I’m not sure why I would write this. I haven’t intentionally listened to any Berry Chucked guitar riffage of late. Truth be told I don’t plan on it either. I do own a good part of his recorded output but it’s sitting in storage with a lot of LP’s that I’m too lazy to e bay. The way I figure it is kinda like this, since his influence is ubiquitous in so much of the music I like from Buck Owens to AC/DC, I do not need to listen to him anymore. I can just soak it up second hand in the sounds of his disciples, which is about 90% of everyone who has ever picked up on the electric guitar since 1955. If they weren’t directly under Chucks spell, they were surely influenced by somebody or some group that was. You can’t get around it.
Chuck didn’t invent R ‘N’ R by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve got records from the late 1930’s (Guitar Boogie – Mississippi Jook Band) that are just as rock ‘n’ roll to me as were “Rocket 88” or any other post WW2/ pre 1955 stompdown that helped lay the foundations for Chuck, Bo, Little Richard, et al. to build and expound upon.
He certainly helped to make R N R a household word though and he brought the Guitar to the forefront of this new burgeoning movement, neatly displacing the saxophone & piano as the main instruments of band leaders coast to coast, sea to shining sea. The energy of his early records is still incredibly raw and wild and you have to wonder what country boys like Elvis and Buddy Holly must have thought upon hearing Chuck for the first time.
Likely they were in a beat up old car roaring down some dirt road in the sticks and that slash & burn guitar coming through a tinny A/M radio, cracked speaker and all, must’ve been what seemed like the beginning of a teenage armageddon. Finally someone who spoke to them exclusively and addressed teen age troubles, trials & tribulations, without condescending to them.
It didn’t matter that he was pushing 30, black & had done time in prison, Chuck Berry was THE voice of teenaged America in the 1950’s. Enough on CB. His accolades have been written better elsewhere and his praise sung with stronger voice than this writer can muster.
So, here’s a list of a few tunes that’ve been influenced by Charles Edward Berry to varying degrees, for better or worse, for you to contemplate,scratch your head at and just plain wonder why in the name of Jeezus, I’d post such an inane list. These are in no particular order or meant to convey a “Top Ten” list by any means. I just wrote ’em out as they came to mind while digging through and on a few LP’s. Before we get into this too deeply, here is prime example of the C.B. influence on one of Rock’s all time classic songs: “Louie, Louie.”
Richard Berry (no relation) was inspired to write “Louie” after repeated listenings to a Chuck B. tune called “Havana Moon.” Set to a slinky calypso beat, “Havana Moon” tells the tale of a sailor sitting, waiting and drinking rum, hoping in vain for his lady love’s ship to come in. Any similarity between the original “Louie, Louie” (which is also set to a calypso beat for those of you who have never heard the original tune) and “Havana Moon” is purely intentional. That out of the way, let’s get moving.
Damn the torpedoes and pardon the typo’s friends, here goes nothing:
1) The Blasters – “Marie, Marie”
Dave Alvin in an interview some years back, talked about basing the name of the title character here in this pumping Cajun tinged rocker on little Marie in the Chuck Berry tune “Memphis”. When The Blasters wanted to release this as a single they were told by their label (Slash) that it wasn’t commercially viable. Well, they were wrong. The U.K. rockabilly artist Shakin’Stevens covered it and went on to sell over 3 Million copies of the song worldwide. This song is a rocker for sure. Not only did Dave namecheck Marie out of “Memphis” but this also has a steady drive to it not unlike “Promised Land” or other early/ mid 60’s rockers in the Berry oeuvre.
2)Dave Edmunds – “Get Out Of Denver”
This a Bob Seger song originally but this is the version that gets me rocking. It can be found neatly tucked away on the early Edmunds LP “Get It.” Dave is not shy about his Berry influence and he’s covered many great Berry tunes (Let It Rock, Promised Land, Dear Dad, et al.) to great effect. He leaves no Berry riff left unturned here as he pummels this one but good for a couple of minutes. The guitar licks are pure-dee Berry and the speed rapping narrative about getting chased and harrassed by state troopers while barreling down the highway just minding his own business work to keep this firmly in the tradition of C.B. Tunes such as “Maybelline,” “No Money Down,” “Jaguar & The Thuderbird.”
3) Creedence Clearwater Revival – “It Came Out Of The Sky”
Another tune where the C.B. influence is stronger lyrically and stylistically as opposed to musically. It’s not that chunka chunka rhythm and that simple but deadly backbeat that could kill at a hundred paces that bring the Chuckster to mind here. They are all there in copius amounts. Once again, it’s the narrative and lyrics here that draw the strongest parallels to Berrys work. Chuck’s lyrics had an intrinsic “everyman” approach that made them so damned accessible to his listeners and fans alike.
In as far as great American songwriters go, I’d put C.B. up there with Hoagy Carmichael, Woody Guthrie, Harold Arlen, Gershwin, Hank Williams, Willie Dixon, Iggy Pop and a half a handful of others (JC Fogerty included) that are a mean hand at turning a phrase. Aussie swamp blues/noise rockers “The Scientists” also do a great cover of this that retains the Chuck B. riffs while oozing along over a wall of fuzzed out guitars and feedback.
4) AC/DC – “Rocker”
Speaking of Aussies, these guys were never known for their complexity & their musical virtuousity.So, it only makes sense that the Berry influence would make itself heard in their music. Angus mangles, mauls and overhauls a handful of C.B riffs here in one of my favorite AC/DC tunes. When I saw these these guys in concert years ago they dedicated this one to Chuckie B. So I’ve gotta give them credit for having good taste and keeping Chuck’s name alive even if it was for a crowd of 20,000+ stoned out headbangers.
5) Rolling Stones – “Star Star” (AKA “Starfucker”)
One of the few high points on the otherwise dismal “Goat’s Head Soup” LP. To be brief and to the point (it had to happen sooner or later) without Chuck Berry we probably wouldn’t have The Stones. The Stones have covered at least an albums worth of Berry songs, still pull out unrecorded Berry tunes live (last time I saw them they did “Sweet Little 16”) and have worked his riffs into so many of their “originals” that I just could not imagine one without the other. If you are in the for some Berry and don’t have any of discs or LP’s, then the Stones are the next best thing. Some even argue better and I personally will admit to digging their version of “Little Queenie” over Chucks but not as much as I like the Jerry Lee Lewis version of the aforementioned. When Jerry sings “…and she’s too cute to be a minute over 17” it brings new depth to the word “Lewd” but in a good way, of course.
6) Ray Sharpe – “Monkeys Uncle”
Digging into my 45’s, I pulled this one out. It’s the B-side of the often covered R & B classic “Linda Lu” on Jamie Records. Although, for some reason the other copy of this 45 I have has “Red Sails In The Sunset” on the B side. My guess is that they threw “Red Sails…” on the flip to make DJ’s focus on the A side of the 45. Mr. Ray Sharpe was an R & B rocker from Fort Worth,TX. who was mining a similar sound and approach to music as was Chuck. He was black cat that had a very pronounced fondness for C & W/ Hillbilly music and he worked it into his music alongside of Blues,R & B and Rock n Roll. If I didn’t know better I’d swear Chuck had written this one. Ray is still around and pops up every once in awhile at shows such as the “Ponderosa Stomp” down in New Orleans and at summer blues fests across the country. He puts on a great show to this day and as he’s getting along in years,should you ever get a chance to catch his act, then by all means do.
7) Eddie Clearwater – “Hillbilly Blues”
Another 45 and another bluesman gone on the sound of Berry chucked riffs and rhythms. This one is on the small “Atomic” label out of Chicago and is the label that Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater started cutting music on at the onset of his career back in the late 1950’s. Very few black bluesmen have acknowledged the influence of Chuck the way that Eddie has. Eddie incorporated not only Chuck’s guitar style and songs into his repertoire but also the “Duck Walk” Chuck was so famous for (and that he stole from Carl Hogan, Louis Jordan’s guitarist). “Hillbilly Blues” is a jumping C & W inflected rocker a la “Thirty Days” & “Maybelline.”
If you’re so inclined Eddie did an ass rocking CD not long ago with Nashville nuts “Los Straitjackets” you may just want to pick up. He and Straitjackets guitarist Jerry Angel unleash a barrage of Berry licks on several tracks that’ll have you up and jumping in no time flat.
8) Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe – “I Knew The Bride”
Both Edmunds and Lowe have recorded this LP’s of their own and it was a staple of their collaborative band “Rockpile” in their live shows. This a bouncy catchy pop type tune and it is not unlike a sped up take on Chuck’s “You Never Can Tell” (used in the twist contest scene in “Pulp Fiction.” The Louisiana Swamp Pop king Johnny Allan even did a great Cajun styled take on this that surpasses even Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe’s respective takes of this tune.
9) Bo Diddley – “Hey Good Lookin'”
Chuck wrote this one for Bo and it is the title of Bo’s 1965 LP of the same name on Checker Records. Since Chuck wrote this one, I’m stretching the concept a bit here I’ll admit. It’s just such a great song though and since these guys have been friendly competitors for years I’ve always found it odd that Chuck would’ve given this up. It’s a rocker and it’s just as good as the best of Chuck’s early 60’s sides such as “Nadine, It Wasn’t Me, No Particular Place To Go,” etc. This one is not easy to find. It’s on a couple of out of print CD collections and the LP can be found but it’ll lighten your wallet anywhere from $50-75 approximately, at most used record stores.Should you be lucky enough to find it in the first place that is.
10) Johnny Thunders – “Too Much Junkie Business”
Bo D. and Chuck become entangled once again.”TMJB” is a thinly veiled revamp of the main riff to “Pills” a Bo Diddley tune covered on the 1st N.Y. Dolls album. The title of this tune is, of course, a play on words of Chuck’s “Too Much Monkey Business” and is full of Johnny Thunders crash and burn Chuck Berry on Meth riffage. It’s an extremely hi-energy tune that’s got Johnny and Walter Lure on a serious Berry bender, bouncing sloppy assed Berry cum Keith Richards meets Wayne Kramer licks all over the place.With Johnny doing this tune and his being a disciple of Keith’s and of Chuck’s, this is a case of the 3rd generation chickens coming home to roost.
This plants Chuck and his cherry red ES-335 Gibson right in the middle of ground zero once again. After inspiring rockers of all stripes in the second half of the 50’s, providing inspiration for the British Intrusion, fuel for zit faced, hormonally challenged teen age garage bands of the 60’s (Shadows Of
Knight, MC5, Standells, etc.) and moving into the Punk Rock explosion of the 70’s (The Germs, Dolls, Bowie, Heartbreakers, Tom Petty, T.Rex and so many others), the ubiquitous Chuck Berry is still being recycled and covered well into the new millenium with no signs of it letting up. Maybe the bands playing his riffs these days don’t even realize it in some cases since, they are picking up on it through bands that were influenced by bands that were influenced by bands that have been directly inspired by the Maestro himself. As long as there is R N R still being played, Chuck’s music will never die.
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