Sunday, November 16. 2014
[The first draft of this post was titled What's In And What's Not. I spent days after days listening to these 20+ hours of music. And the more I listened, the more my article became a rant about the omissions, illogical selection and strange sequence of the tracks. Some friends proofreading my writing however complained about the tone of my draft. They remembered me that what I was reviewing is not a scientific piece of work - and probably has never been intended as such. They told me to see this box as an enjoyable piece of art, which it really is. I should better concentrate on all the hidden gems in this release. And they were correct. So I started from scratch. Here's the result:]
Bear Family's original marketing material for Chuck Berry: Rock And Roll Music â Any Old Way You Choose It (Bear Family BCD 17273 PL) promised "all of Berry's studio recordings for Chess, Mercury, and Atco plus a selection of live performances." If you're a die-hard Berry fan or collector you probably already have all the relevant releases and that means all the studio recordings and all the live recordings. Thus except for the beautiful books, is there any reason for you to spend $400/âŹ300 for this box?
There is! The reason is that every single one of the 16 CDs comes with at least one hidden gem which you might want to have. Let's run through them:
The first CD contains the studio recordings up until May 1957 including the two Joe Alexander tracks.
The hidden gem is La Juanda (or Lajaunda as it was incorrectly named by Chess). As you know from this blog, there are two slightly different versions of this song. The two versions differ in the overdubbed second vocal track. On this CD 1 we get to hear the version which was originally used on the CHESS 1664 single - and only there. All later EPs, LPs, and CDs in contrast included the other variant. Thus the single version of La Juanda is included here for the first time on CD.
The second CD contains all the Chess recordings made between December 1957 and September 1958.
The hidden gem here is Carol. If you compare this track to the well known and indefinitely repeated version which you hear on all other CDs it will come up as a true surprise. While we are used to Carol sounding dull and dark, it now sounds light and clear. Finally someone took the original recording and released it in full sound quality just as it was on the original Chess single.
The third CD covers the Chess recordings between November 1958 and early 1960.
The hidden gem on this CD is indeed an unheard-of Chess recording. Titled Fast B6 this is another instrumental/jam/warm-up from the Chess session tapes. For the first time we hear this previously unreleased Chuck Berry recording - or should I better say Johnnie Johnson recording.
The fourth CD completes the session which ended CD 3 and runs until August 1964.
It contains no less than three hidden gems. First you will find I'm In The Twilight Zone which had been available on a promotional-only CD before but was omitted from the Hip-O Select set You Never Can Tell - His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966 (HIP-O-Select B0012485-02).
Also missing from this set but on this CD - and for the first time on CD at all - are the shortened versions of the songs Chuck's Beat and Bo's Beat such as they were first released on the single Checker 1089.
The fifth CD starts with a session of December 1964 and runs âtil the end of 1965.
There is no direct hidden gem on this CD but we will come back to it when talking about CD 11.
The sixth CD covers the last session for Chess in April 1966 and continues with the Mercury sessions up to March 1967.
This CD not only contains the Mercury recordings which were on the original vinyl albums. It also includes all those additional songs which were not on the original releases but hidden on the 1980s re-releases. As those 1980s CDs have been extremely hard to find, the whole Mercury stuff is a reason to buy this box. And yes, in my opinion some of the Mercury recordings are gems indeed.
But besides that also this CD contains a hidden gem. The song Oh Captain was originally released on the album Mercury SR-61176 From St. Louie To Frisco. It always sounded strange as the two stereo channels were not in sync but offset for several seconds. This might have been by intention of artist or producer, though. Hey, it was hippie-era San Francisco where the album was finished. But it might also be just a technical fault which happened. There is no definitive answer, but Chuck Berry in an interview once complained about Mercury having destroyed his recordings.
Due to this, some Berry fan, said to be a Swedish sound engineer, had ârepairedâ the song by bringing the stereo channels back in sync. This repaired version has been floating around the Berry collectorsâ community for many years. CD 6 now comes with an "official" synchronized version of Oh Captain, engineered by Mark Kennedy. This version clearly sounds much better than the originally released mess â at least to our ears. It may not have sounded better to a 1968 SF sound engineer on dope, though.
The seventh CD completes the March 1967 session, runs through the remaining Mercury sessions and even includes the first session back at Chess from November 1969.
Again there is a hidden gem on it. Plus a correction for those who own the 1989 CD release of Concerto In B Goode. If you do, you will welcome that there is now a track separator between Put Her Down and Concerto In B Goode. On the early and so far only CD reissue this track separator was forgotten so you couldnât access the 18 minute concerto.
But the true hidden gem is a version of Rock Cradle Rock we haven't heard before. The new version of this tune is not really an alternate recording but a different mix having some guitar solos added. This brings the originally very short (1:22 minute) song to at least 1:51 minutes and indeed makes it better.
The eighth CD continues in November 1969 and includes the studio recordings up to February 1972.
The hidden gems on this CD are two edited versions which have been available before only on vinyl. Both Johnny B. Goode and Reelin' And Rockin' from the London Chuck Berry Sessions live album had been edited to fit on the singles they appeared on. While the full length versions have been re-released often, these two edits are available on CD here for the first time. In case you ask: the version of Reelin' And Rockin' is the edit for the US single Chess CH-2136.
The ninth CD starts in February 1972 and continues until August 1974.
Collectors will immediately notice a song called You And My Country which had not been listed on the 2010 Hip-O Select set Have Mercy â His Complete Chess Recordings 1969 To 1974 (HIP-O-Select B0013790-02). However, the recording itself is on the Hip-O set, though called Me And My Country. That was an error because You And My Country is both the original title under which this song first became known when its lyrics were published in the songbook RockânâRoll Poet and it is what Berry sings about.
The hidden gem on CD 9 is an edited version again which was only available on vinyl up to now. Bio had been edited down half a minute to fit on the US single Chess CH-2140. CD 9 contains this edited version, while the unedited version is on CD 10.
The tenth CD contains the remaining Chess studio sessions from August 1974. Plus.
I tried hard, but didn't find any hidden gem on this CD. It does include the full-length versions of three songs which were in edited form on CDs 4 and 9, though.
The eleventh CD contains the 1979 studio recordings published on the Atco album Rockit SD 38-118, but starts with 14 Chess recordings from the early 1960s.
This includes various, significantly different stereo versions of well-known Chess songs. These had been published in the 1960s and 1980s. Also included are a few alternate takes - and two hidden gems.
The first hidden gem on CD 11 is the stereo version of Diploma For Two which had not been available on CD before. The second hidden gem is even more interesting. Jamaica Farewell on CD 11 is the version from the UK variant of the Chuck Berry In London album (Chess CRL-4005). This is a different recording/take from the one published in the US which is on CD 5. The differences are minor and except for the differing run time hard to spot, but this version is here for the first time on CD. It was even omitted from the Hip-O sets.
The twelfth CD contains three Chuck Berry concerts from 1956, 1958, and 1963.
The whole 1963 show is a hidden gem as it was not heard before. From the discography we learn that Chess recorded four shows with Berry on October 25 and 26, 1963 at the Walled Lake Casino, Detroit. Only the two Saturday shows had been released on the Hip-O Select set You Never Can Tell - His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966 (HIP-O-Select B0012485-02) and even those incompletely. Here is the complete first show of Friday which was not on the Hip-O set.
The thirteenth CD continues with the Walled Lake Casino recordings containing the complete second set of Friday and the complete two sets of Saturday. Of these three shows the first has not been available before. The other two were known for the most part, though both Memphis and the spoken introduction were omitted from the Hip-O release. Even though there are some duplicates when Berry played the same song in multiple shows, there are also some numbers such as Dust My Broom and Too Much Monkey Business which are not often heard in Berry concerts. With the two sets of Friday, October 25, 1963 we get some new and interesting stuff which had been unreleased so far.
The fourteenth CD contains the 1967 recordings made in San Francisco and first released on Berry's first official live album Mercury MG-21138/SG-61138 Live At Fillmore Auditorium. When that album was re-released on CD in 1989, Mercury added five more songs from the shows. CD 14 of the Bear Family box contains the exact contents of that 1989 CD, i.e. the more complete recording. The only difference is that here the 8:36 minute medley which starts the show is logically divided into three individual tracks.
Very well known is the chronologically next live recording from Toronto 1969 which takes up the full fifteenth CD. This concert has been re-released on albums and CDs dozens of times. There seems to be a complete tape of this concert somewhere as several of the cheap releases include spoken introductions, stage banter and reaction to audience input. CD 15 however includes the cut-off separated songs as they were originally released on the album Live In Concert by Magnum.
The hidden gem which was not heard on this and any other releases is a version of Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight called Bonsoir Cherie which had been available before only on the video and DVD releases of this concert.
The sixteenth and last CD of this set contains several live recordings from the 1970s plus one rare studio recording and some tracks which you can count as a live recording or a studio recording just as you want to.
From 1972 there is the concert from Coventry which was used for the second side of Chess album CH-60020 The London Chuck Berry Sessions. Three songs, Reelinâ And Rockinâ, My Ding-A-Ling, and Johnny B. Goode, were released both on this album and in heavily edited form on several Chess singles. A fourth song, Roll âEm Pete, was even overdubbed with additional instruments and released as the flip side of Chess single CH-2140. As said above, these edited versions can be found on CD 8 of this box, some for the first time on CD at all. The original long recordings are on this CD 16 along with four more songs from this show which were first released in 2010 on the Hip-O Select set Have Mercy â His Complete Chess Recordings 1969 To 1974.
The first hidden gems on CD 16 are two additional songs from the Coventry show plus a short instrumental and an introduction. All four tracks are released here for the first time.
In 1964 during his first tour in England, Berry and his backing band The Dominoes played some numbers at the BBC Studios for the BBC Saturday Club radio show. There was no audience, so you may argue if this is a live or studio recording, but who cares. Parts of this recording had been available before on a vinyl album Dominoes & King Size Taylor (excerpts only) and on a poor unofficial CD Chuck Berry In London (some tracks only and in lousy sound quality).
Thus the second hidden gem on CD 16 is that for the first time we hear the five songs complete and in very good quality. Interestingly some crackles suggest that these five songs have been transcribed from a vinyl recording, though one that wasnât available to the public.
The list of hidden gems continues with the last three tracks on CD 16. First you get the 1977 recording of Berry's version of the Dr Pepper advertising song along with the corresponding interview. Then again from 1977 there is the final live recording in this selection. This medley of Reelinâ And Rockinâ and Roll Over Beethoven was recorded for the motion picture American Hot Wax about Alan Freed and as such was released on the corresponding soundtrack album. All three tracks had been available on vinyl only and are here on CD for the first time.
Thus, is the 16 CD box worth its price even if you already have all of Berry's released recordings? Definitely!
Every single one of this 16 CDs contains some hidden gem. If you'd see a single CD offered at $20 which would contain only one of those hidden gems, wouldn't you buy it?
Here we get sixteen of these! We get most of the contents of the 12 Hip-O CDs. We get the complete contents of the five Mercury CDs, each of which alone easily sold for $50, if offered at all.
And as hidden gems we get:
Wednesday, November 5. 2014
[You are certainly awaiting details on the new Bear Family 16-CD box from a record collector's point of view, i.e. what's new or important. However, a close deadline had me to write a review for the German Rock'n'Roll Musikmagazin first. Thus please be patient until I come up with the details. For now, enjoy this translation of my review.]
Chuck Berry: Rock And Roll Music â Any Old Way You Choose It
Bear Family BCD 17273 PL, 16 CDs, 350 pages in two books
Collectors of our kind of music already know: When Bear Family takes care of one of our favorite artists, you can purchase the result without any doubt, no matter if they cover Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, or as here Chuck Berry. So why write a review then? Because there are collectors who think more than twice when a box comes with a price tag of 300 Euros (or $400). So what do you get for the money?
One thing you will get is simply everything, no less than the total musical works of Chuck Berry. Just turned 88, this pioneer of rock music in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s worked for the labels Chess, Mercury, and Atco. During these times more than 300 studio recordings originated. And all of them are in this box.
The Chess recordings had been reissued in 2008 to 2010 by Hip-O Select, a sub-label of Universal Music. Likewise the Atco recordings are available on CD.
But here we also get the Mercury recordings (1966 to 1969). While there had been a CD reissue in the 1980s, those were pressed in very little quantity and are extremely hard to find. Which is a pity because also in the late 1960s Berry recorded several interesting songs. One highlight are the tracks recorded in Memphis together with a set of musicians who later performed with Elvis on numbers such as In The Ghetto or Suspicious Minds.
So we get Berry's complete studio work including his Mercury period. Which makes up for a total of 11 CDs. These CDs have been compiled in a way that every Rock'n'Roll fan may want to listen to an arbitrary one without getting bored. This is in contrast to the Hip-O Select sets which got lost in alternative takes presenting multiple versions of the same song in sequence often. With this Bear Family Box, there is only one version each, the most well-known variant. Only with a small selection you may find a second variant hidden on a different CD, e.g. where the hit version had been highly modified against the original album version.
In addition to the complete studio history of Berry, five further CDs show an interesting comparison: a cross section through his live performances of that time. This starts with segments from an Alan Freed show in 1956 and ends with the stage recordings made for the Alan-Freed-Memorial movie "American Hot Wax" in 1977. Included are several recordings which had been available before only on rarest vinyl or not at all.
Bear Family would not Bear Family, though, if these twenty hours of music weren't accompanied by writings at least as interesting. And therefore this box does not only come with one album-sized book, it comes with two!
The main book was written by three authors, each of whom having written one or more books on Chuck Berry already. Bruce Pegg not only tells Berry's story on more than 100 pages, he also describes the circumstances of recording sessions and the origins of the songs. Fred Rothwell, who also acted as a producer for this box, added more than 30 pages of discography listing in detail each and every recording, musician, and important release. Morten Reff as the second producer not only made sure that in this collection all those tracks are found which had been missing on CD before. He also opens his archive of international record covers for us.
Due to this you not only find all the US covers displayed, but also the most beautiful records from all over the world, ranging from South Africa to New Zealand - of course in full color and best quality. Next to these there are approximately 1.000 photos: views into the recording studios, performances world-wide, concert posters, advertisements and so on. Many of these photos can be seen here for the first time, or at least for the first time in this outstanding quality.
Which takes us to the second book from the box which tells of a sensational discovery: In 1996 journalist and blues expert Bill Greensmith gets a message from a friend regarding a photographic archive due to be dumped. In three rooms filled with hundreds of boxes Greensmith encounters some early Chuck Berry pictures. The house owner explains to him that the photographer, her husband Harry Davis, was a cousin of Berry. This was when Greensmith started to look through negative after negative.
His findings are astonishing: Not only had Davis shot Berry's wedding photo. He is also the originator of many of the early PR photos. Already in 1952 Davis takes first portraits of Berry with guitar and stage suit. Some shots from this or other early photo sessions were used by Chess for covers and songbooks even ten years later. Most of the photos have been unknown, though, until they are shown now within this box.
Whereas it doesn't stop with the publicity shots. Harry Davis and his camera also joined Berry at performances in St. Louis, e.g. in the Cosmopolitan Club. Thus on Harry's photos we see Chuck Berry and Johnnie Johnson on stage, several month before their first hit record.
The most interesting negatives, transparencies and prints Bill Greensmith restored and collected for this book. They are shown in large format, in astounding good quality, some even in color. This is a true gem, not only for Berry fans.
The text from the books and the uncounted stunning photos almost make for the price of the box by themselves. And in addition you get the bonus of Berry's total musical work on 16 CDs. Even if you think you already have everything by Berry, you will read or hear things yet unheard-of such as an insider's look into Berry's UK tour 1965, an advertising song for the Dr Pepper soft-drink, or the repaired version of a song once messed up during the original production.
As we know from Bear Family, there is very very little to object. Worth a discussion might be the strategy to include only the "most well-known" variant of a recording. With some songs one would prefer to also be able to listen to a different, sometimes even more original version. Where it couldn't be avoided, some tracks have been dubbed from vinyl records which you can hear sometimes. And for the 1969 concert having an uninterrupted audio track instead of separated songs would have been nice. All these are minor comments, though.
If you haven't been engaged in Chuck Berry's music much before, in this box you will find everything you will ever want to know about or hear from him - this is a complete collection. If instead you already have a lot of Berry material, you will still find many rarities and some first releases you don't have, not to miss the two incredibly good books you get with the box. Even if they cost 300 Euro (or $400): These seven pounds Chuck Berry are recommended unconditionally!
The box is right now available from Bear Family or from your favorite record seller. Here's a list of some links to compare prices.
Wednesday, October 29. 2014
Here's a message to those of you anxiously waiting for the new 16-CD box made by Bear Family promising to contain all of Berry's CHESS, Mercury, and ATCO recordings plus more.
Chuck Berry: Rock And Roll Music had been planned to be released no later than Berry's 88th birthday on October 18th. However, problems with some suppliers caused a small delay.
Bear Family just told me that the boxes are shipping now. First copies to dealers went out on Monday, first copies to end users were shipped today. So expect your copy to arrive soon.
Those who ordered the more expensive Guitar Case Edition will have to be patient, though. Even though Bear Family ordered the guitar cases months ago, they are still waiting to get them. As of today, Bear Family expects the limited Guitar Case Edition to be shipped by the end of November.
Sunday, October 26. 2014
In early 2008 I wrote a blog article on the various recordings of Chuck Berry concerts in San Francisco in 1967. Three of these shows had been only available for listening online at Wolfgang's Vault, now Concert Vault, a commercial site which runs on the archives of promoter Bill Graham and concert recordings from many other sources.
These recordings have now been made available as a 2-CD set called Check Me Out! (Crying Steel CSR02). It includes all three concerts available at the Concert Vault:
Anyway the 2-CD set is a nice professionally made item. And it even contains a recommendation for this site in its liner notes. Thanks!
Sunday, September 7. 2014
Two weeks ago, I wrote a first report on the upcoming 16-CD boxset by Bear Family. At that time all I had was a press release and some early photos.
In the meantime Bear Family added the boxset to their online catalog. You can now pre-order the set at the Bear Family Store.
They also included a complete, though little detailed track listing. This now gives us a first look at what is included in the box, and what is not. The contents is interesting, though a bit different from what I wrote earlier.
Bear Family has promised the COMPLETE studio recordings of Chuck Berry. However I find that my definition of "complete" differs a bit from theirs. Their definition of "complete" means that you will get EVERY song Berry ever recorded, but you will get just ONE version of every song.
This is in contrast to e.g. what Hip-O-Select had in mind with their three 4-CD boxes. If you look at Hip-O's first box, you'll find five different versions of Sweet Little Sixteen. As these variants often differ only slightly, listening to such a CD is boring for most. And if you have followed this blog closely, you know that even Hip-O missed to include some previously published tracks.
On the new Bear Family boxset there will be only ONE version of Sweet Little Sixteen plus the demo version. Thus you will not be bored by listening to eight variants of the same song. This is good. But you will need to buy additional CDs to complete your collection.
From the track listing it is a bit unclear which version we will hear. There is only one version of Sweet Little Sixteen, so it's probably the sped up hit single version. But there is also only one version of Merry Christmas Baby, which can either be the version used for the CHESS single, or the one used for the CHESS album. We will see. It seems that all the alternate or early takes are missing - at least unless they have been published under a different name before. So there's only one version of Betty Jean on the set, but there are three takes of Vacation Time: the single version plus the two alt. takes from America's Hottest Wax, known as 21 and 21 Blues. We will have to do some research once the boxset is available.
The sequence of the tracks on the 16 CDs is also a bit unclear. Basically it follows the recording dates, but the Joe Alexander takes are after How High The Moon. And between the Chuck Berry '75 album tracks and the ATCO tracks there are 18 CHESS tracks which were recorded in the 1960s. I expect the books to explain more about these recordings.
Bear Family's press release and order form also promise that with the Mercury and ATCO recordings "all surviving alternate takes" are included. From the track listing it seems that there is only one additional Mercury track and not a single alt. take from the ATCO sessions.
CDs 1 to 11 contain studio recordings, CDs 12 to 16 contain live recordings. Most of these are well-known such as the 1956 Alan Freed Show recordings. Included are some which were difficult to get before, such as the Newport recordings from 1958, the two songs from the American Hot Wax movie, or the BBC sessions with King Size Taylor & the Dominoes. Unheard before are two more shows from Detroit 1963 and a couple of additional recordings from Coventry 1972. From the Fillmore and from Toronto there seems to be just the well-known recordings.
Almost at the end of CD 16 you will find the 1977 Dr. Pepper promotion song. I did not see any other of the rare recordings from our Radio Show and Promotional Records section.
In total, the CD set seems to fulfill a bit less than what the PR promised. It will, however, contain several previously unreleased tracks and a lot of what has been very difficult to find up to now. Stay tuned: more when I learn more about this box ...
Sunday, August 24. 2014
[Updated, now with prices and images!]
Bear Family, the famous German record company, informs me - and you - about their newest Chuck Berry product:
Rock And Roll Music - Any Old Way You Choose It - The COMPLETE Studio Recordings ... Plus!
To be issued in a few weeks, this new Berry box contains sixteen CDs plus almost four hundred printed pages.
As we know it from Bear Family, this is to be the definitive Berry collection. There is no better and there never will be.
Here's a first view according to Bear Family's Detlev Hoegen. Be sure I'm going to report details as soon as I have them.
Thanks to designer Mychael Gerstenberger of Malbuch/Berlin, I can show you early photos of the contents. As with all images on this site, click for a better view.
Bear Family claims that this is everything by Berry you ever wanted to have - and for most collectors they are definitely right. There is some additional studio material and tons of live recordings, but only a completionist like myself will want to have that.
The price for the box will be 299 Euros (appr. $400), thus it's save to say that you better start saving money immediately.
Those who want even more might try to get one of only 88 limited Deluxe Editions of this box. To celebrate Berry's 88th birthday on October 18th, Bear Family packs the contents of the box (16 CDs, 2 hardcover books) into an original-size Gibson ES series guitar case. Price will be 499 Euros (appr. $660).
Friday, August 8. 2014
[This is a minor correction to the October 2011 rewrite of a blog article originally posted on September 7th, 2011. Additional research revealed more facts and corrected some factual errors in the original post.]
In July  I had to correct some common knowledge about Johnny B. Goode. Based on findings by Josep RullĂł of Barcelona/Spain we learned that there were some errors with the so-called "complete" release of Berry's 1950s Chess recordings on HIP-O-Select's 4-CD-set Johnny B. Goode (HIP-O-Select B0009473-02).
Josep had another comment:
Sweet Little Sixteen â There's a lot of takes of this song in the Hip-O-Select set, but I think the one first released on the âAmerica's Hottest Waxâ LP is not there. I haven't heard that album for ages, but I seem to recall it had a false start (guitar intro only) and a complete take, wherein Chuck mixes the lyrics of the last verse with the lyrics from the first verse, and ends with âback in school againâ. This line is not heard on any of the five (well, really four) takes used on the Hip-O CD set.Josep's email started a long discussion about the various versions of Sweet Little Sixteen which can be found on the 4-CD set. And more importantly with the help of Morten Reff and Fred Rothwell we discussed in detail which versions can NOT be found on the 4-CD set.
The first part of Josep's comment was quite easy to solve. Just like with Johnny B. Goode take 2 the engineers at Universal clipped off the false starts when mastering the 2008 CD set. This happened to both the demo version (track 5 on CD2) and the previously unknown alternate take 11 (track 7 on CD 2). To listen to these false starts (and some studio chatter with the demo) you need to go back to records and CDs published in the 1980s.
The second part of Josep's comment lead into some more detailed discussions about the lyrics Berry sings because musically the multiple takes are very similar. Here's Josep again:
There are several lyrical differences between the available takes, but the most prominent one is in verses 1, 4, 5 and 7. On the master, Chuck sings âBoston, Pittsburgh, PAâ in verses 1 and 7, and âBandstand, Philadelphia, PAâ in verses 4 and 5. Taking this as a starting point, you can find several variations. On the demo, take 3 and take 11, he even sings âBandstand, Pittsburgh, PAâ on verse 5, which is wrong not only lyrically, but also geographically !!. Of course, I think Chuck knew the lyrics perfectly, and in most of those takes he was merely trying to get the band together without paying much attention to the words, but this is useful to us today in order to tell one from the other.By "master" Josep refers to the variant which finally made it to Chess single 1683 released January 1958. Given these lyrical variations one can differentiate between the four variants on the HIP-O-Select box easily:
Indeed there is a recording of Sweet Little Sixteen which is very similar to the final take except for the piano solo and Berry singing "school" instead of "class". This was the next-to-final take 13 of the recording session. Josep found it on Chess RCD034-2 titled "Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll", released in Spain in 1991. The take first surfaced on the two-LP set "Rock 'n' Roll Rarities" (Chess LP 92521) in March 1986, though in edited form.
On that double album there is a so-called unreleased version of Sweet Little Sixteen, which is take 13 preceded by a false start. However that false start does not belong to that take! Those who have access to the session tapes tell that the false start actually opens take 11, while take 13 never had a false start. Thus like we have found out with Johnny B. Goode, we must learn that the CHESS/MCA engineers in 1986 created unreleased versions by clipping and pasting parts from multiple takes into what they found to be a reasonable sequence.
This also explains why the HIP-O set contains take 11 and claims that this was a known take: The engineers at HIP-O found the take with the previously known false start (take 11) and included it in the set, without noticing that the take did not continue as known - and in addition they clipped off the false start, which was the only segment of the take known before.
Thus for now we have to add the following variants to our list:
For the sake of completeness I do not want to forget to tell that there is another studio recording of Sweet Little Sixteen made 1966 for Mercury. You can easily distinguish that one from the 1958 versions by the prominent tambourine playing.
I want to end this long post with another comment from Josep:
Man, can you believe the hours we've all spent listening to those takes? It shouldn't be that difficult to sort this out!!! If this isn't love for the music, then I donÂ´t know what it is...
Sunday, May 11. 2014
I usually don't quote from press releases, but this is good enough to make an exception:
The parameters of rock music were set one day in May 1955, when Chuck Berry recorded his debut single âMaybelleneâ. Chuck Berry was the rockânâroll pioneer who turned the electric guitar into the main instrument of rock music. Every riff and solo played by rock guitarists over the last 60 years contains DNA that can be traced right back to Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and a million other groups began to learn their craft by playing Chuck Berry songs. Chuck Berry is also a superb songwriter. In the course of three minutes he conjures up an image of the everyday life and dreams of a teenager, often with the focus on cars. Chuck Berry, born in 1926, was the first to drive up onto the highway and announce that we are born to run.These are the reasons why Chuck berry is going to be honored with the Polar Music Prize 2014 on August 26th by His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden in Stockholm.
Besides being honored with a great ceremony and given a prize money of 1,000,000 Swedish Kroner (appr. $150,000), which Berry will appreciate more, this prize puts Berry in one line not only with other renowned popular artists, but with exceptional composers and performers of classical music as well.
The Polar Music Prize is a legacy from Stig Anderson (1931-1997), one of the most famous figures in the Swedish music industry. A songwriter himself with an output of around 3,000 published titles, many of them chart hits, Anderson managed some of the biggest Swedish artists of the 1960s and then in the early 1970s became manager, co-writer, and producer of Sweden's most important pop group, ABBA. Anderson's record company Polar Music released all the original ABBA albums.
[Since 1992] the Polar Music Prize is an international music prize, which is awarded to individuals, groups or institutions in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music. The Polar Music Prize awards two Laureates in order to celebrate music in all its various forms and to emphasize the original intention of the Polar Music Prize: To break down musical boundaries by bringing together people from all the different worlds of music.To learn more about the prize, visit their website at polarmusicprize.org. The site also contains videos of the ceremonies, so expect to see Berry there as well. Along with their press release, the Prize Committee published a nice and almost correct brief biography of Berry at http://polarmusicprize.org/announcement/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/PMP_biografi_CB.pdf
Wednesday, December 18. 2013
It's Christmas time and while listening to the radio, from time to time you'll hear one of the various cover versions of Berry's Run Rudolph Run. Berry's???
While everyone will tell you that this is a typical Chuck Berry song with a typical Berry melody (later re-used at the same session for Little Queenie) and typical Berry lyrics (Said Santa to a boy child, "What have you been longing for?" — "All I want for Christmas is a Rock and Roll electric guitar!"), all over the Internet you will read that this song was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Broadie! And this includes Wikipedia âŚ
With the help of three fellow Berry experts, biographer Bruce Pegg, discographer Morten Reff, and sessionographer Fred Rothwell, I've tried to sort out a few facts from the rumors.
In 1939 Robert L. May wrote the story of Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, first for his daughter Barbara, later as a giveaway booklet for his employer, the Montgomery Ward Company. Ward's was the first owner of the Rudolph copyright. In 1946 the copyright was transferred back to May and today belongs to The Rudolph Company, L.P., that means May's heirs.
In 1949 Johnny Marks, husband of May's sister Margaret and both a songwriter and radio producer, took the tale and created the famous Christmas song Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The singing cowboy Gene Autry seems to be the first who recorded the song (though some sources name Harry Brannon) and made it a huge hit. Copyright to the 1949 Rudolph song is owned by Marks own publishing company called St. Nicholas Music, Inc.
In 1958, Chuck Berry recorded his version of a Christmas story named Run Rudolph Run. The original Chess release 1714 came with this authors line:
(C. Berry Music — M. Brodie) / ARC BMI
Chuck Berry Music, Inc., Berry's company, is listed here as the author as it is on most Chess singles starting with Beautiful Delilah up to Ramona Say Yes. For some reasons, probably financial, it seems to have made sense to use a company name here instead of an individual's name. As the melody is pure Chuck Berry, it's no wonder that Chuck Berry Music, Inc. claimed authorship and that ARC, the Chess/Goodman publishing company, claimed copyright.
But, mystery #1:
Who is "M. Brodie"? Chuck Berry using a co-writer? A person named M. Brodie does not exist on the Internet. Not as a songwriter nor in any relation to a record company. So if M. Brodie was a songwriter, Run Rudolph Run is his or her only published work. But M. Brodie might also have been someone Berry or the Chess Brothers wanted to give a favor (money/fame) â as they did with Alan Freed on the original Maybellene record. Or M. Brodie might be just a pen name such as "E. Anderson" on Let It Rock who was Berry in disguise.
In the ASCAP authors database, the co-writer of Run Rudolph Run named M. Brodie is identified as member number 268788988. While it's strange that Run Rudolph Run even exists in the ASCAP database because the original single clearly refers to the rival songwriter organization BMI, it becomes even more strange:
Member number 268788988 has additional entries for songs he wrote or co-wrote. All these additional songs stem from albums recorded by a late 1990s group called the Soultans of which a Marvin Lee Broadie was lead singer. And Marvin Lee Broadie indeed wrote some Soultans songs such as Cross My Heart on their Love, Sweat and Tears album. But if you look at Broadie's photo on his concert management site, I strongly doubt he was even born when Berry's Rudolph hit the record stores. Or, as Bruce Pegg puts it:
So unless this songwriter wrote one song in 1958, then had 40 years of writers block only to surface again as a writer for a German pop band at the end of the 90s, this Mr. Broadie is not our man.And don't overlook the different spelling of M. Brodie and Marvin Broadie.
So let's go to mystery #2:
Up to today on all Chess records or re-releases Berry's recording is always credited to Berry/Brodie or just Berry, this includes the latest HIP-O-Select boxes. In contrast, the ASCAP database and almost all cover versions name the songwriters as Johnny Marks and Marvin Broadie. Marvin Broadie aside, what has Johnny Marks to do with the Berry song?
Wikipedia claims that Marks indeed wrote the song, though Wikipedia fails to give a source for this claim. Is it likely that Marks wrote the Berry tune? Not if you compare Run Rudolph Run to Autry's hit record. But if you knew that in 1958 Marks wrote Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, that story might not be too far away. Our mysterious M. Brodie could be an alias for Johnny Marks, which allowed him (an ASCAP songwriter) to team up with Berry (a BMI songwriter). However, while this is possible, I don't believe it.
More likely is a different, more logical link to Marks. His publishing company St. Nicholas Music, Inc. is very strict about copyrights. And in fact the company was created by Marks just because of the Rudolph song and to cash on its success. As such it has "exploited the name and likeness of Rudolph via trademarks in connection with a wide variety of products and services, such as musical performances, audio recordings, sheet music and other music publications" (quoted from court papers). So Marks may have forced Arc Music/Chess Records to register the song with ASCAP and under the Marks/Brodie name. St. Nicholas Music, Inc. along with Character Arts, LLC (which owns the rights to the Rudolph 1964 TV special) successfully forbids Rudolph to appear in movies unless you pay for a license. And they certainly forbid Rudolph to appear in songs as well.
I'm really glad that my rights to the Rudolph name are older than theirs. Otherwise I might have feared their lawyers for using it.
The mysteries remain. I am 100 per cent sure that the mysterious M. Brodie never heard himself called Marvin. This dual use of the 268788988 member number in the ASCAP database is certainly an error introduced by trying to remove variant spellings for the same writer. This is where M. Brodie was mixed up with Marvin Lee Broadie. Johnny Marks' entry to the game was most certainly due to legal reasons. I strongly doubt Marks' contribution to the song, but if you can put some light into this darkness, let me know.
Monday, August 6. 2012
Recently a reader referred to my blog article on La Juanda - back here.
Again there rose a discussion about whether there are two variants of this song, or not: Is the version of this song on the original Chess single (Chess 1664) different from the version used on the LP albums (and all of the CDs)? When this question last came up in 2008 I had listened to those records over and over and did not hear any difference. In contrast others, especially Berry expert Morten Reff, insisted in hearing a difference. When this topic now came up once again, I decided to finally sort this out. So I grabbed the versions into audio files and used several computer programs to analyze possible differences.
Finally I stand corrected! Indeed there are differences in the single version of La Juanda versus to album and CD versions!
Both records obviously use the same basic take having the musical instruments and the main vocal. This results in both versions having the same length and sounding exactly the same.
However, as you will know, on this record Berry sings with himself in harmony. This was done by overdubbing a second background vocal track onto the original recording. And here is where the differences can be spotted. Either the engineers used a different second vocal track for the single or they modified the background vocal track before including it.
Fact is that there are a very few seconds in this song where you can hear the two versions differ. The most prominent part is during the first refrain where Berry switches from Spanish to English singing "I speak only the language of English" (close to 0:40 minutes in the song). In the single version this sentence is sung as a duet of Berry with himself having clearly two vocal tracks. In the LP version (e.g. on the Hip-O-Select box) the same sentence is not double-tracked. Here Berry clearly sings alone with a single voice.
My apologies to all those with better ears. I added a note to the Chess records section of this page.
Saturday, March 31. 2012
There have been two articles on this blog already talking about Berry's session in Radio Bremen's TV studio on March 24th, 1972. Berry and the same band used a few days later to record the famous BBC TV session spent 45 minutes to record eight songs to be used in later German broadcasts. Three of these songs then made it to the May 27th, 1972 broadcast of Germany's most famous music show Beat-Club.
In 2008 I reported on a TV broadcast of additional recordings from this show and in 2009 some readers found yet another part of this session. Go back there to learn more about the recording and the original releases.
In early 2011 Gonzo Multimedia of London, UK announced to include this session in their series of "Lost Broadcasts" DVDs. Interestingly their description of the show was completely wrong, talking about three different sessions and about songs never heard of. Anyway I pre-ordered a copy which was supposed to be available in June 2011. It never came. Gonzo first delayed and then drew back the release completely.
But then some reader of this blog found out that the DVD has finally become available (Thanks, John!). I ordered once more and this time I really got the DVD!
Chuck Berry - The Lost Broadcasts (Gonzo Multimedia HST056DVD) is now available at the usual shops. Click here for a list. Despite what the shops may tell you: This is a single (not two) DVD and it is not an Audio CD. It says it's made in England, but interestingly the Gonzo/UK website does not list it, while the Gonzo/US website does - and with a much more correct description this time. And for even more confusion the printing on the front cover contains German notes (explaining that this DVD is unrated).
The DVD contains all eight songs recorded at the session. On the DVD are the raw cuts containing studio talk and even the clapperboard inserts. Included as well is a 30-minute Interview track, which consists of an interview where Berry tries to understand the questions from the two German interviewers followed by studio talk where the band sits on stage drinking beer. It seems as if the German cameramen and director simply let the cameras run whatever Berry and the band did. Which seemed not to disturb them. All this is now on the DVD, raw as it is.
This raw material was filmed in front of a blue-screen. This is a common technique in which during post-production any arbitrary background could be placed behind the actors. The blue color is then keyed out from the overlaid images. Here the blue background is very disturbing as by intention it has a very high contrast to what's going on on stage. When German TV broadcast this "Lost Concert" in 2008, they replaced the blue background with a black one. That was much more comfortable to view.
For the original 1972 broadcasts a distorted and modified view of the same image was placed into the background. The DVD includes both the raw and the processed variants of Let It Rock, Wee Wee Hours, and Johnny B. Goode. These three songs were used in the original Beat-Club show. Of School Day, which was used in a later German show, Gonzo missed to include the original broadcast.
Most of the contents of this DVD was known before, though in edited form. The beer-drinking scene (Berry drinking The Real Thing instead) is new as are some parts of the interview which until then had been used and even released on Audio CD in segments only. As Berry and the band are in good shape just like they are at the BBC session little thereafter, this is a nice-to-have item.
Sunday, March 18. 2012
The release of various CD sets containing Chuck Berry's complete recordings of the 1950s and their sale at very low prices makes one wonder about the legal situation of these recordings.
In this blog article I try to explain the relevant copyright portions as far as I understand those. I am NOT an expert on copyrights, so what you read here may be completely wrong and subject to legal discussions. Thus feel free to comment or send an email if you find this text need corrections or additions!
Lets try to sort out some definitions first: we are talking about COPY-RIGHTS, i.e. the right to copy something. The basic rule in almost all circumstances is that the creator of a work of art is the only one who owns the right to create copies of his or her work. In most cases of commercially replicated art, the creator of the work has transferred the right to copy to an agency, a publisher or the like. Depending on the contract, this transfer of rights might be temporary, might cover certain editions or geographical regions only, or might be permanent. In any case the owner of the copyright (remember: the right to copy) might be someone different than the creator of the work. [Note: In the U.S. it had been necessary to officially register a copyright for it to become legally effective. This was often done by other parties such as a publisher. In Europe and most other countries the simple act of creating something automatically entitled the creator to the exclusive right to copy - as it is in the U.S. now as well.]
The creator of a work of art might also waive his right to copy by putting the work into the public domain. In this case the work of art is allowed to be copied freely. The creator might still have several rights which they retain. Thus they might still claim authorship, request their name to be listed, or request the work to be unchanged.
All copyrights expire. Thus after a certain amount of time every work of art becomes part of the public domain and is allowed to be freely copied. The period of time a work is protected against unwanted copying depends on the type of work and on the applicable laws. Due to this it often depends on the source country and on the country the copy is created in.
Looking at Chuck Berry's recordings, we see that there are three different kinds of art we have to consider:
In respect to the various CD releases of Chuck Berry's 1950s recordings in Europe and in the UK, we can summarize: As a composer and writer, Chuck Berry or whoever he sold the copyright to (Chess, BMI, or their local agents) still is entitled to royalties. As a recording artist, his 1950s recordings are in the public domain, though - at least in the UK and at least those which have been published in the UK at least 50 years ago.
Thursday, December 8. 2011
Most of you will know the German Bear Family Records label. Since 35 years, Richard Weize and his team provide and surprise us with countless Rock'n'Roll rarities always at highest quality levels. Bill Haley, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewes, ... all have been presented in huge box-sets from Bear Family, mostly containing tons of rare or previously unissued stuff.
In respect to Chuck Berry, Bear Family has been astonishingly quiet. Fred Rothwell's Long Distance Information reports on an aborted box-set once planned. The only Bear Family release listed in this site's discography is their 52-CD set Geschichte der Popmusik (Bear Family BCD16300) which contains an interview nowhere else to be found.
Therefore it's a great step forward that Bear Family recently released a Chuck Berry album. Called Chuck Berry Rocks (Bear Family BCD17139AR), this is a single, but fully packed CD.
The album comes with 32 tracks and a bit over 80 minutes of rocking Berrys. Bear Family selected the best-known and the best Rock'n'Roll numbers up to Dear Dad, organized chronologically. This can easily serve as one of the best Greatest Hits albums, even though (and goodly so) it misses the Ding-A-Ling.
I usually don't discuss Greatest Hits albums here as they are released by the dozens. I have to make an exception this time, though, out of two reasons. Reason one is the perfect sound quality of this CD. What else is to be expected from Bear Family?
The second reason which makes this new CD a nice addition to every Chuck Berry collection is the enclosed booklet. 52 pages for a single CD. No other label would provide you with such an amount of additional information accompanying the music on the CD. You can almost call this a book with enclosed CD. Bill Dahl describes each and every recording in detail, talking about the recording sessions, introducing the musicians, listing chart entries and integrating interviews. Best is the selection of photos, many from inside the recording studios and often some we haven't seen before.
All in all, this CD set is highly recommended, not only to those who look for Berry's greatest recordings, but also for all the collectors out there. Thank you, Bear Family!
Tuesday, August 23. 2011
Thanks to Morten Reff I learned about a new CD album called "Dover Soul" by David Dover. This 2010 CD contains a segment of a show Dover performed with Berry on June 14th, 2008. David Dover told me:
I was hired to do all of the production for the show and it was at the Mabee Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Mabee Center is a large venue on the Oral Roberts University Campus. It's where Elvis used to play when he came to Tulsa. I did all the lighting and all the sound for the show. My band was the opening act and also played as Mr. Berry's band.The CD comes with a ten-minute excerpt from Berry's performance. Though titled "Johnny B. Goode" on Dover's CD, you hear the complete closing segment of the show. First Berry performs his best-known song, then he continues with his usual closing routine asking for girls to dance on stage while Berry and the band run through a variant of what was once published as "House Lights" on the 1979 Rockit album.
The back cover of the CD shows Dover along with Berry on stage:
I asked David Dover how he came to record the Berry show and more importantly how he got Berry's permission for that.
I told Mr. Berry that I was going to record and he had no objections so I proceeded to do so. I recorded the entire show but Johnny B. Goode was the best of the bunch so that is the one I included on my album.In contrast to a hundred of audience recordings made from Berry shows over the last decades, here we have a recording that is at least technically very good. Musically it is what you expect from an eighty-year old rock'n'roller. The backup band is better than most of the local pickup bands Berry uses when on the road, though not as good as the family line-up he plays with in St. Louis. When you look at a short video recording from this show, you see that Berry's friend, tour manager and bass player Jim Marsala was present on stage and guiding the band as he usually does.
The album is available from most of the large Internet shops. Click here for some links. The CD looks quite handmade. Even though I received a sealed copy through amazon, the disk is just a burned CD, not a pressed one. Likewise the cover seems to be made with a home printer. Song titles and running times are printed onto the CD only. Just like the recording information also writer credits are missing. I'm pretty sure that Dover did not write Who'll Stop the Rain by himself.
You can listen to an excerpt from Johnny B. Goode here or use the link to purchase the entire audio file.
[Additions to original post of 2011-08-06]
David Dover was so kind to provide us with additional information about this CD. In reply to my "handmade" comment he explained:
I have a publishing company and I own my own label so I suppose it would be considered an Indie label. I have the neccessary gear to produce a CD of good quality. A also have a Sony machine that mass produces them, so basically I am my own record company. I also own a shrink wrap machine to wrap the CDs. I have everything the big companies have except the money to promote myself.Right you are, David. Therefore here's the place for me to promote your album. Recommended!
In addition David listed the following musicians as playing the Mabee Center concert: David Dover (guitar and vocals), Rick Heck (drums), Dave Russell (sax and vocals), Chip Anderson (bass and vocals), Rick Morrow (piano and vocals), Ricky Paul (guitar).
Thanks to Morten Reff and David Dover for help with this blog article.
Tuesday, July 26. 2011
Because it probably is his most important recording, Johnny B. Goode has been the topic of several comments and discussions in this blog before. (see here and here)
Common knowledge is that besides the well-known version as released in 1958, there is a so-called alternate version "Take 2/3" which consists of a short version of the famous guitar intro (take 2) followed by some studio talk and then continuing into a complete track (take 3).
On the HIP-O-Select 4-CD set of same name (HIP-O-Select B0009473-02) one can listen to both versions one after the other (CD 2, tracks 20 and 21). And if you listen carefully you will notice that take 3 and the finally released version are exactly the same recording. As Fred Rothwell explained in this blog, common practice for Berry was to play the intro and the rhythm first, while further lead guitar segments were overdubbed later. Thus track 20 (take 3) on the HIP-O-Select CD is the undubbed version and track 21 is the overdubbed version.
That's what common knowledge said. But then I received an email from a reader of this site who noticed something strange. Josep RullĂł from Barcelona/Spain wrote:
We are missing the complete alternate take first used in the âRockÂ´nÂ´Roll Raritiesâ album in the 1986. This complete take, identified as take 3, is very noticeably different from the master.What Josep did - and none of the other collectors including me - was to compare the "Take 2/3" track on the HIP-O-Select box with the "Take 2/3" track as originally released by MCA/CHESS in 1986 on the double album "Rock'n'Roll Rarities" (Chess LP 92521). And when you compare these two, you will notice some minor differences and some major differences.
The minor differences are an additional false start of take 2 on the 1986 version, which is missing on the 2008 version which in turn has Leonard Chess shouting "Johnny B. Goode, take 2" at the beginning.
The major difference is that the 1986 version of take 3 is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT RECORDING from the take 3 on the 2008 CD. It has a much longer and different piano solo between the second and third verse which you can easily use to tell the versions apart.
I wonder if someone can shed some more light on this. So far this is my theory:
When Steve Hoffman of MCA/CHESS created the "Rock'n'Roll Rarities" album, he not only remixed some of the 1960s recordings. He and his team also found an unreleased version of Johnny B. Goode and some studio chatter about the recording of the song. So they took the aborted take 2, the following discussion, and the unreleased version (rumor goes that this is take 1) and combined those to what they called a "previously unreleased version". Note that they did not claim the unreleased take to be take 3. They just moved it after the studio discussion, not before. And because that studio talk ended with Len Chess introducing "Take 3" we all came to believe that the unreleased take was indeed take 3.
As it seems, this also fooled the engineers at Universal when they compiled the so-called "complete" CD set. They were supposed to add takes 2 and 3, so they took the master tapes and used takes 2 and 3 - the real takes 2 and 3. This is how the real take 3, which by incident is the undubbed master of the hit version, went into production. They clipped off the false start from take 2 (bad) and added Len Chess's introduction (good). But no-one noticed that the complete track was notably different from the 1986 version.
Thus we have to note that there are these studio versions of Johnny B. Goode:
We have to say a big THANK YOU to Josep twice: First for finding out the differences, and second for telling us!
This weblog is an addition to my Chuck Berry fansite called "A Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry" which describes all books and records of interest to everyone enjoying Chuck Berry's music.
Dietmar Rudolph about Where have we heard this interview before?
Reader Ari Niskanen sent me an email regarding the source of this quote. It is from the 'H ail! [...]
Josep about Yet another Carol
Amazing research. Thank you ve ry much.
Dietmar Rudolph about Big Beat magazine issue 26 contains more than 100 pages on Chuck Berry
Sorry, Jean. There is no print ed version. I'll send Alain's email to you separately so you can [...]
Jean Million about Big Beat magazine issue 26 contains more than 100 pages on Chuck Berry
do a printed version exists so mewhere?
Dietmar Rudolph about Variations of the CHUCK album?
Fred has written a great revie w which you will read here soo n.
Jean Million about Variations of the CHUCK album?
thanks ! i'll apply your advis es !!! though i already heard it by the dozen on deezer !!! w [...]
Dietmar Rudolph about Variations of the CHUCK album?
Hi Jean! As said in the articl e I'd buy the CD from the chea pest source or from your local res [...]
Jean Million about Variations of the CHUCK album?
so, at the end ...which varian t do you recommend ? 'cause i' ve been waiting for your artic le b [...]
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