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.
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.
Saturday, April 13. 2019
The following post from February 18, 2019 was supposed to demonstrate the difficulties we face while trying to reconstruct Chuck Berry's recording legacy from the few sources we have. And it was supposed to provoke readers to provide further knowledge. Scroll down for additional comments.
[Within our database of all Chuck Berry recordings we try to present the most complete and the most correct information about Berryâs recording work. The database is the result of decades of research using all of the data publicly available about these recordings (and sometimes even more). However, we deal here with recordings which were made when we, the researchers, were little kids or not even born. This means that most of what we do is historical research. Arne Wolfswinkel presents here an example of how difficult such research is.]
Memphis, Tennessee is one of Berryâs best-known songs. However, its origins and its recording details are very obscure. There are at least three different sources which talk about different personnel involved in the creation of the recording.
Today we think of Memphis as one of Berryâs greatest hits and one of his most important masterpieces. But at the time the song and the recording originated, nobody really knew what to do with it as it was so different. Bruce Pegg summarized the song as follows:
[The song] is a masterpiece of storytelling, simple and yet full of detail. It is also, quite possibly, one of the earliest pop songs ever to deal with the effects of divorce and child custody, certainly one of the first to deal with it from a male point of view.  In a two-minute pop song, Chuck Berry captured the frustrations and sadness of a divorced father, a rare adult theme in the disposable world of 1950s teenage rock and roll. [Bruce Pegg, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, p 106]
This was not to become a hit record in 1958. Which is why its release history is reasonable: it was not released at all after recorded in mid 1958. Chess Records hid it on the back of single 1729 (Back in the USA), released in June 1959 concurrently with the movie âGo, Johnny, Go!â (and its promotional soundtrack album) into which it did not fit either.
One must merely ignore the central plot and the two characters played by Jimmy Clanton and Sandy Stewart, although even there you get some insights into the differences between the way that some black artists perceived and wrote rock & roll, and how white teen audiences perceived it. As Chuck Berry performs "Memphis Tennessee" on television (concluding with a fiercely sexual "duckwalk" that was astonishing for a black man to be seen doing, in a movie aimed at mainstream white audiences in 1959), a very serious song about marriage, divorce, and broken families, Clanton's and Stewart's characters are seen laughing as they watch the performance onscreen at her home. [Bruce Eder, AllMovie.com]
In the movie, Berry performs, well lip-syncs, Memphis all by himself in front of a TV camera. What we can definitely tell is that here we miss instruments playing. There definitely are drums on the recorded track as well as multiple guitars.
Trying to find out who played which instrument on Memphis, CHESS master number 9073, we find inconsistent data.
According to âThe Chess Labels: A Discographyâ by Michel Ruppli the song was recorded during a September 1958 session in Chicago, with Berry on vocals and guitar, possibly Bo Diddley on second guitar, Johnny Johnson on piano, Willie Dixon on (double) bass and Fred Below on drums. This line-up was repeated in a recent French discography and others.
In contrast, a discography printed on the 1972 sleeve of âChuck Berryâs Golden Decade, Vol. 2â states âMemphis recorded by Berry himself and drums added by Chessâ.
In his 1987 autobiography Chuck Berry confirms this, although he claims to have played the drums himself:
Memphis  was recorded  on a $145 homemade studio in the heat of a muggy July afternoon with a $79 reel-to-reel Sears, Roebuck recorder that had provisions for sound-on-sound recording. I played the guitar and the bass track, and I added the ticky-tick drums that trot along in the background which sound so good to me. I worked over a month on revising the lyric before I took the tape up to Leonard Chess to listen to. He was again pressed for a release since my concerts (driving on the road then) kept me from the recording studio for long periods.
Based on Berryâs recollection, Fred lists both Memphis and Jo Jo Gunne (which has the same primitive sounding fidelity) as being recorded in St. Louis, July 1958 when he publishes his book âLong Distance Informationâ (2001). He changes his mind when thirteen years later the details of a September 26, 1958 recording contract become available. Both songs are listed on the contract, which also reports that the musicians present at the session are Berry (vocals, guitar), Otis Spann (piano), Willie Dixon (double bass), and Jasper Thomas (drums). Placing the songs (back) in the session, the matrix numbers allocated to the songs now run consecutively, so Fred concludes that Berry must have confused a demo recording of Memphis with the studio cut.
However, itâs still possible Berryâs recollection is actually correct and he recorded the master of Memphis â and Jo Jo Gunne â in his home studio.
First of all, both songs just feature vocals, guitar, and drums (the bass part on Memphis is actually played on the low strings of a guitar). Why are Spann and Dixon suddenly absent? Of course, it could be an artistic decision not to include piano and bass on those songs, but it still seems a bit odd if they were there during the session.
Secondly, Berry writes that he used a âreel-to-reel  recorder that had provisions for sound-on-sound recordingâ â a technique where layers of sound are placed on top of each other (a famous example being How High the Moon by Les Paul and Mary Ford, recorded in 1951). This would explain why the fidelity of those songs is much lower (loss of clarity, considerately more tape hiss) than Anthony Boy and Sweet Little Rock and Roller, the other tracks recorded at the September 1958 session. And it might be coincidental, but session reels with multiple takes of those two songs still exist, while this isnât the case for Memphis nor Jo Jo Gunne.
However, we know for certain that Berry misremembers one thing: the only $79 recorder available in 1956 and 1958 catalogues of the Sears & Roebuck mail-order company was the Silvertone 7070, which had no way to do sound-on-sound. Perhaps Berry mixed up his receipts and used an AMPEX or Berlant Concertone recorder, which did have provisions for sound-on-sound in 1958.
Unfortunately, we probably will never find out what has happened exactly. It is possible that Berry recorded Memphis and Jo Jo Gunne all by himself at home. It is also possible that both the basic track and the overdubs were done at the Chess studios. And every combination of home tape and studio overdubs is possible as well. Until we learn better, our database will list Jasper Thomasâ drums and the additional guitars as overdubs with a note that there is an option that Berry recorded all instruments by himself.
Comment from April 13, 2019:
Chuck Berry expert Jean-Pierre Ravelli, who ran a European fan club in the 1960s and 1970s, tells us that he remembers talking to Francine Gillium in August 1970. Fran was Berry's personal secretary and managed his fan clubs and businesses since the 1950s. In her talk with Jean-Pierre, Fran confirmed that 'Memphis, Tennessee' was recorded at Berry's office and that she (Fran) had been playing the drums. Of course we can only speculate whether such a claim is valid and if it is, whether this was the recording which finally made it to the records.
Comment from November 25, 2019 (and following):
Dave Rubin, author of "Play Like Chuck Berry" (Hal Leonard Corp., to be released in 2020), found another reason which may point to a home recording: "While analyzing the guitar solo I noticed a mistake where he misses his mark by one fret. In measure 14 of the guitar solo Chuck plays D/F at fret 10 instead of D#/F# at fret 11. Maybe he thought he could get away with it, and he has, as the rest of the recording was a good take?" Maybe. Though it's doubtful that such a minor mistake would have forced recording of another take even in the studio. The error could indicate it's indeed a 'sound on sound' recording (so Berry wasn't able to have another go at the overdub), but on the other hand, there are other such examples from his sessions at Chess.
Comment from February 20, 2020 (and following):
Using experimental software called Spleeter, which tries to split a given recording back into individual tracks, we tried to find out more about the instruments and overdubs used. The algorithm to split tracks is far from perfect (and probably the task is often impossible to solve), but the software does a nice job in extracting the drums.
Arne summarizes what we got from Spleeter's output: "There are three guitars parts: the 'rhythm' part which starts the song, immediately followed by the 'bass' part (played on the lower strings of the guitar). Come to think of it, this part probably inspired George Harrison for the Beatles' Two of Us. The 'lead' part starts during the first verse.
As far as I can hear, the drummer only uses a floor tom on the song (and perhaps another tom or a snare drum with a loosened snare). I don't hear any cymbals or a kick drum. On Jo Jo Gunne there's also a snare and hi-hat, by the way."
Sunday, April 7. 2019
Friday night, German/French TV station ARTE broadcast the new documentary "Chuck Berry" by Jon Brewer. The film originally premiered in Cannes in October last year, but I don't know if it has been shown to the public since.
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.
If you missed the broadcast, you can view the film on ARTE's website. Note that all the dialogs are dubbed to either German or French. You cannot listen to the original English dialogs.
The version with German dub can be found here:
The version with French dub can be found here:
Both videos can be watched until July 2019.
The production company Cardinal Releasing has a short summary as well as a movie poster for this new film at
Saturday, April 6. 2019
[This blog post was originally written in Feb 2017. A recent email conversation forces me to add some notes to the end.]
In June of 1972 the British Broadcasting Corporation BBC recorded an 80 minute Chuck Berry concert at the BBC Television Theatre in London. This recording is one of the best Berry performances ever shown on TV. But unfortunately it wasn't available for us to watch again.
The original recording was broadcast edited down to 45 minutes. The audio track of this abbreviated show was saved and made it to a Vinyl bootleg called "Six Two Five". For more about this record, see here.
In the early 2000s the BBC show was re-transmitted by other TV stations, though now as a 60 minute show with additional songs. Thus we knew there must still exist the original full recording from 1972.
Recently we found a DVD on eBay which claimed to contain the complete show. We checked - and yes: This is the original uncut 80 minutes recording of the 1972 show at excellent video and sound quality, obviously directly from the BBC archives.
Live at the BBC (ZitRock ZR-DVD-CHB-16-03, US, 2016) contains all the songs which we know from the Six Two Five album. In addition there's School Day, Too Much Monkey Business, Rock and Roll Music, and Promised Land. With Reelin' and Rockin' and My Ding-A-Ling it's not hard to tell why these two songs were omitted from the original BBC broadcast as both are the raunchy versions very similar to the ones recorded four months earlier at the Lanchester Arts Festival. Maybe the BBC would have decided differently if they would have known that both raunchy versions would hit the charts at year's end.
While video tape copies of the various international broadcast have been known before, this DVD is of much better quality. And for the first time it contains the instrumental Liverpool Drive of which we didn't have any video recording before.
We have added this DVD as an "other notable release" to our Chuck Berry database meaning it's not a record or CD, but contains additional tracks from the same session as the corresponding record or CD. The full session is now at this session page of the Chuck Berry Database.
[added Apr 2019:]
The DVD has been created by ZitRock, though not for commercial sale. The creator of the DVD contacted me in March 2019 to explain the origins of this DVD. Many thanks!
The video has been published first on YouTube in April 2016. It's still there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtrOr3WKmyY. The original poster at YouTube didn't tell anything about the origin of the video, though. ZitRock, an expert on Rolling Stones DVDs, took this video and enhanced/remastered the audio track. The DVD was made available for download from the net. It seems that someone took ZitRock's files to burn and sell the DVD on eBay.
Tuesday, February 19. 2019
[This blog entry first appeared in January 2016. Recent research by reader James revealed some additional facts. These are included in italics below.]
Along with Taylor Hackford's 1986 documentary film celebrating Chuck Berry's 60th birthday MCA released a soundtrack album called Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (MCA LP 6217). It has been known that the contents of the soundtrack album is edited against the original recordings made during the two shows filmed for the movie. It has not been known exactly what kind of edits were done during this post-processing, though. However, given the huge resource of professional and private audience recordings, finding out the edits is possible. It's just a tremendous task.
During many weeks reader and fellow researcher Claude Schlouch [in 2015] listened to and compared the various recordings over and over again. [Additional research was done by reader James in 2019.] Here are the results:
Many thanks to Claude [and James] for all the work spent and for sharing his results with us. I have edited the section of the main site which covers the birthday concerts accordingly.
Tuesday, January 8. 2019
[Edited version from original post dated 25-12-2017]
Some time ago this blog had a large article on cover variants of the album Chuck Berry On Stage (Chess LP-1480). I had promised a follow-up on Vinyl variants of this album and because a recent discussion with a reader showed that most information about this album floating around on the Net is incorrect, here it comes.
Letâs start with some background information: From early 1962 to late 1963 Chuck Berry was behind bars. Berryâs previous records sold poorly due to his trials. During his prison stay he was not allowed to record new material in the studios. His record company CHESS only had a small stock of unreleased recordings.
Thus the record company was caught cold when new bands on both sides of the Atlantic became successful by covering Berry material. The Beach Boys' Surfinâ USA was released in March 1963, the Stonesâ version of Come On in June. Memphis was a hit by Lonnie Mack and the Beatles had several Berry songs in their repertoire.
There was an urgent need for a new Berry album, but there was nothing to put on it. The Chess brothers dug through their archives and looked for unreleased material recorded during the previous years. They found four tracks recorded August 1961 which they considered worth for release: Trick or Treat, The Man And The Donkey, All Aboard, and a re-recording of Brown Eyed Handsome Man. Two recordings were left from an April 1960 session: Crying Steel and I Still Got The Blues. And there was I Just Want To Make Love To You recorded in July 1959. These seven songs were selected. Today we know that there were other unreleased recordings such as House Of Blue Lights, Time Was, 21 Blues, Oh Yeah, Do You Love Me, Iâm Just A Lucky So And So, or Adulteen. None was regarded as appropriate by the studio bosses, though.
Seven songs are not enough for an album and none of it was good enough for a single. So what to do?
The Chess brothers were known for their creativity so they came up with a creative solution. Why not fill the album with older material released some years ago? OK, they already did a Greatest Hits album called Chuck Berry Twist in 1962. But why not change the hits a little bit so nobody notices?
Letâs use different song titles and letâs add some audience noise to make the album sound like it was recorded live!
I have done studio albums that ultimately sounded like "live" albums. We did a "live" Chuck Berry album, and the world didn't know that Chuck Berry was in jail at that time. We actually were releasing previously unreleased tapes that were in the can. Then we thought we'd come up with a remote which would let us release old tunes that were supposedly "live". So I found the original takes with the count-offs and the dumb endings and everything else, and I cut it all together and created a performance. Then we sweetened it, but the audience sounded phony. However, the Beatles were doing some concerts during the same time period, and the kids were screaming all the way through their concerts. So I used those audience screams, and had a continuous roar during the whole album ... at the end it got real loud. I even had the audience singing with Chuck Berry — if you ride the control along with the words it sounds like the audience's reaction is singing the words. [Ron Malo, Modern Recording & Music, Vol. 6, No. 12, Sept. 1981, p. 58]To disguise this fake even more, the Chess brothers asked Rodney Jones, who was a DJ with the Chess-owned WVON radio station, to add a little introduction. So Jones proudly announces âWelcome to the Tivoli Theatre here in Chicago ...â
The editing and engineering work to add the fake applause and Jonesâ shouts must have been done by Ron Malo sometime in May 1963. The two album sides were mastered from the resulting tape by the end of May or beginning of June and received the Chess master numbers 12477 (side 1, 16â25â) and 12478 (side 2, 14â14â).
Not telling anyone about the fake nature of this album, the liner notes proudly lied:
On this LP we present the world famous Chuck Berry in a jumping, in-person theatre appearance with thousands of fans enthusiastically responding to Chuckâs great performance. Any performer will tell you that he prefers to record in front of a live audience. There is nothing like the cheers and applause of an audience to spur a performer on to the heights of his ability and Chuck really gives his all in front of this packed theatre.
To completely confuse the buyers, the album came without a track listing. The back cover has a non-ordered and incomplete list of songs contained (and the image of an eight-year old LP). The labels simply say Side One and Side Two without any song titles at all. This obfuscation has resulted in incorrect track listings on the Net. Despite everything you read on discogs or wikipedia, the contents of the original US album Chuck Berry On Stage, released in August 1963 as CHESS LP-1480, is as follows:
How High The Moon is a 1940s jazz standard. The version heard here has been recorded during a May 1957 session. Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Lafayette Leake and Fred Below probably used it as an instrumental warm-up.
On CHESS LP-1480 the recording is not listed on the cover and used as an instrumental sign-off (as such named on the Dutch albums). Again Rodney Jones was overdubbed to shout âChuck Berry! Chuck Berry! Chuck Berry!â during the first seconds. Shortly thereafter and almost with the first notes from Berryâs guitar, the song fades after 1:03 minutes.
Copies of the original master disk 12477/12478 went to partner companies all over the world and were used to create variants of LP-1480 e.g. in Canada, in Australia, in the Netherlands (note that the Funckler version misprints Surfing Steel as Surfinâ USA), and as re-issues e.g. in Germany (on Bellaphon in 1974) or the only available CD version which was released in Japan (on Universal in 2010).
Of interest to record collectors are variations of the Chuck Berry On Stage album which are not exact copies of the original master disks.
For some reason the UK version, released in October 1963 on PYE international, has not been produced from the LP-1480 master disks. Instead this album must have been created from the original master tapes. Where Side 2 was faded at 14â14â in the US, the British producers found additional space so the second side of PYE NPL-28027 lasts 14â56â instead. Here How High The Moon is 1â45â in contrast to the 1â03â on the CHESS LP.
This longer fade is also on the 1970s US orange/blue re-issue LPS-1480. The LPS version has been electronically altered to sound like stereo. To create this âenhancedâ variant CHESS/GRT modified the original longer tape and created a new master called 12477_S/12478_S.
Likewise the 1964 variant released in East Asia (Japan and Taiwan) was created from the longer master tape since How High The Moon has the longer fade here as well. There is a huge difference, though. The East Asian versions miss the instrumental Surfing Steel completely! The song was removed from the tape giving a smooth transition from Maybellene to Let It Rock.
We can only speculate why this was done. Maybe the tape sent to Japan was damaged, maybe there was a company or legal rule not to include instrumentals, or maybe Surfing Steel would translate to bad language in Japanese â pure speculation as said. Or maybe it had to do with the liner notes on the US cover saying
We guarantee that you wonât be able to sit still when you put this album on your turntable and hear Chuck Berryâs versions of Maybelline, Surfinâ USA, Memphis, All Aboard, Trick or Treat and seven other numbers.So the Japanese took this literally and reduced the thirteen track album to twelve numbers. Note aside: The British could count and changed the word seven to eight on the PYE release.
Another interesting aspect of the Japanese release is the corrected track listing on the back cover. The printed cover has a track listing which follows the incorrect list on the US cover, i.e. Go Go Go after Rockin' On The Railroad. This fault was repaired using a yellow sticker which lists the correct track order. The initial Japanese records, probably those used as promo copies, came with a white Imperial label and a thin sticker through which you can see the original print. Later records then had a Globe label and an opaque sticker.
In 1982 the On Stage album was re-issued in Germany as part of a 2 LP set along with Rockinâ At The Hops. This version has Surfing Steel but omits How High The Moon completely.
And finally thereâs the most interesting French version, released on Barclay 80258 in March 1965 as Chuck Berry A L'Olympia. This variant of Chuck Berry On Stage contains the same recordings in the same sequence, though without the two songs having Rodney Jones overdubbed: Go Go Go and How High the Moon were cut off. Instead the French had their own announcer. Eddy Mitchell, a successful RockânâRoll singer by himself, is heard with a French language introduction to side 1 which then starts into Memphis, Tennessee. And Chuck Berry himself speaks the introduction to side 2. In addition a few shouts and stage banter from Berry is merged in between the songs on the tape. Berry refers to Paris and tries to speak French. Both Eddy Mitchellâs introduction and Berryâs segments have been recorded at a Paris concert on February 7, 1965. So this is Chuck Berry on stage, indeed. Just the songs are the same as on the US version having the fake audience.
As always: Many thanks to Thierry Chanu and Morten Reff for providing images and a lot of additional information about the 'Chuck Berry On Stage' album.
[Edit 08-01-2018: Added comment and images for the Japanese sticker version.]
(Page 1 of 15, totaling 214 entries) » next page
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.
What You Missed
Some earlier but important entries:
Copyright and Disclaimer
The complete contents of this weblog is
© Dietmar Rudolph
No part of this document may be used or published without written consent by the author.
To contact the authors, email to firstname.lastname@example.org.