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.
Monday, February 18. 2019
[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.
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.]
Tuesday, October 23. 2018
As you know, this site is about the music of Chuck Berry and how it was released to the public on records and CDs. Most newer CD releases do not get any mention here because they all contain the same stuff over and over in small variations. It does not make any sense for you to buy any of the re-re-re-releases or samplers. It doesn't make any sense for me either, which is why I do not buy those. We let you know if some re-release is of certain interest, though.
A couple of weeks ago I received a 2017 release which you might want to know about. Again this contains two CDs containing songs you have heard a thousand times. It's just the old Chess records one more time. No need to even listen to those.
But this release is a bit more. "Chuck Berry - Is It You?" (BDROCK BDR144) is a hardcover booklet twice the size of a CD. The two CDs include a total of 44 of his best Chess tracks up until Nadine.
Nadine is also the main point of the book. A seventeen-page comic strip ("Bande DessinĂ©e") shows Berry chasing Nadine following exactly the lyrics of the song. The French text in the drawings is a translation of the lyrics. The drawings were made by Jean-Claude Denis, a well-known comics artist whose publications range back to the late 1970s. Non-french readers should be aware that comics in France, Belgium and other French-speaking countries are considered a special art form. It's not just the funny Snoopy cartoons English-language readers will know. BDs cover serious topics and are usually read by adults, not kids.
As such the Nadine story is drawn the way Berry sings it: seriously with a special kind of humor. Inserted in the story are five full-page drawing showing the ageing Berry in concerts, each drawn according to a typical photo we all know.
The comic strip ends with a full page containing the English lyrics of the song. Next is a "biography", 11 pages in French followed by 11 pages in English. There's little biographical information but more a chronological description of the songs on the CD. It concentrates on the influence of the songs by listing lots of cover versions, especially the French ones.
Finally there's a two-page "discography" which is just the track listing with personnel included. Unfortunately, that info is from very old sources such as the Red Box or the Golden Decade Vol. 2 and is mostly outdated. Please refer to this site's database for the correct recording information.
While you won't care much about the CDs and the "biography", the comic strip and the drawings are quite interesting. Of all the re-releases, this one is special and nice to have.
When looking for this item, check out multiple online shops to find the best price. Amazon Germany for instance demanded almost three times the amount to be paid at Amazon France - at the same shipping costs.
Thursday, July 5. 2018
Ridinâ along in my automobile, my baby beside me at the wheel
Remembering this line from Chuck Berryâs 1964 hit âNo particular place to goâ, copywriter Steve Landsberg and art director Gary Goldsmith of Doyle Dane Bernbach, Inc. (DDB) had the idea for an automobile advertising TV spot. So for the 1985 Volkswagen campaign they modified the text a little bit and produced the TV spot for VWâs GTI car showing the GTI riding the country with no particular place to go.
When I researched Chuck Berryâs contribution to the 1977 Dr Pepper advertising campaign (see the previous blog post), I ran into a March 2017 article by Steve Landsberg posted in the AgencySpy blog on the Adweek Network website: âThe Day I Spent Making an Ad With the Late, Great Chuck Berryâ (https://www.adweek.com/agencyspy/the-day-i-spent-making-an-ad-with-the-late-great-chuck-berry/128720)
Here we learn that Steve not only reused Berryâs 1964 recording but instead had him record a completely new version of his classic tune. I didnât know this. And my friends here didnât either.
So I started researching more about this rare recording. Steve and especially that time's DDB account representative Charlie Zollo have been very helpful with Steve telling even more than his story and Charlie providing a great collection of old documents from his files. Many thanks to both!
Steve even sent me a copy of the 1985 TV spot. Concurrently Anne Chanu found a poor copy of the spot on YouTube. Therefore all of you can go back in time and hear Berry perform this otherwise unreleased studio recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjSJHV2RfQU
Given Charlieâs and Steveâs additional information, Steveâs original article for Adweek needs some corrections and additions. Both Steve and Adweek allowed me to provide you here with an updated version of Steveâs story.
But let's first remember Charlie Zollo how difficult it was to have Chuck Berry sign the contract:
While we can't say how much, I was prepared with a "suitcase full of cash" as we fondly remember (actually a large Cashiers Check) as an upfront incentive to sign the contract. I was dispatched by Carol, the DDB talent administrator (sorry Carol, but I forgot your last name), to Berry Park in Wentzville to negotiate the final contract after Chuck had fired his agent.This is Steve's story about the recording session in Berry Park, with some embedded comments:
It was January 1985. [Editorâs note: According to Charlie's documents, the recording session told here happened in September 1984.] I [Steve Landsberg] was a copywriter at DDB. My art director Gary Goldsmith and I got thrown into a creative gangbang for the VW GTI. The brief was simple: position the GTI as fun to drive.What a great story â and how nicely told. Thanks for sharing, Steve!
An additional comment from Charlie Zollo:
âFor all of us who were involved, it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences weâll never forget. While we all had our own personal experiences, my favorite (which I tell often) was sitting outside of the control room, on the floor against a wall in the room where Chuck and his band were rehearsing. So there I was 10 feet away, as they jammed during the equipment down time, listening to them jam Roll Over Beethoven and other riffs. Listening to Berry during the breaks was, for me, more exciting than seeing any live concert by any rock group.âDefinitely it was, Charlie!
Charlie sent me the copy of an 1985 article by Aliza Laufer from Backstage magazine in which John Hill adds some details:
Hill was the music producer on the entire Volkswagen 1984/85 campaign, having written and produced all and arranged about half of the 20-spot package. According to Hill, the 1984/85 Volkswagen campaign is the biggest introductory budget in VWâs 30-year history.The last sentence means that in contrast to other commercials where the sound follows the pictures, here Steve, Charlie and their team had to film and cut outdoor segments so that they fit to Berryâs singing. Remembering the filming Steve told me:
The commercial was shot in Scotland because Los Angeles was going through a drought and looked too dry. Nothing was green. The area of Scotland we used looked very much like Americaâs lush Â heartland.Other than the music, you only hear a voice-over at the end of the spot. Steve remembers:
The announcer was the late Roy Scheider [Editorâs note: known from Jaws and other popular movies], who was the official voice of VW back then. I covered the recording myself in LA. He was a very kind man. He smoked and drank coffee to get that deep voice of this ready.According to Charlieâs old files, the VW GTI spot premiered on March 1st, 1985 on MTV.
In addition to the TV spot, Charlie remembers that the same track was also used for a Volkswagen radio spot.
Since Berry's deal was for TV only, we paid him another large amount to use the recording for radio as well. Part of the payment was a new GTI, that he picked up at a local Missouri dealer. My secretary (in the days when we had secretaries) would call out "Charlie, Chuck Berry is on the phone" as we were arranging the personal appearance of Chuck picking up his GTI. There was press coverage as I recall, but none that I have a copy of. All in all, use royalties included, he did very well for a few hours recording time. I think we paid him for his studio also.Does one of our readers have a copy of the radio spot or of the press article showing Berry getting his Volkswagen?
The gold-colored souvenir matchbook Steve Landsberg got from Chuck Berry is also known to exist in black with golden print. Hereâs a photo from Morten Reffâs collection:
Thanks to Steve, Charlie, and Morten for their help with this article bringing to our attention a Chuck Berry studio recording never released on record or CD.
Saturday, June 9. 2018
Of the various promotional records containing radio spots which Chuck Berry recorded for companies and associations, one stands apart. For the 1977 campaign promoting the Dr Pepper soft drink, Berry did not only provide an interview or a spoken advertisement. Here Berry and his guitar provide a full Rock and Roll version of that campaignâs advertising song.
Quite recently, a video was uploaded to YouTube showing the recording of the song and the corresponding interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgJfpexPfEc. Thanks to Anne Chanu for finding it!
The video is interesting, but even more interesting is a note in the video description which points to a book written by Susan Hamilton who was the producer of the Dr Pepper spots and also of this Chuck Berry song. I bought and read the book, which is called âHit Womanâ. So should you. Itâs an interesting and funny read about a segment of the music industry you usually donât hear much about.
Susan Hamilton was the owner of HEA Production in New York, one of the top advertising music production companies (also known as a âjingle houseâ) in the US. You can read a short bio at susanhamilton.com, but you better read the full book.
Video and book made me write this blog post about one of the rarest Chuck Berry records ever.
It all started when the Dr Pepper company and their advertising agency Young & Rubicam came up with a new campaign called âThe Most Original Soft Drinkâ. Itâs not quite clear when, but it must have been in late 1973, early 1974 when HEA Productions was contracted to create the music for this campaign. Through HEA founder Herman Edel and NY attorney Lee Eastman, HEA hired Eastmanâs son-in-law to write the song: Paul McCartney.
Susan Hamilton recalls meeting Paul and Linda McCartney in Los Angeles to discuss the project with the client and agency. To everyoneâs surprise McCartney was not interested at all in learning about the planned campaign. Instead he told them that he had already written the song needed and played a cassette with a demo recording.
This song was simply done; it was classic McCartney; it had a great hook, but it had absolutely nothing to do with our campaign. There was no relevance to all of the spots that have been tailored for the campaign â the precious campaign that had been worked on for months and (more importantly) sold to the client.McCartney refused to come up with something else and so Susan Hamilton was left finding a different composer within very short time. Through Tim Newman who worked for Young & Rubicam she got into contact with his cousin who agreed to write the jingle. The new composer was famous singer-songwriter Randy Newman who came up with the melody and lyrics for âThe Most Original Soft Drink Everâ.
Fellow singer-songwriter Jake Holmes rewrote the verse lyrics and the song was used for the 1975 Dr Pepper campaign and the following ones until 1977. (Sheet music for this song as below is currently available as ebay item 253525494577.)
For the radio spots, Susan Hamilton recorded the same song in various musical styles using a number of well-known artists. All these recordings were made over a few months in the fall of 1974.
A first set of recordings was used for the initial 1975 campaign. These were from bluegrass star Doc Watson, blues legend Muddy Waters, jazz pianist Eubie Blake, singer Anita OâDay and banjo player Grandpa Jones. A (December?) 1974 promotional album (Dr Pepper DP-1274) contains these recordings and other spots for the campaign. Susan recalls:
The Muddy Waters session for Dr Pepper was recorded in Chicago at Chess Records Studio, and it was a nightmare. The studio was in disrepair. When mixing the spots, we found the harmonica and the electric bass on the same track. Worse yet, Muddy and the band hadnât a clue how to handle Randy Newmanâs charming, chromatic shuffle tune. I had to somehow wrangle it into a 12/8 blues song. It took a while âŠFurther recordings seem to have stayed in the can and were used for a later campaign in 1977. Artists selected then were Teresa Brewer, Hank Snow, B. B. King, the Mills Brothers, Lynn Anderson, and Chuck Berry. Again each performed the Newman/Holmes tune according to their specific style.
According to Susan Hamilton, she recorded Chuck Berry probably in October 1974, just before they flew to Chicago to record Muddy Waters.
The standard procedure was to record the base track in HEAâs own studio in Manhattan using a fixed set of very capable (and musically flexible) studio musicians. Susan Hamilton and her team then went to the featured artist and recorded solos and voice over the prerecorded track. Unusual for radio spots, but a film crew joined them in every studio to create a video of the recording and an interview with the artist. This is why we can see today how Berry performed the tune. The film was used only for promoting the artists and the campaign to Dr Pepper partners such as dealers or bottlers.
These partners were also the only recipients for the corresponding Dr Pepper promotional record given out at the kick-off convention. Very few of these promotional records seem to have survived. Even discogs.com misses it. Thus before we continue to learn about the crazy creation of this recording, letâs have a more detailed look at the beautiful record which this site's Morten Reff discovered in June 2012.
âThe Sights and Sounds of Dr Pepper â77â (DP-76 in dead wax) comes in a gatefold cover:
Besides a 12â LP there are two booklets, a red one for the Regular Dr Pepper campaign, a blue one for the Sugar Free Dr Pepper campaign.
Likewise the LP has a red and a blue label. The contents can be seen in the two scans. Basically the red side contains the 60-second radio spots and the soundtracks of the TV spots, while the blue side has the soundtracks for the little films containing the interviews and session footage. The Chuck Berry radio spot is at the beginning of the red side, the interview (followed by a count-in and the same song recording) is at the beginning of the blue side.
The 16-page red booklet and the 12-page blue booklet each contain descriptions and photos of the TV spots, photos and some detail about the artists contracted for the radio spots plus separate reproductions of the outdoor advertisements.
This is the segment about Chuck Berry which also includes photos taken from the film as shot during the recording session. All looks so perfect and in harmony.
And this is in total contrast to what Susan Hamilton writes about this recording. Chapter 28 is only seven pages long, but itâs well worth buying the book just for this story.
It all started when Hamilton, engineer Scheiner and HEA salesman Drayton flew to St. Louis with the agencyâs Dennis Powers as well as cameraman Jim Desmond and his sound guy. The flight was late so they arrived close to midnight and tired. At the airport they were refused to get their rental cars until Chuck had a talk with the agent. Next they couldnât sleep in a comfortable hotel in St. Louis but had to follow Berry for an hour by car to get to Berry Mansion, Summer Camp for Inner City Children â a dark, unlit wasteland of broken glass and cracked asphalt with no coffee, no showers, no food.
In the morning they drove back to a broken-down studio of Berryâs in downtown St. Louis (not the Berry Park studios, seemingly), only to learn that Berry requested another $5000 for the recording. Susan Hamilton managed to get the approval from the agency and was forced to write a, in her mind non-binding anyway, contract on the back of empty envelopes. Finally they recorded the overdubs onto the track they brought with them.
We got a bunch of takes and in a very short time. I knew I had plenty of material to be able to compile a great performance. Of course it was a little difficult to judge because we didnât get to hear some of our previously recorded instruments. They just wouldnât play from the 24 track machine through the broken faders. Oh well. We just imagined them.When the team was packing up in the afternoon, Berry demanded his money. He wanted the extra $5000, now and in cash. âYouâre not leaving here until I get it. The tape is not leaving here, and your people ainât leaving here, neither,â Berry said and locked people and tape in a back room. It was late on a Friday in St. Louis and Susan Hamilton had no chance to contact the New York agency nor the client.
I picked up the phone and dialed my office. God was merciful, and someone was there. I had them wire the money out of our account to the Western Union facility in downtown St. Louis. I told them it was ransom money. I was serious.Eventually the money arrived, Susan got tape and people out of the back room after counting it out into Chuckâs hands. To top it, Berry forced them to go out with him for some soul food in one of the scariest parts of the town.
The whole two-day Chuck experience was both hilarious and terrifying, as you can imagine â felt like I was in some dark comedy of a movie!Given this story, itâs no wonder we should be very suspicious watching the session footage on YouTube. The film shows Berry accompanied by session musicians on drums, bass, piano and sax. Look carefully and you will not find a single image where you see Berry together with one of the musicians. You canât, because Susan Hamilton recorded Berry in St. Louis alone without a band. The prerecorded track had been made in New York already.
I asked Susan if she can identify the session men from the video. She says that any shots in the film of musicians other than Chuck were added for creative interest by the film crew. These were not the original session men. Itâs fairly easy to see at the end where the film shows a sax player. There is no sax on the whole recording.
Asked whether she remembers the original musicians, Susan tells that she can only guess. So despite the nice Dr Pepper video we are left with the unknownâs in our database.
All quotes from Susan Hamilton have been taken from her excellent book âHit Womanâ (Hitwoman Publishing, 2013) and from emails in which Susan was so kind to answer my additional questions. Many thanks!
Friday, May 4. 2018
Two years ago we had a long discussion on this blog regarding the recording of Johnny B. Goode. This included some comments about a man not only present at the recording but also deeply involved: Jack Wiener.
This is when I started researching about Wiener who was one of the most interesting record men in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Very little is known about Wiener's work. Therefore I started to write a short article about him. As I researched more, the article became longer and longer. Finally the text is now online as part of this site.
Most of his life Jack Wiener operated using the brand Sheldon Recording Studios named after his middle name. So when you were uninterested in Wiener so far, record collectors should now start to pay attention. Sheldon is a famous name not only to Chuck Berry collectors.
Looking at your Chuck Berry 45s you will see a tiny Sheldon stamp in the dead wax area around the label.
This Sheldon stamp signifies that this record has been mastered by Jack Sheldon Wiener. You will find this on a huge number of singles, EPs and albums from dozens of independent record companies such as Chess, Atlantic, or Vee-Jay.
Looking at your Chuck Berry LPs you will see the logo "Sheldon Recording Studios" on the back of One Dozen Berrys as well as on other Chess/Checker/Argo albums.
Now you're paying attention, don't you?
Jack Wiener (1935-1999) was a sound engineer by profession. From what he did, he was also an inventor, a designer, an architect, a producer, and a studio owner.
In his teens, Wiener built and sold high-fidelity cabinet speakers. At the age of 17 he entered the recording business and started to work at Universal Recording, Chicago and later at Master Recorders, Los Angeles. As an account executive he handled independent record companies such as DOT, CHESS or SUN for which he mastered, doctored, overdubbed and recorded artists such as Pat Boone, Chuck Berry, or Elvis Presley.
In 1956 Wiener started to build a first recording studio on his own located at 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Yes, the famous Chess studios weren't Chess studios at all. The Chess brothers had bought the building and provided some money for the studio, but Jack Wiener was a co-owner and did all of the planning and management. He built the recording console, he planned the room layout and construction, and he selected and bought the studio gear. The famous sound we all know from 2120 was purely Jack Wiener's achievement.
Wiener also did all of the recording and mastering at 2120 S. Michigan Av. up to mid 1958. At his so-called Sheldon Recording Studios, Wiener recorded all the Chess/Checker/Argo artists, but also performers from other labels such as the Coasters, Johnny Cash, Ronnie Haig, the Mark IV and more. Not to be forgotten, he cut and mastered Chuck Berry's Sweet Little Sixteen and Johnny B. Goode.
In July 1958 Jack Wiener was drafted and left 2120. He became a member of the Audio-Visual Branch of the Information Service at the Fifth Army Headquarters in Chicago. Concurrently to his work for Army radio broadcasts, he continued to record, to master, and to design recording studios. For instance he recorded the complete 1959 Playboy Jazz Festival. His masters for Chess, Sun, Nashboro and so on were now marked with the tiny Sheldon stamp in their dead wax area. As a consultant Wiener designed the recording console for Sam Phillips' new SUN studio in Memphis as well as the Echo Recording Studios for Jack Clement.
A 1961 client list included more than 200 companies Sheldon was working for, mostly record labels from Ace to Vee-Jay but also radio and TV stations as well as advertising agencies. With the huge list of clients, it's no wonder in a July 1959 ad in Cash Box, Wiener proudly claimed "Best in Mastering: More hits on charts than any other independent studio".
In 1962 Jack Wiener built a new Sheldon Recording Studios at 1725 North Wells Street, Chicago. This time he included everything needed for providing full service to independent record labels. This included recording and mastering, but also pressing, label printing, packaging and shipping. "48 Hours from recording to sale."
By the end of the 1960s with the decline of the independent recording labels, Wiener moved his business to TV sound recording and processing. In the 1970s and 1980s he built and sold top-of-the-line equipment used for motion picture and television production. He also developed computer hardware and software for broadcasters and recording engineers.
Jack Sheldon Wiener was one of the unnamed experts behind all the great records you love. Singer and guitarist Ronnie Haig called him "The Genius in the Sound Room". Wiener's contribution to 1950s music should not be forgotten. Therefore the whole story is here on the main site.
Acknowledgements: I wish to thank all the fellow writers and experts who helped during my research such as Jason Wiener, Nadine Cohodas, Susan Schmidt-Horning, Ronnie Haig, Fred Rothwell, Bruce Pegg, Colin Escott, Peter Guralnick, Bill Leebens, Hermann Ruwwe, Bill Daniels, Opal Louis Nations, Tim Samuelson, Kandalyn Hahn, Morten Reff, Thierry Chanu, and Steve Carr. Thank You!
Wednesday, April 25. 2018
I have no idea who the people are which release CDs under the ROUGH label name, but I'm sure they read this blog and site regularly. Just a few weeks after we finally managed to solve the mysteries about Berry's 1981 live recordings, ROUGH releases a CD containing the complete show.
The CD is called Live! Wolf & Rissmiller's Country Club - 1981 and seems to be available only on ebay. This time the ROUGH CD got a catalog number (40147), though interestingly the same product code as the previous one which contained live recordings from Seattle and Waterloo.
Of course the ROUGH people did not find the original Norman Pattiz recordings. They just combined what was found on Youtube and on previously released CDs and LPs. So here we find the twelve tracks from the first set as they were broadcast on radio plus the one track from the second set which made it to the Westwood One Radio album.
To fill the CD, ROUGH added some live recordings from other shows. Here we get three songs from the 1982 show at the Roxy which are well known from many other releases. Plus we get three songs from a French TV show 1965. These tracks have been available on video before, e.g. on Youtube or at L'Institut national de l'audiovisuel (Ina.fr). The show was recorded for the French TV series Music-Hall de France on November 4th, 1965 in Montrouge near Paris. As this is the first audio release of this recording, we have added it as a session to our database.
Concurrently to ROUGH 40147 they also released a second CD again containing known but rare Berry live recordings in high quality. ROUGH 40148 is called Saturday Rock - Live at the BBC '72.
As you can read from the title, again we know these recordings well. The Sounds for Saturday show has been released on multiple albums before, most notably the Six Two Five vinyl bootleg.
In contrast to the previous releases, the ROUGH CD contains the full show recording as it had been made available on a DVD last year. Also from a DVD are the two bonus track recorded for the Radio Bremen TV show five days before the BBC concert.
Again this CD is offered on ebay only so far.
Thursday, April 5. 2018
Since the late 1970s Chuck Berry traveled to shows domestic and overseas with his friend and bass player James "Jimmy" Marsala. Marsala acted as the band leader performing sound checks and instructing the keyboarder and drummer, often locals, on how to play when sharing the stage with Berry.
Now Marsala has written a book called "Memories of Chuck" in which he reports his experiences on the road.
Marsala's recollections could probably have made this a highly interesting book. Unfortunately they didn't. Given the reports from promoters and journalists about Berry's habits regarding payments or female fans, one would expect nice stories from a first-hand witness. Unfortunately the result is tame and boring.
Marsala tries to correct the public image of Berry by defending him in every way. For every incident reported, Marsala finds a probable and nice explanation, whether on leaving a promoter with paid rooms to get a different hotel, or sending the band off-stage, or overrunning fans with a rental car. All of Marsala's stories are so biased you are tempted to stop reading after one third of the book. Only in the very end you'll find a chapter on Berry's "thriftiness". Everyone else would probably call it "closefistedness". Seems as if Marsala in the end did not really liked to sleep on the floor only because Berry decided to book just a single and single-bed hotel room for the two.
Besides two chapters containing short anecdotes of Marsala's life with Berry, the book chronologically describes incidents on various shows and tours between 1979 and 2014. There are five pages about Berry/Marsala's performance at Bill Clinton's inauguration party, five pages about a show in Spain, five pages about a tour in Brazil, and so on. Everything is very brief. Of the 180 pages of the book, only about 100 contain text at all.
Most of the remaining pages contain color(!) photos from Marsala's collection. Most show Marsala and Berry on stages all over the world, or they show Marsala and the band waiting for transportation. Other photos show Berry or Marsala with other famous artist such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin or Bill Wyman. Unfortunately many of the photos are not of best quality.
As Marsala writes from a first-hand witness position, we are supposed to believe what we read. You should take into account that Marsala writes from memory, though. And memory may not always be trusted. I cannot judge on most of the anecdotes reported, but I have been on-site at the 1983 Eindhoven concert. This is where the Berry photo from this site's logo originated. In 1983 I wrote about this concert and what I wrote does not necessarily match Marsala's memories.
I wish Marsala would have taken the time to write more, to write more professionally and to write more openly. Then this could have been a very good book. As it is, you will still want to buy a copy, but like me you will be disappointed.
Since none of the larger publishers seems to have been interested in selling this book, Marsala published it on his own using a Canadian company called FriesenPress. This is not a publisher but a company who offers self-publishing. Marsala provided the complete book, probably along with the non-professional layout. FriesenPress stores the book's electronic file and prints a copy as soon as a buyer wants one. They work together with sellers such as amazon and even with local book-on-demand companies for fats supply. When I ordered my copy from amazon Germany, the paperback I got was printed on demand by a German company. Yours may come from some place completely different. Some sellers are listed here.
Saturday, March 17. 2018
Arian Collins is a Chuck Berry fan like us. He recently wondered about the strange release strategy Chess showed with the first ten years in Berry's carrier. Songs were left on the shelf, placed on albums years after recorded or even released as singles only.
Thus Arian imagined how Berry's early albums would have looked like if Chess did release all recordings in time.
On his blog "Albums Back from the Dead - Recreating albums that never actually existed" Arian shows us Berry's Chess albums he imagined, including track listings which follow the recording dates and imaginary covers.
Look, read and enjoy
Chuck Berry 1955-59: https://albumsbackfromthedead.blogspot.com/2018/02/chuck-berry-discography-1956-59.html
Chuck Berry 1960-66: https://albumsbackfromthedead.blogspot.com/2018/03/chuck-berry-discography-1960-66.html
Monday, February 26. 2018
This site's section on Radio Show and Promotional Records has a description of the most interesting Chuck Berry records which were not available for public sale. This includes the so-called Radio Show albums which are LPs (later CDs) containing pre-produced radio shows to be broadcast by radio stations nation-wide. Some of these albums contain interviews or even music not available anywhere else.
I recently received another of these radio albums containing five segments of 5 to 7 minutes each to be broadcast as House of Blues Breaks on CBS stations. The segment for Thursday, 21 April 1994 concentrates on Louis Jordan but holds an interview segment by Chuck Berry related to Jordan.
They say that's a Chuck Berry song because it goes 'da-da-bi-da-bi-da-bi-du-a-da-bi-du-a'. Well, the first time I heard that was one of Carl Hogan's riffs in Louis Jordan's band. We have T-Bone Walker - I love T-Bone Walker and his blues. So you put a little Carl Hogan, a little T-Bone Walker, and a little Charlie Christian, the guitarist in Tommy Dorsey's band, together. Look what a span of people that you will please. And that's what I did in Johnny B. Goode, in Roll Over Beethoven. And making it simple is an important fact, I think, that resulted in a lot of the artists understanding, being able to play my music. If you can call it my music. But there's nothing new under the sun.
This does sound very well-known. We have heard Berry tell this in multiple interviews before. However, I checked the remaining radio station albums and did not find this specific segment. Do you remember where we have heard this specific interview segment before? Let me know.
Friday, February 16. 2018
As you know, this site's database is a complete list of each and every Chuck Berry recording which has ever been published on a mass-produced record or CD.
Some people have noticed that various web sites list Chuck Berry recordings which are not in our database. All these contain "alternative facts" and it's in no way our job to correct those. One error, which even made it to Mike Callahan and David Edwards' excellent Both Sides Now website, continues to be repeated over and over, though. Time to get the facts right:
In June 1972 Chess recorded several of their main artists at the Montreux Jazz Festival. This included Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor and T-Bone Walker. Most were backed by The Four Aces, i.e. Lafayette Leake, Dave & Louis Myers, Fred Below. Some performances including Berry's were also broadcast on TV. From these broadcasts and from audience tapes we know it's been a poor Berry performance despite Walker and Dixon as guest artists on some tracks.
Chess decided to release the best recordings from the various shows on a two-LP set numbered 2CH-60015. Berry's complete performance seems to have been mastered for release, as both Michel Ruppli and Fred Rothwell report the master numbers CH2440 to CH2453 containing the songs from Berry's Montreux performance.
The double album was initially announced under the title "The Blues/Rock Cookbook - Volumes 1 & 2" to be released by Chess/Janus in September 1972. The track listing seems to have included Let It Rock (master CH2448) and School Day (master CH2453) from Berry's performance. [I haven't seen the original announcement yet, but I found a note in Cash Box which lists the artists, though not the songs.]
Those who know tell that the masters of these two songs have been cut from the master tape residing in the Chess vaults which otherwise still has the complete stereo recording. Thus it looks as if a master tape for the Blues/Rock Cookbook album had been created.
However, we have never seen a copy of this album nor any image thereof. It seems that it never made it to the stores. Strangely, many online discographies list 2CH-60015 under this title - and list Berry among the artists.
Correct is instead, that the final release of CHESS 2CH-60015 in February/March/April (?) 1973 has the title "Blues Avalanche" on the cover and "Blues/Rock Avalanche" on the label. The "Avalanche" album has the exact same tracks as the planned "Cookbook" album except for the two Berry tunes. There's no trace of Berry on the disk or on the cover.
It is completely unknown why this change happened? Fred Rothwell writes that Berry had a dislike for compilations. Another wild guess could be that Berry demanded additional cash for the publishing of his recordings. Or someone had noticed that Chess had just released a Chuck Berry live album (The Chuck Berry London Sessions, CH-60020). It even could be that Chess officials finally noticed that Berry's performance in Montreux was poor. Who knows?
In case you wonder, yes, there is another album missing Chuck Berry live performances. The soundtrack album for Richard Nader's movie "Let The Good Times Roll" (Bell 9002, 1973) has the best live performances by old-time rock'n'rollers such as Fats Domino, Bill Haley, and Little Richard, but misses the Berry part from the film including a performance together with Bo Diddley.
Saturday, January 13. 2018
There are hundreds of audience tapes containing Chuck Berry shows from all over the world. Few of them are worth listening to and even fewer are worth releasing.
A couple of weeks ago a new CD called Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry! Live! became available containing two shows which are really worth listening to. Although the CD says "This CD-R is a non commercial product and is for private use only", it is professionally made with a printed cardboard envelope. The label is called ROUGH. There is no catalog number, but the barcode reads 640509040147, so we take this as the catalog number.
The two shows included are well known. Seven tracks come from a show recorded in February 1965 at the TV studios of Radio TĂ©lĂ©vision Belge in Waterloo, Belgium. This show was broadcast under the title "Face au public". It's available in very good quality on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhoyMlX5avU
It's interesting to note that Berry is backed by professional Jazz musicians from Belgium: Willy Donni on guitar, Willy Albimoor (Willy NoĂ«l De Moor) on piano, Ed Rogers (Roger Van Hoverbeke) on double bass, and Eddie Hunton on drums.
Besides his greatest hits, Berry also performs his latest singles and The Things That I Used To Do, a blues by Guitar Slim.
Further 14 tracks on this new CD come from a September 1980 show at the Seattle Arts Festival "Bumbershoot". Again this recording is of highest sound quality. It probably was recorded and broadcast by Seattle radio station KSIW. At least KSIW DJ Gary Crow introduces Berry and the band and promotes the radio station.
Fred, Thierry and myself spent some time trying to find out who backed Berry at this show. Crow introduces them as the "Northwest All Stars" and they are much better than the average pickup band Berry used to play with. The guitar player and the piano player both get time to solo which is a strong indication for Berry really liking their play.
With the help of Eric Predoehl and Ned Neltner we finally got into contact with guitarist Barry Curtis (ex-Kingsmen) and drummer George Rudiger (of Jr. Cadillac) from the band. Both Barry and George remember the show well. They report that the electric piano was played by Tom "Cadillac" Katica (Jr. Cadillac as well), who died in 2010. They didn't know the bass player who was traveling with Berry. This indicates that here again we hear Jim Marsala playing.
Eric has a great photo shot on his louielouie.net site showing Chuck, George, and Barry during the Bumbershoot show: http://www.louielouie.net/blog/?p=9074
Besides all his greatest hits, the show includes nice versions of You Don't Have To Go and Baby What You Want Me To Do written by Jimmy Reed as well as Lousiana Blues written by Muddy Waters. Note that in contrast to the known audience tapes, the show on this CD has been shortened. Due to time limitations, Johnny B. Goode was excluded, Reelin' And Rockin'/House Lights was shortened by two minutes. Also missing is the introduction by Gary Crow and an initial guitar instrumental based on Rockin' At The Philharmonic.
Right now we haven't seen this CD offered in stores or mailorder catalogs. It is offered on ebay, though.
Sunday, January 7. 2018
While Carol is one of Berry's best-known records, the recording itself is kind of a mystery. This starts with two different master tapes which have been used to create the hit single vs. the LP release. Most readers will know the LP master originally created for the 1959 album Chuck Berry Is On Top (CHESS LP 1435). This has a wide range of loudness throughout the song and is used for almost all LP or CD re-issues. In contrast, the master used for the 1958 single (CHESS 1700) is much more compressed to give a more leveled sound. To many people this variant sounds much more vivid and overall better.
The single master is more difficult to get as it was used only for the hit single and the follow-up EP. According to Thierry Chanu, the single master has been used only once since then, on the British album More Chuck Berry (PYE NPL-28028). In the US this master seems to have been lost which is why Bear Family in 2014 reconstructed it from a Vinyl single to re-issue it on their 16-CD box set.
Also lost are session tapes showing the development of the recording as well as the overdubs tried. So it came out as a surprise when in April we found a variant of Carol having an additional piano overdub which is not on the original single or LP release. This piano overdub version has been published only once: on the 1973 double album Chuck Berry's Golden Decade, Vol. 2.
This made us listen to Carol in greater detail trying to find a second release of this piano overdub. We didn't.
But in December Thierry Chanu found something else: On the Japanese 1983 box set Very Good!! (CHESS PLP 834-6) there is a third variant of Carol!! Again it sounds almost the same as the hit version but has additional piano playing. And this is a different piano overdub than the one on Golden Decade.
The piano overdub on this version is much more audible, but concurrently it's also worse. It doesn't fit the song very well. And the master runs approximately 5% faster than the hit version, whether on purpose or not. According to Morten Reff, this second piano overdub was also used on a second Japanese box set called From The Beginning 1955-1960 (CHESS SJET 9523-5) released probably in 1973. And Thierry found it on a strange European CD called Greatest (Goldies GLD63035, Portugal 1991).
Given these results we have to state that session tapes of the Carol overdubs must still have existed in 1973 as two alternative overdubs were used on compilation albums both in the US and in Japan. As these seem to have been lost in MCA's archives, one wonders if master tape copies still exist in Japan or elsewhere.
Sunday, December 31. 2017
Does it make sense to write a review of a book you'll never read? Maybe. I got this nice little book for Christmas and would like to share it with you. It's about Chuck Berry, kind of. But unfortunately it's available in German language only.
Bissingheim is a suburb of Duisburg which itself is a suburb of the largest megacity in Germany, the Ruhrgebiet. Duisburg is best known for having the world largest in-land port.
"Chuck Berry over Bissingheim", subtitled "The true story of rock and roll", is a 2017 book by Frank "Zepp" Oberpichler. Oberpichler is a German musician and writer. He played guitar in various cover bands such as "Ten Beers After", "Substitute" or "Freeway Cash" and published some CDs alone and with US or German musicians. His homepage is at http://www.oberpichler.de.
In "Chuck Berry over Bissingheim", the first-person protagonist tells about his Grandpa ("Oppa") Wallusch, an electrical engineer working at the railroads. Oppa Wallusch just passed and his grandson remembers the stories they shared. So we learned that while Bissingheim was never on the tour plan of any famous rock band (or any unknown highschool band either), Bissingheim was indeed the birthplace of Rock'n'Roll.
Oppa Wallusch learned to play guitar in the early 1940s while staying in England during the war. He got friends with an American Blues musician by the name of Big Joe Turner. Back home Wallusch formed a band which on weekends played at weddings and barn dances near Bissingheim. Here Oppa Wallusch merged Blues with Polka dance music and created what he called "Ruck und Roll".
Over the years, his employer sent Wallusch to England and to the States several times and wherever he went, Oppa Wallusch left his traces by educating young musicians or helping them write famous songs. Together with Jim Marshall he invented the guitar amplifier and taught Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend how to use it. Wallusch met Woody Guthrie and Jerry Garcia, was on stage at Woodstock and shaped rock music as we know it.
A whole chapter covers Wallusch's stay in Chicago in the late 1940s where he met and educated Chuck Berry on how to do the "Ruck und Roll", how to play guitar and how to write story songs.
The book is a report of Wallusch's talks with his grandson. But concurrently the book is its own soundtrack album. The chapter headings read Track 1 to Track 11 (along with run-in and run-out). Each chapter starts with a quote from a famous railway song (which Wallusch might have been involved in). And each chapter includes the lyrics of a German-language song Wallusch wrote and which is very close to a hit you might remember. Unfortunately no recordings of Wallusch's originals survived.
Track 11 is a song about a guy trying to get a number from the operator to get his loved-one on the phone. The lyrics end explaining that the guy is trying to phone his daughter, not his girl-friend. Wallusch's song is called "Meiderich - Kennen Sie?". (Meiderich is another suburb of Duisburg, "Kennen Sie" is German for "Do you know".) And, believe it or not, Chuck Berry took Wallusch's idea and melody to create a famous English-language version.
Oberpichler's book is a nice read. It could have used less slang, though. I guess even many Germans will not fully understand Wallusch's recollections. But mainly I wish the book would have been longer: Just eleven tracks are much too short for a soundtrack album nowadays.
It's a pity nobody else remembers Oppa Wallusch, this hero of Rock'n'Roll. Even in Bissingheim he is long forgotten, as Oberpichler shows in this nice video trying to find the roots of rock music in Duisburg: https://youtu.be/45WnyUKgkzY
If you can read German, get yourself a copy at your local bookstore using the ISBN 9783942094726. The book is also available at amazon.com or amazon.de. Recommended.
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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.
Dietmar Rudolph about Where have we heard this interview before?
Reader Ari Niskanen sent me an email regarding the source of this quote. It is from the 'H ail! [...]
Josep about Yet another Carol
Amazing research. Thank you ve ry much.
Dietmar Rudolph about Big Beat magazine issue 26 contains more than 100 pages on Chuck Berry
Sorry, Jean. There is no print ed version. I'll send Alain's email to you separately so you can [...]
Jean Million about Big Beat magazine issue 26 contains more than 100 pages on Chuck Berry
do a printed version exists so mewhere?
Dietmar Rudolph about Variations of the CHUCK album?
Fred has written a great revie w which you will read here soo n.
Jean Million about Variations of the CHUCK album?
thanks ! i'll apply your advis es !!! though i already heard it by the dozen on deezer !!! w [...]
Dietmar Rudolph about Variations of the CHUCK album?
Hi Jean! As said in the articl e I'd buy the CD from the chea pest source or from your local res [...]
Jean Million about Variations of the CHUCK album?
so, at the end ...which varian t do you recommend ? 'cause i' ve been waiting for your artic le b [...]
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