The rock ‘n’ roll world received some sad news when it was reported that Peter Overend Watts of Mott the Hoople had passed away at age 69 following a bout with throat cancer. He was a founding member of the group and remained at the core of their sound for their entire history, laying down some of the most influential bass lines of the era. Mott the Hoople entered the Rock ‘n’ Roll Freaks Hall with our class of 2017. Mott frontman Ian Hunter expressed his grief on the official Mott the Hoople Twitter account:
The polls are closed, the ballots have been counted, and we are proud to announce our round three inductees for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Freaks Hall class of 2017. In this round, we considered artists and groups who debuted between 1967 and 1981, and nine names finished over the induction line. They will be inducted with the contributors elected in round one (for contributors) and round two (for artists who debuted no later than 1966), completing our new class for this year.
Please welcome our class of 2017 round three inductees!
The Modern Lovers
Mott the Hoople
Rounds one and two for Rock ‘n’ Roll Freaks Hall class of 2017 are complete, and so far we selected ten new inductees. Next up is our third and final round, in which we’ll be selecting from performers who debuted between 1967 and 1981, representing our 35 year cut-off date for consideration.
For those not already familiar with the Freaks Hall, here is a quick explanation:
The Freaks Hall honors artists, groups and contributors who have not been recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Commercial success and/or critical acclaim are not factors in choosing candidates or inductees. Rather, we seek to spotlight those people who embody the true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll in their recordings, performances, and in the lives they’ve lived. In fact, we often strive to recognize those who are not likely to ever be invited to one of the establishment’s made for TV galas – the forgotten heroes, the renegades, and the free spirits who have left a unique imprint on the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
HOW TO VOTE: Below is the list of our 25 nominees. Select up to 15 (minimum of ten) and send your ballot to firstname.lastname@example.org. The polls are open until Friday, November 25 at 8:00 PM EST. The top five vote getters will be inducted as part of our Freaks Hall class of 2017.
2017 Freaks Hall Round 3 Nominees:
Blue Oyster Cult
The Dead Boys
Grand Funk Railroad
The Modern Lovers
Mott the Hoople
The Soft Machine
The polls are closed, the ballots have been counted, and we are proud to announce our round two inductees for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Freaks Hall class of 2017. In this round, we considered artists and groups who debuted before 1967, and six names finished over the induction line. They will be inducted with the contributors elected in round one and those who make the cut in round three (debuted between 1967-1981).
Please welcome our class of 2017 round two inductees!
The Chocolate Watchband
The Bobby Fuller Four
By Ted Cogswell
Let the Good Times Roll is a 1973 concert film directed by Robert Abel and Sidney Levin. fearuring Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker, The Coasters, Danny and the Juniors. Bo Diddley. Fats Domino. The Five Satins. Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, and The Shirelles. For my money, one of the best concert films of all-time. Everybody in it was performing at a very high level, the Chuck and Bo footage is all-time classic, and Little Richard is in rare form.
From PIG PAPER #11, January 1980
Gary Pig Gold wrote:
And while we’re on the subject of Rock ‘n’ Roll Kings, here’s the most unsung hero of the genre: CHUCK BERRY. Inventor of the duck-walk, the ding-a-ling, and many insist, the entire concept of rock ‘n’ roll guitaring itself. The Chucker’s contribution to modern history cannot be over-emphasized. He first assaulted the Top Forty ‘way back in ’55, and even today, between jaunts to the slammer and The Merv Griffin Show, Mr. Berry still out-riffs and out-rhymes all comers. Let us pause for a moment, to offer humble praise and prayer to this undeniable Pop God.
By Steve Butts
As Chuck Berry turned 89 on Sunday I reflected upon when I was first exposed to his music and how it had made an impact on who I eventually became. Like many, I am sure that I probably first heard Berry’s Johnny B. Goode (without necessarily knowing who the artist actually was) on TV shows like “Happy Days” or in a movie like “American Graffiti”, each shining a softer, tamer light upon the revolutionary impact Berry’s music had made on 50′s rock ‘n’ roll culture.
Much like the nostalgic small screen portrayals of life in middle America that were commonly featured in movies and television during the 70′s and 80′s, I had grown up in a similar environment in a small town in Michigan. Heavily protestant, the farming community that I grew up in was not a place where someone could expect to receive much exposure to current rock ‘n’ roll music, let alone anything that could be construed as “hip” music or “acid rock” or anything else.
My parents were much more permissive than the average family in my hometown. They attended Marshall Tucker Band concerts and we often visited their friends who had a stereo room (I will never forget it. The room would be completely dark, except a few lit dials on the stereo and the ceramic statue of an embracing naked couple that had pinholes in it where changing colored lights shined through them).
This same family friend knew that I had enjoyed the Woodstock soundtrack during a visit, so he gave me a dubbed copy of it when I got my first Walkman (which I later shared with my hippie Boy Scout leader who must have utilized it as the inspiration necessary to smoke a surreptitious doob out of the view of our impressionable eyes).
Even though I had been exposed to quite a bit of my parent’s music and had exhibited a desire to be exposed to even more, many of my best friends grew up in far more restrictive and less liberated households. The kind of households that very closely mirrored the idealized nuclear households that were exhibited on shows like “Happy Days” or movies like “American Graffiti”.
For a better idea of the musical climate of the community where I lived, I remember going to a church roller skating party with some friends of mine where the DJ was asked not to play any current hits but was instead given generic vinyl instrumental versions of hits from the 50′s and early 60′s to play (think Pat Boone–this was during the 80′s).
During one summer, I spent a great deal of time with my friend Troy. This was during the early 80′s emergence of professional wrestling in popular culture and the popularization of action films like “Rambo”, each being things that we were able to share enjoyment of and bond over. We also loved listening to a local oldies radio station’s airing of a syndicated weekend top 100 countdown program.
One afternoon, we were listening to a cassette dub of some songs that Troy had recorded from the previous weekend. With the permeation of “Rambo” in pop culture and the overarching cultural environment during the Reagan presidency, we listened excitedly to Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets” (Troy would eventually become an Army Ranger) over and over. Having heard the anti-war songs featured on Woodstock, I was quite likely already conflicted about this patriotic one hit wonder who glamorized the gallantry of war to great success. Later, we would hear a fun, silly novelty song that made us laugh. Laugh hard at that!
I will never forget hearing “My Ding-A-Ling” for the first time. The voice sounded familiar and it was evident that the song had been recorded live in concert. Amid the stolid surroundings of my friend’s house, something anarchic and forbidden had forced its way into our lives. As pre-teen boys, the double entendre juvenile humor of Chuck Berry’s corniest song was absolutely delicious.
As we began listening to “Ding-A-Ling” over and over, I started to feel the rush of doing something a little dangerous and contradictory to the repressive environment that surrounded us. I realized that not only was going against these constrictive societal norms appealing, it felt great.
This might have been the first moment where I questioned the bland lives that many people around me had chosen to live and was rapidly determining that I probably was not going to ever live a life quite like those that my friend’s and their families were.
I can only imagine that this moment of enlightenment, spurred on by one of Chuck Berry’s silliest songs was just a mere fraction of what people during the mid-50′s must have felt as Berry deftly combined the blues with a countryish twang, bringing an aspect of young black popular culture to a still segregated white America.
As time passes, “My Ding-A-Ling” has lost some of its former allure for me. It is not as bad of a song as many might indicate, but is far from the best and most representative of Berry’s songs. That said, whenever I hear it, I am immediately transported back to a more formative time in my own life where 30 plus years later I can still measure the impact that Berry’s music has so obviously had on my life.
By Andy Schwartz
Years ago, I’d heard that the lyrics to Chuck’s great ’64 single “The Promised Land” described a trip through the South along a route that closely paralleled that of the Greyhound bus trip undertaken by the original Freedom Riders of 1961. For purposes of comparison, I used the Wikipedia entry on this important moment in the US civil rights movement because (a) it didn’t seem grossly inaccurate and (b) I’m lazy. Check this out:
“I left my home in Norfolk, Virginia – California on my mind / I straddled that Greyhound and rode him into Raleigh, on across Caroline / We stopped in Charlotte, we bypassed Rock Hill, we never was a minute late / We was 90 miles out of Atlanta by sundown, rollin’ outta Georgia state…”
-> The Freedom Riders departed Washington D.C. on May 5, 1961. They encountered only minor harassment in Virginia and North Carolina, but future US Rep. John Lewis was attacked in Rock Hill SC. Other riders were arrested in Charlotte NC; Winnsboro SC; and Jackson MS.
“We had motor trouble that TURNED INTO A STRUGGLE [My emphasis -- A.S.] halfway across Alabam / And that ‘hound broke down and left us all stranded in downtown Birmingham…”
-> Upon arrival in Birmingham AL, the bus was attacked by a mob of KKK members aided and abetted by police under the orders of Commissioner Bull Connor. As the riders exited the bus, they were beaten by the mob with baseball bats, iron pipes and bicycle chains.
“Right away I bought me a through train ticket, ridin’ ‘cross [right across?] Mississippi clean / And I was on that Midnight Flyer out of Birmingham, smoking into New Orleans…”
-> Greyhound clerks in Montgomery AL told the Riders that their drivers were refusing to drive any Freedom Riders anywhere. Recognizing that their efforts had already called national attention to the civil rights cause and wanting to make the rally in New Orleans, the Riders decided to abandon the rest of the bus ride and fly directly to New Orleans from Birmingham.
“Somebody help me get out of Louisiana, just to help me get to Houston town / There are people there who care a little ’bout me and they won’t let the poor boy down / Sure as you’re born, they bought me a silk suit, put luggage in my hand / And I woke up high over Albuquerque on a jet to the promised land…”
From this point, Chuck is traveling safely and comfortably by jet to Los Angeles. But that whole first half…Kind of amazing, eh?
Andy Schwartz was editor of New York Rocker from 1977-1982. He has also served as Director of Editorial Services for Epic Records, editor of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction night program, and research consultant for the Rock Hall’s Library & Archive Project. He co-authored two volumes of Icons of Rock, published in 2007, has a long resume of freelance credits, and is currently provides editorial services to the Jazz Standard club in New York City.
What you’re looking at in the accompanying pictures are my own personal copies of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” 45, and the Rockin’ Berries cardboard bound EP.
I got these both signed around 1990. We (Del-Lords) opened for him at what had been Studio 54, and was now the home of the Ritz. We were in our dressing room when there was a knock on the door. Lo and behold, it was Chuck Berry himself! Chuck had on a wife-beater (God, i hate that term!!) t-shirt and a towel around his neck. He said the hot water in his dressing room was not working, and would it be ok if he used ours. Well, we were completely speechless, and blown back around 100 yards, but i managed to say, “Well, you’re Chuck Berry, and that means, absolutely, of course you can, sir!”. He smiled and came on in. We all looked at each other in disbelief, grinning ear-to-ear. When Chuck came out of the bathroom, he just sat down on the couch, and started asking us about who we are, what kind of music we played, and this and that. We told him that he loomed very large in our music, indeed, and was a lifelong hero and influence. Which, of course, he is!
I know how hard it seems to be for him to ever acknowledge the supernatural artistry of his music and his writing and his playing, as he usually just throws out something to the effect of, “Well, it’s what the kids wanted to hear”. As if that was all there was to it. But, i took a shot anyway. First i asked him about the Country influence in his songs. To me, that influence is more than obvious, but i have had this argument before. He said how much he loved Hank Williams, and what a gigantic influence he was on his own writing, and how all anyone had to do was listen to Maybelline, or Nadine, and that bass line is pretty much a Country music cliche. I was very satisfied with his answer, and couldn’t wait to tell those who argued that Country had nothing to do with Chuck’s music.
We talked about BB King, Lonnie Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Keith Richards, Charlie Patton, and plenty more, and he seemed satisfied that we knew our shit, and that made him relax even more. He was almost horizontal from leaning so far back in the big couch. He hung around for about twenty minutes or so, but before he left i whipped these two records out. I had brought them just in case i could get him to sign them. I expected nothing but instead i got this! I have never been shy about asking for autographs, and have a small but very prestigious (if i do say so myself) autographed LP collection. This seemed like a now or never moment for me, and i grabbed it. He could not have been sweeter, or more gracious. He was funny, too, and came off like your next door neighbor – if your neighbor was a raving guitar playing genius who changed popular music by inventing an entire genre, and was just this side of God. Just your average Holy Man ready to ply his trade one more time.
Scott “Top Ten” Kempner is a founding member of the Dictators and the Del-Lords.