâ, or hitting all the music cities within a 300-mile radius of St. Louis: Chicago, Memphis/Clarksdale, Nashville etcâŠ
The new CD presents a short show of just 30 minutes. Was this the standard length of the Blueberry Hill performances?
No, Chuckâs standard show was 1 hour wherever we played.
30 minutes seem to become the new standard for albums. Given that many people listen to music using digital streaming, 30 minutes seems to be "long enough" for the labels and for the listener's attention span.
As for the song selection, we only hear Chuck's greatest hits plus Walter Jacobs' "Mean Old World". Was this a typical tracklist?
No, we did at least two or three blues numbers per gig. âWee Wee Hoursâ of courseâŠalso âIt Hurts Me Tooâ and âKey To The Highwayâ, âEvery Day I Have The Bluesâ, âWorried Life Bluesâ, âBeer Drinkinâ Womanâ etc.
Do you remember Chuck playing more obscure and rare songs from his huge repertoire? On the CHUCK album for instance there's a Blueberry Hill recording of Tony White's "Enchiladas".
Not reallyâŠwould usually play the well known songs.
What do you think is missing from new CD? Is there any special song you remember from Blueberry Hill which you wished to hear again?
We used to do âBrown Eyed Handsome Manâ and âPromised Landâ on an occasional basisâŠalso, âWorried Life BluesââŠ
Ingrid is heard only on two tracks, "Mean Old Word" and "Let It Rock". Was it typical that she only joined small segments of the show? Or has she been with you only sometimes and was absent when the other tracks were recorded?
She was at every show in St. Louis onstage. She did not go on every road trip.
The two songs Ingrid plays harmonica on as well as "Roll Over Beethoven" are also the only three songs on this album we hear you soloing. Have you been allowed to solo during the shows? Or was it just Chuck and the rhythm he needed?
As you can hear on the latest live CD, Chuck would throw us solos on almost every songâŠvery generous in that regard.
A reviewer wrote that to his ears Charles Jr. is playing the lead of "Johnny B. Goode" on the new CD. Did father and son share and distribute the lead guitar solos?
No, thatâs clearly Chuck on Johnny B. Goode here. Chuck did almost all the lead guitar on stage and threw Charles Jr. some solos during the set. Charles Jr. does a solo at approximately 1:57 of Roll Over Beethoven right after mine. Charles Jr.âs rhythm guitar can be heard throughout this CD on the left channel.
Chuck was close to eighty years when these recordings were made. We almost cannot notice when he sings and plays.
You cannot notice in these 2005 shows, but as his later show recordings sadly indicated, Chuckâs hearing was seriously degraded. He had some expensive hearing aids but he didnât like wearing them onstageâŠone actually fell out on the stage and could not be found later!
Bob, what is your favorite recollection from Blueberry Hill?
One of the coolest things I remember about the Blueberry Hill shows was hearing and watching Chuck warm up with his guitar backstage before the show. Chuck would warm up with his guitar while not plugged into an amplifier. It was amazing to hearâŠall the classic Chuck Berry licks played perfectly by the man himselfâŠoften did some amazing things which I never heard him do onstage. It was like all the years and age were stripped away and he was back again playing in the 50âsâŠIâm so sorry that I never asked Chuck whether he would allow me to record him on my iPhoneâŠabsolutely amazing. You could also hear him warming up when he was changing clothes in the bathroom. Once he opened the door and I watched him playing guitar in the mirrorâŠChuck told me he liked playing in the bathroom because the reverb reminded him of the Chess studio!
Many thanks for your explanations, Bob! We appreciate to hear from "the sources".
Saturday, May 7. 2022
[original post published Dec. 2013 - addition May 2022]
It's Christmas time and while listening to the radio, from time to time you'll hear one of the various cover versions of Berry's Run Rudolph Run. Berry's???
While everyone will tell you that this is a typical Chuck Berry song with a typical Berry melody (later re-used at the same session for Little Queenie) and typical Berry lyrics (Said Santa to a boy child, "What have you been longing for?" — "All I want for Christmas is a Rock and Roll electric guitar!"), all over the Internet you will read that this song was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Broadie! And this includes Wikipedia âŠ
With the help of three fellow Berry experts, biographer Bruce Pegg, discographer Morten Reff, and sessionographer Fred Rothwell, I've tried to sort out a few facts from the rumors.
In 1939 Robert L. May wrote the story of Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, first for his daughter Barbara, later as a giveaway booklet for his employer, the Montgomery Ward Company. Ward's was the first owner of the Rudolph copyright. In 1946 the copyright was transferred back to May and today belongs to The Rudolph Company, L.P., that means May's heirs.
In 1949 Johnny Marks, husband of May's sister Margaret and both a songwriter and radio producer, took the tale and created the famous Christmas song Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The singing cowboy Gene Autry seems to be the first who recorded the song (though some sources name Harry Brannon) and made it a huge hit. Copyright to the 1949 Rudolph song is owned by Marks own publishing company called St. Nicholas Music, Inc.
In 1958, Chuck Berry recorded his version of a Christmas story named Run Rudolph Run. The original Chess release 1714 came with this authors line:
(C. Berry Music — M. Brodie) / ARC BMI
Chuck Berry Music, Inc., Berry's company, is listed here as the author as it is on most Chess singles starting with Beautiful Delilah up to Ramona Say Yes. For some reasons, probably financial, it seems to have made sense to use a company name here instead of an individual's name. As the melody is pure Chuck Berry, it's no wonder that Chuck Berry Music, Inc. claimed authorship and that ARC, the Chess/Goodman publishing company, claimed copyright.
But, mystery #1:
Who is "M. Brodie"? Chuck Berry using a co-writer? A person named M. Brodie does not exist on the Internet. Not as a songwriter nor in any relation to a record company. So if M. Brodie was a songwriter, Run Rudolph Run is his or her only published work. But M. Brodie might also have been someone Berry or the Chess Brothers wanted to give a favor (money/fame) â as they did with Alan Freed on the original Maybellene record. Or M. Brodie might be just a pen name such as "E. Anderson" on Let It Rock who was Berry in disguise.
In the ASCAP authors database, the co-writer of Run Rudolph Run named M. Brodie is identified as member number 268788988. While it's strange that Run Rudolph Run even exists in the ASCAP database because the original single clearly refers to the rival songwriter organization BMI, it becomes even more strange:
Member number 268788988 has additional entries for songs he wrote or co-wrote. All these additional songs stem from albums recorded by a late 1990s group called the Soultans of which a Marvin Lee Broadie was lead singer. And Marvin Lee Broadie indeed wrote some Soultans songs such as Cross My Heart on their Love, Sweat and Tears album. But if you look at Broadie's photo on his concert management site, I strongly doubt he was even born when Berry's Rudolph hit the record stores. Or, as Bruce Pegg puts it:
So unless this songwriter wrote one song in 1958, then had 40 years of writers block only to surface again as a writer for a German pop band at the end of the 90s, this Mr. Broadie is not our man.And don't overlook the different spelling of M. Brodie and Marvin Broadie.
So let's go to mystery #2:
Up to today on all Chess records or re-releases Berry's recording is always credited to Berry/Brodie or just Berry, this includes the latest HIP-O-Select boxes. In contrast, the ASCAP database and almost all cover versions name the songwriters as Johnny Marks and Marvin Broadie. Marvin Broadie aside, what has Johnny Marks to do with the Berry song?
Wikipedia claims that Marks indeed wrote the song, though Wikipedia fails to give a source for this claim. Is it likely that Marks wrote the Berry tune? Not if you compare Run Rudolph Run to Autry's hit record. But if you knew that in 1958 Marks wrote Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, that story might not be too far away. Our mysterious M. Brodie could be an alias for Johnny Marks, which allowed him (an ASCAP songwriter) to team up with Berry (a BMI songwriter). However, while this is possible, I don't believe it.
More likely is a different, more logical link to Marks. His publishing company St. Nicholas Music, Inc. is very strict about copyrights. And in fact the company was created by Marks just because of the Rudolph song and to cash on its success. As such it has "exploited the name and likeness of Rudolph via trademarks in connection with a wide variety of products and services, such as musical performances, audio recordings, sheet music and other music publications" (quoted from court papers). So Marks may have forced Arc Music/Chess Records to register the song with ASCAP and under the Marks/Brodie name. St. Nicholas Music, Inc. along with Character Arts, LLC (which owns the rights to the Rudolph 1964 TV special) successfully forbids Rudolph to appear in movies unless you pay for a license. And they certainly forbid Rudolph to appear in songs as well.
I'm really glad that my rights to the Rudolph name are older than theirs. Otherwise I might have feared their lawyers for using it.
The mysteries remain. I am 100 per cent sure that the mysterious M. Brodie never heard himself called Marvin. This dual use of the 268788988 member number in the ASCAP database is certainly an error introduced by trying to remove variant spellings for the same writer. This is where M. Brodie was mixed up with Marvin Lee Broadie. Johnny Marks' entry to the game was most certainly due to legal reasons. I strongly doubt Marks' contribution to the song, but if you can put some light into this darkness, let me know.
Someone sent me a copy of a Facebook post by Daryl Davis, who played piano behind Chuck Berry in later years. Unfortunately I don't have a link or date to share.
Daryl reports on a discussion between him and Berry in preparation for a New Year's Eve show at B.B.King's in NYC:
I asked him about why Run Run Rudolph a/k/a Run Rudolph Run was often credited to Johnny Marks and somebody named Brodie. He said that he wrote the song himself but the name "Rudolph" had been trademarked and the publishing company publishing his songs had been sued for his using it. He was perturbed that the publishing company didn't fight the suit more vigorously, because Johnny Marks had nothing to do with his song and now he had to share the copyright. He also said that Brodie did not exist and it was a scheme to make more money for Marks and his publisher. He regretted not pursing it more at the time. But he still continued to make a lot of money from the song, just not as much as he was entitled to make. It was a bittersweet song for him.
In today's news there was some reporting about limitations to fair use of fictional characters in local copyright laws, in this case German Urheberrecht. A very well-known song in Europe is the title song to the 1969 TV series Pippi Longstocking. The original Swedish lyrics were written by Astrid Lindgren herself (melody by Jan Johansson). The German lyrics were written by Wolfgang Franke. 60 years after Lindgren's initial complaints about not getting compensation for use of her fictional character in Franke's text, copyright court rulings and a final settlement between the heirs explained that at least following these local laws you're not free to use the name and properties of a fictional character without sharing the income. Following this, at least here in Germany Robert May was entitled to shared copyright on the Rudolph lyrics.
Saturday, May 1. 2021
Yesterday I received the 250th and ultimate issue of German-language Rock 'n' Roll Musikmagazin (RRMM).
The magazine started in 1977, produced by three Rock'n'Roll fanatics who complained about the lack of reliable information about 1950s music and performers. So Claus-D., H.-GĂŒnther and Wilfried decided to research and publish by themselves.
RRMM was a magazine made by fanatics and made for fanatics. My subscription started with issue number five in 1978.
When I started writing about Chuck Berry, RRMM was the logical choice: an early concert report made it to number 35 in 1983, a two-part biography with discography was published in numbers 49 and 50 in 1986. Since then whenever there was something of interest to tell about Chuck Berry, I was happy to write an article for the German-language readers. My final contribution was in the next-to-last issue published this January.
As everyone interested in 1950 Rock 'n' Roll knows, all of the famous performers have died or at least are becomming very old. And so did the readers of RRMM. In the end, there were so few subscriptions that printing the magazine was no longer reasonable.
I want to thank all the fellow writers at RRMM for doing all the research and for providing all their results to us, especially Dieter and Klaus. And many, many thanks to Waltraut and H.-GĂŒnther for keeping the magazine alive for 44 years!
Those of you who don't know the magazine still have a chance to buy certain back-issues. Look at the list of available issues at http://rocknroll-magazin.de/index/archiv. If you don't read German, don't worry. Translation software such as Deepl is excellent and will easily output a readable English version of everything you don't understand.
Friday, April 16. 2021
Everyone interested in Chuck Berry's music knows the Toronto concert. This is because Berry's performance at the Toronto Rock&Roll Revival festival of September 13th, 1969 has been recorded professionally both on film and on audio tape.
The audio was published on hundreds of vinyl and CD albums starting with the 2-LP set Live in Concert (Magnum LP-703) in 1978. The optical recording was used as early as 1970, most importantly in D.A. Pennebaker's movie Keep On Rockin' from 1972.
The interesting thing to collectors is that none of the audio or video releases contains the entire performance. The 2-LP set has, very uncommon for a live recording, each song completely separated with faded start and ending. The movie contains just a selection of songs as well as some in-between talks, but cut and spliced as it fitted to the director.
it is totally unclear why there has never been a complete release of the entire show. At least in the 1980s and 1990s a more complete source still existed, as budget re-releases of the concert contained indeed MORE than the original Magnum album. For instance a French LP album contains half a minute of introduction between School Day and Wee Wee Hours.
Thus at least in the 1990s some company still owned a more complete, maybe entire tape of the show they could license. Some labels used this, though never in total.
It is unclear whether this tape still exists somewhere. When Bear Family in 2014 released their huge Berry box, they tried to find it, but didn't succeed. Therefore Bear Family extracted the only song from the show still missing an audio release (the short Bonsoir Cherie) from Pennebaker's movie.
We all thought this would be the end of the story. But a few days ago, Sunset Blvd. Records released another audio CD with music from Toronto, but promoted their release with a prominently placed large sticker:
Even those like me who already have dozens of records containing the same show, felt tempted to buy one of the (pretty expensive) CDs. Don't do it!
Also Sunset Blvd. Records (SBR) did NOT find the original audio tape. Instead they cut and spliced available and well-known material trying to recreate the original concert. There's nothing wrong trying so. I did the same in 1997. However, I used all the material from all the sources. SBR obviously only had the Magnum album and Pennebaker's film.
This means that several of the transitions between songs are missing from this CD. And it means that what sounds like on-stage chatter and comments is not at the correct place, since Pennebaker already had cut and spliced segments from all over the concert and shuffled them around.
The songs are not in the correct sequence and parts of the show are omitted even though already known. The only interesting thing is that SBR included Kim Fowley's introduction to Berry.
So this is a fake! And at some time SBR must have recognized it. MC Kim Fowley is heard twice at song endings applauding Berry. One is at the non-medley version of Johnny B. Goode and thus also on the SBR CD. A second time is at the end of Maybellene.This and its placement at the end of the Magnum 2-LP set lets me assume that this song is one of the rare encores in a Berry concert. SBR instead decided to place Maybellene after I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man which ends with Berry asking "You name it, we play it." Maybellene starts with "Did I hear Maybellene?" Fits, thought the people at SBR. But this required them to cut off Kim Fowley from the end of the song and to fade over into Too Much Monkey Business.
And indeed it's too much monkey business here. Why to spend all the effort to create such a fake? Either you have the original tape or you don't. But don't pretend to have it.
Interestingly the liner notes refer to and correctly name our database as a source. So they must have found this site. But why didn't they read the long chapter we have dedicated to this concert alone? All this leaves us fairly disappointed.
To end with a positive note: Have a look at Don Pennebaker's description about how the title Keep On Rockin' got selected and about his visit to John Lennon's bedroom showing him the film: https://phfilms.com/films/sweet-toronto-keep-on-rockin/#summary
Somehow Pennebaker misses to tell that Lennon demanded payment for his appearance and thus had to be cut from the film.
Monday, April 12. 2021
In April 2019, German/French TV station ARTE broadcast a new documentary "Chuck Berry - The Original King of Rock 'n' Roll" by Jon Brewer. The film originally premiered in Cannes in October 2018 and has probably been broadcast in other countries and languages since. In November 2020 Cardinal Releasing Ltd. published an extended version of the film.
As a reminder: The film is a typical documentary/interview combination. The documentary part is taken from very well known sources, mostly from Taylor Hackford's "Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll" and its DVD bonuses. New interview segments are from many known musicians such as Johnny Rivers, Gene Simmons, Steve Van Zandt, George Thorogood, and Alice Cooper. The most interesting segments are interviews with the Berry family and close friends which speak quite frankly (though of course biased) about living and working with Chuck. So we listen to Chuck's wife Themetta, their children Charles, Ingrid, and Melody, the grandsons Charlie and Jahi as well as Jim Marsala, Joe Edwards, and Wayne Schoenberg. In total it is a very complete and historically exact description of Berry's life and career. And if you exclude Elise LeGrow, the soundtrack is perfect.
The DVD contains both the 103-minute documentary as well as larger segments of the interviews used within the film. This way you get another 100 minutes of talks about Chuck Berry by musicians Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, Steve Van Zandt, George Thorogood, Joe Perry, Nils Lofgren, Nile Rodgers, Joe Bonamassa, and Johnny Rivers as well as by family and friends Ingrid Berry, Charles Berry Jr., and Jimmy Marsala. Recommended.
The DVD unfortunately is Region-coded. It will only play if your DVD player is able to show Code 1 DVDs (US+Canada). If it does you can buy it from the usual online stores even outside the U.S.A.
Wednesday, February 19. 2020
[This is a re-do of an article Morten first published here in September 2015. It had been updated in February 2016, but now an additional comment by reader Jack requires Morten and me to add more details to the album history.]
CBID is the Chuck Berry International Directory, a 2.200 page pile of Chuck Berry records information published in four volumes between 2008 and 2013. For details see the bibliography section of this site.
CBID is never complete as new records and CDs appear and some old rarities are discovered. This section presents interesting additions and corrections to CBID.
Today: After we have seen that there were three different versions of the cover of Chess LP-1480 Chuck Berry On Stage it is time to explain that the same variants (initial print, sticker, and final print) can also be found with Chess LP-1485 Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits. And while we're at it, we also have a deeper look at the multiple labels found with this album.
CHUCK BERRY'S GREATEST HITS
Chess LP-1485 • April 1964 + reissues
This is another of those Berry LPs that has come out with countless number of label variants and three different front covers, six if you count the el.stereo ones numbered LPS-1485. Itâs been reissued so many times, Morten has 8 different copies of this album, cover and label, and we have been made aware that even more variants exist through readers of this site. This text should help collectors to understand the various releases of a record published for more than a decade using the same catalog number and a basically unchanged cover.
Here are the three covers of Chess LP-1485. As with all images on this site you can enlarge them by clicking.
Again as with the On Stage album, the first records sent out to disk jockeys at radio stations were produced using the then new (and expensive) multi-color label with the golden Chessknight logo (sometimes referred to as the 'crest' logo). Our good friend and expert on US album releases, Thierry Chanu, whom we unfortunately lost a few weeks ago (bless his soul), provided this image of a DJ Copy label:
The same label template and print was also used for commercial records, though less the DJ COPY print:
When reading about LP-1485, records with the multi-color label are often called a second or later pressing. This does not make sense if the initial very first records produced, the DJ copies, already had this label. Such saying stems from a misunderstanding about how the recording industry worked during the mid-Sixties.
The label of a record was maybe a marketing instrument when giving a record to the press or to a disk jockey. It did not matter at all for the records sold to the public, though. What mattered to Chess was to produce as many records as needed, fast and cheap. Where cheap also meant with little transport costs.
Due to this Chess records weren't all produced by the Chess-owned "Midwest Record Pressing" plant in Chicago but with the help of local pressing plants distributed all over the country. The partner companies simply received the master disks from Chess along with paperwork telling them what was to be read on the record labels.
In the case of LP-1485, the engineers at the Chess-owned "Ter-Mar Recording Studios" had combined the old master tapes from Berry's hit singles to form two new master tapes numbered 12989 for side 1 and 12990 for side 2. From master tape 12989 a one-sided master disk ('lacquer', 'nickel', or 'matrix') was cut. Within the dead-wax area of the master disk you find the etchings 'LP1485', 'Side 1', '12989', and 'TM0840'. The unknown engineer also left his personal logo which looks like the Greek letter Î© in a circle. If a reader can identify the engineer from this logo, let us know.
Likewise the side 2 master tape 12990 was converted into a second one-sided master disk etched 'LP1485', 'Side 2', '12990', and 'TM0841'. Copies of these master disks were sent to the pressing plants which then used them in their production processes.
The corresponding paperwork told the pressing plants that the artist name was to be written as CHUCK BERRY and the record name was to be CHUCK BERRY'S GREATEST HITS. The label had to contain the publisher note "Published by Arc Music Corp. - BMI", the master tape number, and the composer note "All Songs Written By Chuck Berry Music Inc." (not "by Chuck Berry").
Nowadays a company would specify exactly the font size, type style, spacing and position of each character on the label. In the Sixties this wasn't important at all. Local printers at the pressing plants or nearby laid out the text in whatever style they found appropriate and printed the needed quantity onto label templates. Label templates were blank labels pre-printed with the record company logo on the correctly colored paper. Label templates were the same for all records the pressing plant would produce for this client (the record company), thus were in stock in large quantities.
When LP-1485 went into production, most early pressings were produced using the former label template having CHESS and HIGH-FIDELITY printed vertically to the left. And as each pressing plant had their own printer to layout the labels, we find multiple variants of how the record and song names were distributed on the label template. Here are four different layouts of the text printed on the same label template:
By looking at the layout of the label text and by looking at other details such as the size of the stamper which holds the label on place during pressing, experts are often able to recognize a specific pressing plant. Without access to accounting data from Chess or their suppliers, one cannot tell which plant pressed which record in which quantity or how many pressing runs there were. We also cannot tell when the records were pressed and if there was some kind of 'first' or 'second'. One thing we can tell is that records with the first label variant above have been produced by the Monarch pressing plant in Los Angeles. This is because at Monarch all the customers' master disks were additionally stamped with the Monarch order number. Thus these records have an additional etching 'âł6595' in the dead-wax area.
We hope to have made clear that therefore it does not make sense to speak about a first, second, third pressing. If you want a sequential order, you have to look at the cover where there clearly is a first, second and third variant. Because we don't know how fast Chess had changed the cover — probably soon, but not without having used the printed stock — it's not clear if all or which labels were used in which cover.
However, we do know that a second pressing exists. All the mechanical elements used to create a vinyl record wear off. The stampers have to be replaced after a certain number of pressings, the mother can only be used to create a certain number of stampers, and also the master disks cannot be duplicated too many times until the sound quality becomes unacceptable. So the engineers at Ter-Mar had to replace master disks TM0840 and TM0841. They created new master disks from the master tapes and etched them 'TM0840-1' and 'TM0841-1-'.
Those were sent out as replacements to the pressing plants including new paperwork for the labels. How can we tell about new paperwork? Simply because someone made an error when specifying the text for the side 2 label. Side 2 contains six songs: Nadine, Maybelline, Memphis, Sweet Little Sixteen, Thirty Days, and Brown Eyed Handsome Man (spellings as on cover). All labels printed for the first pressings (TM0841) correctly list all these. However, all labels printed for the second pressings (TM0841-1-) list only five songs. They miss Sweet Little Sixteen. When Morten did the Chuck Berry International Directory books 2008-2013 he didnât have any of the actual misprints, however, he did get a copy a few years back without even noticing the fact our reader Jack recently told us about. So far we have found the misprint with these label variants:
As you can see, the multi-color label was used for both vinyl variants. The blue one with the Chessknight is only known with the second set of matrices. The light-blue one is used here and in a couple of later versions. Since the error has not been corrected one can assume that these three labels were used more or less concurrently — or that no-one ever noticed.
The light-blue label template has been in use at Chess from the mid 1960s until the company was sold to GRT in 1969. During these three or four years more variants of LP-1485 were created.
At some time in the late 1960s Chess decided to no longer worry about keeping old records in stock, producing them over and over again as long as they were being sold, and having to keep up with all the effort such as renewing master disks from time to time. So they outsourced the whole process to a company called "Columbia Custom Pressings" (part of Columbia Records). The first thing Columbia did was to create new master disks. The new master disks were etched 'XCTV121409-1B' and 'LP 1485-A-' on side 1 and 'XCTV121410-1A' and 'LP 1485B' on side 2. The label looked very much like the one from 'TM0840-1'/'TM0841-1-'. But Sweet Little Sixteen was back again!
Not long after this, the labels changed slightly, now also telling the Columbia master number XCTV 121409/121410.
And since also Columbia master disks have to be redone from time to time, we find yet another vinyl variant now carrying the master disk numbers XCTV 121856/121857. The etching reads 'XCTV-121856-1A TII' and 'XCTV-121857-1A TII', and the numbers are also shown on the labels.
This label introduced another spelling error: Maybellene got its E back, but now misses the Y. This record is probably the last variant of the Mono version.
By the mid-Sixties demand began to rise for Stereo records. In 1968 the sale of Mono records discontinued because no record dealer was willing to stock Mono records any more.ĂŒ>
The Greatest Hits sampled on LP-1485 of course were all recorded in Mono. Therefore the only way to do a kind-of-stereo release was to artificially modify the Mono signals to distribute them onto the two stereo channels. This is often called el.stereo.
It is not quite clear when the 'stereo' version of LP-1485 was released. All labels we know of include Sweet Little Sixteen but display the spelling error on Maybellene introduced with the final Mono version. So we believe, the el.stereo version was a replacement to the last Mono version, probably released in 1968.
The el.stereo version of Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits is known with at least three cover variants. While the covers continue to talk about LP-1485, the labels call this release LPS-1485.
Chess had to produce a new set of master tapes for the Stereo version containing the electronically altered music. These tapes were numbered 12989-S and 12990-S. The first pressings had a Columbia XCSV (S for Stereo) matrix. We have found the el.stereo variant of the Greatest Hits album with these labels so far.
And if you think that's all, keep in mind that successful Chess records such as LP-1485 were also released as 4-track 7-inch reel-to-reel tapes and as 8-track tape cartridges — using the exact same cover image, of course. We wonder if we ever saw a Compact Cassette tape ...
CHUCK BERRY'S GREATEST HITS
Chess [Sundazed] LP 5565 • 28 April 2018 (Record Store Day)
We should not forget to mention this 2018 LP album which is — you guessed it — yet another re-release of Chess LP-1485. The Chess brand is now owned by Universal Music and their subsidiary Geffen Records uses the Sundazed label to publish high-quality audiophile re-releases of classic albums.
LP 5565 comes with the same contents as LP-1485, though with a different front cover. Interestingly the back cover is similar to the original back cover and the label resembles the original label even more. The 2018 album was pressed on orange translucent vinyl.
[Many thanks to Thierry, Anne and Jack for providing additional information and images! A big Thank You goes to Joanna of RecordsByMail.com for providing us with a good image of a cover variant we did not have.]
[Edit 29-03-2020: Replaced image of DJ copy label with a better version provided by Anne Chanu - Thanks!]
Thursday, December 19. 2019
In December 2014 the authors of this blog received an email which changed completely the way we worked. Up to then we were confident that we knew everything about Chuck Berry's recordings and about record releases of Chuck Berry's work. We were wrong!
A French reader showed us with a few images and sentences how little we knew. Thierry had so many records and variants we hadn't seen before. It was a pleasure to be enlightened by him again and again.
During the five years that followed, you have seen Thierry's name in articles and images on this blog many times. He was also a great help checking and correcting our database of all Chuck Berry recordings on this site. Thierry became a valued fellow researcher always hunting for details on recordings, releases, and concerts.
Thierry's knowledge about record releases was unmatched. Not even Morten went into this level of detail when researching releases. During the last years Thierry was of tremendous help in our research of Chuck Berry recordings. Berryâs music has lost one of its most loving collectors and knowledgeable persons.
Many thanks to Thierry's wife Anne and her sons for all their support!
Friday, October 18. 2019
When Chuck Berry started recording in 1955, recording was done in Mono (although Bill Putnam tells that even in the early 1950s they cut some non-Berry takes secretly on two-track stereo tape [“A THIRTY-FIVE YEAR HISTORY AND EVOLUTION OF THE RECORDING STUDIO”, Milton T. Putnam, http://www.aes.org/aeshc/pdf/putnam_history-of-recording-studios.pdf]).
When Jack Wiener in 1957 built the famous Sheldon Recording Studios at 2120 South Michigan Av. in Chicago where Berry's most important recordings were made, he had provisions to record in Stereo. However, this “double-mono” system was not intended to create stereo recordings but instead mainly thought of as a secondary backup mono system in case some gear failed.
We do not know if any of Berry's early Chess recordings were recorded in Stereo. What we do know is that at least in February 1960 Stereo finally made it to the recording process. This is because “Diploma For Two”, recorded Feb. 15th, 1960, is available as a true stereo version which was released in 1967 on a British album (“You Never Can Tell”, Marble Arch MALS-702).
As Remastering and Restoration Engineer Steve Hoffman tells, the Chess studios got a four-track recording machine in 1959. They now started to record everything in both Mono and Stereo concurrently. It was common then to do a dedicated mono mix on one of the four tracks with the other three tracks used by three stereo channels (left, center, right). [https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/chuck-berry-rock-n-roll-rarities-and-more-rock-n-roll-rarities-info.854690/]
However, Andy McKaie (who for instance created the Berry 4-CD sets on Hip-O Select and won the Grammy award “Best Historical Album” for the 1988 “Chuck Berry — The Chess Box”) is quoted saying,
As far as mono versus stereo goes, it seems that if they recorded something specifically for an album in the '60s it was recorded and mixed in stereo. If recorded for a single, it's a toss-up, and for extended periods of time, they never bothered to do anything but mono mixes. [Some specific non-Berry] '63 sessions [...] were recorded and assembled for an album, but only a mono assembly was done and the multi-tracks are either unmarked in our vault or missing. The running masters from those sessions are even only in mono, whereas I have found running masters from 1959 Howlin' Wolf that are in stereo. Then again, nothing but mono exists from Wolf's Red Rooster in '61, though there's a stereo master for Shake for Me from same session. The inconsistency drives me nuts, too, but I can only issue what we have available to me to issue. Sometimes life is like that. — Chess used to keep a two track running for sessions, even when they were doing multi-track sessions. Sometimes the two track seemed to be in mono, sometimes stereo. Before he died, Ron Malo told me that Chess really didn't care about or understand stereo, so if an engineer or a producer didn't dwell on it, what you got was a tossup. Leonard did the Muddy sessions, except for the concept albums, and according to Ron, he really wasn't interested in stereo - his notion was that he was making a single to sell... [https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/for-steve-stereo-remixes.1192/page-2]
After MCA Records had distributed Chess records (including Berry re-issues) since 1983, the company finally in 1984 bought the Chess/Checker/Cadet catalog from Sugar Hill Records, then owner of the Chess archives (whereas the sale by itself is an interesting story resulting in multiple law suits). In 1985 Steve Hoffman got access to the original four-track master tapes. He used some of these for MCA's “Rock 'n' Roll Rarities“ (Chess 2-LP set 92521, March 1986) and “More Rock 'n' Roll Rarities” (Chess LP 9190, August 1986) albums. This resulted in the very first stereo recording by Chuck Berry we know of: “I Got To Find My Baby” originally recorded Feb. 12th, 1960. One should note, though, that Hoffman was using the original three Stereo tracks to newly mix them to create the two Stereo channels on disk. Thus this is not an original 1960s mix if there ever was one.
Steve Hoffman later said:
I really dislike my stereo remixes on the Chuck Berry discs I did. I was way too "gentle" with them. They needed a lot more compression and general nasty stuff to make them sound like their mono counterparts. At the time, I fell in to the trap that usually gets all "remixers" of old classic stuff: The urge to play God. In other words, to make things sound "better" than the original mixes, and to share with all of you music lovers the way the actual multi-track tapes sound. This (in hindsight) is a mistake, because the multi's are just work parts, and sound way too clean to be of any valid interest or use in any thing other than a historical context. If the real mixes vanish just because they are mono, or sound a bit rough, well, this would be a shame... — I didn't realize this until 1986 when my friend and reissue expert Diana Reid Haig explained to me that the "original mix is THE mix, regardless of how bad it sounds, and that anything else is just playing God". She was right. I've never heard a remix that has the energy, life and as good a "vibe" as the original, mono or stereo. — I love stereo. Don't misunderstand me. Stereo is great. If a song or album was only released in mono, and stereo versions can be created, it's fine with me, as long as the "spirit" of the original mix is kept. [https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/for-steve-stereo-remixes.1192/]
So Hoffman created stereo mixes of songs previously available only in Mono. Remembering the technical difficulties in working with 25-year-old tapes, Steve Hoffman told me:
In the early stereo period (when they got the Ampex 4-track until maybe the end of 1961), the music was recorded using the Ampex Master EQ button on the machine. This took it off the NAB standard and made everything sound screechy. When played back, of course, the screech vanished and with it (so the theory goes) some of the tape hiss as well. Only problem? If you didn't have the exact same machine as the one in the studio during recording, the playback was never right. I had to really consult with many Ampex historians in order to get the right EQ to play back those bad sounding 1/2" tapes.
About the other recordings from these two February 1960 sessions Steve Hoffman told me:
I'm certain that all songs from those sessions were there in 1/2". I chose the songs to put on the Rarities because either feedback from fans or I personally liked them. I wanted the songs that sounded more Chuck Berry-like. I took the 1/2" reels into the studio to listen and picked the songs that way. Didn't have the time or budget to do a complete stereo reduction of all the songs nor the research, since the paperwork was so incomplete and they had NO idea what was on many of the reels.
Even though they still existed in 1985, by today the session tapes are lost, as all of the Chess masters were destroyed in the burning of the Universal tape vaults in 2008.
Some more stereo recordings from 1960 and 1961 have survived on Marble Arch records and on Hoffman's 1986 albums: “Bye Bye Johnny”, “Run Around”, “Down The Road A Piece”, “I'm Talking About You”, “Go Go Go”, an alternate take of “Route 66”, and the 1961 version of “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”. Contemporary, all these were released in Mono only. The stereo version of “Come On”, which is a different recording than the one on the mono single, has been mixed two times, one during the 1960s for a Marble Arch release, one in 1985 for the Rarities album.
List of Chuck Berry stereo recordings from 1960/1961:
When Berry returned to the recording studio in January 1964, the industry had changed. Stereo recording was now common and albums were sold in stereo versions along with the mono versions (though at a higher price). According to Steve Hoffman, Chess still recorded on four-track tapes, but now used all four tracks to record separated segments of the song (e.g. vocal, guitar, piano and rhythm).
Mono versions of the songs were still needed, though. Since record player cartridges often could not play the stereo records, companies still produced mono albums. And singles were all-mono anyway. Since the original session tape was now multi-tracked, there were two ways to create a mono version: You could take the original multi-track and mix a dedicated mono version like you did with the stereo version. Or you could mix the stereo version first and then combine the two stereo channels into a single mono channel. This is called “folding down the Stereo”. A folded-down stereo results in a release on which the center instruments (which are on both stereo channels) are much louder than the left and right instruments (which are only on one channel). At least for some songs Chess used both techniques. The so-called “UK mix” (on Chess CRL-4005) of “Jamaica Farewell” is a dedicated mono mix, while the “US mix” (on Chess LP-1495) is a fold-down from the stereo mix (with more prominent vocals). The two sound that different, early discographies had them listed as different takes.
Starting from “Nadine”, we find Berry's recordings both as a mono mix or fold-down (on singles and mono albums) and as a stereo mix (on stereo albums). In the US the stereo versions were on the Chess albums numbered with an LPS prefix, while the mono versions were on the Chess albums numbered just with an LP prefix. For instance “His Daughter Caroline” is on “Chuck Berry In London” Chess LP-1495 in Mono and on LPS-1495 in true Stereo; “No Particular Place To Go” is on “St. Louis To Liverpool” Chess LP-1488 in Mono and on LPS-1488 in true Stereo.
Note that Steve Hofmann re-mixed “No Particular Place To Go” for the 1986 Rarities album (Chess LP 92521) thus creating a different Stereo mix. Steve was aware of the original mixes but tried to make it better:
I would have been able to duplicate the original mono or stereo mix of the Chuck Berry stuff. I just didn't WANT to. I wanted to stay far away from the feel of the original mixes; why bother to remix them? I had some cockeyed notion of "revealing" what it must have sounded like in the studio actually recording stuff, before all of those nasty "compromises" like dynamic range compression, detail obscuring echo and tonal enhancing equalization came into the picture. Problem is, as we know, those things actually MAKE the mix special. Oh well. What I mixed sounds to me these days like good pre-mix demo versions. Heh. Better than nothing I guess... — What I don't like, is making a new stereo mix where the original stereo mix works just fine. For what reason do this? Ego, usually. I went down that road. All engineers do. Can't be helped. In all cases (expect one, I guess, Simon & Garfunkel's PSRT), I can spot a remix like a dead skunk: Beloved levels are different, compression is less, or more. Echo is digital or too much, or not enough, EQ is radically changed. In most cases, the mixes sound "modern". Geez I hate that. Usually the hard left/right/center has been changed. [https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/steve-if-you-had-do-re-do-a-cd-which-one-would-it-be.16949/ and https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/for-steve-stereo-remixes.1192/ ]
Where Hoffman had access to the original four-track session tapes, he could rearrange the various instruments to what would become the left and right stereo channels. He did so with all his remixes except for “You Never Can Tell”. A reason may be that on this song Berry's vocal had been overdubbed in the chorus sections of the song. If there was no separate track left for the vocal overdub, the overdubbing was probably done to a final two-track stereo mix. As Hoffman told me:
I liked the original stereo mix and discovered that the stereo ALBUM master was really just a dub with extra echo of the original two-track stereo album mixes (marked "DO NOT USE"). So, of course I used the version with less echo. I think if you will compare you will find that the version I used with less echo is more pleasing to the ear.
On other songs such as “It Wasn't Me”, the remix was done from the original non-overdubbed session tapes, on “Little Marie” the vocal and guitar overdub was obviously on a separate track on the tape as Hoffman moved it around in his remix.
Almost all of Berry's Chess recordings made between 1964 and 1966 exist in true Stereo as well as in mono mixes. The original Chess albums were issued in both Mono and Stereo, the original Chess singles were issued in Mono only.
List of Chuck Berry stereo recordings from 1964 to 1966:
(Those studio recordings from this period which were first released on the HIP-O Select and Bear Family boxes are omitted from this list as they are only available in Stereo.)
In 1967 when Mercury released their first Chuck Berry album, discussions in the industry had been heated. The companies wanted to get rid of the additional effort to create both stereo and mono versions of the same album. Most of the record players were now able to play mono and stereo records alike. However, record buyers did not necessarily know and were still asking for the cheaper mono albums.
Mercury was among the first companies to play a simple trick on their customers: They pressed stereo albums only but placed some of them in a jacket claiming Mono. Therefore Chuck Berry's first Mercury album “Golden Hits” (1967) came in two different sleeves: Mercury MG-21103 claims to be Mono, Mercury SR-61103 claims to be Stereo. Both jackets however contained the exact same disk etched “2/61103 A/B” (later pressings had just “SR-61103” in multiple variations). According to Thierry Chanu, “Golden Hits” was issued in Mono only in France (Mercury 124.033 MDL).
Note that one track on Mercury MG-21103/SR-61103 is not a true stereo version. “Club Nitty Gritty” had been mixed to Mono for the 1966 single release. Instead of using/mixing a true stereo version for the album release, Mercury “electronically reprocessed for stereo” this track. ERS was a technique used in the 1960s to make mono recordings (such as Berry's early Chess takes) sound like stereo. To do so, the original mono signal was copied to both stereo channels. On one channel the higher tones were enhanced, on the other the lower tones. One channel was delayed a tiny fraction of a second and artificial echo and reverb were used to mask this delay. Unfortunately this distorts the original recording to an amount which makes them sound ugly when compared to the original mono mix. Most of Berry's mono recordings also exist in an “electronically altered for stereo” variant, but that's not our topic here. The interesting part is that a true stereo version of “Club Nitty Gritty” has never been released (which in turn opens room for discussions about whether this recording was done at the Mercury sessions at all).
The trick to hide stereo records in mono jackets seems not to have worked, though, as Mercury's following two Berry albums were released in two variants again: “Chuck Berry in Memphis” (Mercury MG-21123/SR-61123, Sept. 1967) and “Chuck Berry Live at Fillmore Auditorium” (Mercury MG-21138/SR-61138, Nov. 1967) came in both Mono and Stereo. The original recordings were done multi-tracked, the mixes were in pure stereo. Afterwards the stereo mixes were folded down to mono.
List of Chuck Berry stereo recordings from 1966/1967:
(All those recordings first released in or after 1968 are omitted from this list as they are all and usually only in Stereo.)
The last two Berry albums for Mercury, released in 1968 and 1969, as well as all the Chess albums which followed exist as stereo records only.
Commercial 45rpm singles have been all Mono throughout the 1960s. The only clients requesting stereo singles were the modern FM radio stations. As they broadcast in Stereo, they even waited for the stereo album to be released before playing a would-be-hit. [read https://www.bsnpubs.com/stereoproject/stereo1968.html for details]
Therefore some record companies started to provide promotional singles in Stereo to the FM stations and the corresponding promotional singles in Mono to the AM stations. Mercury shipped a few stereo singles as DJ copies, though none with Berry material. Beginning in 1969 Mercury's promotion department omitted the B side of singles completely and created special 45s having the plug-side in Stereo on one side and the same song in Mono on the other which were then sent to all DJs. Again there are no Berry singles known in this DJ- numbered series. All of Berry's Mercury promotional and commercial singles are in Mono only.
When Berry returned to Chess in 1969, things had changed again. Every modern record player could now play from stereo records, even those limited to produce a mono signal. Both album and singles were now produced to be playable on both mono and stereo equipment (using Howard Holzer's CSG technique or similar, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haeco-CSG). At Chess they were so proud about this, they even created a brand-name for these compatible records: “CONCEPT 12”. You can find this brand name on the label of Berry's first new record for Chess, “Tulane b/w Have Mercy, Judge” (CHESS 2090, March 1970) as well as a few other Chess 45s and albums from 1969/1970. Both the DJ copy and the commercial release of Berry's single had an imprint “Recorded in CONCEPT 12 — Playable Stereo & Mono”.
From 1970 onwards, no mono releases of new Berry material were ever produced or released; with one exception: In 1979 ATCO Records produced a DJ copy of Berry's new 45rpm single “Oh What a Thrill b/w California” (ATCO 7203). And just like in 1970 the promotional single had the plug-side “Oh What a Thrill” on both sides, one in Stereo and one in Mono.
Steve Hoffman was of great help during the research of this article both through the public explanations on his forum as well as by answering additional questions in email. Andy McKaie was so nice to check the text for correctness and provided some additional thoughts. Many thanks to both! Next, the author needs to (and really likes to) thank fellow researchers Morten Reff and Thierry Chanu for listening to songs such as “O Rangutang” and “Club Nitty Gritty” dozens of times in hunt for a true stereo version in their huge collections of Chuck Berry records as well as their additional help with variants and images. Finally huge thanks go to fellow researcher Arne Wolfswinkel for his technical expertise in analyzing released versions in search for the original session tape contents.
Within the 2019 text above I explained the ERS technique (“electronically reprocessed for stereo”) used for “Club Nitty Gritty” and many 1960s re-issues of older albums. Using this the original mono recording was modified to sound like a stereo recording even though such never existed.
Beginning in 2020 ERIC Records started to use a more modern technique to create the same. Using computer programs to separate the individual instruments in a mono recording (such as drums, piano or guitar) they digitally created individual tracks for these instruments and remixed those. This technique is known as DES (“digitally extracted stereo”, https://www.ericrecords.com/des_explan-htf17.html). The result is much better than the 1960s ERS variants, but still it's a fake.
There never has been a stereo recording of e.g. Berry's original “Roll Over Beethoven” and there never will be one.
Friday, July 5. 2019
Recently an unnamed Chuck Berry fan collected what he called âThe Ultimate Collection of Hard-to-find Rarities, Live Performances, Demos & Out-Takesâ. I donât know who this fan is, but I know for a fact that he/she follows the articles in this blog closely.
Probably, this privately-made collection has been made available on one of the typical bootleg sites. For some time, privately-made CD copies of this collection were sold by an American bootlegger on ebay using the album name âSuch A Sight To See â Vol. 1â. There are other Volumes containing all kinds of live performances. The bootleg CDs have a printing âMade in Japanâ and a barcode (all the same), which are intended to make them look âofficialâ.
We do not encourage to buy bootlegs as we believe that music creators (artists, musicians, studios, labels) deserve a fair compensation for creating the work we all enjoy. However, we would like to encourage Bear Family and similar re-issue labels to take this collection as a pattern of what urgently needs to be re-released soon.
On the first two CDs of this collection, the creator included 55 (53) studio recordings by Chuck Berry. All follow a simple rule: they have been released in the past before but were omitted from the omnibus Rock And Roll Music - Any Old Way You Choose It (Bear Family BCD 17273 PL, 2014). Which tells us that if Bear Family would have included just two more CDs in their 16-CD boxset, theyâd had indeed made the âultimateâ Berry collection.
Many of the tracks are from the out-of-print HIP-O-Select boxsets, some are from other CDs and records and were missing even on these âcompleteâ sets. All have been discussed on this site before. One should note, though, that some of these tracks are omitted from the Bear Family set by intention e.g. because of the poor sound quality (Go Go Go, Top Gear tracks). Anyway, they are âout thereâ and thus missing.
The collectorâs effort in combining the missing recordings is worth to be repeated here for all of you who would like to know what they missed when buying the Bear Family box. Thus here it is (with a few corrections from me):
1. La Jaunda (EP Version) â We prefer the spelling La Juanda because this is what Chuck sings.
Congratulations to the collector for this next-to-complete list. Along with the Bear Family set this combines every surviving studio recording ever made by Chuck Berry (except for the late Dualtone release and a couple of TV and radio studio recordings).
Thus a request to Bear Family and the other labels: This is what collectors would like to be able to buy legally!
Tuesday, April 23. 2019
If you followed our discussions about the Chuck Berry On Stage (Chess LP-1480) album, you will understand why there is such a huge confusion about the contents and appearance of this album. Since December 2014 we have been discussing the cover variants of the album showing that none of the images on the net associated with this album represents the original first cover (except for the ones shown on this site).
In December 2017 we added a second discussion about Vinyl variants of this album explaining why almost every description of CHESS LP-1480 includes an incorrect track listing. As the original record was supposed to be taken for a true live recording, it didn't had a track listing on the labels and just a non-ordered song list on the back cover.
Both the song list and the most common US cover include a song title never used by Berry: "Surfin' USA". The Chess brothers were trying to generate sales following the Beach Boys' hit record which indeed was a disguised cover version of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". And following the Surf craze they also re-titled an instrumental originally called "Crying Steel" to become known as "Surfing Steel".
All in all it's no wonder partner record companies who licensed the On Stage album became confused as well. Which in turn again resulted in strange variants of record covers. Of course you need to collect Chuck Berry records as intense as this site's Morten Reff to notice the interesting variations of covers such as these two here:
The Australian version of Chuck Berry On Stage was released as CHESS CHL-211 not long after the US version in 1963. The front cover follows the US version closely except for the boxed CHESS in the upper right corner. The track listing on the back is a variant of the song list from the US album. It correctly distributes the songs to Side 1 and Side 2 but retains the incorrect sequence and naming.
Maybe due to complaints — Hey, I bought Surfin' USA from Chuck Berry but it isn't on the disk! — some time later the company quietly replaced the cover with a slightly corrected version. Now on the front cover "Surfin' USA" became "Maybelline" [sic], and within the track listing "Surfin' USA" became "Sweet Little 16" [sic]. Also the song sequence on Side 1 is now as it is on the record. Since also the Chess logo in the upper right corner changed, this variant may have been released a year or more later.
The record itself including the printing on the labels did not change, though. Side 2 still incorrectly lists "Surfin' USA".
In the Netherlands, Berry's Chess records were released by Artone on their Funckler label. They designed their own cover for the On Stage album. When it came out as Funckler MGCH-9218 in March 1964, "Sweet Little Sixteen" already made it to the front cover correctly. However, "Surfin' USA" is still there, this time as an incorrect title for "Cryin'/Surfing Steel". This error is both on the front cover and in the track listing on the back.
Again, some time later Artone re-released the record. The had now licensed the Chess label name and logo and were releasing the records under the Chess International label. While exchanging the Funckler logo on cover and label, they also corrected the song title. On Chess International PAR-106 "Surfin' USA" was replaced by "Surfin' Steel" (keeping the apostrophe) on both cover and label.
One should note that Artone changed covers, labels and even packaging often. Either they printed too few copies or they sold much more than expected. According to Morten's research, the Funckler version also exists with an orange color label. The Chess International version has the album name printed in red on some copies while it's printed in black on others. Finally PAR-106 exists in a standard LP cover (with spine, open at only one side) as well as in the Artone-typical plastic sleeve. Artone tried to establish selling albums in a clear plastic sleeve which could be used for all LPs unchanged. The cover printing was on a folded thin cardboard open at three sides which was easier and cheaper to produce. Records by all the Artone labels such as Funckler, Prestige and even CBS International were released this way. This kind of packaging did not prevail, though. Even Artone finally came to use the industry standard glued cover.
And no, Morten is not sure that he has all the existing variants.
Thanks to Morten for the images and details plus thanks to Arne Wolfswinkel and Frank Jochemsen for background information about the Artone packaging.
Sunday, April 21. 2019
Stephanie Bennett is a famous film producer having created some of the best rock documentaries. Chuck Berry collectors know her as the producer who brought to us "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll", the famous concert film and documentary celebrating Berry's 60th birthday.
And while Bennett, director Taylor Hackford, and musical director Keith Richards definitely tried to celebrate Berry in this movie, we all know that Berry's cooperation was less than sufficient. To Berry this was just another business project he got paid for.
Due to this, production of the movie was more than chaotic. Despite of what ended up in the movie, Berry did not help making it, but instead helped to destroy Hackford's and Richards' work and intentions.
Mrs. Bennett says that Berry's passing two years ago brought back all the memories about the creation of this film. While discussing the thirty years old events with their teammates, she decided to write a book about this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now the book is out, published by Vireo/Rare Bird Books in the U.S. and available through all bookstores. It is called "Johnny B. Bad — Chuck Berry and the Making of Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll", 220 pages thick, hardcover bound and including a selection of color photographs.
The title page says "written by Stephanie Bennett" while the inner page says "written by Stephanie Bennett with Thomas D. Adelman" who was the line producer of the movie. In fact, the book wasn't written by either. Mrs. Bennett calls her book an 'oral history'. This means it is a collection of quotes of what the team members remember from the movie production.
Tom Adelman remembers a lot, so does Stephanie Bennett. But most of the quotes are old. There's a two-page quote by Bruce Springsteen about backing up Berry one time. But this isn't a new quote from an interview done for this book. It is word-for-word in the movie itself.
Most of the readers here will own the DVD version of the movie. Most will own the 2006 two-DVD set or even, as recommended here, the four-DVD set containing all the bonus material. And if you own these DVDs, you already know most of the quotes.
For instance the first chapter is a "conversation with Chuck Berry and Robbie Robertson". And this is a word-for-word transcription of the half-hour film "The Burnt Scrapbook — Robbie Robertson and Chuck Berry's Scrapbook" which is on DVD 3. (Unfortunately typed by someone who didn't watch the film, as Chuck Berryn becomes Chuck Barron in the book.)
Chapter two is "Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley & Little Richard" and — you guessed it — is a word-for-word transcription of the 90-minute "Witnesses to History #1" which is also on DVD 3. Thus while you have reached page 56 of the book, all you got is that someone read to you the contents of DVD 3.
Most stories told and many, many of the other quotes are taken from "The Reluctant Movie Star — The bizarre tales of the making of Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" which is a one-hour film on DVD 2 of the set. This includes both the Algoa incident and the concert recording memories.
Of course there also is original material in the book. Especially the story about the team checking out Berry's performance at the Chicago Blues Festival (where Richards performed with Berry), the stories about the visit to Richards' home in Jamaica, and the things that happened after the shooting of the movie haven't been told yet, at least not to this detail. Unfortunately the original material is less than half of the book.
To those who are purely interested in the musical aspects of Berry's work, there is a single page which is of interest. In between the nice color photo section you'll suddenly find a one-page type-written sheet called "Song Selection".
On this page we get an exact description of the songs which made it into the movie. This includes the show number they were taken from. And it includes a list of those "recordings" which have been combined from the performances in show one and show two.
Another interesting fact from the book is that the concert recordings have been overdubbed twice. There was one overdub session at Berry Park where Billy Youdelman re-recorded some of the vocals for the movie's audio track. And there was a second overdub session in which Don Wershba re-recorded some of the vocals for the soundtrack album. (This is why we get two different vocal overdubs for "Roll Over Beethoven".) Trying to further fill the missing pieces in our database I asked Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Youdelman, and Mr. Wershba whether they have any notes left telling about the dates and places of the overdubs. All three were so kind to reply to my inquiry but unfortunately Mrs. Bennett has no paperwork regarding these topics. Billy Youdelman cannot remember the exact date but that it was shortly after the concert and that it was only a one or two day job, and not very long. Don Wershba's memories are worth another blog entry due soon.
Whether you will want to buy the book depends on your preference of reading vs. watching DVDs. And of course on whether you own the DVDs. It's a nice read, but as said, it's old news. Many of the quotes you will have heard before. Some of the newly told anecdotes, especially by Hackford, Bennett and Adelman, might be worth the price of the book, though. And if you wonder why actress Helen Mirren comments on the story as if she was part of the movie, keep in mind that she is married to Taylor Hackford and accompanied him throughout the making of this film.
Do not miss to visit the book's own website johnnybbadbook.com. It contains a lot of interesting photos as well as videos with Hackford and Bennett telling some of the stories.
Many thanks to Julia Callahan of Rare Bird Books, Stephanie Bennett, Billy Youdelman, and Don Wershba for answering my additional questions.
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This weblog is an addition to my Chuck Berry fansite called "A Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry" which describes all books and records of interest to everyone enjoying Chuck Berry's music.
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