Saturday, April 8. 2017
As announced on Berry's 90th birthday in October, the planned album CHUCK (Dualtone Music) was supposed to be released in March 2017. Obvious reasons now have postponed the release to June 16th.
While waiting for the release, we are trying to get some facts about the songs and the recording process. Anyway this is what should finally make it to our database - and as correct as possible. While we know about all the uncertainties regarding Berry's recordings in the 1950s and 1960s, it shouldn't be so difficult to get facts about recent recordings, should it?
Right now, some facts about the new album are public. Most of what's of interest for us, remains unclear, though. The contributors, some of which are reading and commenting here, seem to be under non-disclosure. So we have to stick with Dualtone's press releases and the liner notes excerpts reprinted in Rolling Stone magazine.
Berry has been talking about this album in interviews for at least 25 years including naming songs such as "Lady B. Goode". He must have had recorded parts or all already when in March 1989 a fire at his Wentzville farm destroyed both the recording studio and all of the master tapes.
Berry started re-recording the lost tapes shortly thereafter. He moved to digital recording techniques in the 1990s which allowed him to do the same cut-and-paste recording common with multi-track taping. Due to this we will probably never be able to set a date or even year of when a specific song from CHUCK was recorded. And we won't be able to tell where such recording took place and who played which instrument.
Listening to the single Big Boys released in advance, we hear that Berry's singing and guitar playing is not that of a 90-year-old. Even comparing it to the concert tapes made during the last 20 years, he sounds fresh. Therefore we can assume that at least the base track for this song has been recorded in the 1990s or early 2000s. According to an interview, at least six of the tracks had been ready by 1996. Not to forget that "Big Boys" was dubbed ready for release in an article celebrating Berry's 80th birthday in 2006.
Digital recording also allowed Berry to play more than one instrument. Thus while we are told that Jim Marsala, Bob Lohr and Keith Robinson worked as bassist, pianist and drummer on CHUCK, it might be for all songs, or just a few.
Besides Marsala and Berry's children Chuck Jr. and Ingrid, who toured with him during the last decades, the album also lists guest musicians such as Gary Clark Jr., Tom Morello and Nathaniel Rateliff as well as Chuck's grandson Charles III.
Tom Morello is the guitarist who provides the very unlike solo at the end of Big Boys, while Rateliff sings the background vocals. Whereas Morello has been a recording artist since the 1990s, both Rateliff and Clark are relatively fresh artists. This makes us believe that at least these guest artists have been overdubbed onto finished tapes during the last few years. While the liner notes list Clark Jr. on "Wonderful Woman", the guitarist himself says that he doesn't know which song his playing was used for. Berry Jr. explained that he and his son, that's Chuck III., finished their parts in Nashville in 2014 or 2015.
In addition to Big Boys we already know two songs from CHUCK: "3/4 Time" has been in Berry's touring repertoire for decades. Written by Tony Joe White and best known sung by Ray Charles, this is included in various concert recordings known from Berry since the early 1990s. A version of the Jazz standard "You Go To My Head" from 1938, written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, has been recorded during the rehearsals for Berry's 1986 birthday movie. It didn't make it to the film but can be heard on the corresponding DVD set.
The remaining seven songs on CHUCK are written by Berry himself. This is the expected track listing:
Wonderful Woman [5:19]
Big Boys [3:05]
You Go to My Head [3:21]
3/4 Time (Enchiladas) [3:47]
Lady B. Goode [2:55]
She Still Loves You [3:00]
Jamaica Moon [3:50]
Eyes of Man [2:27]
Collectors should note that "Big Boys" was not only released as a download. Dualtone Music also released a CD single (DUA-1793-SI) containing just this track. It was sent as a not-for-sale promotional item to radio stations.
Many thanks to Lori Kampa of Dualtone Music for information about the album and PR single.
[Addition April 27, 2017: The song "Wonderful Woman" has been made available yesterday at https://youtu.be/kRFg9zUZnpU.]
Wednesday, April 5. 2017
One would imagine this to be an easy attempt to create revenue from Chuck Berry's death in March. But that would be very unfair to Ace Records. This album was released before Chuck's passing including Morten's review thereof as shown here. It's my fault that there were other topics to write about during the last weeks. And there's a second reason why such a claim would be very unfair to Ace: They spent an enormous amount of work in this album which must have taken months to complete.
Here's Morten's addition to CBID, the Chuck Berry International Directory:
CD: Rock And Roll Music â€“ The Songs Of Chuck Berry
Ace CDCHD 1491 • UK, 2017
Roll Over Beethoven (Helene Dixon, USA) / Around And Around (The Swinging Blue Jeans, UK) / Down Bound Train (Ken Colyerâ€™s Skiffle Group, UK) / Maybellene (Marty Robbins, USA) / Come On (Ian Gomm, UK) / Memphis (Don Covay, USA) / Oh Baby Doll (The Pretty Things, UK) / Nadine (The Bunch, UK) / Little Queenie (Jerry Lee Lewis, USA) / Iâ€™m Talking About You (The Remains, USA) / Brown Eyed Handsome Man (Buddy Holly, USA) / Johnny B. Goode (Jay And The Americans, USA) / Sweet Little Sixteen (The Hollies, UK) / Too Much Monkey Business (Elvis Presley, USA) / Almost Grown (Syndicate Of Sound, USA) / No Money Down (John Hammond, USA) / Beautiful Delilah (The Cound Bishops, UK-USA) / Havana Moon (Santana, USA) / Back In The USA (MC5, USA) / You Canâ€™t Catch Me (Sleepy LaBeef, USA) / Rock And Roll Music (The Beach Boys, USA) / You Never Can Tell (John Prine, USA) / Run Rudolph Run+ (Dwight Yoakam, USA) / Promised Land (Dave Edmunds, UK)
24 classic songs from the Poet Laureate of Rockâ€™nâ€™Rollâ€™s matchless catalogue as the cover tells us. Interesting compilation put together by one Tony Rounce who has also written the liner notes with each song being examined by the way of performance by the individual artists and groups. If you need any additional info check out Vol.3 of CBID, so thereâ€™s no need for me to comment on the tracks. However, I wished they had picked a better version of â€śRun Rudolph Runâ€ť.
So far for Morten's entry to CBID written early March. We should add that the same CD is also offered in Japan as P-VINE PCD-17762. And after having received the CD, Dietmar would like to add these comments to the review:
What impressed me with the new Ace CD was how much energy Ace has spent creating it. Although it's almost expected with Ace's long list of excellent albums. The 16 page booklet not only explains the recordings in detail, it also shows cover and label images of each. In addition the selection itself is astonishing. They not only included some of the oldest cover versions (Marty Robbins: 1955, Helene Dixon: 1956, Ken Colyer: 1956 in the UK!!). They also selected both prominent names (Elvis, Buddy, Jerry Lee) and groups I had never heard of. The recordings span more than 40 years and many of the interpretations are notably different from Berry's original tunes.
This album is highly recommended. You'll find a list of web shops here.
Monday, April 3. 2017
Back to our main interest here: documenting Chuck Berry's recordings as completely as possible.
Chuck's work for Chess records is known pretty well nowadays. We have heard the 1950s recordings over and over, first on their original releases, then on all the 1970s re-releases, next when transferred to CDs, then in complete by HIP-O Select and Bear Family. So we should know them by heart.
Then last week Willem Moerdijk asked me:
According to your info, only one Chess take of Carol has been found. I think I may have found a second take. I noticed differences in the piano playing.
Willem included an MP3 of the version he found. It's a version most Chuck Berry collectors have sitting on the shelf. But yet it is different.
Get any of your records containing the 1958 hit Carol and listen to it. Now locate you old copy of Chuck Berry's Golden Decade Vol. 2. Carol is the very first track on side one. Play it. Hear any difference? Probably not. The singing is completely identical as is the guitar playing.
However, Willem is an expert on Jerry Lee Lewis. So he did not care about the guitar or the singing. He heard the piano. And he heard a different piano.
After a week of discussions and with the help of Arne's technical expertise (Thanks, Arne!) we finally have to agree with Willem.
The recording of Carol on Chuck Berry's Golden Decade Vol. 2 (Chess 60023, USA, 1973-02) is different indeed. It contains the exact same recording as the usual version, but there's another piano line. Listen for instance to the solo near the end of the song (at 2:33): On the 'new' version you can clearly hear the pianist performing a slide (glissando). On the 'common' version it isn't. There are some other piano differences at the beginning of the song and in between as well. The differences are minimal and you need to have a good and piano-trained ear to spot them.
Since the singing, the guitar, and even the original piano lines are exactly the same on both variants, it's clear that this is not a different recording/take. Instead it seems that Chess overdubbed another piano track onto the recording, probably because the original piano was pretty thin in the mix. Remember that in 1958 Chess recorded in Mono to a single tape. No way to enhance the original piano line later. Note that also the guitar was overdubbed, but this is identical on both variants, so must have taken place before the piano overdub. Why the enhanced variant did not make it to the original release, remains unknown.
The inclusion of this 'new' variant on Chuck Berry's Golden Decade Vol. 2 (again I show the much prettier UK cover) fits to the known facts about this strange release. Collectors had already found differing variants of Let It Rock (missing the guitar overdub) and Betty Jean (previously unreleased take) in this set. Since all three variants on Chuck Berry's Golden Decade Vol. 2 sound very much like their 'correct' releases, we doubt these were released intentionally. Especially as the liner notes don't tell anything. Or maybe some re-release engineer tried to tease us. In this case he succeeded for 44 years!
If you don't have the original 2-LP set, listen to other late 1970s re-releases. We have found the piano overdub on a few other albums. We haven't found it on any CD, though. If you do, let us know.
Many thanks to Willem, of course!
Friday, March 31. 2017
$251.11 - That's what a collector this week paid for a picture sleeve of CHESS 1883, the U.S. original single Nadine. And just for the sleeve only!
Why did this collector pay that much? Because nobody I know has ever seen this sleeve before.
There are similar looking picture sleeves for the CHESS singles following Nadine. But a PS for 1883 has been unknown.
We wonder if this sleeve truly is a genuine product. Or whether it's one of the many counterfeit picture sleeves popping up lately. Since the image on eBay looks reasonable and since the seller seems to be trusted, it may in fact be a long-lost item.
If you've been the buyer, let us know once you received it. What is your opinion?
Addition by Morten Reff:
Collectors should know that some of the US 45 picture sleeves had the titles only on one side whereas the other side had the same image and layout but no song titles. I also have one of these sleeves which has no song titles on both sides. Which would make it easy to imprint whatever you want.
Friday, March 24. 2017
This site contains a full bibliography about Chuck Berry, i.e. a commented list of books about his recordings, his records, and his life. So when I accidentally found a book titled "The Life of Chuck Berry" at amazon, I bought it without thinking, especially as the price was very low (about $6 including shipping here in Germany).
At this price I wasn't too disappointed when it arrived here the next day. You probably won't call it a book at all. It's a leaflet of less than 25 sheets of paper. This certainly is not enough for a paper book. But it is a custom size for a Kindle eBook. And that's what you get: the printout of a Kindle eBook. And it's just a sequential printout without any layout whatsoever. No page numbers. Ten-line pages because the following image is too big to fit. And so on.
What puzzled me the most was that this book doesn't have an author. It doesn't even have a copyright note. Charles River Editors is a company which publishes eBooks about almost every topic you can imagine, hundreds of which are sold by amazon, apple and the likes.
Typically this kind of "books" consists of nothing more than wikipedia articles pasted. This is not the case with "The Life of Chuck Berry", though.
This booklet contains original text. It's well structured, not bad written and good reading. It covers Berry's personal life and career up to 2012 and it does so quite completely.
The book even has two pages listing a bibliography of sources. When writing a book about the life of Chuck Berry, sources should include Bruce Pegg's book, Berry's own autobiography, maybe the books by Howard DeWitt and John Collins, definitely Fred Rothwell's book. None, none of these important books is listed as a source! Instead the whole list of sources consists just of websites (and some magazine articles available on websites).
The unnamed author(s) obviously did not read any of the main sources. All they did was google'ing Berry's name and re-word their findings. So you won't find a quote from Berry's autobiography in this book. But you will find several quotes from reviewers who quoted from Berry's autobiography. That's odd! Why not read the original?
Therefore you will not find any first-hand information in this book. You will not find second-hand information either. All this is third-hand information.
Due to this, while most of the text is correct, there's an obvious error now and then. That happens when you copy and paste from sources who didn't know better.
This book is good for someone who wants to get a first impression about Chuck Berry's career. You won't need more than half an hour to read it. And you have seen the photos before. For readers of this site, it's not recommended at all.
Wednesday, March 22. 2017
Dualtone had been very quiet about the new Chuck Berry album they announced in October. My guess is they kept quiet to have the media stay away from Chuck's last days.
Here's a message distributed tonight:
Since Chuck's passing on Saturday, the Berry family has received many inquiries from friends, fans and media about the status of his forthcoming album CHUCK, which was originally announced on his 90th birthday, October 18, 2016.
Accordingly, Dualtone Records makes available a first song called Big Boys from this album at their website:
Sunday, March 19. 2017
Thursday, February 16. 2017
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.
Monday, January 16. 2017
Berry Pickin' is a Chuck Berry instrumental recorded in December 1955. Chess released it as a filler on the B side of Berry's first album After School Session and afterwards it was mainly forgotten. You won't find any discography which would list a 45rpm single containing Berry Pickin' ... except for our Chuck Berry Database!
This is because there indeed was a single which contains this instrumental even though only by error. Morten Reff has half a sentence about it in his "Chuck Berry International Directory, Volume 1", but you had to read the text very carefully. Morten owns a copy of the Berry Pickin' single, I have one, and maybe you do as well. Here's its story.
It's the story of the Chess single released in March 1957 with the catalog number 1653. One side of the record contains the song School Day, the other side contains the instrumental Deep Feeling.
To understand the story, we have to understand first how record production works. You'll probably know, but just in case here's a summary: Record production is a four-step process which starts in the recording studio and ends in the record pressing plant. Here the record is literally pressed by putting a blob of plastic (polyvinyl chloride PVC or short Vinyl, once also shellac) into a pressing machine which flattens it to a disk and presses the grooves into the two surfaces. During this also the labels are firmly attached to the record. To press the grooves into the disk, you need to have a negative for each side which has the grooves elevated. This negative is called a "stamper" and made from metal to allow the pressing of thousands of records. To create a stamper you have to have a positive model of the record to produce, typically one for each side of the final disk. This positive looks like an ordinary record having the grooves engraved. It can be played on a standard turntable e.g. for testing purposes. It is not made from vinyl, though. Instead this positive typically consists of a metal kernel coated with a soft material (wax, nitrocellulose lacquer, or in the 1930s cellulose acetate). These master disks are called lacquers or acetates. A turntable-like machine cuts the grooves containing the sound into a blank lacquer which then is used in an electroplating process to create the metal stamper. The record cutter gets the sound from a master tape (at least in the era we're talking about here) which contains the final recording along with all overdubs and mixes. If you need a lot of records (such as Chess in the 1950s) it made sense to add another, intermediate step between lacquer and stamper which allows you to create many stampers for pressing in multiple presses and pressing plants. To do so, the lacquer is first transferred into a negative "father" record using electroplating. Then this "father" record is used to create multiple positive "mother" records, also known as "matrix" records (plural "matrices"). These matrices were checked and then sent out to the pressing-plants to create the stampers.
Let's go back to Chess 1653. After recording and whatever overdubs and fades were needed, the production process began with a magnetic tape containing the master recording. For identification purposes, each master tape was given a unique number. In this case, the final recording of Deep Feeling got the number 8378 and the final recording of School Day got 8379. Our database lists those where known. Using a record cutter both master tapes were transferred to at least two different lacquers. We know that there has been more than one lacquer as Chess 1653 was pressed both at 7-inch size to be played at 45rpm and at 10-inch size to be played at 78rpm. You needed different matrices for each obviously. The lacquer for the 7-inch 45rpm singles was electroplated into multiple mother disks or matrices. Again we know that there must have been more than one matrix, as original silver-top issues of Chess 1653 have been made from slightly different matrices.
You can tell by looking at the writing in the inner "dead wax" area of the single. On some copies you find the numbers 45-8378 x and 45-8379 x engraved. This additional engraving was either hand-written on the lacquer after the grooves have been cut or - more probably - added to the mother disk after checking. The mother disk going to the Plastic Products Co. in Memphis had a different engraving which reads chess 45•8378 PP and chess 45•8379 PP so the Memphis people could easily see to which label the disk belonged.
According to discogs other copies read 45-8378 Δ 15319 and 45-8379 x Δ 15318 which is the code for the Monarch Records pressing plant in Los Angeles. There are also silver-top copies where the etching reads CH-8378 and CH-8379, though these may be 1970s re-issues.
Note that the variety of labels known from Chess 1653 has also to do with the multitude of records needed. Some pressing plants had printers on site who created labels, some got them for external sources. But while the layout was probably given by Chess, the letter size and placement was done at the individual print shops. We know of silver-top labels having "School Day" within quotation marks and others that don't. Also some labels had a sub-title of (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell) below the song name, others didn't.
After its original success Chess 1653 has been re-produced often. There are re-issues with every type of label the Chess company used during the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Up to the mid-60s these re-issues seem to have been created from the original matrices having 45-8378 and 45-8379 engraved.
Sometime around 1965, Chess once more needed re-issues of Berry's old hits. However, they decided not to re-use the old lacquers but to create new ones from the master tapes. One reason was that the fad of the time required stereo records. So Chess tried to refresh the old mono records. They altered the sound electronically to make it sound like stereo. Judging from today, this enhancement was probably the worst they could do with the old master tapes, but they did.
This new re-issue had a light-blue label. The catalog number reads "1653" as on the original 1957 release and the correct instrumental Deep Feeling can be heard. You can tell that new lacquers have been made by looking at the engraving of this variant. Instead of 8379 for School Day the etching erroneously reads 8370 here.
For whatever reason, only a few years later Chess once again decided to create new lacquers, probably around 1967 and with even inferior sound. Again we can tell that new lacquers were made because this next re-issue has another new etching in the "dead wax" (8379 TM5416 CH1653 SG where TM stands for Chess'es own Ter-Mar Pressing Plant and SG might stand for mastering engineer Geoff Sykes).
The label to this re-issue is almost identical to the light-blue one shown above. You can recognize these new ones not only by the TM text in the wax, but also by its label print. The records of this second set have the same light-blue 1960s Chess label but - most importantly - list a catalog number of "CH 1653".
This is the interesting variant! On the B side this second light-blue re-issue not only has a different dead wax, it also has different grooves for the song!
By error someone at Ter-Mar Recording Studios took the wrong master tape to cut the new lacquer. On this B side is a Chuck Berry instrumental, but it's not Deep Feeling! Instead they took the tape of master U7953 which is Berry Pickin'. The faulty lacquers went into production unnoticed and records were pressed.
This must have been a time at the Chess company when somebody got totally confused over which master tapes to use for re-issues. Besides the incorrect pressing of Chess CH-1653 there exist at least two other light-blue re-issues with incorrect contents. Bo Diddley expert George White told me that he owns a light-blue re-issue of Chess 1744 (Howlin' Wolf - The Natchez Burning b/w You Gonna Wreck My Life) where the A side plays I'm Going Away instead. And he knows of a light-blue re-issue of Checker 819 (Bo Diddley - Diddley Daddy b/w She's Fine, She's Mine) where the A side incorrectly plays The Great Grandfather. So whoever was in charge at Chess when the light-blue re-issues were mastered, he either couldn't read or hear.
Many thanks to Morten Reff and Thierry Chanu for their tremendous help with this article!
Friday, November 4. 2016
Strange things happen ...
Right now I'm trying to sell some of Hans' Vinyl rarities through eBay (in case you're interested, click here). I'm also offering some Berry stuff which is only gathering dust here such as a concert poster from 1978.
A second concert poster was sold within minutes. The poster was for a concert at the Grugahalle Essen, Germany in 1977. Artists in this case were Jerry Lee Lewis and a German band called Rudolf Rock und die Schocker. Those who weren't into the German Rock'n'Roll scene of the late 70s and early 80s have probably never heard of this band. But it's worth to know.
Initially Rudolf Rock und die Schocker wasn't a band at all. In 1976 it was just a fun gathering of well-known and well-respected musicians playing in famous bands around the Hamburg area. And the band name was a joke as well, playing with the name of a famous opera singer called Rudolf Schock. The band was formed by bass player Uli Salm (member of Leinemann). Other members came from bands such as Atlantis, Dirty Dogs, Rattles, Truck Stop, Udo Lindenberg Band, Nena Band and so on.
Rudolf Rock und die Schocker played German Rock'n'Roll. Half of the songs were cover versions of German artists from the 1950s such as Peter Kraus or Ted Herold. The other half were songs written by Salm, KrĂĽger and their friends which sounded like 1950s Rock'n'Roll at its best. Have a listen on the Internet (or buy the record) for instance of Schluckauf or Das war der Starclub.
I really liked this band in the late 1970s and I think they and not The Killer were the original reason why I went to the show. I lost track over the years as they changed personnel constantly and my interests moved. Uli Salm continues this project even today. Here's a 2010 recording called Arschloch. You need to understand German to get the lyrics, though.
All this came back into my mind when the poster shown was sold to ... Uli "Rudolf Rock" Salm! We exchanged some emails about the old times and about Chuck Berry.
There was always a lot of Chuck Berry in Rudolf Rock, for instance in Herzilein, which was their greatest success and a Rock'n'Roll-style cover of a then famous Volksmusik hit. And, as Uli told me, indeed he once played with Berry.
During a gig on December 6th, 1991 at the Hamburg concert hall, Chuck Berry was backed by Uli Salm on bass, Dicky Tarrach of the Rattles on drums, and Joja Wendt on piano. Uli sent me this photo for you all to see. Thanks, Uli!
[By the way: Links in this article point to YouTube videos. I have always stayed away from linking to YouTube as German artists were excluded from royalties when their songs were played by Google/YouTube. However, last week YouTube and GEMA (that's the German BMI) finally agreed on royalties for German artists. I still recommend you buy CDs (or Vinyl) instead of listening to YouTube, though.]
Sunday, October 23. 2016
There will always be someone that believe everything they read.said Morten Reff and of course he's right.
The discussion came up when a German magazine claimed Berry to be listed as the highest-paid guitarist in 2016 by a magazine called "People With Money". The only fact herein is that the German magazine has fallen for one of the thousands of fake Internet "news".
There are as many fake accounts for politicians as are for celebrities. And there are fake gossip magazines such as "People With Money" which do not exist further than on the parody website mediamass.net.
Here's the fake cover which came with the "news" - courtesy of mediamass.net:
mediamass.net publishes all kinds of parodies to gossip magazines. The article about Berry's earnings is here: http://en.mediamass.net/people/chuck-berry/highest-paid.html
You may find this to be funny - or not. But you should never take it seriously. Especially not as a print magazine.
More and more people seem to forget that what you read on the Internet is NOT reliable information. ANYONE can write ANYTHING on the Internet, whether true or not. Believe only those texts which come from sites YOU trust. And when in doubt, try to find the original source. In this case, try to find "People With Money" magazine - it doesn't exist!
So to put things straight: Chuck Berry does not own the â€śFat Berry Burgerâ€ť restaurants chain as it does not exist. Chuck Berry does not own the â€śSaint Louis Angelsâ€ť football team as such does not exist. No, he does not have his own brand of Vodka (Pure Wonderberry), and both the top-selling perfume "With Love from Chuck" and the fashion line called "Chuck Berry Seduction" are fakes. Nobody knows his estimated net worth — maybe not even Berry himself. And to refer to other Mediamass parodies: No, he will not be Times' Person of the Year 2016, we don't expect a 2017 World Tour, he has not been dubbed "the Sexiest Guitarist Alive", and I really doubt he's expecting a baby - at 90 years old.
But sometimes even parodies cannot be more absurd than real life: One of mediamass' parodies covered a new Chuck Berry album to be released in 2017: http://en.mediamass.net/people/chuck-berry/new-album.html. OK, that's a rumor which is repeated every second year since 1979. But last week Chuck Berry's family announced a new album to be released in 2017. I had to laugh as this blog post was next to finished when I saw the Rolling Stone article. Too funny if mediamass' parody should become true. And likewise too funny if Rolling Stone repeats a mediamass.net parody
Oh, and by the way: D.J. Fontana will have a new album released in 2017 as well. Read here: http://en.mediamass.net/people/d-j-fontana/new-album.html
Saturday, October 15. 2016
As you know, this site is about the music of Chuck Berry. It is not about Chuck Berry as a person, his life, his family affairs or other gossip. So this blog entry is an exception. I have been asked by a German magazine to write a piece to honor Berry's 90th birthday and to cover his record releases in Germany. Courtesy of Rock'n'Roll Musikmagazin here's a translation of what I wrote.
On October 18, 2016, the first of the classic rock and rollers turns 90. This is amazing, because the music business is notoriously known not to be the healthiest living environment. But we can see from the example of Keith Richards (72) that some people survive almost any dose of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
But for Berry, the music business was just that: a business. This may be because unlike Richards and most other colleagues he had long grown up when his first recordings emerged. At that time Berry had already completed training as a beautician, worked a few years as a janitor and spent his first sentence behind bars. He arose from a musical black middle class family. After work he played with local bands in St. Louis to earn some extra money for himself, his wife and his little children. It was about money and therefore they played what the audience wanted to hear: sometimes Blues, sometimes Jazz, often dance music, but also many standards, country and ballads. What was important was the show, so Berry was not only a stand-up comedian, he also hopped with his guitar duck-walking across the stage, did the splits and other gymnastics.
To increase his income, he thought records sales would be helpful. So he went to Chicago to audition for record companies, and ended up at Chess Records, where on 21 May 1955, the first single Maybellene (Chess 1604) originated. Leonard Chess, boss of the company and a tough businessman, managed to get Maybellene onto the radio and on the top spot of the Billboard Rhythm and Blues charts. Now the money could flow.
However, the money did not flow in Berry's hands. The majority of the royalties ended up at music publisher Arc Music, which belonged to Leonard Chess and the brothers Gene and Harry Goodman. From the author's portion Berry also got only one-third as Chess had registered two uninvolved business partners as co-authors, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed. And the check for record sales would not have been very high either, as Chess musicians were usually paid by the hour.
But Leonard Chess knew how to make money. Therefore Berry stayed with the label. He quickly enforced better conditions for himself. Inspired by the success of the first records he became his own manager and learned to read and to formulate contracts properly. By the late '50s Berry had achieved a dozen hits on the Billboard charts and also got a better share of the revenue.
But record sales were primarily a marketing tool. You earned the big money from performances, of which in excess of 200 were completed each year. Again Berry was quite a businessman. As early as 1956 he separated from his band-mates. On the one hand their alcohol escapades prevented him from retaining control. Secondly, the band had to be paid, and that amount was taken from his pay. So henceforth Berry went on tour alone. The guitar in hand luggage, the audio equipment provided by the organizers and any vagabond band as a rhythm machine. Payment to be made before the show in cash and off the stage after exactly 60 minutes. Encores? I'm not paid for encores. The scene in the "Rock'n'Roll All Star Jam" DVD featuring a TV concert from 1985 is characteristic. During the grand finale to Rock And Roll Music Ron Wood, guitar in hand, chases Berry, who persistently denies his participation.
So no drugs, no sex, only rock'n'roll and only as a business? Not quite. The sex bit shook the well-planned business model over and over again. Many female fans were willing but not always discreet. In 1959 a disgruntled employee brought a criminal charge against him for sex with a minor and he went to prison for one and a half years found guilty of child abuse. In later times pornographic photos and videos, whether real or not, were leaked and published in exposĂ© type magazines. Even as late as in 1990, during a raid on Berry's house, the police found secretly recorded videotapes from the ladies room of his restaurant, which cost him a suspended sentence and a multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement with the victims. Not by chance Berry's biggest selling record is about how he plays around with his Ding-A-Ling. No wonder Queen Silvia of Sweden, an activist against child abuse, had no desire to hand over Berry the Polar Music Prize awarded to him in 2014 for his lifetime achievement.
Berry's prison stay in the early '60s virtually destroyed his career. Meanwhile at exactly this time, with the help of his music, many new rock careers started. The Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and thousands of other groups played the Chuck Berry song book from start to finish and sold his compositions by millions. Johnny B. Goode alone was not only played on stages, but also issued on records by nearly 600 artists. There are nearly 400 cover versions of Memphis, Tennessee, with just under 300 covers for both Roll Over Beethoven and Sweet Little Sixteen.
Berry had a few hits himself such as Nadine and Promised Land during the mid-'60s, especially in England. But he quickly moved into playing oldies for the most part. This was true for both his concerts as well as his later records which often consisted of well known standards. Even his new songs, often not bad, were based on well-known melodies, supplemented by intelligent lyrics.
The lyrics in particular contribute in a large part to Berry's later success. While the music of his records has always been a mix of the familiar, blues, country, jazz, ballads, the lyrics were always original. Berry could easily tell in the two minutes of a single a complete, amusing and catchy story. Nowadays, it's not without reason that Berry is mainly praised by his colleagues for his lyrical poetry.
In the '50s with Leonard Chess, Berry had a business partner with whom he could work well for their mutual benefit. After the end of the beat wave he lost his business acumen. He had always given quick money preference over artistic performance in concerts and so a large check lured him in 1966 to Mercury Records. Five albums with poor sales and four unsuccessful singles later, the planned fifth single was sent only to DJs and Berry remorsefully rejoined Chess. However, Leonard Chess had died and the company had become part in a large business group. Although Berry now had professional musical partners, the Woolies and the Billy Peek Band, who accompanied him both on records as well as tours, there was only a short period in 1972 when he scored a few hits again. Live and on these records, he played his oldies. The latest Chess record appeared in 1975. A brief new start in 1979 at Atlantic was unsuccessful. As soon as the Atlantic album was finished, Berry spent another six months behind bars, this time for tax evasion.
Until a few years ago from time to time Chuck Berry could be seen on a stage, assuming a Russian oligarch wagged enough cash. Since his 70th birthday and up to October 2014 he performed once a month at the Blueberry Hill in St. Louis together with his children. For Ingrid and Charles Jr. these appearances were likely to be considered as elder-care, for Chuck Sr. they were perhaps the only concerts he played for love rather than money.
Unlike the US and many European countries, in Germany the number of Berry records published during the 1950s was pretty low. There have been just five, maybe even only four singles on Deutsche London. It is questionable whether You Can't Catch Me (DL-20085, 1957) was ever released; at least I don't know of anybody who ever saw this record. If you know better, contact me! Even Johnny B. Goode was unissued in this country. During the '60s you could only get Berry's music in Germany on import records, mostly from Funckler in Holland, where from 1963 to 1965 a total of 17 singles called the "Chuck Berry Song Series" were released. Likewise the Funckler LPs were available in this country only as import copies.
In 1966 German Vogue tried the single Lonely School Days (DV-14547). There were hints that Vogue also wanted to release some English albums licensed from Pye Records and was probably hoping for additional new releases. However, due to Berry's change to Mercury it seems that this project was abandoned. On the other hand Mercury released no Berry singles onto the German market at all, just some of the LPs. It was only in 1972 that Mercury jumped on the oldies train and published some Berry oldies, though re-recordings from the late '60s.
From 1970 on Berry's work was marketed in Germany through Bellaphon. The people from Frankfurt were very active, publishing all the new American albums, but also oldies and rarities. This included seven Chuck Berry singles that Bellaphon brought to the German market between 1972 and 1976, of which My Ding-A-Ling (Bellaphon BF-18138) even got into the lower ranks of the Musikmarkt single charts.
Even in the GDR there was an album: Chuck Berry (Amiga 8.55.835, 1981) containing 16 Mercury recordings.
Chuck Berry's musical oeuvre is pretty much fully documented. The 16-CD collection Rock And Roll Music - Any Old Way You Choose It (Bear Family BCD 17273 PL), published two years ago, contains virtually every note ever issued on album or single. If you like it even more detailed, HIP-O-Select as part of the Universal Music Group between 2008 and 2010 released three sets of 4 CDs each containing Berry's Chess material, including a lot of alternate takes and outtakes.
For the true collector among Berry fans even this is not enough, though. While there are discount samplers almost monthly, in which the same material is released in ever new combinations, sometimes there are also interesting segments to discover. There might be a Oldies Collection enhanced with old interviews, or there is an unknown recording on a bootleg. Recently a CD gave us an old radio spot and a security announcement, which Berry had recorded for an airline.
A workgroup of international Berry collectors at irregular intervals write on my website http://www.crlf.de/ChuckBerry about newly issued old recordings, new cover versions or new live CDs containing mostly acoustically or artistically uninspiring, but often historically interesting concert recordings.
Collectors are primarily concerned with ancient rarities, such as Alan Freed's private publishing of a soundtrack LP or record covers never seen in stores. Of particular interest is the research about who played what on which Berry song. Here new information arises month after month. Even the two year old discography from the Bear Family Box is already outdated, because in the course of an old court case recording contracts with names and data became known. This case, of course, was also about money. Berry was sued by Johnnie Johnson, who died in 2005, for a share of the royalties because as a partner and pianist Johnson said he not only provided the piano accompaniment for many hits but also the melodies themselves. The case was decided and completed in 2002 in Berry's favor. Private documents submitted by the parties could be recently forensically evaluated. So now we know, for example, that Johnnie Johnson did indeed played the piano on Johnny B. Goode and that on Roll Over Beethoven there really is a trumpet to be heard.
Chuck Berry's musical heritage remains exciting, even 90 years after his birth. In 1978 Berry was given a big Birthday cake on the stage of the DĂĽsseldorf Philipshalle, by a topless blonde. Today we do well to wish him health. Happy Birthday, Crazy Legs Berry!
The author would like to thank Joe Edwards, the owner of Blueberry Hill Restaurant & Music Club, and his daughter Hope Edwards, photographer and designer, for kindly providing the images [to the original article].
Wednesday, October 5. 2016
[UPDATE: All records listed here have found new homes at fellow collectors. Enjoy!]
Dear Chuck Berry collectors!
A friend of mine and fellow collector asked me to offer a selection of his Chuck Berry Vinyl records to the readers of this site. He says that he ran out of space and decided to stick with digital copies of these. So here is a stack of records most of us had only dreamed of a couple of years ago. These are some of the most sought-after records in every Chuck Berry collection. And here is a unique chance to get those you are missing.
All records below are very rare. They are in extremely nice condition, some even look unplayed. If you are interested in one or more of these, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The records are at my location, so I may be able to answer all your remaining questions. Shipping is from Germany to wherever you live. Records are sold for any reasonable amount as the seller asked me to find collectors by heart first before the remainder of the stack will show up on eBay during the upcoming months. If you need one of these, hurry up!
Now here's the list of records for sale - a collector's dream:
Monday, September 5. 2016
Starting today, the Chuck Berry Database is online. You'll find links to the database on top of all pages of the main text as well as in the menu to the right of this article. Or simply click HERE.
What is the 'Database'? The Chuck Berry Database contains the full and most accurate information about the musical works of Chuck Berry. This includes the full session data such as date, location or recording takes. It includes the full musicians listings for each song and recording. It has release information which tells you where to find a specific recording. And much more!
The database is much more than a full listing. It not only gives a chronological overview. Concurrently it cross-references all the data which allows you to query for instance all the different recordings of Johnny B. Goode. Or to find out which recordings Willie Dixon played bass on.
The database is an international joint work by Fred Rothwell, England, by Morten Reff, Norway, and by myself, located in Germany. Also collaborating were Thierry Chanu, France, Arne Wolfswinkel, the Netherlands, and Claude Schlouch, France, plus there was help from record collectors and readers of this page world-wide.
It was a tremendous work to collect all the data in the database and to take it to a structure which allows you to get answers to almost any question regarding the music of Chuck Berry.
The database project started in the late 1970s, early 1980s. I had a first access to computers and wrote a summary from all the session and recording data which I found on records and in books. By the end of the 1980s I had my own personal computer and database (dBase 2 running on CP/M). All the session data available then was put into the database with the goal to publish it as a book at some time. Over many years the project stalled as I was busy with family and work.
Then I learned to know Fred and Morten. Both were working on similar projects, and both had much more data and knowledge than I had. From then on we exchanged letters, later emails and combined our research. In the end, Fred published his "Long Distance information - Chuck Berry's Recorded Legacy" which was much more than a sessionography with lots of well-written comments about each recording. Morten published his four-volume "The Chuck Berry International Directory". Again this was much more than just a discography. It was THE complete and commented discography about all of Chuck Berry's records published world-wide. And I created the "Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry" on the Internet with hundreds of pages, this blog and much more.
Since the release of Fred's book, further recordings surfaced. When Fred wrote the sessionography for the huge 16-CD Bear Family box, readers learned about many additions over the previously published data. And when you look at the database now, you will find even more data and a lot of changes over those two print-versions.
The Chuck Berry database contains what Fred, Morten and I believe is the most up to date and most accurate report of Chuck Berry's recorded legacy. Whenever new information comes up, such as a new record or some new recording details, we will integrate it into the database soon. Therefore this will be the ultimate Chuck Berry sessionography.
If you have wishes for future extensions of the database or if you have reliable data that is missing or incorrect here, don't hesitate to contact us! Until then: Enjoy!
Monday, June 20. 2016
Anthony Chanu asked me:
Did you notice that the live version of Roll Over Beethoven on the first HIP-O-Select set is different from the version used on the early Radiola album?
No, I didn't. But it reminded me that I always wanted to write something about this recording and its releases. Time to do so.
Live recordings of early performances of the 1950's Rock'n'Rollers are extremely rare. Even though the artists played hundreds of gig each year, no audience tapes or concert recordings were made. In contrast to the 1970s and onwards, where visitors recorded and saved almost every concert, in the 1950s there was no portable personal audio recording equipment available. Even record companies had no intention to tape the raw public performance instead of using a clean and controlled studio environment. Too much effort, too bad quality.
Due to this, the only surviving performance recordings from the 1950s stem from radio and TV broadcast as well as from movies. Movies and TV broadcast however usually had the artists lip-syncing to a playback of their hit records meaning these are not live performances even if some audience is heard.
The only surviving true live performances by Chuck Berry recorded in the 1950s are from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 and from New York, 1956. The Newport recordings were made because some of it was used for the movie "Jazz on a Summer's Day". The story behind the New York recordings is even more interesting:
Between March 24 and September 25, 1956, Alan Freed hosted a series of 26 shows on CBS radio. Each show ran half an hour and was called â€śThe Camel Rock'n'Roll Dance Partyâ€ť. Most of the shows were recorded in New York and produced by WCBS, CBS' New York radio station. The shows from May to mid-June were recorded in Hollywood and produced by KCBS instead because Alan Freed was filming in Hollywood then.
Chuck Berry, who was in New York for filming his segment of Alan Freed's "Rock, Rock, Rock" movie, contributed to the twenty-second show which was broadcast on Tuesday, August 28, 1956. Along with him were The Flamingos and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. It is not clear when and where the show was recorded. It may have been broadcast â€śliveâ€ť as most other 1950s radio shows were. Since there is a loud audience to be heard, the venue must have been a smaller theater. Most likely it was CBS-TV Studio 50, now the Ed Sullivan Theater, on Broadway or the theater in CBS' Studio Building at 52nd Street.
Many of the original tapes from the Camel Rock'n'Roll Dance Party as used for broadcast have been made available to the public in 2015. You can listen to them at archive.org.
In addition the AFRTS (United States Armed Forces Radio and Television Service) created transcription records from the broadcasts. These transcription records were then sent out to AFN radio stations worldwide for broadcast to US military in foreign countries. (This image shows a sample AFRTS record label. If you have a label scan of this or any other Rock'n'Roll Dance Party transcription, please email it to the address given under Copyright to the right.)
The AFRTS transcriptions were edited over the original broadcast. Most importantly all the advertising spots and the name of the show sponsor "Camel Cigarettes" were removed from the recording. This cut off almost five minutes from each show. In addition AFRTS added a different out cue to the show. The transcription records containing the edited shows were produced in small quantities for the AFN stations abroad. A few of them survived until the 1970s, even though their unusual format of 16-inch diameter required special turntables to play.
The AFRTS versions of most of the shows are available from the Old Time Radio Catalog as Audio-CDs.
Snippets of these shows taken from the AFRTS disks have found their way to commercial albums and CDs since the 1970s. The first record I know of was Radiola's Rock'n'Roll Radio (Radiola MR-1087) published in 1978. Roughly at the same time a series of five albums called Alan Freed's Rock n' Roll Dance Party (WINS 1010-1014) came out with the same and additional segments from the AFRTS records. The Flamingos' performance of the August 28 show was to be found only on the WINS release, while both Berry and the Teenagers were on both. A CD release containing 27 tracks was published by Magnum Force in 1991 as Rock And Roll Dance Party (Magnum Force CDMF 075).
The August 28 show starts with Bern Bennett announcing Alan Freed. Freed then opens the show and introduces his house band led by Sam "The Man" Taylor which start a four-minute instrumental called Pretzel. Next follows a lengthy Camel spot introduced by Freed as "the Camel song". After the advertisement The Flamingos sing A Kiss From Your Lips and, as Freed proudly declares, their upcoming next release The Vow. After this another Camel spot explains in detail while one has to smoke only the sponsor's cigarettes.
"And now back to our Camel Rock And Roll Dance Party. And here's the guy that is just the greatest: Chuck Berry and Maybellene!" In less than two minutes Berry runs really fast through his first record. Of the band only the drummer is heard with a short solo. "Wow!" sighs Freed and directly announces the next number: "Chuck Berry and his current bagel, right back to our Camel mike with Roll Over Beethoven!" Again we hear mostly Berry playing both lead and rhythm on his guitar. During the mid-song solo, the crowd hollers and shouts "Go! Go! Go!" indicating that we probably miss seeing Berry duck-walking across the stage. At the very end of the song, one of the sax players cannot step back any longer and adds some answering licks. With "Chuck Berry, just fabulous!" Freed ends Berry's performance.
And the show returns to promoting Camel cigarettes. After that Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers perform I Promise To Remember and Why Do Fools Fall In Love followed by another spot featuring the Camel song. The show ends with Sam Taylor and the Big Band going crazy on another instrumental called Look Out! Alan Freed once again praises Camel and finishes the show.
As said, the AFRTS edits of the show exclude all the Camel spots as well as all mentions of the sponsor in Freed's announcements. So here it goes "right back to our (cut) mike with Roll Over Beethoven." Maybellene is about 2:00 minutes long and Roll Over Beethoven clocks at 3:10 approximately.
But on HIP-O Select's release of the 4-CD set Johnny B. Goode - His Complete '50s Chess Recordings (HIP-O-Select B0009473-02, 2008) this song only runs for 2:44 minutes. And if you listen closely, you will notice that after the solo almost a complete verse is missing and replaced with a segment from the beginning of the show. Why?
I asked Fred Rothwell who helped compiling the CD sets. He told me that Andy McKaie of Universal Music had found one tape in the MCA archives containing both the two 1956 live songs and eight unusual Chess studio recordings with artificial audience dubbed. Even though the live songs we not Chess recordings they decided to include them on the set. And this edited version is as it was on the tape.
At that time no-one noticed that this was a damaged or repaired track. Fred said that he later became aware of this and when he compiled the recordings for the Bear Family boxset Rock And Roll Music - Any Old Way You Choose It (Bear Family BCD 17273 PL, 2014) the correct and complete track from the AFRTS transcription record was used.
Eight unusual Chess studio tracks with audience dubs and the two Camel show tracks on one tape? This made me remember one of the stranger LP albums I have in my collection: Alive And Rockin' (Stack-O-Hits Records AG9019, 1981).
This album had the two 1956 live tracks plus eight rarities which at that time were otherwise only known from the American Hottest Wax bootleg (Reelin' 001): previously unreleased versions of Rock And Roll Music, 21 (here called Vacation Time), Reelin' And Rockin', Sweet Little Sixteen, and Childhood Sweetheart along with the undubbed version of How High The Moon plus the previously unknown songs I've Changed (here called just Changed) and One O'Clock Jump (here as Chuck's Jam). All eight tracks were "enhanced" with fake audience on the Stack-O-Hits release. Yes: How High The Moon which was released in 1963 with audience noise and finally came to light in its original form on the Reelin' bootleg, was re-destroyed with different audience noise.
Fred confirmed that these are exactly the eight tracks from the mysterious tape in Universal's archive. And yes, the album also contains the edit of the Camel show live recording of Roll Over Beethoven. So this is not new, we only never recognized it.
Does this mean that Chess had created another fake live album and released it on the Stack-O-Hits label? Certainly not. In 1981 the Chess archives were owned by All Platinum Records and all they did with it was a hit sampler called The Great Twenty-Eight.
So who was Stack-O-Hits Records? Probably no-one at all. Stack-O-Hits was one of a dozen names used by a company called "Album Globe Distribution" (hence the AG catalog number). A.G. was known "notorious for its quasi-legitimate and downright illegal releases. Every record they issued used a different label name, but all have an AG prefix followed by a 4-digit number". (quote from discogs.com)
While the album's liner notes praise Berry to have "directly and primarily influenced artists from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Rod Steward, to Bob Seger, Led Zeppelin and so many more", they completely lie about the origins of the recordings contained:
Stack-O-Hits is pleased to be able to bring you this fantastic live performance by Chuck Berry, recorded in his prime, performing not only a selection of his biggest hits, but a taste of gut bucket Chicago Blues and high-flyin' jazz as well. Don't let this get by -collectors take note- these performances are released for the first time here on Stack-O-Hits Records.
The only "first time" here was that we didn't knew the modified recordings before. The eight studio tracks were stolen from the Reelin' bootleg and edited to sound "live". The two true live recordings were taken from the Radiola or WINS release. Or more probably they might stem from a broken tape copy of the AFRTS transcription record as this would explain why Roll Over Beethoven was edited (repaired?).
How the master tape of Alive And Rockin' came into the MCA archives for Andy McKaie to find it there, stays a mystery. Does anybody know whether other Album Globe bootlegs were re-released by MCA or Universal?
Thanks to Fred Rothwell for help with this article!
This weblog is an addition to my Chuck Berry fansite called "A Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry" which describes all books and records of interest to everyone enjoying Chuck Berry's music.
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