Saturday, April 13. 2019
The following post from February 18, 2019 was supposed to demonstrate the difficulties we face while trying to reconstruct Chuck Berry's recording legacy from the few sources we have. And it was supposed to provoke readers to provide further knowledge. Scroll down for additional comments.
[Within our database of all Chuck Berry recordings we try to present the most complete and the most correct information about Berryâs recording work. The database is the result of decades of research using all of the data publicly available about these recordings (and sometimes even more). However, we deal here with recordings which were made when we, the researchers, were little kids or not even born. This means that most of what we do is historical research. Arne Wolfswinkel presents here an example of how difficult such research is.]
Memphis, Tennessee is one of Berryâs best-known songs. However, its origins and its recording details are very obscure. There are at least three different sources which talk about different personnel involved in the creation of the recording.
Today we think of Memphis as one of Berryâs greatest hits and one of his most important masterpieces. But at the time the song and the recording originated, nobody really knew what to do with it as it was so different. Bruce Pegg summarized the song as follows:
[The song] is a masterpiece of storytelling, simple and yet full of detail. It is also, quite possibly, one of the earliest pop songs ever to deal with the effects of divorce and child custody, certainly one of the first to deal with it from a male point of view.  In a two-minute pop song, Chuck Berry captured the frustrations and sadness of a divorced father, a rare adult theme in the disposable world of 1950s teenage rock and roll. [Bruce Pegg, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, p 106]
This was not to become a hit record in 1958. Which is why its release history is reasonable: it was not released at all after recorded in mid 1958. Chess Records hid it on the back of single 1729 (Back in the USA), released in June 1959 concurrently with the movie âGo, Johnny, Go!â (and its promotional soundtrack album) into which it did not fit either.
One must merely ignore the central plot and the two characters played by Jimmy Clanton and Sandy Stewart, although even there you get some insights into the differences between the way that some black artists perceived and wrote rock & roll, and how white teen audiences perceived it. As Chuck Berry performs "Memphis Tennessee" on television (concluding with a fiercely sexual "duckwalk" that was astonishing for a black man to be seen doing, in a movie aimed at mainstream white audiences in 1959), a very serious song about marriage, divorce, and broken families, Clanton's and Stewart's characters are seen laughing as they watch the performance onscreen at her home. [Bruce Eder, AllMovie.com]
In the movie, Berry performs, well lip-syncs, Memphis all by himself in front of a TV camera. What we can definitely tell is that here we miss instruments playing. There definitely are drums on the recorded track as well as multiple guitars.
Trying to find out who played which instrument on Memphis, CHESS master number 9073, we find inconsistent data.
According to âThe Chess Labels: A Discographyâ by Michel Ruppli the song was recorded during a September 1958 session in Chicago, with Berry on vocals and guitar, possibly Bo Diddley on second guitar, Johnny Johnson on piano, Willie Dixon on (double) bass and Fred Below on drums. This line-up was repeated in a recent French discography and others.
In contrast, a discography printed on the 1972 sleeve of âChuck Berryâs Golden Decade, Vol. 2â states âMemphis recorded by Berry himself and drums added by Chessâ.
In his 1987 autobiography Chuck Berry confirms this, although he claims to have played the drums himself:
Memphis  was recorded  on a $145 homemade studio in the heat of a muggy July afternoon with a $79 reel-to-reel Sears, Roebuck recorder that had provisions for sound-on-sound recording. I played the guitar and the bass track, and I added the ticky-tick drums that trot along in the background which sound so good to me. I worked over a month on revising the lyric before I took the tape up to Leonard Chess to listen to. He was again pressed for a release since my concerts (driving on the road then) kept me from the recording studio for long periods.
Based on Berryâs recollection, Fred lists both Memphis and Jo Jo Gunne (which has the same primitive sounding fidelity) as being recorded in St. Louis, July 1958 when he publishes his book âLong Distance Informationâ (2001). He changes his mind when thirteen years later the details of a September 26, 1958 recording contract become available. Both songs are listed on the contract, which also reports that the musicians present at the session are Berry (vocals, guitar), Otis Spann (piano), Willie Dixon (double bass), and Jasper Thomas (drums). Placing the songs (back) in the session, the matrix numbers allocated to the songs now run consecutively, so Fred concludes that Berry must have confused a demo recording of Memphis with the studio cut.
However, itâs still possible Berryâs recollection is actually correct and he recorded the master of Memphis â and Jo Jo Gunne â in his home studio.
First of all, both songs just feature vocals, guitar, and drums (the bass part on Memphis is actually played on the low strings of a guitar). Why are Spann and Dixon suddenly absent? Of course, it could be an artistic decision not to include piano and bass on those songs, but it still seems a bit odd if they were there during the session.
Secondly, Berry writes that he used a âreel-to-reel  recorder that had provisions for sound-on-sound recordingâ â a technique where layers of sound are placed on top of each other (a famous example being How High the Moon by Les Paul and Mary Ford, recorded in 1951). This would explain why the fidelity of those songs is much lower (loss of clarity, considerately more tape hiss) than Anthony Boy and Sweet Little Rock and Roller, the other tracks recorded at the September 1958 session. And it might be coincidental, but session reels with multiple takes of those two songs still exist, while this isnât the case for Memphis nor Jo Jo Gunne.
However, we know for certain that Berry misremembers one thing: the only $79 recorder available in 1956 and 1958 catalogues of the Sears & Roebuck mail-order company was the Silvertone 7070, which had no way to do sound-on-sound. Perhaps Berry mixed up his receipts and used an AMPEX or Berlant Concertone recorder, which did have provisions for sound-on-sound in 1958.
Unfortunately, we probably will never find out what has happened exactly. It is possible that Berry recorded Memphis and Jo Jo Gunne all by himself at home. It is also possible that both the basic track and the overdubs were done at the Chess studios. And every combination of home tape and studio overdubs is possible as well. Until we learn better, our database will list Jasper Thomasâ drums and the additional guitars as overdubs with a note that there is an option that Berry recorded all instruments by himself.
Addition April 13, 2019:
Chuck Berry expert Jean-Pierre Ravelli, who ran a European fan club in the 1960s and 1970s, tells us that he remembers talking to Francine Gillium in August 1970. Fran was Berry's personal secretary and managed his fan clubs and businesses since the 1950s. In her talk with Jean-Pierre, Fran confirmed that 'Memphis, Tennessee' was recorded at Berry's office and that she (Fran) had been playing the drums. Of course we can only speculate whether such a claim is valid and if it is, whether this was the recording which finally made it to the records.
Saturday, April 6. 2019
[This blog post was originally written in Feb 2017. A recent email conversation forces me to add some notes to the end.]
In June of 1972 the British Broadcasting Corporation BBC recorded an 80 minute Chuck Berry concert at the BBC Television Theatre in London. This recording is one of the best Berry performances ever shown on TV. But unfortunately it wasn't available for us to watch again.
The original recording was broadcast edited down to 45 minutes. The audio track of this abbreviated show was saved and made it to a Vinyl bootleg called "Six Two Five". For more about this record, see here.
In the early 2000s the BBC show was re-transmitted by other TV stations, though now as a 60 minute show with additional songs. Thus we knew there must still exist the original full recording from 1972.
Recently we found a DVD on eBay which claimed to contain the complete show. We checked - and yes: This is the original uncut 80 minutes recording of the 1972 show at excellent video and sound quality, obviously directly from the BBC archives.
Live at the BBC (ZitRock ZR-DVD-CHB-16-03, US, 2016) contains all the songs which we know from the Six Two Five album. In addition there's School Day, Too Much Monkey Business, Rock and Roll Music, and Promised Land. With Reelin' and Rockin' and My Ding-A-Ling it's not hard to tell why these two songs were omitted from the original BBC broadcast as both are the raunchy versions very similar to the ones recorded four months earlier at the Lanchester Arts Festival. Maybe the BBC would have decided differently if they would have known that both raunchy versions would hit the charts at year's end.
While video tape copies of the various international broadcast have been known before, this DVD is of much better quality. And for the first time it contains the instrumental Liverpool Drive of which we didn't have any video recording before.
We have added this DVD as an "other notable release" to our Chuck Berry database meaning it's not a record or CD, but contains additional tracks from the same session as the corresponding record or CD. The full session is now at this session page of the Chuck Berry Database.
[added Apr 2019:]
The DVD has been created by ZitRock, though not for commercial sale. The creator of the DVD contacted me in March 2019 to explain the origins of this DVD. Many thanks!
The video has been published first on YouTube in April 2016. It's still there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtrOr3WKmyY. The original poster at YouTube didn't tell anything about the origin of the video, though. ZitRock, an expert on Rolling Stones DVDs, took this video and enhanced/remastered the audio track. The DVD was made available for download from the net. It seems that someone took ZitRock's files to burn and sell the DVD on eBay.
Tuesday, February 19. 2019
[This blog entry first appeared in January 2016. Recent research by reader James revealed some additional facts. These are included in italics below.]
Along with Taylor Hackford's 1986 documentary film celebrating Chuck Berry's 60th birthday MCA released a soundtrack album called Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (MCA LP 6217). It has been known that the contents of the soundtrack album is edited against the original recordings made during the two shows filmed for the movie. It has not been known exactly what kind of edits were done during this post-processing, though. However, given the huge resource of professional and private audience recordings, finding out the edits is possible. It's just a tremendous task.
During many weeks reader and fellow researcher Claude Schlouch [in 2015] listened to and compared the various recordings over and over again. [Additional research was done by reader James in 2019.] Here are the results:
Many thanks to Claude [and James] for all the work spent and for sharing his results with us. I have edited the section of the main site which covers the birthday concerts accordingly.
Thursday, July 5. 2018
Ridinâ along in my automobile, my baby beside me at the wheel
Remembering this line from Chuck Berryâs 1964 hit âNo particular place to goâ, copywriter Steve Landsberg and art director Gary Goldsmith of Doyle Dane Bernbach, Inc. (DDB) had the idea for an automobile advertising TV spot. So for the 1985 Volkswagen campaign they modified the text a little bit and produced the TV spot for VWâs GTI car showing the GTI riding the country with no particular place to go.
When I researched Chuck Berryâs contribution to the 1977 Dr Pepper advertising campaign (see the previous blog post), I ran into a March 2017 article by Steve Landsberg posted in the AgencySpy blog on the Adweek Network website: âThe Day I Spent Making an Ad With the Late, Great Chuck Berryâ (https://www.adweek.com/agencyspy/the-day-i-spent-making-an-ad-with-the-late-great-chuck-berry/128720)
Here we learn that Steve not only reused Berryâs 1964 recording but instead had him record a completely new version of his classic tune. I didnât know this. And my friends here didnât either.
So I started researching more about this rare recording. Steve and especially that time's DDB account representative Charlie Zollo have been very helpful with Steve telling even more than his story and Charlie providing a great collection of old documents from his files. Many thanks to both!
Steve even sent me a copy of the 1985 TV spot. Concurrently Anne Chanu found a poor copy of the spot on YouTube. Therefore all of you can go back in time and hear Berry perform this otherwise unreleased studio recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjSJHV2RfQU
Given Charlieâs and Steveâs additional information, Steveâs original article for Adweek needs some corrections and additions. Both Steve and Adweek allowed me to provide you here with an updated version of Steveâs story.
But let's first remember Charlie Zollo how difficult it was to have Chuck Berry sign the contract:
While we can't say how much, I was prepared with a "suitcase full of cash" as we fondly remember (actually a large Cashiers Check) as an upfront incentive to sign the contract. I was dispatched by Carol, the DDB talent administrator (sorry Carol, but I forgot your last name), to Berry Park in Wentzville to negotiate the final contract after Chuck had fired his agent.This is Steve's story about the recording session in Berry Park, with some embedded comments:
It was January 1985. [Editorâs note: According to Charlie's documents, the recording session told here happened in September 1984.] I [Steve Landsberg] was a copywriter at DDB. My art director Gary Goldsmith and I got thrown into a creative gangbang for the VW GTI. The brief was simple: position the GTI as fun to drive.What a great story â and how nicely told. Thanks for sharing, Steve!
An additional comment from Charlie Zollo:
âFor all of us who were involved, it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences weâll never forget. While we all had our own personal experiences, my favorite (which I tell often) was sitting outside of the control room, on the floor against a wall in the room where Chuck and his band were rehearsing. So there I was 10 feet away, as they jammed during the equipment down time, listening to them jam Roll Over Beethoven and other riffs. Listening to Berry during the breaks was, for me, more exciting than seeing any live concert by any rock group.âDefinitely it was, Charlie!
Charlie sent me the copy of an 1985 article by Aliza Laufer from Backstage magazine in which John Hill adds some details:
Hill was the music producer on the entire Volkswagen 1984/85 campaign, having written and produced all and arranged about half of the 20-spot package. According to Hill, the 1984/85 Volkswagen campaign is the biggest introductory budget in VWâs 30-year history.The last sentence means that in contrast to other commercials where the sound follows the pictures, here Steve, Charlie and their team had to film and cut outdoor segments so that they fit to Berryâs singing. Remembering the filming Steve told me:
The commercial was shot in Scotland because Los Angeles was going through a drought and looked too dry. Nothing was green. The area of Scotland we used looked very much like Americaâs lush Â heartland.Other than the music, you only hear a voice-over at the end of the spot. Steve remembers:
The announcer was the late Roy Scheider [Editorâs note: known from Jaws and other popular movies], who was the official voice of VW back then. I covered the recording myself in LA. He was a very kind man. He smoked and drank coffee to get that deep voice of this ready.According to Charlieâs old files, the VW GTI spot premiered on March 1st, 1985 on MTV.
In addition to the TV spot, Charlie remembers that the same track was also used for a Volkswagen radio spot.
Since Berry's deal was for TV only, we paid him another large amount to use the recording for radio as well. Part of the payment was a new GTI, that he picked up at a local Missouri dealer. My secretary (in the days when we had secretaries) would call out "Charlie, Chuck Berry is on the phone" as we were arranging the personal appearance of Chuck picking up his GTI. There was press coverage as I recall, but none that I have a copy of. All in all, use royalties included, he did very well for a few hours recording time. I think we paid him for his studio also.Does one of our readers have a copy of the radio spot or of the press article showing Berry getting his Volkswagen?
The gold-colored souvenir matchbook Steve Landsberg got from Chuck Berry is also known to exist in black with golden print. Hereâs a photo from Morten Reffâs collection:
Thanks to Steve, Charlie, and Morten for their help with this article bringing to our attention a Chuck Berry studio recording never released on record or CD.
Saturday, June 9. 2018
Of the various promotional records containing radio spots which Chuck Berry recorded for companies and associations, one stands apart. For the 1977 campaign promoting the Dr Pepper soft drink, Berry did not only provide an interview or a spoken advertisement. Here Berry and his guitar provide a full Rock and Roll version of that campaignâs advertising song.
Quite recently, a video was uploaded to YouTube showing the recording of the song and the corresponding interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgJfpexPfEc. Thanks to Anne Chanu for finding it!
The video is interesting, but even more interesting is a note in the video description which points to a book written by Susan Hamilton who was the producer of the Dr Pepper spots and also of this Chuck Berry song. I bought and read the book, which is called âHit Womanâ. So should you. Itâs an interesting and funny read about a segment of the music industry you usually donât hear much about.
Susan Hamilton was the owner of HEA Production in New York, one of the top advertising music production companies (also known as a âjingle houseâ) in the US. You can read a short bio at susanhamilton.com, but you better read the full book.
Video and book made me write this blog post about one of the rarest Chuck Berry records ever.
It all started when the Dr Pepper company and their advertising agency Young & Rubicam came up with a new campaign called âThe Most Original Soft Drinkâ. Itâs not quite clear when, but it must have been in late 1973, early 1974 when HEA Productions was contracted to create the music for this campaign. Through HEA founder Herman Edel and NY attorney Lee Eastman, HEA hired Eastmanâs son-in-law to write the song: Paul McCartney.
Susan Hamilton recalls meeting Paul and Linda McCartney in Los Angeles to discuss the project with the client and agency. To everyoneâs surprise McCartney was not interested at all in learning about the planned campaign. Instead he told them that he had already written the song needed and played a cassette with a demo recording.
This song was simply done; it was classic McCartney; it had a great hook, but it had absolutely nothing to do with our campaign. There was no relevance to all of the spots that have been tailored for the campaign â the precious campaign that had been worked on for months and (more importantly) sold to the client.McCartney refused to come up with something else and so Susan Hamilton was left finding a different composer within very short time. Through Tim Newman who worked for Young & Rubicam she got into contact with his cousin who agreed to write the jingle. The new composer was famous singer-songwriter Randy Newman who came up with the melody and lyrics for âThe Most Original Soft Drink Everâ.
Fellow singer-songwriter Jake Holmes rewrote the verse lyrics and the song was used for the 1975 Dr Pepper campaign and the following ones until 1977. (Sheet music for this song as below is currently available as ebay item 253525494577.)
For the radio spots, Susan Hamilton recorded the same song in various musical styles using a number of well-known artists. All these recordings were made over a few months in the fall of 1974.
A first set of recordings was used for the initial 1975 campaign. These were from bluegrass star Doc Watson, blues legend Muddy Waters, jazz pianist Eubie Blake, singer Anita OâDay and banjo player Grandpa Jones. A (December?) 1974 promotional album (Dr Pepper DP-1274) contains these recordings and other spots for the campaign. Susan recalls:
The Muddy Waters session for Dr Pepper was recorded in Chicago at Chess Records Studio, and it was a nightmare. The studio was in disrepair. When mixing the spots, we found the harmonica and the electric bass on the same track. Worse yet, Muddy and the band hadnât a clue how to handle Randy Newmanâs charming, chromatic shuffle tune. I had to somehow wrangle it into a 12/8 blues song. It took a while âŠFurther recordings seem to have stayed in the can and were used for a later campaign in 1977. Artists selected then were Teresa Brewer, Hank Snow, B. B. King, the Mills Brothers, Lynn Anderson, and Chuck Berry. Again each performed the Newman/Holmes tune according to their specific style.
According to Susan Hamilton, she recorded Chuck Berry probably in October 1974, just before they flew to Chicago to record Muddy Waters.
The standard procedure was to record the base track in HEAâs own studio in Manhattan using a fixed set of very capable (and musically flexible) studio musicians. Susan Hamilton and her team then went to the featured artist and recorded solos and voice over the prerecorded track. Unusual for radio spots, but a film crew joined them in every studio to create a video of the recording and an interview with the artist. This is why we can see today how Berry performed the tune. The film was used only for promoting the artists and the campaign to Dr Pepper partners such as dealers or bottlers.
These partners were also the only recipients for the corresponding Dr Pepper promotional record given out at the kick-off convention. Very few of these promotional records seem to have survived. Even discogs.com misses it. Thus before we continue to learn about the crazy creation of this recording, letâs have a more detailed look at the beautiful record which this site's Morten Reff discovered in June 2012.
âThe Sights and Sounds of Dr Pepper â77â (DP-76 in dead wax) comes in a gatefold cover:
Besides a 12â LP there are two booklets, a red one for the Regular Dr Pepper campaign, a blue one for the Sugar Free Dr Pepper campaign.
Likewise the LP has a red and a blue label. The contents can be seen in the two scans. Basically the red side contains the 60-second radio spots and the soundtracks of the TV spots, while the blue side has the soundtracks for the little films containing the interviews and session footage. The Chuck Berry radio spot is at the beginning of the red side, the interview (followed by a count-in and the same song recording) is at the beginning of the blue side.
The 16-page red booklet and the 12-page blue booklet each contain descriptions and photos of the TV spots, photos and some detail about the artists contracted for the radio spots plus separate reproductions of the outdoor advertisements.
This is the segment about Chuck Berry which also includes photos taken from the film as shot during the recording session. All looks so perfect and in harmony.
And this is in total contrast to what Susan Hamilton writes about this recording. Chapter 28 is only seven pages long, but itâs well worth buying the book just for this story.
It all started when Hamilton, engineer Scheiner and HEA salesman Drayton flew to St. Louis with the agencyâs Dennis Powers as well as cameraman Jim Desmond and his sound guy. The flight was late so they arrived close to midnight and tired. At the airport they were refused to get their rental cars until Chuck had a talk with the agent. Next they couldnât sleep in a comfortable hotel in St. Louis but had to follow Berry for an hour by car to get to Berry Mansion, Summer Camp for Inner City Children â a dark, unlit wasteland of broken glass and cracked asphalt with no coffee, no showers, no food.
In the morning they drove back to a broken-down studio of Berryâs in downtown St. Louis (not the Berry Park studios, seemingly), only to learn that Berry requested another $5000 for the recording. Susan Hamilton managed to get the approval from the agency and was forced to write a, in her mind non-binding anyway, contract on the back of empty envelopes. Finally they recorded the overdubs onto the track they brought with them.
We got a bunch of takes and in a very short time. I knew I had plenty of material to be able to compile a great performance. Of course it was a little difficult to judge because we didnât get to hear some of our previously recorded instruments. They just wouldnât play from the 24 track machine through the broken faders. Oh well. We just imagined them.When the team was packing up in the afternoon, Berry demanded his money. He wanted the extra $5000, now and in cash. âYouâre not leaving here until I get it. The tape is not leaving here, and your people ainât leaving here, neither,â Berry said and locked people and tape in a back room. It was late on a Friday in St. Louis and Susan Hamilton had no chance to contact the New York agency nor the client.
I picked up the phone and dialed my office. God was merciful, and someone was there. I had them wire the money out of our account to the Western Union facility in downtown St. Louis. I told them it was ransom money. I was serious.Eventually the money arrived, Susan got tape and people out of the back room after counting it out into Chuckâs hands. To top it, Berry forced them to go out with him for some soul food in one of the scariest parts of the town.
The whole two-day Chuck experience was both hilarious and terrifying, as you can imagine â felt like I was in some dark comedy of a movie!Given this story, itâs no wonder we should be very suspicious watching the session footage on YouTube. The film shows Berry accompanied by session musicians on drums, bass, piano and sax. Look carefully and you will not find a single image where you see Berry together with one of the musicians. You canât, because Susan Hamilton recorded Berry in St. Louis alone without a band. The prerecorded track had been made in New York already.
I asked Susan if she can identify the session men from the video. She says that any shots in the film of musicians other than Chuck were added for creative interest by the film crew. These were not the original session men. Itâs fairly easy to see at the end where the film shows a sax player. There is no sax on the whole recording.
Asked whether she remembers the original musicians, Susan tells that she can only guess. So despite the nice Dr Pepper video we are left with the unknownâs in our database.
All quotes from Susan Hamilton have been taken from her excellent book âHit Womanâ (Hitwoman Publishing, 2013) and from emails in which Susan was so kind to answer my additional questions. Many thanks!
Wednesday, April 25. 2018
I have no idea who the people are which release CDs under the ROUGH label name, but I'm sure they read this blog and site regularly. Just a few weeks after we finally managed to solve the mysteries about Berry's 1981 live recordings, ROUGH releases a CD containing the complete show.
The CD is called Live! Wolf & Rissmiller's Country Club - 1981 and seems to be available only on ebay. This time the ROUGH CD got a catalog number (40147), though interestingly the same product code as the previous one which contained live recordings from Seattle and Waterloo.
Of course the ROUGH people did not find the original Norman Pattiz recordings. They just combined what was found on Youtube and on previously released CDs and LPs. So here we find the twelve tracks from the first set as they were broadcast on radio plus the one track from the second set which made it to the Westwood One Radio album.
To fill the CD, ROUGH added some live recordings from other shows. Here we get three songs from the 1982 show at the Roxy which are well known from many other releases. Plus we get three songs from a French TV show 1965. These tracks have been available on video before, e.g. on Youtube or at L'Institut national de l'audiovisuel (Ina.fr). The show was recorded for the French TV series Music-Hall de France on November 4th, 1965 in Montrouge near Paris. As this is the first audio release of this recording, we have added it as a session to our database.
Concurrently to ROUGH 40147 they also released a second CD again containing known but rare Berry live recordings in high quality. ROUGH 40148 is called Saturday Rock - Live at the BBC '72.
As you can read from the title, again we know these recordings well. The Sounds for Saturday show has been released on multiple albums before, most notably the Six Two Five vinyl bootleg.
In contrast to the previous releases, the ROUGH CD contains the full show recording as it had been made available on a DVD last year. Also from a DVD are the two bonus track recorded for the Radio Bremen TV show five days before the BBC concert.
Again this CD is offered on ebay only so far.
Saturday, March 17. 2018
Arian Collins is a Chuck Berry fan like us. He recently wondered about the strange release strategy Chess showed with the first ten years in Berry's carrier. Songs were left on the shelf, placed on albums years after recorded or even released as singles only.
Thus Arian imagined how Berry's early albums would have looked like if Chess did release all recordings in time.
On his blog "Albums Back from the Dead - Recreating albums that never actually existed" Arian shows us Berry's Chess albums he imagined, including track listings which follow the recording dates and imaginary covers.
Look, read and enjoy
Chuck Berry 1955-59: https://albumsbackfromthedead.blogspot.com/2018/02/chuck-berry-discography-1956-59.html
Chuck Berry 1960-66: https://albumsbackfromthedead.blogspot.com/2018/03/chuck-berry-discography-1960-66.html
Monday, February 26. 2018
This site's section on Radio Show and Promotional Records has a description of the most interesting Chuck Berry records which were not available for public sale. This includes the so-called Radio Show albums which are LPs (later CDs) containing pre-produced radio shows to be broadcast by radio stations nation-wide. Some of these albums contain interviews or even music not available anywhere else.
I recently received another of these radio albums containing five segments of 5 to 7 minutes each to be broadcast as House of Blues Breaks on CBS stations. The segment for Thursday, 21 April 1994 concentrates on Louis Jordan but holds an interview segment by Chuck Berry related to Jordan.
They say that's a Chuck Berry song because it goes 'da-da-bi-da-bi-da-bi-du-a-da-bi-du-a'. Well, the first time I heard that was one of Carl Hogan's riffs in Louis Jordan's band. We have T-Bone Walker - I love T-Bone Walker and his blues. So you put a little Carl Hogan, a little T-Bone Walker, and a little Charlie Christian, the guitarist in Tommy Dorsey's band, together. Look what a span of people that you will please. And that's what I did in Johnny B. Goode, in Roll Over Beethoven. And making it simple is an important fact, I think, that resulted in a lot of the artists understanding, being able to play my music. If you can call it my music. But there's nothing new under the sun.
This does sound very well-known. We have heard Berry tell this in multiple interviews before. However, I checked the remaining radio station albums and did not find this specific segment. Do you remember where we have heard this specific interview segment before? Let me know.
Friday, February 16. 2018
As you know, this site's database is a complete list of each and every Chuck Berry recording which has ever been published on a mass-produced record or CD.
Some people have noticed that various web sites list Chuck Berry recordings which are not in our database. All these contain "alternative facts" and it's in no way our job to correct those. One error, which even made it to Mike Callahan and David Edwards' excellent Both Sides Now website, continues to be repeated over and over, though. Time to get the facts right:
In June 1972 Chess recorded several of their main artists at the Montreux Jazz Festival. This included Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor and T-Bone Walker. Most were backed by The Four Aces, i.e. Lafayette Leake, Dave & Louis Myers, Fred Below. Some performances including Berry's were also broadcast on TV. From these broadcasts and from audience tapes we know it's been a poor Berry performance despite Walker and Dixon as guest artists on some tracks.
Chess decided to release the best recordings from the various shows on a two-LP set numbered 2CH-60015. Berry's complete performance seems to have been mastered for release, as both Michel Ruppli and Fred Rothwell report the master numbers CH2440 to CH2453 containing the songs from Berry's Montreux performance.
The double album was initially announced under the title "The Blues/Rock Cookbook - Volumes 1 & 2" to be released by Chess/Janus in September 1972. The track listing seems to have included Let It Rock (master CH2448) and School Day (master CH2453) from Berry's performance. [I haven't seen the original announcement yet, but I found a note in Cash Box which lists the artists, though not the songs.]
Those who know tell that the masters of these two songs have been cut from the master tape residing in the Chess vaults which otherwise still has the complete stereo recording. Thus it looks as if a master tape for the Blues/Rock Cookbook album had been created.
However, we have never seen a copy of this album nor any image thereof. It seems that it never made it to the stores. Strangely, many online discographies list 2CH-60015 under this title - and list Berry among the artists.
Correct is instead, that the final release of CHESS 2CH-60015 in February/March/April (?) 1973 has the title "Blues Avalanche" on the cover and "Blues/Rock Avalanche" on the label. The "Avalanche" album has the exact same tracks as the planned "Cookbook" album except for the two Berry tunes. There's no trace of Berry on the disk or on the cover.
It is completely unknown why this change happened? Fred Rothwell writes that Berry had a dislike for compilations. Another wild guess could be that Berry demanded additional cash for the publishing of his recordings. Or someone had noticed that Chess had just released a Chuck Berry live album (The Chuck Berry London Sessions, CH-60020). It even could be that Chess officials finally noticed that Berry's performance in Montreux was poor. Who knows?
In case you wonder, yes, there is another album missing Chuck Berry live performances. The soundtrack album for Richard Nader's movie "Let The Good Times Roll" (Bell 9002, 1973) has the best live performances by old-time rock'n'rollers such as Fats Domino, Bill Haley, and Little Richard, but misses the Berry part from the film including a performance together with Bo Diddley.
Saturday, January 13. 2018
There are hundreds of audience tapes containing Chuck Berry shows from all over the world. Few of them are worth listening to and even fewer are worth releasing.
A couple of weeks ago a new CD called Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry! Live! became available containing two shows which are really worth listening to. Although the CD says "This CD-R is a non commercial product and is for private use only", it is professionally made with a printed cardboard envelope. The label is called ROUGH. There is no catalog number, but the barcode reads 640509040147, so we take this as the catalog number.
The two shows included are well known. Seven tracks come from a show recorded in February 1965 at the TV studios of Radio TĂ©lĂ©vision Belge in Waterloo, Belgium. This show was broadcast under the title "Face au public". It's available in very good quality on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhoyMlX5avU
It's interesting to note that Berry is backed by professional Jazz musicians from Belgium: Willy Donni on guitar, Willy Albimoor (Willy NoĂ«l De Moor) on piano, Ed Rogers (Roger Van Hoverbeke) on double bass, and Eddie Hunton on drums.
Besides his greatest hits, Berry also performs his latest singles and The Things That I Used To Do, a blues by Guitar Slim.
Further 14 tracks on this new CD come from a September 1980 show at the Seattle Arts Festival "Bumbershoot". Again this recording is of highest sound quality. It probably was recorded and broadcast by Seattle radio station KSIW. At least KSIW DJ Gary Crow introduces Berry and the band and promotes the radio station.
Fred, Thierry and myself spent some time trying to find out who backed Berry at this show. Crow introduces them as the "Northwest All Stars" and they are much better than the average pickup band Berry used to play with. The guitar player and the piano player both get time to solo which is a strong indication for Berry really liking their play.
With the help of Eric Predoehl and Ned Neltner we finally got into contact with guitarist Barry Curtis (ex-Kingsmen) and drummer George Rudiger (of Jr. Cadillac) from the band. Both Barry and George remember the show well. They report that the electric piano was played by Tom "Cadillac" Katica (Jr. Cadillac as well), who died in 2010. They didn't know the bass player who was traveling with Berry. This indicates that here again we hear Jim Marsala playing.
Eric has a great photo shot on his louielouie.net site showing Chuck, George, and Barry during the Bumbershoot show: http://www.louielouie.net/blog/?p=9074
Besides all his greatest hits, the show includes nice versions of You Don't Have To Go and Baby What You Want Me To Do written by Jimmy Reed as well as Lousiana Blues written by Muddy Waters. Note that in contrast to the known audience tapes, the show on this CD has been shortened. Due to time limitations, Johnny B. Goode was excluded, Reelin' And Rockin'/House Lights was shortened by two minutes. Also missing is the introduction by Gary Crow and an initial guitar instrumental based on Rockin' At The Philharmonic.
Right now we haven't seen this CD offered in stores or mailorder catalogs. It is offered on ebay, though.
Sunday, January 7. 2018
While Carol is one of Berry's best-known records, the recording itself is kind of a mystery. This starts with two different master tapes which have been used to create the hit single vs. the LP release. Most readers will know the LP master originally created for the 1959 album Chuck Berry Is On Top (CHESS LP 1435). This has a wide range of loudness throughout the song and is used for almost all LP or CD re-issues. In contrast, the master used for the 1958 single (CHESS 1700) is much more compressed to give a more leveled sound. To many people this variant sounds much more vivid and overall better.
The single master is more difficult to get as it was used only for the hit single and the follow-up EP. According to Thierry Chanu, the single master has been used only once since then, on the British album More Chuck Berry (PYE NPL-28028). In the US this master seems to have been lost which is why Bear Family in 2014 reconstructed it from a Vinyl single to re-issue it on their 16-CD box set.
Also lost are session tapes showing the development of the recording as well as the overdubs tried. So it came out as a surprise when in April we found a variant of Carol having an additional piano overdub which is not on the original single or LP release. This piano overdub version has been published only once: on the 1973 double album Chuck Berry's Golden Decade, Vol. 2.
This made us listen to Carol in greater detail trying to find a second release of this piano overdub. We didn't.
But in December Thierry Chanu found something else: On the Japanese 1983 box set Very Good!! (CHESS PLP 834-6) there is a third variant of Carol!! Again it sounds almost the same as the hit version but has additional piano playing. And this is a different piano overdub than the one on Golden Decade.
The piano overdub on this version is much more audible, but concurrently it's also worse. It doesn't fit the song very well. And the master runs approximately 5% faster than the hit version, whether on purpose or not. According to Morten Reff, this second piano overdub was also used on a second Japanese box set called From The Beginning 1955-1960 (CHESS SJET 9523-5) released probably in 1973. And Thierry found it on a strange European CD called Greatest (Goldies GLD63035, Portugal 1991).
Given these results we have to state that session tapes of the Carol overdubs must still have existed in 1973 as two alternative overdubs were used on compilation albums both in the US and in Japan. As these seem to have been lost in MCA's archives, one wonders if master tape copies still exist in Japan or elsewhere.
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.]
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!
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:
Saturday, February 20. 2016
The year 2016 starts with a new CD containing Chuck Berry recordings previously not released. Well, some. Well, not officially released. Well, and whether this CD is an official release is also questionable. Well, at least it looks like one.
Chuck Berry - The Sheik of Chicago (Smashing Pumpkin Records PMK-1126, 2016) comes in a cheap printed cardboard sleeve which claims to be printed in the E.U.
The CD has a playing time of almost 80 minutes consisting of a complete 1988 concert, segments from a 1981 concert, three nice short spots, and a tribute song to Chuck Berry by Joe Stampley.
The 1988 concert was recorded on New Year's Evening at the Palladium Theater in New York City. This concert had been broadcast through various U.S. radio stations and therefore this is a high-quality professional recording. The recording has been known from both audience tapes and more-or-less privately made bootleg CDs for a long time. One of these called Live at the Palladium even uses the same cover image.
While it's a high-quality recording, the performance is everything but high-quality. As he did for most of his career, Berry again uses a band he obviously has never seen before. Bass and rhythm guitar are inaudible, piano and drums are just bad. Chuck's daughter Ingrid helps out with harmonica and second vocal on a few numbers. She even gets to sing lead vocal on two blues numbers like we know from other concert recordings. All in all this concert is certainly not something you want to buy this CD for.
Following the 1988 concert are segments from a 1981 concert recorded in Reseda, California. This is much better but only 12 minutes long. Berry collectors and readers of this site know this performance for a long time. It has never been officially released for public sale. But it exists on Vinyl. These three songs have been included on a LP record sent by Westwood One to radio stations nation-wide to be broadcast as part of their In Concert radio series. Here it has been mastered digitally very well without any crackles and it's nice to have on CD now.
The first part of the former paragraph also holds for the next track. Berry's 20-seconds radio spot for the YMCA as recorded in 1967 was available on Vinyl before and has been discussed in detail on this site's section on Radio Station and Promotional Records. Here however, the transfer to CD did not go well. There are crackles, the beginning is fuzzy, and the overall sound quality is bad. However, as this recording is very rare we must be glad to be able to listen to it at all.
Jumping from 1988 to 1981 to 1967 next are two Chuck Berry recordings made in 2004. Both are speech recordings Chuck Berry did for Independence Air. The airline company Independence Air started flying in 2004 and filed bankruptcy in 2005, thus not being too successful. Besides trying to be cheap (always not a good idea) they also tried to be funny. This included that the in-flight safety announcements were spoken by comedians and other celebrities (see this old press-release).
Chuck Berry's safety announcements, to be used on their Bombardier CRJ200 (CL-65) jets, are spoken over a rock'n'roll instrumental (non-Berry). In 2004 you could download all the safety announcements from the flyi.com website. If you didn't, you now find it here on this new CD.
In addition the Pumpkin CD also includes a 30-seconds radio (?) commercial for Independence Air. In fact this is the only recording from this CD I did not know of and had before. I have not been able to find out where this spot was used and how it was distributed in 2004.
The last and 22nd track of this new CD is not a Chuck Berry recording at all. This is the song Sheik of Chicago, released in 1976 by Joe Stampley on EPIC. This Berry tribute is certainly one of the better ones and even made it to Billboard's Country Top 100.
If you are wondering about the nice and professional looking cover image, this has been cut from a contemporary (i.e. 1988) advert for Christian Brother's Brandy displaying Berry (click to enlarge).
Overall this is not necessary a CD we have been waiting for. It does include some rarities though. Thus if you don't have the radio station albums and the Independent Air MP3s, get yourself a copy.
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This weblog is an addition to my Chuck Berry fansite called "A Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry" which describes all books and records of interest to everyone enjoying Chuck Berry's music.
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