My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part IV

Some of the great artists who passed away

In the last installment of this year-in-review feature, I’d like to honor some of the great artists we lost in 2017. With most of my rock & roll heroes having gotten into music during the ’60s and ’70s, decades that ween’t exactly known for a healthy lifestyle, perhaps not surprisingly it has been another rough year for artists from the older generation.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. There was simply no known guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” In addition to popularizing a signature guitar sound The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Yardbirds and many other artists embraced in the ’60s, Berry was an incredible showman. To me his “duckwalk” was an equivalent to Michael Jackson’s “moonwalk.”

And then there are of course all the iconic tunes Berry wrote. They read like a greatest hits of classic rock & roll. From Roll Over BeethovenToo Much Monkey Business and  Sweet Little Sixteen to Johnny B. GoodeCarol and Little Queenie – and the list goes on! For additional thoughts on Berry, who passed away in March at the age of 90, you can read this. Here is one of my favorite clips showing Berry perform the iconic Johnny B. Goode with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

J. Geils

J. Geils led what Rolling Stone once called the “world’s greatest party band.” The J. Geils Band emerged in 1968 when Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, an acoustic blues trio Geils had co-founded with bassist Danny Klein and blues harpist Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz in 1965, added singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Bladd, and later that year keyboarder Seth Justman. Initially, they called the new band The J. Geils Blues Band. Prior to the release of their eponymous 1970 debut album, they dropped “Blues” from their name.

Justman and Wolf wrote most of band’s original material. Geils only has writing credits on their debut album, for which he wrote the instrumental Ice Breaker and co-wrote Hard Drivin’ Man together with Wolf, which I think is the best original tune of the album. Read here for more about J. Geils, who died in April at the age of 71. Below is a clip of Hard Drivin’ Man from the band’s excellent 1972 album Live Full House.

Gregg Allman

Even though I had known Gregg Allman was not in good health, his death in May at age 69 still hit me. From today’s perspective, it’s hard to believe that he and The Allman Brothers Band were late discoveries in my rock & roll journey. I thought a Rolling Stone obituary hit the nail on the head: “Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power.”

Allman’s voice and emotional power are also omnipresent on his final studio album Southern Blood, which was released postmortem in September and is among my favorite new records this year. More thoughts on his death and the album are here and here. Following is one of my favorite clips of Allman performing Just Another Rider with his great band from his excellent 2011 album Low Country Blues.

Walter Becker

Walter Becker was best known as Donald Fagen’s longtime partner in Steely Dan, which is hands down one of coolest bands I know. The two met in 1967 at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where they both studied at the time. Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and guitarist Danny Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). In November 1972, Steely Dan released their excellent debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill. And the rest is history.

For more thoughts on Becker’s untimely death in September at the age of 67, which I learned only recently was caused by esophageal cancer, read this. Here is a great clip of what is perhaps my most favorite Steely Dan tune: Deacon Blues, from their sixth studio album Aja, which was released in 1977. Not sure when that life performance was captured.

Tom Petty

The sudden death of Tom Petty on October 2 at just 66 years was a true shocker. Barely a week earlier, he had wrapped up a successful 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Petty founded The Heartbreakers in 1976, together with guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboarder Benmont Tench from his previous band Mudcrutch, as well as Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums).

The Heartbreakers released their eponymous debut album in November 1976. Over the next 38 years, the band put out 12 additional studio records, the last of which was 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. Petty’s impressive studio catalog also encompasses three solo records, two albums with Mudcrutch and two releases with the Traveling Wilburys, the “super group” that in addition to him included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Ray Orbison. More thoughts on Petty’s death are here. Following is how I prefer to remember him – through his great music. Here’s great clip of Refugee, which has always been one of my favorite Petty tunes.

Other music artists we lost in 2017

Some of the other artists who passed away this year include early rock & roller Fats Domino (89), AC/DC co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young (64), country singer and guitarist Glen Campbell (81), Soundgarden co-founder and lead vocalist Chris Cornell (52), Allman Brothers co-founder and drummer Butch Trucks (69), and jazz, R&B and soul singer Al Jarreau (76).

Sources: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part II

New music that moved me

Of the more than 20 albums I reviewed over the year, TajMo (Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’), Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter) and Southern Blood (Gregg Allman) touched me the most. There were new releases from younger artists in the blues rock arena I find exciting. If there is any truth to the often heard sentiment that (classic) rock music is dying, this certainly doesn’t seem to the case for blues and blues rock!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/TajMo (May 5)

Overall, TajMo represents uplifting blues, which sounds like an oxymoron. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” explained Mahal who has been known to mix blues with other music genres. From the very first moment I listened to it, this record drew me in, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it! You can read more about it here.

Here’s the fantastic opener Don’t Leave Me Here.

John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter/Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (April 28)

John Mellencamp is one of my long-time favorite artists. I know pretty much all of his albums. While I dig the straight rock-oriented music on his ’80s records like American Fool, Uh-Huh and Scarecrow, I’ve also come to appreciate his gradual embrace of stripped down roots-oriented music. That transition started with my favorite Mellencamp album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. Sad Clowns & Hillbillies probably is as rootsy as it gets for the Indiana rocker. For more on this outstanding record, you can read here.

Following is one of the album’s gems, Indigo Sunset, which Mellencamp performs together with Carlene Carter, who co-wrote the tune with him.

Gregg Allman/Southern Blood (Sep 8)

Southern Blood, the eighth and final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, is the 2017 release that touched me the most emotionally. Reminiscent of his 1973 debut solo release Laid Back, this album feels like Allman came full circle. Given how ill he was at the time he recorded the ten tracks, it is remarkable that the record doesn’t project an overly dark mood like David Bowie did on Blackstar. Instead, it portrays a man who appeared to have accepted his time was running short and who took a reflective look back on his life. I also find it striking how strong Allman’s voice sounds throughout.

Here is the official video of My Only True Friend, the only original song Allman co-wrote with Scott Sharrad, the lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s band. Damn, watching is getting to me!

New music from young blues rock artists

There are some kick-ass younger blues rock artists who released new music this year. The first coming to my mind are Jane Lee Hooker and their sophomore album Spiritus, which appeared last month. This five-piece all-female band from New York delivers electrifying raw blues rock power. While you can read more the record here, how better to illustrate my point than with a clip: Gimme That, an original tune with a cool Stonesey sound.

Another hot young blues rock band is Greta Van Fleet, who also came out with their sophomore album in November. It’s called From The Fires. These Michigan rockers almost sound like a reincarnation of early Led Zeppelin. I previously reviewed the album here. Check out this clip of Safari Song. At first sight, these guys might look like some high school band, but they sure as heck don’t sound like one!

Next up are two blues rock dudes who are more established than Jane Lee Hooker and Greta Van Fleet but who are still fairly young artists at least in my book: 35-year-old Casey James and 40-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Plus, ultimately it’s about their music, not their age.

Casey James from Fort Worth, Texas, who was a third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010, started out playing pop-oriented country rock music. While his eponymous debut album from March 2013 brought some success, it didn’t bring him the happiness he was looking for as an artist. So he decided to leave the country world behind for electric blues and in June this year released Strip It Down. Here’s a clip of the nice opener All I Need.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is hardly a newcomer. The guitarist from Shreveport, La. has been active as a musician since 1990. In August this year, he released Lay It On Down, his eighth album. In my opinion, Shepherd is one of the most exciting younger artists out there, who are keeping the blues alive. Here is the official clip of the record’s great opener, Baby Got Gone – my kind of music!

Anniversary editions of standout albums

As a die-hard fan of The Beatles, to readers of the blog it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I was particularly excited about the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which appeared in May – in fact, so much that I decided to get the double LP-set, my first new vinyl in 30 years! Producer Giles Martin, the son of the “fifth Beatle” George Martin, and music engineer Sam Okell created what The Beatles may well have wanted the iconic album to sound like, had they cared about the stereo mix in 1967. Here is more about this amazing reissue. Following is the official anniversary trailer.

Another great anniversary reissue, which was released about four weeks ago, is a deluxe edition of Hotel California by the Eagles. The original album appeared in December 1976, so this special edition came out almost one year after the actual 40th anniversary. While Hotel California is my favorite Eagles album, more than the studio versions of the original record, it’s the live tracks that excite me in particular. Released for the first time, they were recorded prior to the album’s appearance during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. For additional thoughts on this anniversary edition, read here. Meanwhile, here is a clip of one of the live tracks, Hotel California, one of the first live performances of the epic tune.

The last special release I’d like to highlight is the 25th anniversary edition of Automatic For The People by R.E.M., which appeared in November. As I previously pointed out here, the 1992 release was the band’s 8th studio album, earning significant commercial success and a general positive reception from music critics. Here is a clip of what to me is the album’s standout, Everybody Hurts.

Other notable new releases

It is impossible to cover all new 2017 music I liked, even with breaking down this year-in-review feature into four parts. But at least, I’d like to mention other albums that are noteworthy to me: Ryan Adams/Prisoner (Feb 17), Deep Purple/inFinite (Apr 7), John Mayer/The Search For Everything (Apr 14), Sheryl Crow/Be Myself (April 21), Little Steven/Soulfire (May 19), Chuck Berry/Chuck (Jun 9), Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie/Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Jun 16), Alice Cooper/Paranormal (July 28), Steve Winwood/Greatest Hits Live (Sep 1), Ringo Starr/Give More Love (Sep 15), The Church/Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Oct 6), Bob Seger/I Knew You When (Nov 17), U2/Songs Of Experience (Dec 1) and The Rolling Stones/On Air (Dec 1).

The next part of this year-in-review feature will look at some of concerts I attended this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Making Your Christmas Groove

A list to get you into the mood for that most wonderful time of the year

When I was looking back at previous posts on the blog, I came across a list of Christmas rock, soul, rap and pop tunes I had put together last year. For the most part, I still stand behind it and thought it would be fitting to publish a slightly updated version.

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while growing up in Germany many moons ago was to listen to my favorite radio station, which was then called SWF III. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners.

Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were high in demand. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas. Okay, maybe these are not the most compelling examples, but these tunes come to mind first when I think about those times.

Some folks may cringe about the thought of pop and rock artists dressing up as Santa and performing Christmas songs, whether they are covers of traditional tunes or new songs with holiday themes. Others may get cynical about music artists and record companies all for a sudden discovering Jesus and Santa when people conveniently are willing to spend insane amounts of money on Christmas presents. I get all of that and being cynical about it is not unfounded.

Christmas Rocks

I still think there are some great Christmas rock and pop songs that have come out over the years – in fact, make that over the decades! Plus, let’s be honest, while many traditional Christmas tunes have beautiful melodies, they don’t exactly groove. I don’t know about you, but I like listening to music that makes me want to get up and move – by the way, probably not such a bad thing during the holiday season when many folks like to indulge on food and drink. So how about rockin’ and rollin’ off that of these extra calories!

Below are some clips of some of my favorite Christmas rock and pop tunes in no particular order: From John Lennon’s haunting Happy Xmas, to Chuck Berry’s rockin’ & rollin’ Run Rudolph Run, to Run-D.M.C.’s cool rap Christmas in Hollis, to AC/DC’s hard-charging Mistress For Christmas, to a fantastic live version of Feliz Navidad with José Feliciano and Daryl Hall, to the unforgettable James Brown and his funky Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, these tunes come in many different genres!

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano/Feliz Navidad (2010)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

Otis Redding/Merry Christmas Baby (posthumous, 1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007

Happy Holiday season!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Chuck Berry Classics Performed By Other Artists

A list of covers from AC/DC to The Yardbirds

A few days ago, I coincidentally came across a previously created iTunes playlist I had completely forgotten about: Covers of Chuck Berry classics performed by other music artists. I thought it would be fun to develop a post around this theme.

While no one artist can claim they created an entire genre of music, there is a reason why Berry was known as Mr. Rock & Roll. In any case, the number of other artists who covered his tunes sure as heck is impressive.

Maybelline/Foghat

English blues and boogie rock band Foghat included a killer version of Maybelline on their 1972 eponymous album. The tune was written and recorded by Berry in 1955, and first released as a single in July that year. It also appeared on his 1959 iconic third study album Berry Is On Top, which also included many of his other major hits. Here’s a great clip of the tune from a Foghead live performance.

School Days/AC/DC

AC/DC recorded a cool cover of School Days for their second Australian studio album T.N.T., which appeared in December 1975. Originally, Berry released the song as a single in March 1957, two months ahead of his debut studio album After School Session.

Too Much Monkey Business/The Yardbirds

Too Much Monkey Business is the first track on Five Live Yardbirds, the band’s terrific debut live album from 1964. Berry released the song as his fifth single in September 1956. It was also included on the After School Session album.

Sweet Little Sixteen/John Lennon

John Lennon recorded a nice Memphis soul-style cover of Sweet Little Sixteen for Rock ‘n’ Roll, his sixth studio album from 1975. Berry released the track as a single in January 1958. It was also included on his second studio album One Dozen Berries, which appeared in March 1958.

Rock & Roll Music/The Beatles

Rock & Roll Music is among my favorite rock & roll covers from The Beatles. They included it on their 1964 fourth studio album Beatles For Sale. Berry initially released the tune as a single in September 1957. It also appeared on the One Dozen Berrys studio album. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of the Beatles’ studio version, so here is a live performance captured from a 1965 performance in Paris.

Carol/The Rolling Stones

I’ve always loved the cover of the song The Rolling Stones recorded. Initially, they included it on their 1964 eponymous debut album, but my favorite version appeared on the fantastic 1970 live record Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. First released in 1958 as a single, Carol is also one of the gems from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Here’s a great clip of the Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out version.

Johnny B. Goode/Jimi Hendrix

If I only had one classic rock & roll tune to choose, it would be Berry’s 1958 gem Johnny B. Goode, which first appeared as a single in March that year and is yet another highlight from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Who could possibly do a better cover of it than Jimi Hendrix? Here is a great clip of Hendrix absolutely killing it live – not sure whether it is the same performance that was also captured on Hendrix in the West, a 1972 posthumous live album.

Little Queenie/The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson

Frankly, I do not quite remember how I came across this cover of Little Queenie when I put together the above iTunes playlist, but I find it pretty awesome. It’s performed by country and southern rock band The Kentucky Headhunters featuring Johnnie Johnson, a jazz, blues and rock & roll pianist, and was included on a 2015 release titled Meet Me In Bluesland. Originally, Berry released Little Queenie as a single in 1959, another tune from Chuck Berry Is On Top.

Roll Over Beethoven/Electric Light Orchestra

It’s safe to say this is one of the most unique covers of the track performed by Electric Light Orchestra. Blending elements of classical music with rock & roll and other styles of rock, ELO is one of the weirdest ’70s bands, in my opinion. While most of their productions were bombastic and completely over the top, I still have to admit there is something intriguing about their music. Their 8-minute-plus cover of Roll Over Beethoven was included on their eponymous second studio album, which was released in 1972. Berry first recorded the tune as a single in May 1956. It also appeared on Chuck Berry Is On Top. The following clip is an abbreviated live version of the song, captured from a 1973 performance on The Midnight Special, an American late-night music variety show that aired during the 1970’s and early ’80s.

Memphis/The Hollies

This cover from The Hollies was included on the band’s debut album Stay With The Hollies, which appeared in the U.K. in January 1964. The track was also included on the U.S. version of the album titled Here I Go Again, released in June that year. Berry first recorded Memphis as a single in 1959.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Chuck Berry with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/Johnny B. Goode

Unforgettable performance of iconic tune at 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert

This morning, I listened to a nice compilation of tunes released by Chess Records. The legendary Chicago blues and R&B record company and the amazing artists it had under contract make an excellent topic for another post to explore in the future.

The first track on the list was Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry. Following is a clip of a great live version of the song, which has always been one of my favorite classic rock & roll tunes. It brought together Berry and the Boss as part of a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert in 1995 to celebrate the dedication of the Hall of Fame Museum. The performance also marked the first appearance of the reunited E Street Band, which Springsteen had dissolved in 1989.

The quality of Berry’s concerts varied substantially, which is obvious when you watch clips of his live performances on the Internet. In great part this happened because Berry did not want to have a standing touring band. Instead, he insisted that tour organizers hire local musicians from the towns where he would perform. Typically, these bands would not get an opportunity to rehearse with Berry. Essentially, this left the musicians with following Berry’s lead. Not surprisingly, the outcomes varied.

The above clip is one of the best live performances of Berry I could find. He was still in pretty decent shape at age 68. You can clearly see the kick that Springsteen and The E Street Band got out of it. Also great to watch is the interaction between Berry and Clarence Clemons, the band’s amazing saxophonist at the time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, YouTube

Germans Who Rock In German

Germany may be much better known internationally for engineering and beer than music, but there is much more to the latter than the Scorpions

In some ways, this post is a bit of a remake of my previous thoughts on German rock music. Obviously, what I said last October remains true today. Other than the Scorpions, one of my favorite bands, electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and perhaps heavy metal formation Accept, there aren’t any other German rock music artists I can think of, who have a significant following beyond German-speaking countries.

Undoubtedly, one of the key reasons is the fact that many German rock bands are singing in German. Some go further and sing in dialects spoken in their native regions. This may make it tough even for other Germans to understand their lyrics – not exactly a recipe for international fame!

Following is a song selection from German-singing rock bands, including some of my favorite acts from the Deutsch Rock genre. The caveat is most of these artists are “old guys,” who do not well represent what’s in the German charts these days, which I honestly don’t even know. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old guys rock! 🙂

Wolfgang Niedeckens BAP

Niedeckens BAP, formerly known simply as BAP, probably remains my favorite German rock band. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the town of Cologne, Niedecken’s home town. A huge fan of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (and friends with the Boss!), Niedecken is the mastermind of the band, which was founded in 1976. During its 40-plus-year history, BAP have seen various changes in its lineup. Niedecken remains the only original member. Here’s a clip of Halv Su Wild, the title song from BAP’s 17th studio album released in 2011.

Wolf Maahn

This singer-songwriter, actor and producer initially started his music career in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band. Mixing soul, jazz, pop and rock, this group sang in English. Wolf Maahn’s “German language music career” kicked off in the early ’80s with the studio album Deserteure. He gained broad national popularity in the mid ’80s, starting with the 1984 record Irgendwo in Deutschland. The studio album included Fieber, one of his best known songs. Here’s a clip

Marius Müller-Westernhagen

Westernhagen started his professional career as a 14-year-old actor in 1962, before he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s. He continued acting and music, though his early recording efforts were largely unsuccessful. That changed in 1978, when Marius Müller-Westernhagen released his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz. The record’s title song remains one of his best known tunes. His latest, 19th studio album Alphatier appeared in 2014. Westernhagen continues to be one of Germany’s most popular music artists. Here’s a clip of a killer live version of Pfefferminz.

Udo Lindenberg

In addition to being a rock musician, Udo Lindenberg also is a writer and painter, making him one of the most versatile German music artists. He first hit the music scene in the early 1960s, when he was 15 years old and played as a drummer in bars in the German town of Düsseldorf. In 1968, Lindenberg went to Hamburg and joined the City Preachers, Germany’s first folk-rock band. In 1969, he left and co-founded the jazz-rock formation Free Orbit. They released an album in 1970, Lindenberg’s first studio recording. Only one year later, his enponymous solo album appeared. It would take another two years before Lindenberg achieved commercial breakthrough success with Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria, his third solo album. He continues to record and perform to this day, still going strong at age 71. In 2008, Lindenberg had a major comeback with Stark Wie Zwei, his 35th studio release. Here’s a great clip of a live performance of Mein Ding, one of the tunes from his comeback release.

Herbert Grönemeyer

Grönemeyer is another long-time German multi-talent, who in addition to being a singer-songwriter is also a producer and actor. While some of his music is rock-oriented, overall, I would describe his style as pop. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Herbert Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1994 with his fifth studio album Bochum. One of my favorite Grönemeyer tunes, Vollmond, is on 1988’s Ö, his seventh studio release. Grönemeyer has since recorded seven additional studio records, the latest being Dauernd Jetzt, which appeared in Nov 2014. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Vollmond. Grönemeyer’s voice sounds a bit strained, but it’s still cool.

Brings

Brings are another act from Cologne, singing their songs in the local dialect. They started out as a great rock band in the early ’90s before they drastically changed their style to pop/”Schlager” in the early 2000s. This change, which I find quite unfortunate from a music perspective, brought the band new popularity. They’ve since become a mainstay during the Cologne Carnival, a longtime tradition of the city that culminates with a week-long street festival where people go out masqueraded. Here’s a clip of Nix För Lau from the band’s second studio album Kasalla, which appeared in 1992.

Tocotronic

Founded in 1993, Tocotronic is an indie rock band from the northern German town of Hamburg. Admittedly, I know very little about their music, but there is one tune I’ve liked from the first moment I heard it. It’s called Gegen Den Strich and was included on the band’s seventh studio album, Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen (2005). Tocotronic have since released four additional studio records, the most recent of which (Tocotronic, aka Rotes Album) appeared in 2015. Here’s a clip of Gegen Den Strich. The sound reminds me a bit of The Church and their great 1988 album Starfish.

Spider Murphy Gang

Named after the gangster Spider Murphy in Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, this band from the Bavarian town of Munich became known with classic rock & roll style songs performed in their native Bavarian dialect. The Spider Murphy Gang started out in 1977, covering top 40 rock & roll tunes from Presley, Chuck Berry and other classic rock & roll performers. In 1980, they recorded their German debut album Rock’n’Roll Schuah. The follow-up Dolce Vita brought them national acclaim, fueled by the tune Skandal Im Sperrbezirk, which became a staple of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave). While the Spider Murphy Gang have had numerous changes in their lineup and haven’t recorded any new music since 2002, they continue to perform and are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. Here’s a clip of an extended live performance of Schickeria, a tune from Dolce Vita.

Revolverheld

This rock band was founded in Hamburg in 2002. Initially, they were known as Manga  before they changed their name to Tsunamikiller in the autumn of 2004. Following the devastating tsunami in Thailand in December that year, the band changed its name to Revolverheld. Like Tocotronic, I’m not well familiar with their music. The tune I’d like to highlight is Freunde Bleiben from their eponymous debut album in 2005. Here’s a clip.

L.S.E.

Named after the first letters of each member’s last name, Rolf Lammers, Arno Steffen and Tommy Engel, L.S.E. are yet another band from Cologne, which was founded in 1992. Like BAP and Brings, they sing in the local dialect. During their active period between 1992 and 1996, the band recorded three studio albums. While they haven’t made any new music since 1996, L.S.E. haven’t officially dissolved and still perform occasionally. One of my favorite tunes by this versatile band is the title song of their debut album Für Et Hätz Un Jäjen D’r Kopp, which was released in 1992. Here’s a great live version together with German comedienne, TV actress and frankly multi-talent  Carolin Kebekus, captured in September 2014.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Rock & Roll Pioneer Delivers Strong Final Bow

One more time Chuck Berry is playing guitar like he’s ringing a bell

While it’s no Berry Is On Top and Chuck Berry didn’t need this final album to establish his incredible legacy, it’s simply a great joy to listen to this record. Released today, Chuck is Berry’s first new record in 38 years and the first new album that appears following his death on March 18 this year.

When Berry announced Chuck on October 18, 2016, his 90th birthday, he obviously knew it was going to be his final record. He had stopped performing in 2014 due to his declining health. “This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy,” said Berry in the above announcement, referring to Themetta Berry, his wife of 68 years. “My darlin’ I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!”

chuck_berry

The songs on Chuck are mostly taken from tracks Berry recorded between 1991 and 2014. Released by Dualtone Records, the album was recorded in various studios around Berry’s hometown of St. Louis. All recording work was finished prior to his death.

The record features the Blueberry Hill Band, Berry’s longtime backing group, including Robert Lohr (piano), Jimmy Marsala (bass) and Keith Robinson (drums). Additional musicians include his son Charles Berry Jr. (guitar), his daughter Ingrid Berry (harmonica) and even his grandson Charles III (guitar on Wonderful Woman), as well as Tom Morello (guitar on Big Boys), Nathaniel Rateliff (guitar on Big Boys) and Gary Clark, Jr. (guitar on Wonderful Woman).

Chuck kicks off with Wonderful Woman, a song with a classic Berry groove, featuring his signature guitar sound. Clark Jr., together with Berry’s son and grandson chime in on their guitars as well, making it a tune that features three generations of Berrys, as NPR pointed out.

Big Boys kicks the beat up a notch. Initially released in March as the album’s lead single, the tune is a bit reminiscent of Roll Over Beethoven. Here’s the official video.

3/4 Time (Enchiladas) is a waltz that sounds like it could have been recorded live at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar in St. Louis where Berry used to perform regularly from 1996 to 2014. The song illustrates his sense of humor about getting old: I like enchiladas/old Eldorados they’re shiny/old red guitars, rock & roll, nice girls and wine/that ain’t good for me but people I’m still feeling fine/I just hold on to my guitar and rock it out four, five times/sometimes it gets sideways/I stay up all night writing songs/I know it ain’t healthy/But somehow I keep going on.

Darlin’ is a sweet country ballad a father sings to his daughter, telling her he is getting older each year and that time is passing and getting shorter. Berry’s daughter Ingrid joins him on vocals, adding to the song’s emotional feel.

Another tune I’d like to call out is Lady B. Goode, a follow-up to Johnny B. Goode. The song pretty much has the same iconic guitar opening and a very similar groove driven by guitars and honky tonk-style piano. Like on Wonderful Woman, Berry’s son and grandson support him with their guitars. Lady B. Goode was also released as the album’s third single two weeks ago.

Initial reactions to Chuck are favorable. Rolling Stone calls the album “a classic as he always made them.” To Ultimate Classic Rock, “It’s a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll music — something Berry did better than almost anyone else.” Perhaps NPR sums it up best: “Your mind says “heard that before!” and your body cannot possibly care – because for that moment all that matters is Chuck Berry playing guitar like he’s ringing a bell, affirming the spirit of this music in ways that no performer, of any age, has done before.”

For more on Berry’s legacy read here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock, NPR, Chuck Berry web site, YouTube

 

In Memoriam of Chuck Berry

When I listened to Johnny B. Goode for the first time, I instantly realized Chuck Berry sounded differently than any other guitarist I had ever heard.

When I saw a push message in my smartphone yesterday about the death of Chuck Berry, I was in disbelief at first. Sure, I knew the man had turned 90 last October, so he wasn’t exactly a teenager any longer. But I also recalled Berry had used that happy occasion to announce his first new record in 38 years slated for release sometime this year. I suspect it will become a big seller, which would be a cruel irony that happened to many other music artists after they passed away.

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. To begin with, there was simply no guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” Berry’s style may sound crude at times, but try playing his licks, and you quickly realize it’s much more sophisticated than you might think – I found out myself! Admittedly, I was always much more an acoustic guy, and the electric guitar certainly did not come naturally to me.

In addition to being an innovative guitarist who created his own signature sound, Berry was an incredible showman. Perhaps the move for which he is best remembered is the “duckwalk” he popularized in the 1950’s – a whooping 30 years before another walk made music history: Michael Jackson’s moonwalk in 1983. While the origins of the duckwalk reportedly go back to 1930’s performance by T-Bone Walker, one of Berry’s influences, it was Berry who put the move on the map and who is typically credited as its inventor.

And then there are of course all the iconic classic rock & roll tunes Berry wrote: Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, School Day, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Carol, Little Queenie – and the list goes on! Remarkably, none of these amazing songs topped the mainstream U.S. charts. Sweet Little Sixteen came closest, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958; it did hit no. 1 on the R&B Best Sellers chart the same year. Berry’s only no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 was My Ding-a-Ling in 1972. While I read he always stood by the tune, I think it’s fair to say an important reason why the song became so successful was the ill-fated refusal from many radio stations to play it because of its lyrics.

Many of Berry’s tunes were covered by other artists. In fact, the very first single from The Rolling Stones in 1963, Come On, is a Berry tune he had first released in 1961. The Beatles were also big fans of Berry and did excellent covers of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music – in fact, I have to say I prefer the latter to the original version! Yet another great example of a Berry cover is the Yardbirds’ Too Much Monkey Business on their 1964 debut live album Five Live Yardbirds with Eric Clapton on lead guitar – nothing “slowhand” about this absolute killer version!

Reportedly, Berry was not an easy person to deal with offstage. He had certain rules that could not be broken. He always demanded payment in advance of any performance and a specific guitar amplifier. He also insisted on a limousine for his shows, which he would drive himself. Instead of relying on a standing set of touring musicians, he asked concert promoters to hire local backup bands for him. Together with not providing set lists in advance of gigs, it’s not surprising this sometimes impacted the quality of his live shows. But I also read other accounts suggesting Berry was a very kind-hearted man who was simply reluctant to trust people he didn’t know well, since he felt life had betrayed him in the past.

Not surprisingly, when an influential artist like Chuck Berry passes away, social media lights up with present or past sentiments expressed by other great rock guitarists. I’d like to share some of them. For Rolling Stone’s December 2010 feature 100 Greatest Artists, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry wrote, “I heard Chuck Berry Is On Top – and I really freaked out! That feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach, in the hair in the back of my neck: I got more of it from Chuck Berry than from anybody else.”

For a rock music fan, it’s easy to understand Perry’s reaction. Released in July 1959, Berry’s third studio album included some of his greatest gems, such as Carol, Maybellene, Johnny B. Goode, Little Queenie and Roll Over Beethoven – all on one album and all written by him!

Bruce Springsteen, who set the stage on fire playing Johnny B. Goode with Berry and the E Street Band during a 1995 concert for the opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s museum, tweeted, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”

Keith Richards wrote on Facebook, “One of my big lights has gone out.” The post was accompanied by a photo showing Richards standing on stage next to Berry with the following caption: “I don’t even know if Chuck realizes what he did. I don’t think he does…It was just such a total thing, a great sound, a great rhythm coming off the needle of all of Chuck’s records. It’s when I knew what I wanted to do.” More specifically, that moment came for Richards when as a teenager he saw Berry perform Sweet Little Sixteen at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which was captured in the film documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, as he told Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the most beautiful take came from the E Street Band’s Little Steven on the Facebook page of his excellent radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage: 

“Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Period. Richard brought the Passion, Elvis the Heartbreak, Bo the Beat, Jerry Lee the Abandon, Buddy let the Everyman in, Chuck brought the Storytelling. The words that Bob Dylan would evolve into an Artform. He led the teenage takeover of Pop Music that the Beatles and Stones would complete. He invented Rock guitar and made it look like fun. He gave the previously ignored age group between adolescence and adulthood an identity, a mythology, a chance to see themselves. He gave them Respect. And those teenagers would return that respect to Rock and Roll for the next 60 years and counting.

– Little Steven, March 18 2017”

I have nothing to add, except offering a clip of Berry’s amazing performance of Too Much Monkey Business, which features a very cool solo by Keith Richards, of course played Chuck Berry style! It’s taken from Taylor Hackford’s 1987 music documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, shot to celebrate Berry’s 60’s birthday. In addition to Richards, other artists performing with Berry included Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Johnnie Johnson, Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Julian Lennon and Joey Spampinato.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube