Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chuck Berry

Say what you will about Chuck Berry, but he is Chuck Berry: the single most important figure in the development of what we call Rock 'n Roll, and its first guitar playing singer-songwriter. Chuck Berry is a national treasure, and vastly under-appreciated in his and my hometown, St. Louis. You are more than likely to hear someone discuss his run-ins with the law than his genius songwriting. Sure, Chuck is difficult. Anyone who has seen Hail, Hail, Rock 'N Roll will remember his bitchfight with Keith Richards. Chuck does a regular monthly gig in St. Louis at Blueberry Hill, which can be either fabulous or an excruciating trainwreck. It depends what night you catch him. I learned pretty much everything I know about guitar playing from playing along with The Great Twenty-Eight. Below, is his second single on Chess from 1955, the follow-up to "Maybellene." Check out the guitar solo. This not something to be taken lightly. He invented this stuff. The B-side was his first stab at writing a Nat King Cole style ballad. It's a little rough around the edges. Starts off like Bo Diddley, and then he croons.

Tell Tchaikovsky the news...

Download: "Thirty Days" mp3

Download: "Together" mp3

Buy Chuck Berry music at Amazon
or at your local independently owned record store.


jon said...

I agree, Chuck Berry is a GIANT! A much underrated guitar player as well. He has great subtlety and feel. yeah, I know the riffs owe a big debt to T-Bone Walker but Chuck made ROCK AND ROLL out of them!
Thanks for the post and the appreciation.

Unknown said...

Maybe he's not underappreciated in St. Louis, though. I think the average awareness of Chuck is much higher in St. Louis than anywhere else. He's thought about and discussed far more frequently here than anywhere else. When a scandal erupts, like his cameras in the bathrooms, it gets much more play in St. Louis than elsewhere.

But it's probably true that we who are from St. Louis are far more conflicted about Chuck than most people because the scandals have always been been big stories here. Even though Chuck belongs to the history books, to every rock band with a guitar out front, to the cosmos, he still feels like he belongs to us in a more intimate way.

I can't look at a photo of Chuck without feeling like I know him because he looks like a lot of the black kids I knew growing up, a lot of the men and women I worked with over the years. It's that Cherokee-African mix. Yet, when I met him in person, it was the first time I ever choked up meeting any celebrity. He's tall, he's powerful, he's intimidating, and he's Chuck Berry. So he's at once ours and far beyond any of us in more ways than one. And his sins are kind of like a personal shame.

It's something I've always said, too, that Chuck is underappreciated. Yet what more is there to be done to appreciate him that can be done without also appreciating and brining up some of his larger than life sins, too? To some old rock DJ up in NYC raving about how great Chuck is, it might seem like just fun gossip, but to someone from St. Louis, it's more uncomfortable and personal.

Ted Barron said...

Well said Tony.

jon said...

Yeah, its the old conundrum of whether by praising someone for their amazing accomplishments, you also somehow end up condoning their serious faults. Ike Turner is another case in point. I guess as long as an artist can be a major asshole while at the same time, be producing beautiful work, we are going to be wrestling with this one.

Bobby D. said...

my siblings and I just LOVED Chuck Berry when we were young and did nothing much all summer... but radio supplied our soundtrack... anyway, we never got into Elvis much, but Chuck Berry a lot. his songs were fun and he was a genius.

Ted Barron said...

For the record:

I don't condone installing spying devices in bathrooms, dressing rooms,or anywhere for that matter. As far as the allegations against Chuck go (correct me if I'm mistaken) the warrant that turned up these things was obtained to seize a large "shipment" of cocaine that did not exist. They were trying to bring charges against him as some kind of drug kingpin that he was not. They seized 100 grand in cash that he had at home (Chuck gets paid in cash.) Sounds to me like a vendetta from the DA in Wentzville. They turned the place upside down and they found some things. Chuck has done some things that are less than reputable, and so have I, as well as anyone reading this.

I'm not overlooking Chuck's faults. I'm just not interested in writing about them. There are plenty of blogs that write cynical shit about the foibles of the famous. I'm commenting only on Chuck Berry the artist. The guy that made the record we are listening to here. I am not a critic, a dj, or a writer. There are some fabulous blogs out there by people that are. My writing here is provide a perspective to the music only. Some of the things I say here are foolish, brash or beside the point. I know that. This is blog. It's almost embarrassing to have to qualify that. Like I said, I'm not a writer, nor do I pretend to be one. The purpose of this thing is to share some old records of mine that I find worthy.

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