Surprise, Surprise – Hearing Chuck Berry For the First Time, Again

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By Joe Bonomo

Originally posted at No Such Thing As Was, April 21, 2012, reprinted here with permission of the author.

How many hundreds of times have I heard Chuck Berry songs? At home, in the car, at parties, in the bars, on TV, on the radio, in my head, in any number of a thousand songs that rip off him and his band’s 1950s high water cuts. Berry is so monolithic, so legendary, such the prime mover that he barely exists as a flesh and blood man (his low-profile adds to the mystique). His songs aren’t really songs anymore, they’re blueprints in an archaeological museum; less words, melody, and performance on analog tape than Platonic models. Sheer repetition coupled with mythology have rendered Charles Edward Anderson Berry inhuman, his songs rumors of a man who once existed, or was invented, it’s unclear.

How great when a song can still surprise. Tonight Ame and I were driving, listening to a roots show on local public radio, when “Johnny B. Goode” came on. Because I hadn’t been looking for it on my Chess box, because I wasn’t already bored by its oft-told stories before it played, because my mind was elsewhere (as it turns out, still enjoying the close of the Rolling Stones’ “Country Honk,” which preceded Berry in the set), because I wasn’t burdened with solemn appreciation for the Father, because I didn’t start with the reference books, because this wasn’t a Sweatin’ To The Oldies infomercial at 3 am after last call, because with all great rock and roll we catch up to it a moment after it begins, led first by the rush of blood, then the heart, then recognition in the form of a Yes! and a smile and a shared glance with a friend or a stranger, then a lurch to turn UP the song—none of which we can articulate in language, with sentences, until another moment or two passes—because of this I heard “Johnny B. Goode” for the first time today. Then it was over. Actually, it was over before Chuck got to his first solo, the recognizable notes and style already descending into formula, routine, ancient black and white, archetype, cliché, Happy Days. But for that minute, a bell never sounded so purely rung by human hands.

Joe Bonomo‘s books include This Must Be Where My Obsession With Infinity Began (essays), Conversations With Greil Marcus (Literary Conversations Series), AC/DC’s Highway to Hell (33 1/3 Series), Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found, Installations (National Poetry Series), and Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band. He teaches at Northern Illinois University, and appears online at No Such Thing As Was and at @BonomoJoe.

Chuck Berry: Have Mercy – His Complete Chess Recordings, 1969-1974

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In 2014, Bear Family Records released Any Old Way You Choose It. which brings together virtually everything Chuck Berry ever recorded, including his late 60s Mercury sides along with his two stints at Chess Records. Prior to that collection’s release, the most thorough assemblage of his classic work was represented by three four-disc sets issued by Hip-0 Select between 2007 and 2010, which featured everything he recorded for Chess.  Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess RecordingsYou Never Can Tell: His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966, and Have Mercy: His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974 are all available to stream on Spotify and we’re presenting them here for you to enjoy on Chuck’s big day, wrapping up with the third and final volume , DIG!

Chuck Berry: You Never Can Tell – His Complete Chess Recordings, 1960-1966

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In 2014, Bear Family Records released the 16-disc Any Old Way You Choose It. which brings together virtually everything Chuck Berry ever recorded, including his late 60s Mercury sides along with his two stints at Chess Records. Prior to that collection’s release, the most thorough assemblage of his classic work was represented by three four-disc sets issued by Hip-0 Select between 2007 and 2010, which featured everything he recorded for Chess.  Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess RecordingsYou Never Can Tell: His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966, and Have Mercy: His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974 are all available to stream on Spotify and we’re presenting them here for you to enjoy on Chuck’s big day, continuing now with volume two , DIG!

 

Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode – His Complete 50s Chess Recordings

In 2014, Bear Family Records released the 16-disc Any Old Way You Choose It which brings together virtually everything Chuck Berry ever recorded, including his late 60s Mercury sides along with his two stints at Chess Records. Prior to that collection’s release, the most thorough assemblage of his classic work was represented by three four-disc sets issued by Hip-0 Select between 2007 and 2010, which featured everything he recorded for Chess.  Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings, You Never Can Tell: His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966, and Have Mercy: His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974 are all available to stream on Spotify and we’re presenting them here for you to enjoy on Chuck’s big day, starting with the first of the three , DIG!

Freaks Hall Class of 2017 Election Round 2: The Polls Are Open!

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Hasil Adkins

Round one for Rock ‘n’ Roll Freaks Hall class of 2017 is complete, and we selected four new inductees for the contributor category.  Next up is round two of three, in which we’ll be selecting from performers who debuted no later than 1966. Round three will be conducted in November, and will include artists who debuted between 1967 and 1981.

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 rocknrollfreaks@gmail.com. The polls are open until Friday, October 28 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 2 Nominees: 

Hasil Adkins
Davie Allan
Richard Berry
Roy Brown
The Chocolate Watchband
The Collins Kids
The Easybeats
Esquerita
The Fugs
The Bobby Fuller Four
Wynonie Harris
The Kingsmen
The Monkees
The Move
The Music Machine
Suzi Quatro
Doug Sahm
Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs
The Shadows
The Standells
Rufus Thomas
Hound Dog Taylor
The Wailers
Jerry Williams (Swamp Dogg)
Johnny Winter

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Johnny Winter

Dewey Phillips, Lenny Kaye, Miriam Linna & Billy Miller Enter the Freaks Hall

The polls are closed, the ballots have been counted, and we are proud to announce our Rock ‘n’ Roll Freaks Hall inductees for the class of 2017 contributor category. This year, we had a three-way tie for the top spot, and they’re all going to be inducted with the performers selected in our forthcoming rounds II and III later this year.

Previous Freaks Hall non-performer inductees have been Lester Bangs, John Peel, Joe Meek, Kim Fowley, Greg Shaw, and Shadow Morton.

So, without further ado, welcome our newest Freaks Hall inductees!

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Lenny Kaye is perhaps best known as Patti Smith’s long-time guitarist and collaborator, but his contributions to rock history and rock ‘n’ roll culture go much deeper than that. In 1972, he collected then forgotten garage and psychedelic singles to create the Nuggets compilation album, which proved to be one of the most influential records of all-time, leading to countless 60s garage rock comps and inspiring generations of new rock ‘n’ roll bands. He was also part of the first generation of rock critics, his writing appearing in publications like Fusion, Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Creem, Disc, Melody Maker, Hit Parader, and Rock Scene.

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Miriam Linna and Billy Miller, like Lenny Kaye, are known to many first as musicians, leading the long running New York City rock ‘n’ roll band the A-Bones for more than two decades. Linna was also the drummer for an early version of Freaks Hall inductees The Cramps. In 1979, the couple started Kicks magazine, which over the next decade was an influential publication that carried the flag for early rock ‘n’ roll in it’s most basic, primitive, and exuberant glory. They continued to build on that legacy when they formed Norton Records, which has grown to become one of the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll labels of the last several decades, releasing archival material as well as new music, and is still going strong in 2016.

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Dewey Phillips was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s first legendary disc jockeys, famous for his show “Red, Hot and Blue” on KHBQ in Memphis, TN. He was the first man to ever play Elvis Presley on the radio and broke many of the Sun label’s early hits on his airwaves. His frantic style and infectious passion were his trademark and he was widely emulated by radio personalities around the country as rock ‘n’ roll caught fire and swept the continent in the 1950s. The popular musical Memphis is based loosely on Phillips’ life and career.

 

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