New Live Box by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Is Triumphant Celebration of Rock & Roll

Live at The Fillmore (1997) is packed with covers and original tunes captured during 20-show run at storied San Francisco venue

In 1997, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers played 20 shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Now Live at the Fillmore (1997), a long-anticipated box set that appeared on November 25, captures highlights from the band’s residency in the city by the bay. And what a truly amazing celebration of rock & roll it is!

“We’re musicians and we want to play,” Tom Petty told the San Francisco Chronicle ahead of the 20-show run, as noted in a statement on Petty’s website, which announced the box set back in September. “We’ve made so many records in the past five years, I think the best thing for us to do is just go out and play and it will lead us to our next place, wherever that may be.”

Six-LP format of the box set, which is also available in various other vinyl, CD and streaming configurations

Here’s more from the above press release: The shows at the Fillmore ended up being some of the most joyful, honest, inspirational and prolific experiences of the band’s career, creating a unique bond between the group and their fans. This album features more covers than originals, paying tribute to the artists and songs that shaped Petty’s love of music as he was growing up—before he became a legendary songwriter and performer in his own right.

Highlights include Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” The Rolling Stones’ “Time is On My Side” and more from The Kinks, Everly Brothers, Bill Withers, The Byrds, Chuck Berry and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The collection also features special performances with The Byrds’ front man Roger McGuinn and blues legend John Lee Hooker. Other standouts include extended versions of original tracks “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “It’s Good To Be King.”

The Fillmore was a laboratory for the band. The captivating sold out performances were such a hit, the Heartbreakers were even nicknamed the “Fillmore House Band.” At the final show, Petty noted as he took the stage: “We all feel this might be the highpoint of our time together as a group… It’s going to be hard to get us off this stage tonight.”

Added Mike Campbell: “Playing the Fillmore in 1997 for a month was one of my favorite experiences as a musician in my whole life. The band was on fire and we changed the set list every night. The room and the crowd was spiritual… AND… we got to play with some amazing guests. I will always remember those nights with joy and inspiration.” Here’s a nice short film about the residency.

You can find a lot more background on the residency in the liner notes here, which were written by San Francisco-based music critic and author Joel Selvin. I’m also including a Spotify link to the box set at the end of the post. Now I’d say it’s time to take a look at some of the goodies.

Kicking it off is a great cover of a tune by the man about who John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry'”. Around and Around first appeared as the B-side to Chuck Berry’s March 1958 single Johnny B. Goode. It was also included on his third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top, released in July 1959 – an album that in my book you could title the greatest hits of classic rock & roll.

I’ve always loved J.J. Cale’s Call Me the Breeze. Evidently, so did Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Call Me the Breeze first appeared on Cale’s debut album Naturally, which came out in October 1971. Check out this great cover. Man, this is swinging! Here’s the neat official video.

Did I mention The Rolling Stones previously? Let’s check out Time is on My Side. Written by Jerry Ragovoy under the pseudonym Norman Meade, the tune was first recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding and his orchestra in 1963. The Stones recorded two versions of the tune in 1964. The first, which is a looser arrangement featuring a briefer, organ-only intro, appeared as a U.S. single in September of the same year and was also included on their second American album 12 X 5, released in October 1964. The second version, a tighter arrangement with a guitar intro, was included on The Rolling Stones No. 2, their second UK album from January 1965.

After three tracks into this review, you might wonder about originals. Frankly, I could easily focus on covers only, since there are so many excellent renditions. But of course, this box set also features plenty of Tom Petty songs. Here’s a nice take of I Won’t Back Down, the lead single of his first solo album Full Moon Fever, released in April 1989.

Let’s throw in a cool instrumental – a great rendition of Green Onions, a tune by Booker T. & the M.G.’s I’ve always loved. The group served as the house band of Stax Records. Green Onions was mostly written by keyboarder Booker T. Jones when he was 17 years old. Also credited to the other three members of the MG’s, Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums), the tune first appeared as a single in 1962 and also became the title track of the group’s debut album that came out in October of the same year. Heartbreakers keyboarder Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell do a great job with it.

The last track I’d like to call out features a cool guest appearance by John Lee Hooker. Here’s Boogie Chillen, which Hooker wrote and first recorded in 1948. Buddy Guy has cited the tune as a key reason why he picked up the guitar and became a blues guitarist. Prompted by Hooker, this sizzling close to 8-minute version features neat harp and keyboard solos by Petty and Tench, respectively.

I easily could go on and on featuring additional tunes. Instead, I leave you with a Spotify link to the entire collection. If you dig Tom Petty and The Live Anthology, a November 2009 box set with a similar concept combining live renditions of covers and originals, I have no doubt you’re going to like Live at the Fillmore (1997).

Live at the Fillmore (1997), which appears on Warner Records, is available in 3-LP, 6-LP and 6-LP Uber Deluxe formats (exclusively via Tom Petty web store), 2 and 4-CD sets, and on major streaming platforms. The compilation was meticulously curated by producers Ryan Ulyate and Mike Campbell. Serving as executive producers were Benmont Tench, as well as Adria Petty, Annakim Petty and Dana Petty, Tom’s daughters and wife, respectively, who manage the Tom Petty estate.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; YouTube; Spotify

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Edgar Winter Celebrates Brother’s Legacy With All-Star High-Octane Tribute Album

To any more frequent visitors of the blog or folks who know my music taste otherwise, this post shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. As somebody who digs blues and blues-rock, I simply couldn’t ignore Brother Johnny, Edgar Winter’s blazing new tribute to his older brother and Texas blues legend Johnny Winter, which came out last Friday (April 15). Sure, packing an album with impressive guests like Joe Bonamassa, Keb’ Mo’, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr doesn’t automatically guarantee a great outcome but, man, this album truly cooks!

In addition to renditions of Johnny Winter originals Mean Town Blues, I’m Yours and I’m Hers, Stranger, Guess I’ll Go Away and Self Destructive Blues, the 17 tracks on Brother Johnny feature a number of classics the guitar slinger from Beaumont, Texas covered, such as Johnny B. Goode, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Got My Mojo Workin’. There are also two new songs written by Edgar Winter.

According to this Rock & Blues Muse review, the idea for a tribute album first emerged in the wake of Johnny Winter’s death in July 2014 at the age of 70.  “Many people immediately started trying to convince me to do a Johnny Winter tribute album,” Edgar recalled. “But I was totally devastated, and the timing just didn’t feel right to me.”

Edgar added, “It wasn’t until after I completed the Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest, a tour we were meant to do together with our respective bands, that the idea of a tribute record started to take form.” Looks like from there it still took quite a bit of additional time for the project to materialize, but the wait was certainly worth it. Let’s check out some of the goodies!

The fireworks start with the opener Mean Town Blues, featuring Joe Bonamassa on badass slide guitar. First released on February 18, the track is one of three songs that appeared as singles ahead of the album. Johnny Winter originally recorded Mean Town Blues for his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment.

On Lone Star Blues, one of the tunes penned by Edgar Winter, things turn acoustic, sparse and personal. Keb’ Mo’ does a neat job on what sounds like a resonator guitar and also shares vocals with Edgar. “I don’t think this album would be complete without at least one, heartfelt, personal tribute from me to my brother–in the form of a song,” Edgar wrote in the album’s liner notes, as separately reported by Rock & Blues Muse. Well, I was born in Beaumont left when I was in my teens/I hit the highway, going down to New Orleans/I was playing music, searching for just what life means

One of Brother Johnny’s standouts is I’m Yours and I’m Hers, featuring Billy Gibbons and Derek Trucks. Winter included this original tune on his eponymous sophomore album that came out in April 1969. With Trucks arguably being one the best contemporary slide guitarists and Gibbons being no slouch either, you just know this rendition has to be good. Well, check it out!

This review wouldn’t be complete without highlighting Johnny B. Goode, a track Winter recorded for his third studio release from October 1969, a double album somewhat misleadingly titled Second Winter. Johnny B. Goode became a regular of Winter’s live set. On Brother Johnny, the Chuck Berry classic is delivered with help from Joe Walsh (lead vocals), David Grissom (lead guitar), Bob Glaub (bass) and Gregg Bissonette (drums). Meanwhile, Edgar Winter demonstrates his saxophone chops with a nice solo. Additional vocals are provided by guitarist Phil X. Yes, Johnny B. Goode has been covered a million times, but this is just a killer rendition.

Let’s do one more: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Winter included what is one of my all-time favorite Rolling Stones songs on his first live album Live Johnny Winter And, released in March 1971. Johnny Winter And was actually the name of Winter’s band at the time. This new version features the above-mentioned Phil X.

Some additional comments about the other musicians on the album. The above-mentioned Gregg Bissonette provides drums on all tracks except Stranger, which features Ringo Starr. Sean Hurley and Bob Glaub share duties on bass. Other guests include Doyle Bramhall II, John McFee, Robben Ford, Warren Haynes, Steve Lukather, Michael McDonald, Doug Rappoport, Bobby Rush, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Waddy Wachtel.

The album also features the late Taylor Hawkins who provides lead vocals on Guess I’ll Go Away. This marks the ex-Foo Fighters drummer’s first posthumous recording following his untimely death on March 25, as reported by Rolling Stone.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album.

The album was produced by Edgar Winter and Ross Hogarth. According to Discogs, his previous production credits include artists, such as Melissa Etheridge, Ziggy Marley, Rita Coolidge and Gov’t Mule. The album appears on Quarto Valley Records. According to Rock & Blues Mule, label founder Bruce Quarto was and remains a loyal and enthusiastic fan of Johnny, classic rock, and blues music. It was his positive energy that made Edgar realize that the time to pay musical respects to his departed brother had finally arrived.

Brother Johnny is a true labor of love. The one thing I find a bit unfortunate is the total absence of female artists. It certainly cannot be for lack of talent. Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popović, Dani Wilde and Sue Foley are some who in my mind could have been great fits. I understand Raitt and Wilde have shared the stage with Johnny Winter. Of course, there could be legitimate reasons for what on the surface does look a bit surprising.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Rolling Stone; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Yep, hard to believe it’s Sunday again. While I find it amazing how another week just flew by, on the upside, this also means it’s time again for my favorite feature, The Sunday Six. For first-time visitors, these weekly posts are mini excursions exploring different styles of music in zig-zag fashion over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time.

My picks for this installment include instrumental acoustic guitar music, classic rock & roll, rock, soul and pop rock. The journey starts in 2021 and then makes stops in 1959, 1979, 1967 and 1995 before it comes to an end in 2003. All on board and fasten your seatbelts!

Hayden Pedigo/Letting Go

As is often the case in this series, I’d like to start with an instrumental track. This time, instead of a jazz tune, I’ve picked some lovely acoustic guitar music by Hayden Pedigo, a 27-year-old American artist whose music I first encountered about a month ago. According to Wikipedia, Pedigo started taking guitar lessons as a 12-year-old. His diverse influences include Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ry Cooder, as well as artists of the so-called American Primitive Guitar style, such as John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Daniel Bachman and Mark Fosson. Pedigo has also studied Soft Machine and King Crimson, and jazz artists like Miles Davis and Pharoah Sanders. In 2013, he released his debut album Seven Years Late. Since then, seven additional records have come out, including his latest, Letting Go, which appeared on September 24. Here’s the title track. I find this music very nice, especially for a Sunday morning.

Chuck Berry/Little Queenie

Just in case you dozed off during that previous track, it’s time to wake up again with some classic rock & roll by one of my favorite artists of the genre, Chuck Berry. I trust the man who John Lennon called “my hero, the creator of rock & roll” needs no further introduction. While of course no one single artist invented rock & roll, I think it’s safe to say rock & roll would have been different without Chuck Berry. Apart from writing widely covered gems like Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music and Johnny B. Goode, Berry influenced many other artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Faces, The Yardbirds and The Kinks with his electric guitar licks. Here’s Little Queenie, which Berry wrote and first released as a single in March 1959. The tune also became part of the soundtrack of the rock & roll motion picture Go, Johnny Go that came out in June of the same year.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/What Are You Doin’ in My Life?

Let’s keep rockin’ with a great tune by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: What Are You Doin’ in My Life? I have to credit my streaming music provider for including the track in a recent “Favorites Mix” playlist. While this song is on my favorite Tom Petty album Damn the Torpedoes from October 1979, it had not quite registered until it was served up to me recently. I think it’s fair to say Petty’s third studio album with the Heartbreakers is better known for tunes like Refugee, Here Comes My Girl, Even the Losers and Don’t Do Me Like That. What Are You Doin’ in My Life? is more of deep track. Like most of the other songs on the album, it was solely written by Petty.

Sam & Dave/Soul Man

Next I’d like to go back to the ’60s and some dynamite soul by Stax recording artists Sam & Dave. Soul Man, co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, became the R&B duo’s biggest U.S. mainstream hit surging all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune was first released as a single in September 1967 and was also included on Sam & Dave’s third studio album Soul Men that came out the following month. The backing music was provided by Stax’s excellent house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In fact, the exclamation in the song, “Play it, Steve,” refers to the band’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Sam & Dave performed as a duo between 1961 and 1981. Sadly, Dave Prater passed away in a single-car accident in April 1988 at the age of 50. Sam Moore is still alive and now 86.

Del Amitri/Roll to Me

I had not heard of Del Amitri in a long time until I did earlier this week on the radio. In fact, other than the name and that tune, Roll to Me, I know nothing about this Scottish alternative rock band that was formed in Glasgow in 1980. During their initial run until 2002, the group released six studio albums and two compilations. Since Del Amtri reemerged from hiatus in 2013, it looks like they have mainly been a touring act. Only one live record, one compilation and one studio album have since appeared. Notably, the latter, Fatal Mistakes, came out this May, 19 years after their last studio album. The band’s current line-up includes original member and main songwriter Justin Currie (vocals, guitar, piano), along with Iain Harvie (guitar), Kris Dollimore (guitar), Andy Alston (keyboards, percussion) and Ash Soan (drums). Roll to Me, written by Currie, is from the group’s fourth studio album Twisted from February 1995. It also was released separately as a single in June that year and became their biggest hit in the U.S. where it reached no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 – quite a catchy pop rock tune!

Pat Metheny/One Quiet Night

And this once again brings me to the sixth and final track. I decided to pick another acoustic guitar instrumental: One Quiet Night by Pat Metheny. While I’m very familiar with the name Pat Metheny, I believe the only music I had ever heard before is American Garage, the second album by Pat Metheny Group from 1979. That’s easily more than 30 years ago, so I don’t recall the record but oddly remember its title. Metheny who has been active since 1974 has an enormous catalog between Pat Metheny Group, his solo work and other projects. One Quiet Night, written by him, is the title track of a solo acoustic guitar album he released in May 2003. It won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album. Both my streaming music provider and Wikipedia tagged it as jazz, the genre that first comes to my mind when I think of Metheny. Whatever you want to label it, it’s nice instrumental music and shall close this post.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

The Venues: Beat-Club

“Cult” German TV show featured prominent music acts from Alice Cooper to Zeppelin

A YouTube clip from Beat-Club I coincidentally caught on Sunday reminded me that I hadn’t done a post in my series about popular concert halls and music programs since July 2020. So I felt the popular German TV music show, which aired monthly between September 1965 and December 1972, would be a great topic for another installment.

Beat-Club was created by music producer Gerhard Augustin, who according to Wikipedia was Germany’s first professional disc jockey, and film director and writer Mike Leckebusch. Broadcast on one of Germany’s main national public TV channels ARD, the show was hosted by German architect-turned-singer-turned-TV presenter Uschi Nerke. Until early 1969, she was joined by Augustin and afterwards by Dave Dee, of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, before Nerke started hosting alone in 1970.

Uschi Nerke kommt – blacksheep Festival
Uschi Nerke

Beat-Club began as a live program with music guests performing in front of a plain brick wall. In 1967, the program was revamped to adapt a “more professional look,” which among others included large cards in the background that displayed the names of the performers. The new format also allowed for inclusion of artists who could not appear live. In these cases, a troupe of young women called the “Go-Go-Girls” was dancing to the featured songs – ouch! On a cooler note, in its later years, Beat-Club incorporated psychedelic visual effects during many performances. These effects became much more pronounced after the program switched to color in late 1969.

German TV personality Wilhelm Wieben opened Beat-Club’s first episode with the following words: “Hello, dear beat friends. The time has finally come. In just a few seconds starts the first show on German television, which exclusively was made for you. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you who may not enjoy beat music for your understanding. It’s a live program with young people for young people. And now, let’s go!”

Beat Club (TV) - March 27, 1969 / Bremen | Led Zeppelin Official Website
Led Zeppelin at Beat-Club, March 1969

I guess Wieben and the master minds behind the program pretty much foresaw what would happen: While Beat-Club’s target audience embraced the show right way, the older generation in Germany was horrified. This probably ensured young people liked it even more. In fact, the show quickly reached “cult” status.

Over its seven-year run, Beat-Club featured an impressive array of music artists and bands. Badfinger, Chuck Berry, Cream, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who were some among many others. Now on to the real fun part: Clips that capture some of the action. The year in parenthesis after each title marks the timing of the show episode. It’s all based on Beat-Club’s YouTube channel.

Cream/I Feel Free (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Purple Haze (1967)

Canned Heat/On the Road Again (1968)

Joe Cocker/With a Little Help From My Friends (1968)

Chicago Transit Authority/I’m a Man (1969)

The Who/Sally Simpson & I’m Free (1969)

Black Sabbath/Paranoid (1970)

Muddy Waters/Honey Bee (1970)

Fleetwood Mac/Dragonfly (1971)

T. Rex/Jeepster (1971)

Ike & Tina Turner/Get Back (1972)

Manassas/Rock & Roll Crazies

Beat-Club eventually was replaced by another music program called Musikladen (music store). While I was too young to watch Beat-Club, I have some nebulous memories of Musikladen, and I’m afraid they aren’t great! Nerke co-moderated the program with main host Manfred Sexauer until September 1978. Subsequently, she hosted her own radio show Beat-Club until January 2013.

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

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