Thursday, October 20. 2022
MCA/Universal music executive Andy McKaie has died, aged 76, following a 17-year struggle with Parkinson's disease. Andy established a significant reissue program of material by blues, rock, jazz and country artists, from the Motown, Mercury, and Island labels and, most significantly, the Chess imprint which had become part of the MCA/Universal catalogue following a series of take-overs and buy-outs. He meticulously catalogued and reissued the music of the great blues giants at Chess: Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers plus the soulful sides of Etta James and Bo Diddleyâs magic music amongst many others. He won four Grammy Awards in the Historical Recordings category: for Chuck Berryâs The Chess Box, Billie Holidayâs The Complete Decca Recordings, Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey and Little Walterâs The Complete Chess Masters (1950 to 1967).
Following the publication of my Berry book, Long Distance Information, Andy contacted me to help compile and produce a comprehensive release of Chuck Berryâs Chess recordings issued under the collective title âHis Complete Chess Recordingsâ (which wasnât exactly correct but near enough for rock ânâ roll). Three, four CD box-sets were released spanning Chuckâs work from 1955 to 1974 which included a number of previously unissued recordings. Andy would call up Berryâs tapes from the huge MCA/Universal vaults, copy them onto CDRs and mail them to me to review and sort out. The raw Chess tapes were a complete jumble, mixing old and new, stereo and mono together on individual tapes, some cuts only partial, some with false overdubs. From my point of view this was manna from heaven and I waited eagerly for the next batch to drop through my letter box. It is a sobering thought that the original tapes may well have been lost when fire swept across the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood in June 2008 and perhaps significant that Richard Weize used my CDRs when producing the Bear Family âRock And Roll Musicâ 16 CD box-set in 2014 rather than seek them from Universal.
Andy was undoubtedly one of the good guys and it is terribly sad that we have lost a dedicated advocate of the music we all love.
Monday, July 10. 2017
Who would be better qualified to review Chuck Berry's latest and last album CHUCK (Dualtone/Decca) than our expert Fred Rothwell, author of "Long Distance information - Chuck Berry's Recorded Legacy". This review first appeared in the Juli 2017 edition of Now Dig This magazine, the most interesting British magazine on Rock and Roll music. Many thanks to Trevor Cajiao, publisher of NDT, to allow Fred and me to reprint this revised edition of Fred's review here. If your want to have the printed version, go to the NDT store here: https://www.nowdigthismagazine.co.uk/product/now-dig-this-magazine-no-412-201707. On this page you can also buy your subscription to the magazine. Highly recommended!
'Chuck' â the last go-round from Chuck Berry.
Fred Rothwell performs a post-mortem on Chuck's posthumous album, dissects the disc and examines a platter that really matters.
Small miracles can and do happen, even in the jaded world of commercial music. Just a few months after his 90th birthday and untimely death, Chuck Berry's final contribution to rock and roll has arrived in the form of 'Chuck' a 'new' album on the Dualtone label (Decca in the UK). The album that his fans had been promised for many a year has finally surfaced. Its gestation has been elephantine. Back in 2001 I wrote in Long Distance Information
Chuck plans to release a new studio album consisting of thirteen new compositions including one tantalisingly called 'Lady B Goode' (no prizes for guessing the progenitor of this song) and another titled 'Loco Joe' (said to be 'Jo Jo Gunne' with new lyrics) in celebration of his 75th birthday. I for one can hardly wait!Well wait I did, along with an army of Berry fans. 18th October 2001 came and went but the album was a no-show. Later, a little more information seeped into the public domain and several new songs were mentioned, a talking blues called 'Dutchman', a rocker titled 'The Big Boys' and a slow ballad called 'Darling'. 'Havana Moon' was slated for a rewrite as 'Jamaica Moon' and 'Down Bound Train' was to be updated as 'Hell Bound Train'. A Billboard Studio Monitor report from October 2001 said Chuck had spent 30 hours at Four Seasons Media Productions recording studio in St Louis, recording new material and transferring demos and rough tracks from two inch, two track magnetic analogue tape to a digital Pro Tools platform. Berry would soon record more guitar and vocal tracks it was reported. 'Since March I've put a lot of energy into it. I've done more since March than I have in the last 14,15 years,' Chuck said. 'I want this to be like no other record I've ever put out'. Some of the songs go even farther back to the 1980s, written during his spare time during breaks in touring. 'He always had a pad and a pencil with him,' said his long-time bass player and tour companion Jim Marsala. Jim said Chuck started working on his 'new' album right after he released his previous studio album 'Rockit' back in 1979. However, a March 1989 fire at Chuck's Berry Park studio put paid to embryonic versions of the songs. Chuck told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the fire had destroyed a master tape with thirteen songs he had completed off and on over the last seven years. It took until 1991 for the studio to be rebuilt and for Chuck to re-create his lost work. Chuck's son Butch, a member of his band since 2001, recalled, 'He had to go back to square one. It was him doing all the basics by himself, all his vocals, all his guitars, putting all the basics together and building from there'.
In the intervening period more recording, overdubs, digital splicing and other sonic jiggery-pokery has taken place. The album now has ten, not thirteen tracks and 'Loco Joe' and 'Hell Bound Train' have disappeared. More musicians have been drafted in, including Chuck's son Charles 'Butch' Berry Jr (guitar) and daughter Darlin Ingrid (harmonica and vocals) and 23 year old grandson (Butch's son) Charles Berry III (guitar) together with Bob Lohr (piano), Jim Marsala (bass) and Keith Robinson (drums). Collectively named by Chuck as The Blueberry Hill Band due to their association with the St Louis club of that name at which they had played each month for twenty years. There are also some other 'guests' but thankfully there has been no overload of musical 'stars'. This had already been done at Chuck's sixtieth birthday bash. There are three young guitarists, Gary Clark Jr., Tom Morello and Nathaniel Rateliff who are on one track each. Clark had been recruited by Butch while Dualtone had suggested to other two, along with a bunch of other names that Chuck rejected. In addition to the base tracks being laid down at Berry Park and Four Seasons the album was the product of St. Louis studios, Casa Del Torretta and Electropolis plus additional recording work in Nashville.
So let's examine the individual tracks in the order that they trip off the disc.
'Oh well looky here now, this just makes my day,' Chuck exclaims at the start of 'Wonderful Woman', a rockin' shuffle with more than a hint of 'Back In The USA' to the melody. It's a tale of a beautiful woman with long brown wavy hair and a form fitting dress that is too hard to bear. In an earlier age this might have been 'Beautiful Delilah' or 'Little Queenie' but as it turns out the lady in question is Chuck's wife, the equally enchanting Toddy. The track is chock full of guitarists, son Charles Jr., grandson Charles lll and young Texan blues buck Gary Clark Jr. They are all in the mix along with Chuck himself. However, the cut isn't cluttered as they each queue up to play their own versions of Chuck Berry licks. There is even room for Ingrid's harp. She ain't no Little Walter but her contribution adds to the texture. With intricate couplets like 'Have you ever seen a woman to whom your heart you'd give? Who would betray you twice and you know you'd still forgive', you know Chuck's poetic prowess is still present. A great opening track that was selected as the second album taster issued as a digital single.
This is a cracker. If the song had been recorded at Chess it would be up there with Berry's best. 'Big Boys' is a rampant rocker which kicks off with Chuck's signature 'Johnny B Goode' opening riff but with a coda added that ricochets violently from the guitar fretboard. This is a coming of age saga where the wean-year Chuck finds out the 'where, what, and why' that the big boys do with the big girls. Great lyrics with even a touch of second grade French thrown in, 'Mademoiselle, je vous aime, voulez-vous?'. There are scorching guitar solos after each chorus, not necessarily played by Chuck, as again he is joined by his son and Tom Morello on guitars plus Nathaniel Rateliff helping out on the 'yes yes' choruses and on one of the verses, just before the French bit. Such are the vagaries of modern recording that Rateliff, the bearded front-man of the Night Sweats, never even met Chuck but mailed in his contribution from Denver. I suspect the same goes for Tom Morello and Gary Clark (on 'Wonderful Woman') who both recorded their bits in Los Angeles studios. Morello, who contributes a solo, is well known (by some - not me) from his days in the band Rage In The Machine. Chuck's voice shows its age but he articulates his lyrics with ease. Subtle vocal changes occur between verses which makes one wonder if there has been some judicial splicing in creating this minor classic. Not surprisingly this cut was the first we heard as a digital download single. Very recently the song was promoted on the US TV Tonight Show, sung totally by Rateliff, with the two younger Berrys on guitars. It's a pretty good version â check it out on YouTube.
You Go To My Head
This is the first of only two songs not written by our man and stems way back to 1938, a time of big band sounds and classic ballads that so influenced him. The 'You Go To My Head' song has a long history of recordings, most frequently associated with Billie Holiday. My guess, however, is Chuck's interest in the song comes from Frank Sinatraâs 1945 version. I've never seen any mention of Chuck being influenced by Billie Holiday but he certainly was a big fan of Ol' Blue Eyes' citing him frequently in interviews. Chuck doesn't attempt to emulate Sinatra's smooth balladry but applies a slow blues shuffle to the tune. Bob Lohr's piano to this point has provided sterling back-up but here it takes centre stage, rippling the keys in true Johnnie Johnson fashion over the solid bass and drums of Messrs Marsala and Robinson. But the most effective element of the recording is the father and daughter duet. Ingrid sings slightly behind her father's lead and this out of synch approach, reminiscent of soul and gospel styles, is extraordinarily effective. Chuck sings this song during the Berry park rehearsals of 'Hail Hail Rock And Roll' and it is featured in the video out-takes. If you dug Chuck's quieter moments during these rehearsals then you will surely appreciate this cut.
3/4 Time (Enchiladas)
Surprisingly for a so called studio album, this track is a live recording. This was caught in the small venue, Blueberry Hill, in 2008 according to bassist Jim Marsala, during one of the two hundred or so monthly performances Chuck and his Blueberry Hill Band played at his friend Joe Edwards' St Louis club of the same name. The song is pure country, in waltz time, hence the 'Âž Time' title. Written by Tony Joe White but never recorded by him, its main custodian was Ray Charles who released it as a Columbia single in 1983 and also placed it on his album 'Wish You Where Here Tonight'. This was a winning combination for Chuck who dug Ray a lot and loved country music so how could he resist, especially as the song promotes cars, guitars and women who like to love in Âž time? Chuck updates the song with a touch of his own humour, 'All of my life, thereâs one thing Iâve been hoping to find, a woman like you, honey, whose software matches this hard drive of mine.' The song had been in Chuck's repertoire for many years although never officially released on disc. It is a nice relaxed performance by Berry and his band who are clearly at ease with the audience and the environment.
Nostalgia rules on this beautifully poignant ballad sung with the help of Darlin' Ingrid. Chuck is in reflective mood as he croons the lines 'Darlin' your father's growing old', and 'There has been many sundowns that I have seen - since you were sweet sixteen' and 'The good times come but not to stay, you'll find time will take them all away'. The song, said to have been written 25 to 30 years ago, is a postscript of the equally moving slow version of 'His Daughter Caroline' where the father bemoans the loss of the daughter to marriage. His vocals are intimate, wistful and emotional all at the same time and the deep feeling of his own mortality is heightened by Ingrid's touching interjections. Chuck and Ingrid's best recorded performance has got to be the Spanish language, Mercury version of 'The Song Of My Love' but the two duet cuts on this disc run it pretty close. Something very rare on a Chuck Berry recording happens at the close when he is joined by The New Respects, a young black Nashville based group, sweetly cooing in the background. The song and its performance is a bitter-sweet lament of Chuck's fast approaching exit from this world. Am I moved, you bet.
Lady B. Goode
With a title like 'Lady B Goode' how could it be anything other than a gene clone of the Chuckster's signature song? It has been said that the song is a sequel to 'Johnny B Goode' but unlike 'Bye Bye Johnny', 'Go Go Go' and 'Tulane' the song doesn't mention Johnny directly. What it is, in fact, is a fictional biography as seen from Lady's point of view. 'Fell then a lassie in love with a lad; 'till it took him to vindicate the feelin' she had.' For 'vindicate' read 'consummate', as left behind, when fame and fortune befalls our hero, she's led on by the promise of a part in his movie. However, she has to be content with watching him on the silver screen with little Baby B Goode, Johnny junior, bouncing on her knee. Musically it's JBG all over with guitar contributions from the two younger Chucks, as well as the old man himself, supported by the best hard driving rhythm of the album. 'Lady B Goode' is to 'Johnny B Goode' what 'Little Marie' was to 'Memphis Tennessee', good but not quite 'Goode', but still good enough to be the third cut to be 'singled' out from the album.
She Still Loves You
'She Still Loves You' is a floating poignant ballad in which Chuck adopts a sad, 'Lonely Schooldays' lilt in his vocals. It's a sorrowful tale of the love he had, then lost. A story told directly to his rival who has beaten him to the beautiful lady he so desires, but who did not reciprocate. Its convoluted lyrics are as complex as ever a Chuck Berry song got with a modulating rhythm to match. Resigned to reality Chuck finally laments, 'But I gave up on her as much as we were both lonely and blue; She still loves you so, I thought you ought to know she's true to you'. This is another song stretching back to the pre-fire days which passed through several iterations, once titled 'She's True To You' with radically different lyrics, before coming to fruition on this album. Guitar-wise, this seems very much like a Chuck Berry solo effort in which he adopts a laid-back 'San Francisco Dues'- like feel, wonderfully supported by Bob Lohr's New Orleanian piano.
'Jamaica Moon' seems to have haunted Chuck for many moons. He first cut it as 'Havana Moon' way back in October 1956 and then again in a terrible disco style in February 1979 for his 'Rockit' album. It seems he was disappointed with the sales when it was first released in tandem with 'You Can't Catch Me' (Chess 1645) but it did hit #7 on the Cashbox R&B charts in 1966 with 'Ramona Say Yes' on the lower deck (Chess 1963). Nevertheless he must have felt their was still some potential in the composition. This time however it is a fairly radical departure from the original and not just its relocation from Cuba to Jamaica. The storyline remains the same, a sad little tale of unrequited love caused by the demon drink, but both the lyrics are updated and the melody changed from the delicate rhythms of the original to a more funky reggae feel. The vocals are double tracked, a trait I disliked on the 'Rockit' LP, and include a touch of rapping complete with a 'ting ting ting' thing. I think I would like this cut a lot more if I didn't just love the original so much.
Chuck once stated that poetry was his life-blood and he proved this not only by his superb mastery of meter and scansion in his song lyrics but also in a number of poems he recorded. These were freely adapted versions of existing poems such as 'My Dream', based on Donald Benson Blanding's 1928 poem 'Vagabond's House', and 'Pass Away' from 'Even This Shall Pass Away', a long 1867 poem by Theodore Tilton which Chuck had learned by heart in his formative years. 'Dutchman', however, is an entirely original composition, a cautionary tale of love lost and its effect. The scene is a bar-room full of drinkers including the enigmatic Dutchman who are interrupted by a tall dark dude who the patrons initially wish to see off, siccing a Great Dane on the guy. However, for the price of drink offered by the Dutchman the stranger imparts his story of fame and fortune now lost all because of his unrequited love for a femme fatale. A Cleopatra with luxurious hair who, when she allowed him to kiss her, near petrified his heart. The tension of the tale is intensified by the sparse grungy blues rhythm, just guitar, bass and drums, that accompanies Chuck's perfectly enunciated narration. A great vignette beautifully told.
Eyes Of Man
In 'Eyes Of Man' Chuck's deep love of poetry is evident again in this philosophical manifesto to the innate power of woman which he declares 'is seldom seen in the eyes of man'. Over the course of six rather obscure verses he opines that 'many a man has built his own temple' but eventually they are 'doomed to decay and turn to dust' but 'Oh! the temple borne by woman - they have withstood while ages roll; Because that beautiful unseen temple - is a child's immortal soul'. Deep stuff indeed for a sweet little rock and roller, taken even deeper by the insertion of chorus lines between the verses from an ancient Persian proverb collected by Sir Richard Burton (he of the Kama Sutra, The Perfumed Garden and other saucy works and not the husband of Cleopatra) and published by his wife Isabel in 1893 in 'The Life Of Captain Sir Richd. F Burton'. Chuck freely adapts the lines to suit his style but the meaning of the original stanza is maintained.
Men Are FourAs a counterpoint to all this philosophical pontification the half sung, half spoken words are supported by an easy loping bluesy melody containing some fine Berry guitarisation. 19th century romantic poetry. What strange paths we take in the search for the source of our hero's music!
His Latest And Greatest - and last?
The indie record label Dualtone have done the man proud. The album boasts an attractive, digitised action photo of Berry, albeit from an earlier age. The booklet notes by history professor Douglas Brinkley are unfortunately excessively ostentatious, I don't think the man understands rock and roll. However, the intimate photos and full lyrics more than compensate. In addition, booklet ephemera illustrations provide a tantalising glimpse at other song titles recorded at the sessions. 'Loco Joe' is there plus a cover of the jazz standard 'Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)'. There are instrumentals 'Once In The Past' and 'Open Up' and original songs 'Let Us Come Together', 'Temples Of Time', 'Hail Hail Rock And Roll', 'Think About It' and 'I Want To Love You', almost another album full. In line with modern marketing methods, 'Chuck' is available in ten packages from the ultimate bundle (limited red vinyl LP, tee shirt, photo book, tote bag and poster) at $130 to the digital MP3 download at $10. Dualtone have also pushed the promotion of the 'Big Boys' single by issuing Chuck Berry's first musical video which unfortunately is a real bummer. The scene is a squeaky clean fifties sock hop ball full of guys and gals in make-believe fifties gear, all primary colours and full skirts. Add to this a counterfeit Chuck Berry circa mid-sixties with a band about as authentic as The Blues Brothers and a little midget-like guy leading the dancers in a pseudo Michael Jackson routine. What a total mish-mash. Can this be the last of the Chuckster? Hopefully not, as in addition to the unissued titles above, there are loads of Chess out-takes which didn't make the Bear Family box-set and, believe it or not, some pre-fire, Berry Park tapes do exist.
'Chuck' is Chuck Berry's first studio recording for 38 years since the 'Rockit' album (barring the reggae-cum-rap dancehall aberration 'Go Shabba Go' from 1994) and it is one Chuck wanted to see issued in his lifetime. He wanted fans to know, 'I'm still here, I'm still kicking ass and I'm still taking names.' His son Charles Jr said his dad has put out something a lot of people are going to like and he didnât care if it sells or not. He just wanted his record out. Well I'm not so sure hard line rockers will take to the album, firm fans have already said to me they thought the world wouldn't have missed much if it had remained in the vault. For me it seems like an allegory of his musical life, his work in microcosm, containing rock and roll, blues, ballads and poetry. On his 90th birthday Chuck devoted the album to Themetta, his wife of 68 years, so lets give him the last word: 'This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy. My darlin' I'm growing old! I've worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!'
If you intend to buy the album or any other item from Dualtone's shop, use this link to get a $5 discount: https://dualtone-music.myshopify.com/?redeem=596498870d7ea20044c4aa18
Thursday, January 26. 2017
The current discography lists the early Chuck Berry recording sessions at the following locations:
The Chess Label website, http://campber.people.clemson.edu/chess2.html states:
In 1953, the Chess brothers continued to make their sessions at Universal Recording in Chicago. But after moving from 4858 South Cottage Grove to 4750, Leonard and Phil Chess would open a small studio in the back of their new offices. Announced in a Billboard article on June 19, 1954, this was mostly used for demos. Any recordings made there and used for release had to be done on the sly. Every effort was made to insure that it wouldn't, but the makeshift studio did eventually come up on the radar screen at Local 208 of the Musicians Union. Leonard Chess had to appear before the Board 'to explain certain phases of his recording activity'. Chess stated that the office studio was only used for rehearsals and auditions, although he admitted 'several years ago this may have happened' because he was 'not in a position at all times to meet his financial obligations'.The writers of the site conclude:
We may be reasonably sure that there was no more recording for release in the back room studio after February 1956, when Leonard Chess was threatened with the revocation of his recording license.The first three Berry sessions pre-date February 1956 but the songs cut at Chuck's first session for Chess, Maybellene and Wee Wee Hours, both have a matrix number beginning with 'U' as listed in 'The Chess Labels' compiled from Chess files by Michel Ruppli (but not included on the record labels). This was until recently considered to stand for recordings made at Universal Studios, 111 East Ontario Street, probably the best recording studio in Chicago at this time. However, as the 'U' designation also appears on matrices that we know were not cut at Universal the letter must signify something else.
That said the aural quality of Chuck's first two recordings are such that they are most likely Universal recordings. The songs cut at Chuck's second and third Chess sessions which include Thirty Days, You Can't Catch Me and No Money Down were erroneously designated with a 'U' matrix in discographies but none of the matrix numbers on the labels of the singles or the info in Ruppli include the 'U'. However, the quality of these recordings which is much better than those cut at the rear of the offices at South Cottage Grove indicate that these too are Universal Studio recordings. In addition with Maybellene being Chess's first big cross-over hit it is unlikely that the brothers Chess would not record the vital follow-up of their hot new property at the best studio available.
The question remains were any of the four sessions listed above as recorded at South Cottage Grove actually cut at the makeshift studio? The session cut in April 1956 was a monster gig in which Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, Brown Eyed Handsome Man and Drifting Heart were waxed. All classics and all of high audio quality. The contract details for this session exist which state 'recording studio' for the the location and whilst this is not specific it does indicate a proper studio rather than the office studio at South Cottage Grove so it seems there is little doubt that this session was cut at Universal.
The next session at which only Havana Moon was recorded presents more of a problem. Here the sound is so unusual compared to earlier recordings that this could well be a South Cottage Grove cut. However, it should be noted that blues-man Jimmy Rogers plays second guitar on Havana Moon and that on the very same day he cut his own single If It Ain't Me and Walking By Myself both of good audio quality indicating a Universal Studio location. Willie Dixon is also on both the Berry and Rogers' sessions so is it likely that they would record in two different locations on the same day? More strength to fact that the Rogers' session was cut in a recording studio rather than the Chess office at South Cottage Grove can be found in Rogers biography 'Blues All Day Long' written by Wayne Everett Goins. He recounts a first hand story from Jimmy Rogers about the harmonica player on the session Walter Horton, who was embarrassed by having to come to the recording studio in his plasterer's work clothes. So, on balance Universal is the most likely location for the Havana Moon recording.
The next two sessions dated 15 December 1956 and 21 January 1957 form the biggest quandary. In December 1956 the demo version of Rock And Roll Music is said to have been recorded four months before the master (single) cut was made. It has recently been established by the very attuned ears of Arne Wolfswinkel that this demo recording in fact has no bass present and it's just Chuck, Johnnie and Fred Below on the cut. It's known that the South Cottage Grove set-up was used primarily for rehearsals and demo cutting and the frugal Chess brothers did not like to have their artists running up Universal Studio time bills on preliminary run-throughs. However, some South Cottage Grove recordings did get a contemporary release, a prime example being I'll Be Home, The Flamingos' first big hit. According to Robert Pruter, in his 'Doo Wop The Chicago Scene' book, two versions were cut, first at South Cottage Grove then later at a larger more professional studio (probably Universal). Chess liked the earlier, rougher version and this was unusually used for the single. This being noted, the demo version of Rock And Roll Music may well have been a South Cottage Grove recording. What is also puzzling is why such a great song was not completed at this time? The song is essentially complete, so why wait four months before cutting the master? Could it be that the Rock And Roll Music demo is, in fact, an early take recorded at the May 1957 session that produced the single?
However, after much consideration and consultation with fellow Berry enthusiasts, it is the consensus that the Rock And Roll Music demo is most likely to have been cut at the 15 December 1956 session. With regards to the location of this session there is a tantalising titbit which has recently come to light from the 22 December 1956 edition of Cash Box (recently made available on the Internet) which states
Chuck Berry into Universal for LP this past weekthereby confirming the location of the session.
According to the notes and discography to the Missing Berries â Rarities Volume 3 CD the tune titled Untitled Instrumental was also cut in December 1956 but a question does remain over the songs supposedly recorded at the 21 January 1957 session. This session produced the 'A-sider' School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell) and three 'B' sides La Juanda, Deep Feeling and Blue Feeling plus the adulterated Low Feeling. The specific January date stems from the information provided in Chuck's autobiography whereas the Chess files as per Ruppli have the less specific December 1956 date. Again the consensus, based on all the available facts and careful listening to the aural evidence such as instrumentation, sound, and echo, is that these recordings were all made mid-December 1956 together with Rock And Roll Music demo and Untitled Instrumental either at one or more sessions.
It should be noted also that Chess experimented with overdubbing on a Berry song for the very first time on La Juanda as can be heard on the two variants. What is certain (apart from my personal reservations about the Rock And Roll Music demo) is the songs were recorded at Universal Studios (most likely studio B from the recollections of engineer Malcolm Chisholm). The 21 January 1957 session might well have been the time at which Blue Feeling was slowed by 26% with the second guitar break omitted and miraculously became Low Feeling.
The next session on the 6 or 15 May 1957 (or both dates?) produced two 'A' sides Rock And Roll Music and Oh Baby Doll together with three other cuts. Pinpointing the location of this session has proved difficult because it was just on the cusp of Chess's move from their South Cottage Grove site to the new office and studio at 2120 South Michigan Ave. Paul Petraitis has searched various contemporary business directories for the Chess locations and notes on The Real Chess Records Forum [no link given as access to this 'forum' is limited to customers of Facebook, Inc. which contradicts the idea of free information exchange as provided here]:
Chess Company (and related) Chicago street addresses: Aristocrat (September 1948 Directory) 5249 Cottage Grove...the company kept the same address through the June 1949 and June 1950 directories (when the address also included the Aristocrat Distributing Company)...by the October 1951 Directory the company was renamed Chess Recording company and it had moved to 4858 South Cottage Grove and remained there until the June 1954 directory when it was doing business at 4750 S. Cottage Grove...it was also listed as 4750-52...in the June 1957 book the company was at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue (according to data in the Recorder's Book of Deeds they bought 2120 on October 24th, 1956)...Billboard advertisements indicate the offices moved into 2120 between May 6th and May 13th 1957...On April 7, 1966 Chess buys 320 East 21st Street and moves their operations out of 2120...in 1969 the company is bought by GRT.Another pointer to the date Chess occupied 2120 South Michigan Ave comes in the 18 May 1957 edition of Cashbox:
'We're finally moving' shouted Phil and Len Chess ... within the next two weeks, they hope, Chess will be in new quarters.So it would appear that 2120 was occupied by Chess at the earliest on the 6 May and would be operational by the end of the month. The recording sessions on the 6 or 15 May are therefore most likely to have taken place at Universal studios. The December 1957 session and subsequent Berry sessions were at 2120 South Michigan Ave. called The Sheldon Recording Studio until 1958 when it became the Ter-Mar Studio.
In summary, the recording locations, recording dates and personnel noted above are revised to reflect the new information and all the sessions from May 1955 up to and including the May 1957 session were cut at Universal Studios following which Chess's own Sheldon Studio at 2120 became the main recording venue. The contents of our online Chuck Berry Database has been edited correspondingly.
[Addendum January 29, 2017: It should be noted that during the time of the Chuck Berry sessions at Universal the studio itself changed locations. The exact date of the move is unknown, but an advertisement in the July 28, 1956 edition of Cash Box tells: "Universal Recording Corporation now located at our new studios 46 East Walton St., Chicago 11, Illinois". Thus we can safely assume that Chuck Berry's Universal sessions of October and December 1956 as well as of May 1957 were held at E. Walton Street.]
Fred and Dietmar would like to thank Arne, Thierry and Morten as well as Michel Ruppli for the many hours and emails resulting in this article and the correction of the discographies.
Wednesday, January 13. 2016
Eagle eyed (and eared) blog correspondent Arne Wolfswinkel has done some serious checking of the Berry discography posted as a PDF file here on this blog and found some errors requiring amendment.
Deep Feeling / School Day session
Close listening and playing the songs at double speed has revealed that there is no bass on Deep Feeling or School Day. Instead, there are two guitars on the recordings, the second being Hubert Sumlin playing rhythm guitar beneath Berry's lead fills. As previously noted there is no bass on the two takes of La Juanda but the bass is back, played by Willie Dixon, on Blue Feeling (and the slowed down version of the tune, Low Feeling)
Sweet Little Sixteen
The version of Sweet Little Sixteen on The Chess Box (CH6-80001), despite what the box-set notes tell us, is not the speeded up version released as the single Chess 1683 but is take 14 before it was tweaked to make the single sound brighter and the vocals higher.
Arne points out that Vacation Time on the Hip-O Select B0009473-02 box-set is preceded by a studio announcement '14A remake of 21' and not 13A as listed in the discography. However, listening yet again to the studio tapes there is a version of Vacation Time preceded by the following studio dialogue 'A remake of 21. I hope this god damn thing sells records Chuck, it's cost us a fortune. Here we go 13A'. I thought this was the issued version of Vacation Time but can only conclude there was a further take (14A) which became the issued cut. I believe that where an A appears in the take number, this indicates an overdubbed cut where the basic track is enhanced generally by additional guitar but sometime additional vocals. The differences between these takes can be very slight and I guess this is a case in point.
Too Pooped To Pop
Arne points out that there is a sax present on Take 4A of Too Pooped To Pop, issued on the Hip-O Select B0009473-02 box-set, as well as on the Chess 1747 single cut. On checking the studio tape again I can confirm that sax is present on all the takes. Of the 13 takes only 4 are complete takes (4A, 8A and 9A plus the master take, the number of which is unknown). Again, this is an A take overdub session with identical instrumental backing, including the backing vocals, but with variations in Chuck's overdubbed lead vocals.
Brown Eyed Handsome Man
Again Arne spots that on the August 3 1961 instrumental version of Brown Eyed Handsome Man tenor saxes are present. This, in effect, means that the saxes are present on all the cuts at this session. The backing track for both the instrumental and vocal versions is identical with just the guitar overdub substituted for Chucks vocal on the former.
The Promised Land session
There was an error regarding the line-up for this session. The PDF lists Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake and/or unknown: guitar/piano when it should be Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake and/or unknown: piano, unknown: guitar. The and/or regarding the pianist comes from an eye witness report by Guy Stevens in Jazzbeat magazine #4 dated April 1964 in which he says Leake had to leave the session halfway through and was replaced by a young studio pianist who may or may not have been Paul Williams who played on Chuck's following session a month later.
Many thanks Arne, keep 'em coming!
Wednesday, September 30. 2015
In October 1972 Chuck Berry recorded two blues numbers at an unknown location using unknown musicians. These recordings remained unreleased until in early 2010 Hip-O Select issued Have Mercy - His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974 (HIP-O-Select B0013790-02). According to the booklet, both songs were original Chuck Berry compositions.
I've just found the original of the song Chuck recorded as 'Annie Lou'. It's a recording from 1940 by Tampa Red called 'Anna Lou Blues' and is the B side of his original 'Don't Lie To Me' so I bet Chuck owned this 78 at some time and both songs stuck in his memory. I previously thought the song was a cover of 'Anna Lee Blues' by Robert Nighthawk but it seems Nighthawk based his song on Tampa's original.
TITLE: Anna Lou Blues
MATRIX NO.: -44977-1
SINGER: Tampa Red (Hudson Woodbridge / Hudson Whittaker), Blind John Davis, piano; Tampa Red, electric guitar, unknown sb
COMPOSER(S): Tampa Red
DATE OF REC.: May 10, 1940
ORIGINAL ISSUE(S): Bluebird B8654
REISSUE(S): RCA double LP set, "Tampa Red Guitar Wizard."
Thursday, September 17. 2015
In January we reported on new information gleaned from recording contracts used in the Johnnie Johnson v Chuck Berry court case. The January post covered recording sessions up to the end of 1958 and below is a continuation from 1959 to 1966.
The 17.2.1959 Session
The only variation is that Jasper Thomas is confirmed as the drummer instead of Fred Below
February 17, 1959; Ter-Mar Records Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Willie Dixon: double bass; Jasper Thomas: drums; Johnnie Johnson: piano; Harvey & The Moonglows (Chuck Barksdale, Harvey Fuqua, Marvin Gaye, James Nolan, Reese Palmer, Chester Simmons) and Etta James: vocal group
The 1960 Sessions
The discography previously listed all the 21 songs recorded in 1960 in two extensive sessions. The recording contract details show two sessions in March and April with only a proportion of the titles listed. The 1960 work has therefore been re-cast in four sessions, two as per the contract details and the other songs divided into two as per the matrix numbers.
The 12.2.1960 Session
The personnel is as previously listed but with only 'Drifting Blues', 'I Got To Find My Baby' and 'Don't You Lie To Me' attributed to the date. This session is not included in the contract session details.
February 12, 1960 Ter-Mar Records Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Matthew T Murphy: guitar; Reggie Boyd: electric bass; Odie Payne: drums; Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake: piano; Leroy C. Davis: tenor saxophone; unknown tenor saxophone; unknown vocal group ('Drifting Blues' only)
The 15.2.1960 Session
Again personnel is as before but with 'Diploma For Two', 'Little Star', 'The Way It Was Before' and 'Away From You' attributed to the date. The vocal group overdubbing was probably done in April hence the non-consequential matrix numbers. This session is not included in the contract session details.
Possibly February 15, 1960; Ter-Mar Records Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Reggie Boyd: electric bass ; Odie Payne: drums; Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake: piano; Leroy C. Davis: tenor saxophone; unknown tenor saxophone; overdubbed unknown vocal group.
The 29.3.1960 Session
The contract information confirms that the previously used session details are correct except the vocal group clearly heard on 'Jaguar And Thunderbird' is not listed. Titles recorded were 'Worried Life Blues', 'Our Little Rendezvous', 'Bye Bye Johnny', 'Run Around' and 'Jaguar And Thunderbird'
March 29, 1960; Ter-Mar Records Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/steel guitar ('Run Around' only); Matthew T Murphy: guitar; Willie Dixon: double bass; Odie Payne: drums; Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake: piano; unknown vocal group ('Jaguar And Thunderbird' only)
The 12.4.1960 Session
The contract information confirms that the previous session details are correct except for the addition of Walter Cole who is listed but with no instrument attributed to him. Walter Cole (aka Walter Champion, aka Walter "Chippy" Cole), was a bass player who recorded with other artists in Chicago in the early sixties and later joined the Treniers. Willie Dixon is also listed on the session so bass playing duties must have been split. Titles recorded were 'Down The Road Apiece', 'Confessin' The Blues', 'Sweet Sixteen', 'Thirteen Question Method', 'Stop And Listen', 'I Still Got The Blues', 'I'm Just A Lucky So And So', 'Mad Lad' and 'Cryin' Steel'. 'Thirteen Question Method' is not listed in the contract. The female vocalist on 'Stop And Listen' is not listed in the contract.
April 12, 1960; Ter-Mar Records Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/steel guitar ('Mad Lad' and 'Cryin' Steel'); Matthew T Murphy: guitar (except 'Mad Lad' and 'Cryin' Steel'); Willie Dixon; double bass; Walter Champion Cole: double bass; Odie Payne: drums; Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake: piano; unknown female vocal ('Stop And Listen' only)
The 19.1.1961 Session
The contract information lists Philip Thomas on drums instead of Ebby Hardy or Jasper Thomas as previously listed. Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake is the pianist rather than the previously noted Johnnie Johnson.
January 19, 1961; Ter-Mar Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Reggie Boyd electric bass: Philip Thomas: drums; Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake: piano
The 3.8.1961 Session
The contract information lists Abe Locke and John W Jackson as the saxophonists in place of the previously noted Leroy C Davis. Abe Locke was a well respected musician best known as a member of Howlin' Wolf's band. He recorded with Wolf, Buddy Guy and Eddy Clearwater amongst many Chicago blues artists. John Jackson was a tenor player who also recorded with blues harpists, James Cotton and Little Mac Simmons. Martha Berry is not listed in the contract details, possibly because she was not a musicians union member. The matrix numbers are attributed differently on the contract but in the discographies I use the numbers as printed on the Chess singles. 'Come On' was initially titled 'Everything Is Wrong'.
August 3, 1961; Ter-Mar Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar ('Come On' and 'All Aboard' only); Matthew T Murphy: guitar; Reggie Boyd: electric bass; Philip Thomas, drums; Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake: piano; Abe Locke and John W Jackson: tenor saxophones (except instrumental version of 'Brown Eyed Handsome Man'); Martha Berry: second vocal ('Come On', 'Man & The Donkey' and 'Go Go Go' only)
The 7, 8 & 9.1.1964 Session
This extended session was previously listed as 15 & 16 November 1963 with 14 January 1964 given as an alternative date. The contract information confirms the January 7, 8 & 9 1964 dates with the 14 Jan date being the date the contract was officially signed. The contract confirms Louis E Satterfield was on bass instead of the previously listed Reggie Boyd and that George Patterson and Rubin Cooper Jr played the saxes, not James Robinson and Leroy C Davis, as previously noted. Strangely no drummer or pianist is listed in the contract information. Louis Satterfield went on to become a renowned musician (bass and trombone) playing with dozens of artists in many genres of music including the infamous 'Electric Mud' and 'Electric Wolf' albums. George Patterson and Rubin Cooper went on to record with Fontella Bass amongst many other artists..
January 7, 8 & 9, 1964; Ter-Mar Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar ('The Things I Used To Do' only)/double-tracked vocal ('You Never Can Tell' and 'Lonely All The Time' only); Louis E Satterfield: electric bass; Odie Payne: drums; Johnnie Johnson: piano; George Earl Patterson and Rubin Cooper Jr: tenor & baritone saxophones (except 'The Things I Used To Do' and 'The Little Girl From Central')
The 16.12.1964 Session
The contract details show no significant variations to the previously published information. There is a clear mistake in the matrix numbers with matrix 13627 used twice. So the numbers from the Chess files reproduced in The Chess labels: A Discography, compiled by Michel Ruppli are preferred. The backing band was that of Jules Blattner, a solid Berry fan who cut a spirited version of 'No Money Down' and the Berry-like 'Crazy Stockings'.
December 16, 1964; Ter-Mar Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar ('Dear Dad' and 'I Want To Be Your Driver' only); Jules M Blattner: guitar; William L Bixler: bass; Howard Jones: drums; Brian J Hamilton: tenor saxophone (except 'His Daughter Caroline', 'Dear Dad' and 'I Want To Be Your Driver').
The 1, 2 & 3.9.1965 Sessions
The contract information shows a different group of musicians to that previously published. Instead of Chuck Bernard, bass, Jasper Thomas, drums and Johnnie Johnson, piano the line-up is Bryce Roberson, Walter Ben Ruffin and Sonny Thompson with Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield overdubbed at a later date so not listed in the contract. The most significant musician is Sonny Thomson, pianist, songwriter, band-leader and producer with an extensive discography of his own but also renowned for his work as a producer for King Records and his association with blues guitarist Freddie King. Bass player Bryce Roberson was also a studio engineer at Chess and recorded with several Chess notables including Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Fontella Bass and Billy Stewart. The song 'My Mustang Ford' is not listed in recording contract details. Matrix 14156 (originally allocated to the unissued 'Lovin' You In Vain') was later re-allocated to 'My Mustang Ford' which could indicate that 'Mustang' was recorded at a separate date. The 2 September date is repeated for the 3 September which is wrong if the matrix numbers are followed. There is also some reallocation of matrix numbers. Matrix 14163 originally attributed to 'Untitled Instrumental' was reallocated to 'Welcome Back Pretty Baby' and matrix 14162 attributed to 'Forgive Me' (unissued) was reallocated to 'Right Off Rampart Street' which is not mentioned in the contract.
September 1, 1965; Ter-Mar Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar ('My Mustang Ford' only); Bryce Roberson: bass; Walter Ben Ruffin: drums; Sonny Thompson: piano
September 2, 1965; Ter-Mar Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Bryce Roberson: bass; Walter Ben Ruffin: drums; Alfonso 'Sonny' Thompson: piano
September 3, 1965; Ter-Mar Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar ('Ain't That Just Like A Woman' only); Mike Bloomfield: overdubbed guitar ('It Wasn't Me' only); Bryce Roberson: bass; Walter Ben Ruffin: drums; Alfonso 'Sonny' Thompson: piano; Paul Butterfield: overdubbed harmonica ('It Wasn't Me' and 'Sad Day, Long Night' only)
The 13.4.1966 Session
The previously listed trio of Bernard, Thomas and Johnson are yet again replaced by Louis Satterfield on bass, Sonny Thompson on keyboards and, this time, Maurice White on drums. They are further augmented by two guitarists Pete Cosey and Bryce Roberson with unknown saxes overdubbed later so not mentioned in the contract details. Maurice White was a renown session drummer at Chess and Vee Jay in Chicago who later founded and fronted Earth, Wind & Fire. Likewise Pete Cosey was a well respected guitarist cutting with other artist at Chess, before moving into the jazz field, recording with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.
April 13, 1966; Ter-Mar Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Pete Cosey: guitar; Bryce Roberson: guitar; Louis E Satterfield: electric bass; Maurice White: drums; Sonny Thompson: piano (on 'Viva (Viva) Rock And Roll' and 'Lonely School Days') and organ (on 'Ramona, Say Yes' and 'His Daughter Caroline'); unknown: overdubbed saxes (on the LP version of 'Ramona, Say Yes')
The 20 & 21. 9.1966 Sessions
These were the first recording sessions Chuck made for Mercury Records and the contract information lists no variation in the session personnel from earlier discographies. Quincy Macon is listed as O T Macon in error. On the second session matrix 38880 is designated to 'Mother's Rule' in the recording contract details which is an alternative title for 'Laugh And Cry' which was re-designated with the matrix 39069. The last five titles of the second session are not listed in the recording contract details but are listed as recorded on this date in Berry's biography. Long-time musical associates of Berry, Johnnie Johnson and Ebbie Hardy are back in the fold together with three newcomers. Sax-man Big Joe Enlow (or Enloe) recorded later with St Louis blues-man Tommy Bankhead, but it seems that these were the only recordings made by Quincy Macon and Forrest Frierson.
September 20, 1966; Technisonic Studio, 1201 South Brentwood Avenue, Clayton, Missouri
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Quincy Macon: guitar; Forrest Frierson: bass; Ebbie Hardy: drums; unknown: tambourine ('My Tambourine' only); Johnnie Johnson: piano/organ ('Campus Cookie' only); Carey 'Big Joe' Enlow: tenor sax (except 'Laugh And Cry')
September 21, 1966; Technisonic Studio, 1201 South Brentwood Avenue , Clayton, Missouri
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Quincy Macon: guitar; Forrest Frierson: bass; Ebbie Hardy: drums; Johnnie Johnson electric piano/organ ('Maybelline' only); Carey 'Big Joe' Enlow: tenor saxophone ('Johnny B Goode' and 'Rock 'n' Roll Music' only)
The 26 & 27. 10.1966 Sessions
The contract for these two sessions confirms the information in the discography is correct. The new musician, drummer Eugene Washington was a long-standing member of Ike Turner's Kings Of Rhythm who recorded extensively with Ike and his numerous vocalists between 1955- 1958.
October 26 & 27, 1966; Technisonic Studio, 1201 South Brentwood Avenue, Clayton, Missouri
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Forrest Frierson: bass; Eugene Washington: drums; Johnnie Johnson: electric piano
Thursday, January 22. 2015
In a previous blog post we reported on Tim McFarlin's research on the Johnson v. Berry case filed in the year 2000. Tim received permission from Frances Johnson (Johnnie's widow) and Berry's attorneys from that lawsuit to copy materials from the case file and use them for purposes of his research. Among the materials provided were the original studio recording contracts for several of Berry's and Johnson's recording sessions with Chess Records. Tim shared information from a number of these contracts with me to get my expert analysis on the "who played on what" issue relevant to Tim's work. Based on this information, I am now able to correct, update and append information about some of Berry's early recording sessions.
The earlier information has been built up over the years from various publications. For instance the session which created Roll Over Beethoven has for many years been placed in February 1956. I think this was stated first in an early edition of Blues Records. This date was then subsequently used in the discography on the sleeve of Golden Decade Vol 2. as well as in the books by Howard DeWitt and Michel Ruppli. Chuck's discography in his autobiography listed the recording date as April 16, 1956, though. This is what I used in Long Distance Information: Chuck Berry's Recorded Legacy (Music Mentor Books, 2001). On the recording contract the date is stated as April 19, 1956 and I feel this is the most reliable info we have.
Likewise a lot of information about personnel has built up over the years. Blues fans would ask artists about old sessions and I'm sure some guys like Willie Dixon would try to placate fans by giving info that was not always correct. Lafayette Leake was a big friend of Willie's and I suspect he got named as pianist for wont of someone else at times. Johnnie Johnson was not part of the Chess studio clique (he never recorded in his own name at Chess) and I think he may have been overlooked. The contract information now gives us some more reliable data as the contracts list names, instruments and the local musicians union code the musicians were assigned to. The recording of the names is a bit haphazard and it seems like they are phonic interpretations of names (Odie for Otis; Thompson for Thomas etc.). But remember Chess had far more interest in making a hit record than recording musicians names.
All the musicians named on the RoB session (except Dixon) were in the St Louis local musicians union (197) so it seems all the musicians on the 1956 session traveled up with Chuck. Roy Davis is Leroy Davis - sax, Melvin Billups was a St Louis drummer, Vincent Pitts was a trumpet player (both recorded with other artists). I always thought there was a trumpet on Roll Over Beethoven (listen to the very end note) but recently dismissed it, have I now reinstated it.
This is how I understand the recording contracts and this is how I will list these sessions in future publications:
The 16.4.56 Session
April 19, 1956; Chess Records Studio, 4750-2 South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry & His Combo: Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; Willie Dixon: double bass; Melvin Billups: drums; Johnnie Johnson: piano; Leroy C. Davis: tenor saxophone (except Brown Eyed Handsome Man), Vincent Pitts: trumpet (on Roll Over Beethoven)
The 6.1.58 Session
This session produced Johnny B. Goode and the contract details give Johnnie Johnson as pianist!!!!!! It is strange Johnnie's name appears against JBG especially as both Chuck and Johnnie said he didn't play on the recording (even more strange that neither parties' lawyer picked up on this fact even though they had access to the session contract). However, we have it in black and white on a contemporary document which for me is better than trusting the memory of musicians for whom the session was but a fleeting moment in time without any historic significance.
January 6, 1958; Sheldon Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar (on the released version of Johnny B. Goode); Willie Dixon: double bass; Jasper Thomas: drums; Johnnie Johnson: piano
The 27.2.58 Session.
The previously listed date differs by one day from the date on the contract which also gives personnel for piano, drums and bass. Bob Bushnell was a bass player who went on to play with Elmore James, Dylan, Hendrix.
February 28, 1958; Sheldon Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar; overdubbed second guitar/steel guitar (on Blues For Hawaiians); Bob Bushnell: bass; Jasper Thomas: drums; Johnnie Johnson: piano
The 12.6.58 Session
The contract info gives the date of June 12, 1958 and includes different personnel to previous publications. Willie Dixon is listed instead of George Smith, and Odie Payne in place of Hardy or Thomas. Rather than Johnnie Johnson the pianist is given as Paul Cayton from the New Orleans local musical union. This probably is a miss-spelling for New Orleans pianist Paul Gayten who recorded for Chess and was their agent / musical fixer in New Orleans. The elusive George Smith (who is not the famous harmonica playing Little George Smith) doesn't seem to appear in any other Chess Recordings and has been removed from the line-up.
According to the contract this was a Double Session and also produced the recordings previously listed as from a separate session dated April 20, 1958.
The songs given are also interesting with some alternative titles. Beautiful Delilah is typed in as "Rebecca and Delila" with "Rebecca" crossed through and "Beautiful" pencilled in. The original title for Vacation Time / 21 is listed as "When You're Twenty-One". Hey Pedro is typed in as "Lazy Pedro" with "Lazy" crossed through and "Hey" pencilled in. "Blues Of Hawaii" seems to be another try at Blues For Hawaiians which remains unissued / lost.
June 12, 1958; Sheldon Recording Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar; Willie Dixon: double bass; Odie Payne: drums; Paul Gayten: piano
The 28. 9 58 Session
There is a discrepancy in the date by a couple of days as the contract states 26.9.58.
The piano player is given as Otis Spann rather than Johnnie Johnson which is a surprise as this session may have produced Long Fast Jam and Slow Fast Jam which are felt to be archetypal Chuck & Johnny cuts!! The date on the tape box for these two instrumentals is just "9/58" so I have split this session and name Spann as pianist on Anthony Boy and Sweet Little Rock And Roller. From the contract we also learn that Memphis (as "Long Distance Telephone", crossed through and "Memphis" pencilled in) and Jo Jo Gunne (as âJoe Joe Gunâ) were recorded at this studio date. This is at odds with the reminiscences about the recording of Memphis by Chuck in his autobiography in which he says it was cut by him alone in his St Louis office. I don't doubt that Chuck did record a demo in St Louis on his $79 reel-to-reel Sears-Roebuck tape recorder but my feeling is that the finished cut was produced in the studio. This also goes for Jo Jo Gunne where the off-mic shouts have a studio ambience. Chuck also contradicts himself in that in his song list at the back of his book he lists the four song titles as being recorded at one date. Finally by placing the two songs in this session, the matrix numbers now run consecutively.
September 26, 1958; Ter-Mar Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar; Willie Dixon: double bass; Jasper Thomas: drums; Otis Spann: piano; band: vocal (on Anthony Boy)
Songs: Anthony Boy, Jo Jo Gunne, Sweet Little Rock And Roller, Memphis
September 1958; Ter-Mar Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: guitar; Willie Dixon: double bass; Jasper Thomas: drums; Johnnie Johnson: piano
Songs: Long Slow Jam and Long Fast Jam
The 19.11.58 Session
The only variation here is that Odie Payne is given as the drummer in the contract details rather than Fred Below.
November 19, 1958; Ter-Mar Studio, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chuck Berry: vocal/guitar/overdubbed guitar (except on the LP version of Merry Christmas Baby and That's My Desire); Willie Dixon: double bass; Odie Payne: drums; Ellis 'Lafayette' Leake: piano; unknown tambourine (on That's My Desire)
Tuesday, February 24. 2009
[Editor's comment: Fred is a co-author of this blog. He has written the definitive guide to Chuck Berry's recordings "Long Distance Information". Along with Andy McKaie of Universal Music Fred created the new Berry box-set and wrote the liner notes. Here's his summary.]
you'll be as pleased as I am to know that the second volume of Chuck Berry's Chess recordings has finally escaped from the Chess vaults somewhere beneath the Universal Records building in sunny California. This time it's called 'You Never Can Tell â Chuck Berry - His Complete Chess Recordings 1960 â 1966' ; 4 CDs containing 108 tracks.
Disc one alone contains 33 sides including a lot of great bluesy tracks on which Chuck is joined by Matt 'Guitar' Murphy (later of Blues Brothers fame) to play not only those lovely slow blues but also some tremendous rockers such as 'Don't Lie To Me' and my favourite 'Bye Bye Johnny' which comes in mono and a stereo remix. Other favourites include 'Down The Road Apiece' (mono & stereo) and 'I'm Talking About You'. There is only one previously unissued (commercially) track, a flimsy ballad 'Adulteen', however disc two makes up for this.
Disc two kicks off with an absolute belter, the unissued fast version of 'Go Go Go'. Whatever this track lacks in high fidelity is more than compensated for by the sheer energy emitted. Listen to the joy in Chuck's voice as the track ends. Just after his release from prison, Chuck recorded a live set which was supposed to get a Chess release but never happened. Well, right here you can hear what we've been missing for over forty years and it's just great. Recorded in Detroit and backed by Motown musicians (unfortunately their names are unknown as the tape cuts out just as the MC is introducing them) this is one hell of a gig. Chuck, the band and the audience are all in high spirits as he rips through his hits and even tells a joke or two. These live tracks are the best of four sets recorded over two nights and Andy McKaie has done a sterling job with his digital splicing knife. The disc ends with another new song, a blues titled 'I'm In The Danger Zone'.
Disc three contains some of my favourite Berry: 'Promised Land', 'No Particular Place To Go' and that under two minutes tour de force 'Dear Dad' on which Chuck is backed by the Jules Blatner band. Rarities include the unfaded version of 'O Rangutang' and the sad little ballad 'Spending Christmas' which sees light of day here for the first time.
Disc Four has a number of tracks recorded in London including the absolutely storming version of 'St Louis Blues'. Also from this session is 'You Came A Long Way From St Louis' with backing vocals from a bunch of Berry fans including my mate, the noted photographer, Brian Smith. Now there's a claim to fame â singing on a Chuck Berry recording! There is also a three song unissued session which sounds like a demo run-through but is nontheless a spirited set including the Big Joe Turner perennials 'Shake Rattle And Roll' and 'Honey Hush'. There is also a fine instrumental version of 'My Mustang Ford' with Johnnie Johnson rattling the keys for all his worth while Chuck 'chomps' along on his metallic sounding Gibson. The disc closes with two fast updated versions of 'Lonely School Days' and 'His Daughter Caroline', the latter being yet another unissued track.
The package comes with an updated sessionography and some previously unseen photos (by me anyway). If the box-set sells well, Andy has already promised a third volume of Chess recordings. This will complete the project and include a lot more unreleased tracks including a fabulous blues called 'Annie Lou'. So don't let the credit crunch cramp your style, dig deep guys and make sure it happens.
Friday, July 18. 2008
A little bit of information about Jasper Thomas. Morten Reff tells me he recently found a letter date 24th December 1985 to him from Colin Escott who at the time was preparing a Bear Family box of Chuck recordings which sadly never happened. Colin had interviewed drummer Jasper Thomas who said he played on Chuck Berry recordings starting with the Sweet Little Sixteen session (Sessions 11/12).
I have this listed as Fred Below but I think this information stems back in the day to when enthusiastic blues fans would pester Willie Dixon for session details. Willie played on hundreds of sessions and I'm sure wouldn't remember precise details of each and every one so gave generic details which included his good buddies such as Lafeyette Leake and Fred Below. Also, while Below was a great blues drummer, I don't think he was that great a rock and roll drummer, if you've heard the Berry Montreux you'll know what I mean.
Although many blues artists claim to be on this or that recording to boost their ego, I have no reason to doubt Thomas. So I think Jasper Thomas should be listed as drummer on sessions 11/12 and also 13, the Johnny B Goode session.
Wednesday, January 9. 2008
Chuck Berry - Johnny B Goode - His Complete '50s Chess Recordings. 4CD box-set. Hip-O Select / Geffen Records B0009473-02
As most Chuck Berry fans will know by now, this box-set is available direct from the Hip-O Select website (USA) and from Amazon and other web outlets (worldwide). I am very proud to have been involved in this project which chronicles all of Chuck's 1950's recordings from 'Maybellene' to 'Let Me Sleep Woman' - 103 tracks in all. From start to finish it has been over two years since Andy McKaie at Universal records contacted me to ask if I would help compile the set and write the liner notes and discography. Did he need to ask! For any Berry fan it was a dream come true. Every other week or so I'd get a neat brown UPS package from the promised land containing who knows what musical gems on CD from the Chess archives. The very first I got contained just two tracks but, wow, what tracks they were! Two unissued cuts of 'Almost Grown' complete with studio discussion that literally jumped out of the speakers with the joy and energy of the moment. Fan-tas-tic!!! Check them out for yourself on disc 4. Over the months the disc kept coming and after hours and hours of very careful listening and sorting, the very best from the fifties is included in the box-set.
Originally the plan was to compile a 14 CD box-set of all Chuck's Chess and Mercury recordings from the mid-fifties until he finally left Chess in 1974. However, after compiling a list of recordings the project was vetoed by the men in suits at Universal but the every resourceful Mr McKaie came up with the current concept of all Chuck's '50's output. This is a limited edition set of 5000 and if it sells well the plan is to do a similar box-set of '60s recordings up to Chuck's departure from Chess to Mercury in 1966.
One disappointment was that there wasn't much unissued material found in the Chess archives before the 'Sweet Little Sixteen' recordings in late '57. In all, however, the box-set contains 15 previously unissued recordings ( two more if you count the previously unissued in the USA category) plus lots of rarities - all in pristine sound and without the dreaded fake audience which marred some of the tracks. I can't believe it won't sell so look out for Chuck's sixties recordings with even more rare and unissued stuff. I can't wait!
(Page 1 of 1, totaling 10 entries)
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