September 12, 2017

Key to the Highway     
2017-09-13     2-5pm                      

Roy Milton and his Solid Senders   
Cannon’s Jug Stompers   
Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson                                    
It was a time of transition.  Europe was becoming entangled in a way no one had wanted after the Great War, and the American government was not about to commit to the fighting, but the more it went on the more its citizen businesses were turning a profit from providing their old allies with whatever they required, particularly if it gave them a military advantage.  The northern migration from the Deep South had already begun as an urban black culture was developing in the cities along the Mississippi, more than just stopping points on the way to Chicago or the Northeast.  Now that the production for military navies was escalated, port cities on both coasts were bustling with new workers for the increased load put upon the shipyards and the dockworkers. West Coast ports like Los Angeles depended primarily on immigration from points west of the Mississippi, particularly Texas and largely black.  And wherever there was a black populace with spending money there would be entertainment.

Once the war got going, particularly after the U.S. entered, rationing took effect on all parts of society, and the sacrifices made by the black music artists had domino effects.  Highly important was the limiting of gasoline and rubber for tires, which impacted the “travelability” of the Big Bands.  No longer could they carry a twenty-piece orchestra to many of the destinations.  As Johnny Otis discussed with Charley Lange, the Santa Cruz DJ who wrote the liner notes for the first issue of Roy Milton’s Specialty re-releases beginning in 1989, “By 1950, we had established what was a hybrid form that had come into its own.  Roy Milton, Joe Liggins and I have often discussed this.  Now, all of us came out of a big band environment and we all aspired to the big band sound.  I had a big band, Roy played with Ernie Fields’ band and so on.  When the big bands died and we found we couldn’t function in that context anymore, in the mid to late forties …when we had to break our bands down … when we played a Blues type thing with three horns, it had a different character … See, Roy Milton is a Blues singer and when he got his band together to play a little gig, he didn’t use two guitars, bass and drums; he used three horns, piano, bass and drums..  The horns were important to him because he had come out of the big band Swing era … he was used to that sound … See, that was one thing that made rhythm and blues different from the old fashioned Blues.  That is the main element.  The singer is singing and instead of just guitars twanging, the horns played whole notes, rolling those riffs near the end of the choruses, you know, whole notes with melodies attached to them.”

Roy was born in 1907 in Wynnewood, Oklahoma and, since his maternal grandmother was a full-blooded Chickasaw Indian, he spent the first few years of his life on the reservation before moving to Tulsa.

In the late twenties, Roy joined on with Fields’ orchestra as a featured singer, but in the early thirties when drummer Eddie Nicholson was arrested Milton wound up completing that evening and the rest of the tour behind the drums.  As he stated in the 70s, “I’ve been singing while playing the drums ever since.”

Shortly after leaving the Fields band in 1933, Roy settled in L.A. and began playing in local groups before forming his own Solid Senders.  The original group included bassist Dave Robinson, trumpeter Hosea Sapp and tenor sax man Buddy Floyd, but the dominant lead instrument was most often provided by pianist Camille Howard.  As the band progressed, Camille achieved a recording career of her own but always utilized members of the Solid Senders for her accompaniment.  They were one of the most popular acts around L.A. and even supported singer June Richmond in three soundies in 1945. 

On December 22nd 1945, after one unsuccessful release for Lionel Hampton’s Hamp-Tone label, they got into the studio for the independent Juke Box label, soon to change its name to Specialty Records.  Art Rupe was in charge of the effort:  “I was looking for the same sound (as Lucky Millinder’s big band) with a smaller group.  I couldn’t afford eighteen pieces so I wound up with two small acts … one was the Sepia-Tones and the other was Roy Milton’s combo.  He succeeded in getting a sound which was as good, and even better than Lucky Millinder’s.  It was an uncomplicated sound, and yet it had the full harmonic range.  Roy had two sounds, like other black bands. During regular hours when he gigged in a white club, he played white music, Tin Pan Alley songs. Then, after hours he went down to Watts and played for black people.  That’s the Roy Milton that I recorded, black, urban music rooted in blues, gospel and boogie.”

The four tracks from that first session were released on two records that held spots on the Billboard Most Played Juke Box Race Charts for almost six months in 1946, and are the first four tracks on today’s show.  R.M. Blues climbed to #2 on Billboard’s R&B chart and #20 on their pop listing.  On the basis of these releases, the Solid Senders were chosen the #3 race band in the country for 1946.  They had a total of 19 Top Ten hits in their ten years with Specialty, including Hop, Skip and Jump at #3 in 1948, Information Blues at #2 in 1950 and Best Wishes also reaching #2 in 1951.  In addition to being an integral part of the Solid Senders success, Camille had two R&B Top Ten hits herself – 1948’s X-Temporaneous Boogie reached #7 (its flipside You Don’t Love Me hit #12) and Money Blues made the list in 1951.  Camille moved to Federal in 1953, where she had three releases that failed to meet her norm with Specialty of 20,000 to 50,000 sales, and she had one more attempt in 1956 for Vee Jay.  She would later give up her music in devotion to her church.

Roy’s band remained successful throughout Camille’s tenure, but they too left Specialty in 1955 for Dootone Records, then on to establish the Roy Milton Record Company, but it didn’t take long for Milton to discover the difficulties of collecting monies due, etc.  By now, Rock ‘n’ Roll was going strong and the old pros who had laid its foundation were struggling to stay relevant.

Roy’s career took an uptick in 1970 when he appeared as a member of the Johnny Otis Revue at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival, which produced one of my favorite live albums.  Glimpses of the performance can be seen in the Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty for Me.  A couple of albums followed, one on the Kent label and one for the French Black and Blue label.  Roy fell ill in 1982 and was restricted to home, where he died September 18th 1983 at the age of 76.

After opening up the show with the tunes from their first Specialty date, the rest of the set comes from 1947.  I jumped to 1951 and 1952 for their second set because guitarist Johnny “Junior” Rogers was fully ensconsed in the band by then and I wanted to hear why Charley Lange compared him to Howlin’ Wolf’s early guitarist, Willie Johnson; I did not hear that, but there will always be another show.  By 1994 Specialty had put out three volumes of the Solid Senders plus a fourth of Camille’s releases and those are the source of today’s show.
A lot of times, I tend to think of this show as a little bit of an education, not only for my listeners but often for myself, so kindly allow me to climb up on my soapbox for a while.  The history of the Blues goes farther back than can be determined, but as far as its presentation to any kind of mass audience it was likely W.C. Handy’s 1912 publication of his Memphis Blues manuscript.  The first commercially recorded Blues tune was in 1921, Crazy Blues by Mamie Smith, and it had much in common with the type of Blues that was put out over the next five years in that it was a lady singer backed by Jazz musicians (they were coming into fashion around the same time), oftentimes with only a pianist behind them.   These are usually referred to as the Classic Blues.  Around 1927, the record companies opened up to what I like to call the front porch Blues singers, folks like Blind Lemon Jefferson.  Today, we’ll hear from another early entrant on the Black Americana scene, but just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not good, fun music.

 “My daddy was in slavery time, John Cannon  . . . got his name from the man who owned him.  He used to tell us that back in them days they put the big ole colored man with the good looking women to raise children.”  Gus Cannon was born September 12th 1883 in Red Banks, Mississippi, the tenth son of John and Ellie Cannon.  The liner notes for Yazoo’s CD, Cannon’s Jug Stompers: The Complete Works 1927-1930, have lots of interesting quotes so I think I’ll just let it tell most of the story to begin with.  The disc contains 24 of the 26 numbers recorded by the Stompers.

“When I was twelve years old, one of my brothers (Tom, I think) came and got me and took me down to Clarksdale – that’s where he lived, south of Clarksdale by Sunflower River . . . Used to chop cotton there.  Yassuh!  So that’s where I made my first banjo, from a guitar neck and a bread pan mama used to bake biscuits in – had to hold it over fire to tighten up the head before I could play it.  Ha ha haaa!  That thing sounded good to me then, though.”  Gus had to stretch a raccoon skin over the pan to make the resonator.  He didn’t acquire his first real banjo until he was fifteen when it was a part of his brother’s craps winnings.

“Alec Lee was the first guy I heard playing on a Hawaiian guitar . . . used a knife.  Uh, that must’ve been around 1900, maybe a little before.”  After learning the technique, the mostly self-taught Cannon adapted it over to his 5-string banjo playing.  He became proficient on guitar, fiddle and piano and also devised a harness to go around his neck facilitating jug playing to accompany his banjo.

Around 1901, Gus got a railroad job near Greenville, where he put together his first jug band.  “’Bout two years after I started out down there by Sunflower River, I was playing for Saturday night balls –that’s when us colored folks had ourselves a time.  Man, I played the hell out of that banjo for $2.50 a night . . . had another boy with me on fiddle, Lawd, we was raising sand down there . . . sure was!  Plenty liquor . . . dope too.  A gal in Clarksdale gave me a little snort of coke (cocaine).  … It didn’t do much to me, though.  I reckon I just didn’t have enough.  I don’t use no dope. . . . no Sir!  I drink beer and whisky . . . oh, I used to be wild about it!  … Noah, my harp player, used to be full of coke all the time.”  He moved near Ripley, Tennessee, to do plantation work in 1907, and here is where he first met Noah Lewis.

Lewis, born in Tennessee around 1890, was a harmonica player who would become known not only for his talent but also for the unique ability of playing two harps simultaneously.   “Lawd, he used to play the hell out of that harp.  He could play two harps at the same time . . . through his mouth and his nose . . . same key and same melody.  Y’know he could curl his lips ‘round the harp & his nose was just like a fist.  Noah, he was full of cocaine all the time – I reckon that’s why he could play so loud and aw, he was good!”

It was also Noah who introduced Gus to the 13-year-old guitarist Ashley Thompson, who recalled, “Gus was real famous ‘round here . . . oh, he could clown. . . Him and Noah used to run together all the time.  I didn’t care as much about drinking and chasing women as they did . . . just looking for trouble.”

Going by the name Banjo Joe, Cannon hit the medicine show circuit in 1914, which he continued into the 40s.  He was found at one of these shows by Paramount in 1927 and they recorded him solo on six sides as well as on duets with Blind Blake.  One tune with Blake was Poor Boy, Long Way From Home, which Gus had learned from Alec Lee and showed off likely the earliest recording of the slide (or bottleneck) banjo technique.

  “Dr. Streaks . . . that’s the last medicine show I was on . . . Aw, we went all over Alabama and Mississippi: Birmingham, Mobile, Bay St. Louis . . . I been to St. Louis, Missouri too . . . yeh, , I been to all of ‘em.  Well, I left that show down in Gulfport, Mississippi and went back to Memphis, married Olysa and settled down.”  That was 1929 and Gus was 47 years old.  He had wed once before around Christmas 1910 but his minstrel life was not conducive to settling down.

More often than not during the twenties, Memphis became Gus' home base amid his minstrel touring.  It was an untamed town in those times, rife with bootleg liquor, gambling, hookers and drugs, but such party towns also create an atmosphere full of opportunities for musicians. Towards the end of the decade, Gus lived with Hosea Woods, a songster considerably his elder, whom he had met on the medicine show circuit.

The first organized jug bands developed in Louisville, Kentucky, around 1905, and five years on there were several more.  Jug band music was a Bluesy throwback to the minstrel days and in addition to the clay jugs usually consisted of banjo, guitar, fiddle and mandolin along with the occasional rub board, harmonica or kazoo.  They played a combination of Country, Blues, Ragtime, Gospel, Jazz, novelty numbers…  Even the sophisticated horn bands in Louisville added the jug to their arsenal, but the rage didn’t spread further until the early twenties recorded releases of some of the area’s bands, most notably Earl McDonald’s Dixieland Jug Blowers.  Will Shade, a guitarist who also played harmonica and washtub bass, took up the trend and put together the Memphis Jug Band along with Furry Lewis, although in a much Bluesier style than McDonald.  The lineup was a fluid setup with so many members that it was not unusual for two separate ensembles at different locations playing at the same time.  In addition to playing anywhere from Handy’s Park to the back of a moving pickup truck advertising whatever, Shade’s group entertained at the highest social events, including regularly for Mayor Crump, which had its benefits. 

Dewey Corley, a band member, recalled a court date, “We’d have whisky in one of our coal-oil cans . . . y’know, a jug . . . and we’d put some coal-oil around the top, so no one could smell that hooch.  Once we was playing down on Main & Beale, a policeman walks up to us, says, ‘Whatcha got in that jug, boys?’  We say “coal-oil” – he say, “You sure don’t look like you been drinking no coal-oil,’ and he carried us all to jail.  When we was called to court we brought our instruments with us.  Judge say, ‘You the jug band?’  We say, ‘Yassuh!’  ‘Well, I heard about you.  Play a song and go home and don’t come back.’”

The Memphis Jug Band had recording success and it was not lost on Gus who, way back in the mid-1900s had played in a similar format.  “. . . we had ourselves a three-piece outfit: banjo / jug / fiddle. Jim Guffan had a coal-oil can, sounded like a bass fiddle.”  So in January 1928, Victor returned to Memphis hoping to find another jug band and were led to Cannon, whether through his earlier sessions as Banjo Joe or perhaps on a referral from Shade, but they wanted him to get ready quickly.  The medicine show season was over so Gus was pleased with the opportunity.  Ever since leaving the Ashville / Ripley area fifteen years prior, Cannon had often returned to play with Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson while visiting friends and it was this pair he contacted for the session.  “We rehearsed that night and the next day we recorded at the auditorium.”  Gus and Ashley each took two of the four vocals.  The records sold well enough to bring about a second session on September 5th, this time with Elijah Avery on banjo and guitar in place of Thompson.   

It was barely two weeks later, September 20th, that the trio was once again recording, this time with kazoo player Hosea Woods added to the mix.  Cannon and Woods also did a duet session as the Beale Street Boys for Brunswick, then were back again for Victor on October 1st, 1929 along with Lewis for the final Jug Stompers’ session

Lewis recorded four sides on his own in 1929-30 and four more in November 1930 as the Noah Lewis Jug Band, which included Sleepy John Estes on guitar and Yank Rachel on mandolin.  It was this jug band's remaking of a tune from the original Stompers’ session, New Minglewood Blues, that most closely influenced the Grateful Dead's version.  The answer to where exactly “Minglewood” was is a bit uncertain. I have read that it was a lumber camp or saw mill near the Mississippi River where musicians gathered on weekends to have a good time, and judging from the lyrics of the song (“If you’re ever in Memphis, better stop by Minglewood”), it was a place in the city or close to it.  Both this and the Stompers’ Viola Lee Blues appeared on the Grateful Dead’s 1966 debut album.  I liked that album and Jerry Garcia said he wished they had never made it, so you should be able to safely deduce my opinion of the Dead from that.

Gus put in some sessions for Folkways in 1956 and made appearances in the 60s with Furry Lewis and Bukka White, but was forced to pawn his banjo to pay for the winter’s heating bill just before the Rooftop Singers made a hit version of Walk Right In in 1963.  That led to an album for Stax Records with Will Shade, his former jug band rival.  Cannon played banjo, Shade played jug and Milton Roby was on the washboard.  Gus performed into the 70s and died in 1979 at the age of 96.

If you can find a copy of King Vidor’s 1929 movie production Hallelujah!, you might spot Gus in the late night wedding scene.
After listening to the first two artists for today, it was clear to me what was missing in the presentation.  Also, after last show I was speaking to a fellow DJ who mentioned she enjoyed the guitar-centric bent my shows so often take, and there is no compliment as relevant as one from a peer.  So, no doubt about it: what this show needed was a jolt of Chicago Blues guitar a bit more recent than today’s other artists.  I didn’t want to go to an old favorite because I’ve played a lot of them recently, just your typical Blues guitar player like you might be able to find every night in the clubs since the mid-60s.

Early on in my time at KKUP we had one or both of these discs in the library.  At that time I was transitioning from vinyl to CDs and actually thought I could buy anything that fit my fancy, and these definitely did that.  Anyway, I hadn’t pulled these out for a listen in decades so who better to represent your normal Bluesman?

Babbling on a little more before I get to the meat of this essay, I was interviewing the great Bay Area sax player Terry Hanck years back and, in the midst of our discussion, he looked at me almost dumbfounded when I didn’t seem aware of who “Sax” Gordon (last name Beadle) was, so ever since I have taken note when I come across his name.  His presence makes both these sessions extremely better.  There.  A couple of things I just wanted to say before I sat down to seriously write.

First of all, there are two Luther Johnsons from the same era (actually, even a third) and, more confusing, both spent some time in the Muddy Waters band.  I profiled Luther “Snake” Johnson a while back, but today you are presented Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson.  Born in 1939, Luther’s family moved to Chicago in 1955from Itta Bena, Mississippi, where at one point he led the church choir.  His earliest influences were Gospel and Blues, but once he got to the windy city it was all Blues.

Luther’s first gig was with drummer Ray Scott’s band, then joined Tall Milton Shelton’s group before taking over the combo in 1962 when the leader retired to take up preaching.  Luther was clearly a disciple of Magic Sam’s West Side guitar style and he played in Sam’s band a couple of years in the mid-60s.  He also applied the name Magic Rockers to his band in Boston, which we hear from today.  “I really dug the way Sam played.  He liked the way I played too.  I had to play Sam Cooke’s song, Somebody Have Mercy, every night for him two or three times.” 

Other West Siders Luther played with included Otis Rush, Bobby Rush, Willy Kent and Jimmy Dawkins before he cut his first 45 for Big Beat in 1972.  His time with Muddy spanned from 1972 to 1980, including utilizing the Waters band as backing for his 1977 album Luther’s Blues, recorded for the French Evidence label while during a European tour.  When Alligator Records put together a four album set of Living Chicago Blues in 1980, Johnson was one of the eighteen artists chosen to represent the city’s music.

By 1980, Luther had moved to the east coast and put together his Magic Rockers as well as recording on three albums with the Nighthawks.  His band was backed up by the Roomful of Blues horn section for his 1984 release on Rooster Records, Doin’ the Sugar Too.  He can also be seen backing John Lee Hooker in the original Blues Brothers movie.  His version of Walkin’ the Dog from the 1982 Montreux Festival was included in the Grammy Award (Best Traditional Blues) winning album Blues Explosion.

All of which pretty much brings us up to today’s show.  In 1990, Luther signed on with Bullseye Blues and released I Want to Groove with You, followed up two years later by It’s Good to Me.  It was such an unsuspected treat to hear these albums again and, considering that this was intended to fill a void in the show, I cannot imagine why I let them lay fallow for so long.  I am going to look into getting his further releases, the 1996 Bullseye third album Country Sugar Papa and his first for Telarc, 1996’s Slammin’ on the West Side.  My All Music Guide rates all four of these as four star releases, so if the other two live up to these standards …

My Guide is an old version so it didn’t list his next two Telarc releases, Got to Find a Way from 1998 and 2001’s Talkin’ about Soul, but I can’t imagine his talent depleting.  Luther is still alive and now residing in Florida, although I don’t know how active at age 78 or so.

One last quick note: besides Johnson’s guitar work and Beadle’s growling sax, Joe Krown plays piano and organ on both albums; the rhythm section on the first has the drumming shared by Glenn Rogers and Spider Webb while Buster Paterson supplies the bass, and for our closing set Tuffy Kimble is behind the drum kit and Buster Wylie furnishes the bottom.  Richard Rosenblatt adds harmonica to one number, I’m Leaving You.  The Magic Rockers.                 enjoy
Since it is still relatively new, I thought I’d mention that KKUP is now streaming on the internet and, while it is still in a developing stage, we have been putting out the word.  I’m not all of that good with high-tech stuff, but it seems pretty easy to access.  If you go to our website at you will see on the home page a strip of options immediately above the pictures of the musicians the next to the last option being LISTEN ONLINE.  By clicking this, it brings up a choice of desktop or mobile.  I can only speak for the desktop but after maybe a minute I was receiving a crystal clear feed.  As already mentioned, this is still a work in progress and we are currently limited to a finite number of listeners at any one time.  I mention this so you will be aware to turn off the application when you are not actually listening.  (I put the player in my favorites bar for the easiest of access.)  Now we can reach our listeners in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, even my family in Canada.  Let your friends elsewhere know they can now listen to your favorite station, and while they have the home page open they can check out our schedule.
Milton’s Boogie
R.M. Blues
Rhythm Cocktail
Groovy Blues
Camille’s Boogie
What’s the Use
Little Boy Blue
Pack Your Sack, Jack
Big Fat Mama
Train Blues
Old Man River
Roy Rides (aka Nip Time)
   Roy Milton and his Solid Senders   32mins

Minglewood Blues
Madison Street Rag
Big Railroad Blues
Feather Bed
Noah’s Blues
Hollywood Rag
Heartbroken Blues
Cairo Rag
Bugle Call Rag
Viola Lee Blues
   Cannon’s Jug Stompers   31mins

Red Beans
Can’t Get Along with You
I’m from Mississippi
Luther’s Boogie
Graveyard Dogs
I’m Leavin’ Chicago
Who’s That Come Walkin’
   Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson   28mins

That’s the One for Me
I Have News for You
T-Town Twist
Money Blues
Schubert’s Serenade Boogie
You Lied to Me Baby
Old Baldy Boogie
Night and Day (I Miss You So)
Song of India Boogie
   Roy Milton and his Solid Senders   28mins

Walk Right In
Bring It with You When You Come
Prison Wall Blues
Wolf River Blues
Mule Get Up in the Alley
My Money Never Runs Out
   Cannon’s Jug Stompers   19mins

Come Back to Me
That’s All I Need
Deep Down in Florida
I’m Leaving You
If You Love Me Like You Say
I Wonder
It’s Good to Me
Next Door Neighbor
   Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson   27mins

August 29, 2017

Key to the Highway      
2017-08-30    2-5PM                       

Jimmy Witherspoon   
Freddie King   
ZZ Top   
Johnny Winter                                                                                                              
It is another fifth Wednesday but, unfortunately, my alternating host Gil de Leon has commitments with his mother so might only join me towards the end of the show if at all.  Having lost my mother three years ago, I say go for it, Gil, get as much time in as you can. 
Anyway, as I was listening to the sports on TV Sunday, they did a segment on what I recall was the 49ers third draft pick, a cornerback named Witherspoon, and they brought out the fact that he was the grandson of the great Jazzy Blues vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon.  ‘Spoon is one of those guys in my collection who is so often gets overlooked, probably because a lot of his stuff was just too slow for my taste, but catch him in a concert setting and he shows what he can really do. 
The two sets today were recorded on three separate dates in 1959 but appear on the CD The ‘Spoon Concerts, the first from December 2nd and 9th was released originally as the LP Witherspoon, Mulligan, Webster at the Renaissance (obviously with Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax and Ben Webster on tenor, along with drummer Mel Lewis, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and pianist Jimmy Rowles), while the second set, recorded October 2nd, was originally put out as Jimmy Witherspoon at Monterey and had even better known Jazz backing with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, Webster again on tenor along with Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman on clarinet and pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines playing piano.  Lewis is once again behind the drum kit and the bass chores are handled by Vernon Alley.
Freddie King is absolutely one of my favorite Bluesmen but I’ve been hesitant to play him lately because I would be intimidated having to write an essay to match my esteem for him (the same can be said for Magic Sam and Luther Allison), but fifth Wednesdays kinda release me from that self-imposed obligation.  After choosing ‘Spoon’s live stuff, I picked a couple of live albums to use for Freddie and decided that would be the route I would take for the whole show.  His first set comes from the CD Live in Nancy, 1975 Vol. 1 and includes his longtime bass player (and cousin, I believe) Benny Turner.
I really believe that I have Freddie King misfiled in my system.  I put my discs and their liner notes into binders and I have him right in the front of my Texas Blues book even though he is more stylistically a Chicago Bluesman, but I like him front and center rather than buried in one of my two Chicago books.  So while I had the Texas book open I decided ZZ Top’s first album, Fandango, would be a rockin’ complement to what was already played.  ZZ Top consists of drummer Frank Beard and two vocalists, bassist Dusty Hill and lead guitarist / harmonica player Billy Gibbons.
But Johnny Winter was too similar to ZZ so I fit the second ‘Spoon set between the two Texas guitar-centric groups.  For 1976’s Captured Live, Winter is supported by drummer Richard Hughes, bassist Randy Jo Hobbs and second guitarist Floyd Radford.  We conclude today with the date uncertain Freddie King’s Live at the Texas Opry House.  As usual, it was difficult cutting out the last ten or fifteen minutes of good music in order to fit on 2CDs; in fact, I had to cut a large song which left enough room for a live Johnny Winter version of Johnny B. Goode at the end if there is time.        enjoy
Since this is a train of thought styled posting -- no research or biographical stuff – I wish to mention my longest friend has been on my mind the last couple of weeks.  So, to my high school buddy Steve in the Texas, stay safe old friend.
Since it is still relatively new, I thought I’d mention that KKUP is now streaming on the internet and, while it is still in a developing stage, we have been putting out the word.  I’m not all of that good with high-tech stuff, but it seems pretty easy to access.  If you go to our website at you will see on the home page a strip of options immediately above the pictures of the musicians the next to the last option being LISTEN ONLINE.  By clicking this, it brings up a choice of desktop or mobile.  I can only speak for the desktop but after maybe a minute I was receiving a crystal clear feed.  As already mentioned, this is still a work in progress and we are currently limited to a finite number of listeners at any one time.  I mention this so you will be aware to turn off the application when you are not actually listening.  (I put the player in my favorites bar for the easiest of access.)  Now we can reach our listeners in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, even my family in Canada.  Let your friends elsewhere know they can now listen to your favorite station, and while they have the home page open they can check out our schedule.
Time’s Getting’ Tougher than Tough
How Long Blues
Corrna, Corina
Roll ‘em Pete
Every Day
Goin’ to Kansas City
Trouble in Mind
St. Louis Blues
   Jimmy Witherspoon   28mins

Messin’ with the Kid
Stormy Monday Blues
Sen-sa-shun / Lookin’ Good / Boogie Chillun
Goin’ Down
   Freddie King   27mins

Jailhouse Rock
Backdoor Medley: Backdoor Love Affair, Mellow
    Down Easy, Backdoor Love Affair No. 2, Long
    Distance Boogie
Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings
Mexican Blackbird
I Heard it on the X
   ZZ Top   29mins

Good Rockin’ Tonight
Ain’t Nobody’s Business
Big Fine Girl
When I Been Drinkin’
   Jimmy Witherspoon   19mins

Bony Maronie
Roll with Me
Rock and Roll People
It’s All Over Now
Highway 61 Revisited
   Johnny Winter   33mins

Ain’t Gonna Worry Anymore
Guitar Blues
Sweet Home Chicago
   Freddie King   17mins

Johnny B. Goode
   Johnny Winter   3mins

August 23, 2017

Key to the Highway 

Hound Dog Taylor    
Earl Hooker    
Sunnyland Slim                                                                                                       
I felt a bit under pressure while preparing this show because, in my always so humble opinion, the Chuck Berry show last time was as good as I expected it to be, meaning possibly the best I have done in almost thirty years.  In order to avoid that type of letdown, I decided to go with the most distinctive sounding Blues guitarist in my library, Hound Dog Taylor.  I am pairing him up today with another slide guitarist, Earl Hooker, (although I find their sounds to be totally different) mostly because I had a bio all ready for use, or so I thought.  Turned out I had increased the number of sources I use since writing it.  I could have filled the three hours with just their music but felt a change of pace was required, so the piano of Sunnyland Slim (born Albert Luandrew) serves that purpose well, particularly by slowing down the tempo considerably.  I’m sure you will enjoy this show, but what do I do next time?
I first came across Hound Dog Taylor when I went on a record buying spree to Mill Valley with a couple of friends from San Jose’s row of hippie shops on San Fernando Street near the University around 1972.  With me were a clerk from Underground Records and the man I will always consider my mentor, Bob Sidebottom, who ran the Comic Collector shop but was also a bigtime Jazz and Blues fan, so much so that he named his daughter Parker after the legendary alto sax player Charlie Parker.  Anyway, working my way through the record bins I come across just about the homeliest guy I’d seen with a big grin on his face and a guitar in his hands.  I’d never heard of the guy or the record label but Bob was familiar with him and his opinion was good enough for me.  It was one of my best decisions yet.  His sound still reminds me of someone playing through torn speakers.

Theodore Roosevelt Taylor’s date of birth is in question, either 1915 or 1917, in Natchez, Mississippi.  His first instrument was piano but at age twenty he took up the guitar.  He moved to Chicago in 1942 but didn’t become a full time musician until fifteen years later, playing the usual house parties, club gigs and in the Maxwell Street Market, long a haven for aspiring musicians in the Chicago area.

Taylor had made a few appearances on Sonny Boy Williamson II’s King Biscuit Time before his move to Chicago, and he did do a few recordings beginning in 1960 for Bea and Baby (including a version of Take Five which he redid for his second album) and the Marjette label as well as a couple of singles for Carl Jones’ labels in 1962 (one backing Homesick James), but it was his live performances in the Chicago area that earned him significant respect, ultimately leading to his being chosen to participate in the 1967 American Folk Blues Festival European tour, performing with Little Walter and Koko Taylor.  Perhaps his best chance for success was in 1969 when he laid down five tracks for the Checker label, but none were released.

In 1970, Bruce Iglauer heard Taylor and the Houserockers, a three piece group which also included drummer Ted Harvey and second guitarist Brewer Phillips behind Taylor’s Elmore James-tinged slide guitar, at Florence’s Lounge, and recommended them to his employer at Delmark Records but, when nothing came from his suggestion, shipping clerk Iglauer took a $2,500 inheritance and put out the first Alligator Records release simply titled Hound Dog Taylor and the House Rockers.  Iglauer took on the full business side and got Taylor a nationwide tour with Muddy Waters, Freddie King and Big Mama Thornton, with the LP Live at Joe’s Place being recorded in Boston in 1972, followed up by two more albums from the same venue.  I have never seen them but have read that the sound quality is extremely lacking.

Late in 1973, the band was back in the studio and their second album, Natural Boogie, was also a success.  Once again, the band went on the road, then recorded the live album Beware of Dog in 1974, but neither it nor a collection of outtakes from the first two studio albums were released before Taylor’s death from lung cancer in 1975.  The compilation album was titled Genuine Houserocking Music, which became sort of a mantra for the Alligator label.

In Taylor’s last year, his ensemble played Australia and New Zealand along with Freddie King and the duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.  He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984.  Alligator put out Hound Dog Taylor: A Tribute, fourteen tracks with different artists (Luther Allison, Elvin Bishop, and All Music’s biographical contributor Cub Koda among others) in 1997, then a deluxe edition in 1999 and Release the Hound in 2004.  Houserockers Phillips and Harvey went on to back another of Chicago’s slide guitar masters, J.B. Hutto, on at least one album.
It is likely inevitable that Earl Zebedee Hooker (January 15th 1930 - April 21st 1970) would be caught up by the lure of the Blues, what with his father playing harmonica and guitar, his mother having sung with the renowned traveling troupe, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, John Lee Hooker being a first cousin, and moving to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta at the age of one.  Earl took up the guitar seriously after hanging around Robert Nighthawk's music store about 1945, and left Chicago around 1946, traveling to Helena, Arkansas, where he performed with his mentor or Sonny Boy Williamson II, including sometimes on Sonny Boy’s King Biscuit Time on Helena’s KFFA radio.  He spent a couple of years with Nighthawk touring the South.  By the end of the decade he wound up playing in Ike Turner's band, attempting to establish himself on the Memphis music scene in 1949, then taking to the road again, this time fronting his own group.

After his earliest recordings from a Florida nightclub (Race Track Blues and Blue Guitar Blues) were released on King in 1952, as well as backing vocalist / harmonica player Little Sam Davis for Rockin’ in 1953, Earl went into Sam Phillips’ Sun studio on July 15th 1953 and laid down about a dozen tracks but none of the recordings were released at the time.  Hooker then hit a dry spell as far as recording was concerned, ending with a single on Argo in 1956, four tracks on C.J. in 1959 and a session in 1960 for Bea and Baby.  Earl had an aversion to taking the microphone, quite likely due to his stuttering, so many of the releases were credited to the vocalists rather than Hooker.

Earl hit his stride when he teamed up with Mel London and his Chief and Age labels between 1960 and 1963, not only recording under his own name but also backing many of the labels’ other artists.  On August 8th 1960, Earl and Junior Wells recorded Galloping Horses a Lazy Mule along with Junior’s classic Messin’ with the Kid.  A couple of months later, October 17th, the pair were back to lay down an instrumental, Universal Rock.  Earl and Junior were longtime friends, not only playing on the streets but sometimes playing on the streetcars all across town to evade the truant officers.  Indeed, it was Junior who brought Earl to the label and their first session in 1960 created Junior’s Little by Little, reaching #23 on Billboard’s R&B Hot Sides the next year.  Riding on the success of Wells’ Messin’ with the Kid, May 3rd 1961 saw Earl cut his instrumental version, Rockin’ with the Kid.  Also included today are a couple of tracks done in 1962, These Cotton Pickin’ Blues and How Long Can This Go On.

Another track Hooker recorded on that May 3rd session was Blue Guitar, and Chess Records got London’s approval to use the instrumental as Muddy Waters’ backing track for You Shook Me, with lyrics by Willie Dixon.  The song’s success led to more backing track purchases and Muddy released You Need Love and Little Brown Bird, the instrumentals taped in July 1962.  In 1965, Earl found his way onto the BBC show Ready Steady Go with the Beatles.  The late 60s saw him popular on the college and festival circuits.

Always able to earn his living through his music, Earl made himself into an extremely versatile guitarist with forays into Country & Western and Jazz.  Hooker suffered from an early age serious attacks of tuberculosis, and his constant touring and recording didn’t mitigate the problem.  After losing a year in the hospital to treat a particularly severe attack, at which time he took up using the wah wah peddle, 1968 began the most productive studio work of Earl's career.  Based on a recommendation from Buddy Guy, Arhoolie Records' owner Chris Strachwitz went to Chicago to check him out, where they wound up recording the album Two Bugs and a Roach.  The following year, Earl came out to California to make a second album, Hooker and Steve, for Arhoolie.

There were also some live club recordings that were caught in the late sixties.  Earl made his farthest tour from home in November of 1969 when he went on the annual American Folk Blues Festival concert series.  Back in Los Angeles, he teamed up with producer / pianist Ike Turner on a fine instrumental album, Sweet Black Angel, for Blue Thumb, but a few months later, he succumbed to complications from his tuberculosis in Chicago at the age of 41.  

When he was voted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013, it was noted that "Earl Hooker was the 'blues guitarists' guitarist,' the most respected six-string wizard in Chicago blues musicians' circles during the 1950s and '60s."  Perhaps the best way to summarize would be with B.B. King’s statement that, "to me he is the best of modern guitarists. Period. With the slide he was the best. It was nobody else like him, he was just one of a kind".

My favorite reminiscence of one of my on-air gaffes is when I misspoke and said that John Lee and Earl were not related.  I knew better, but sometimes your brain doesn't click on all cylinders.  Very quickly, I received a call from Michael Osborn, at that time John Lee's lead guitarist, to politely tell me something to the effect of, "John just wanted you to know Earl was his cousin."
Since it is still relatively new, I thought I’d mention that KKUP is now streaming on the internet and, while it is still in a developing stage, we have been putting out the word.  I’m not all of that good with high-tech stuff, but it seems pretty easy to access.  If you go to our website at you will see on the home page a strip of options immediately above the pictures of the musicians the next to the last option being LISTEN ONLINE.  By clicking this, it brings up a choice of desktop or mobile.  I can only speak for the desktop but after maybe a minute I was receiving a crystal clear feed.  As already mentioned, this is still a work in progress and we are currently limited to a finite number of listeners at any one time.  I mention this so you will be aware to turn off the application when you are not actually listening.  (I put the player in my favorites bar for the easiest of access.)  Now we can reach our listeners in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, even my family in Canada.  Let your friends elsewhere know they can now listen to your favorite station, and while they have the home page open they can check out our schedule.
She’s Gone
Walking the Ceiling
I Held My Baby Last Night
Taylor’s Rock
It’s Alright
Wild about You Baby
It Hurts Me Too
44 Blues
55th Street Boogie
   Hound Dog Taylor   38mins

I’m Going Down the Line
Guitar Rag
Galloping Horses a Lazy Mule
Universal Rock
These Cotton Pickin’ Blues
Rockin’ with the Kid
How Long Can This Go On?
   Earl Hooker
You Shook Me
You Need Love
Little Brown Bird
   Muddy Waters

Boogie Man
Woman I Ain’t Gonna Drink No More Whiskey
Nervous Breakdown
Get Hip to Yourself
I Had it So Hard
Hard Time (When Mother’s Gone)
Gonna Be My Baby
   Sunnyland Slim

Take Five
Hawaiian Boogie
See Me in the Morning
Sitting at Home Alone
Roll Your Moneymaker
Goodnight Boogie
   Hound Dog Taylor

Two Bugs and a Roach
Wah Wah Blues
Off the Hook
Anna Lee
Earl Hooker Blues
You Don’t Want Me
The Hook
   Earl Hooker

Give Me Back My Wig
The Sun is Shining
Dust My Broom
Rock Me
   Hound Dog Taylor

August 9, 2017

Key to the Highway   

Chuck Berry special                                                      


NOTE:  Despite its length, this document is not quite complete but there is a lot of good material here, although in places it may be a bit disjointed. Of special note is the fact that the playlist has changed a bit.

In the next segment I put forth to you a pretty darned good biography of  the man, if I must say so myself, but when Chuck Berry passed away earlier this year I had already long-known exactly how I wanted to present a special show in his honor and that then was not the time.  Mostly, everywhere else there would be people extolling his virtues and, mostly, because I wanted to take the time to do it up right.  How can I have two mostlies?  Isn't that kind of a mathematical impossibility?  Shouldn't I have said co-equally?  Well, I'm the one writing this and in all of my arrogance I am just saying it is so.  Get over it.

So it is almost time for KKUP's Oldies marathon, and back when Chuck had passed I asked Jim Thomas (who has so excellently put together the artwork for our Blues marathons, and others, since our third one in 1994) if we could put him on our tee shirts for the Blues marathon in June and he told me he would be putting him on the Oldies shirt, and that is 100% appropriate and what I was expecting to hear.  But Chuck is still a Blues player in my mind and his backup musicians even more so: Willie Dixon, Johnnie Johnson, Freddie Below, Lafayette Leake, Otis Spann and Henry Gray immediately come to mind.  I cannot count the times I have expressed that I give the Blues a pretty broad berth; after all, Chuck Berry didn't say Roll over Beethoven, dig this Rock and Roll - it was rhythm and BLUES!

I am an album guy.  I have bought maybe a dozen 45s in my lifetime, but when the Beatles came out and my mother knew I was into them (who wasn't?) she picked up their first American LP for me.  Very quickly. a couple more albums appeared and I promptly went out on my first record binge and bought both of them and a Chuck Berry album titled Twist, a 1962 release that was the sixth disc put out as a compilation of his singles, and many of the fourteen tracks included remain as some of my favorite songs of all time.

It's not like the Beatles (or the Stones, for that matter) turned me on to Chuck Berry, but the fact that they showed him such deference certainly didn't make me appreciate him any the less.  So, for many years now I felt the way to really show the impact the man has had on the music of his time would be to intersperse his appreciators' versions with the originals, and that is what this show is all about. 

about the sets

To my mind, the only way to start off a show dedicated to Chuck Berry would be with the song that seems to almost be about him, Johnny B. Goode.  I recall sometime ago the question was posed, what was the most important or influential song.  For my generation I thought then and still think now it would have to be this song that seemingly was included in the repertoires of almost all the garage bands of the 60s.  The rest of our opening set is built around some of his best known numbers like School Days, Sweet Little Sixteen (reincarnated by the Beach Boys as Surfin' USA), and personal favorites such as the rarely recorded Let it Rock and Back in the USA, then coming full circle with Bye Bye Johnny.

The next set is by two groups of the early Brit Beat Rockers to present Chuck to a whole new generation of listeners.  The Beatles only presented two studio productions of Berry material and we have both of them here, Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music, but the evidence of his influence is found by the number of tracks on their two double disc CD sets of their BBC airings, an influence that lasted right up to what I believe was their last single release.  The opening line of Come Together, Here comes old flattop, he's movin' up quickly, is taken verbatim from Chuck's You Can't Catch Me, and its flipside Get Back's opening character Jo Jo is a tip of the cap to Jo Jo Gunne.  It seems as though the early Stones wouldn't release an album without a Chuck song on it.  Even before that they chose Come On for their first single and we chose it here, followed by Carol and the live Little Queenie before we close with Around and Around.

Getting back to Chuck, we take a look at his Bluesier side including Wee Wee Hours and Confessin' the Blues (both mentioned in our next segment), then another number done by the Stones (and even better by Manfred Mann) although not written by Chuck, Down the Road a Piece, the classic Worried Life Blues, an up-tempo instrumental One O'clock Jump, a new favorite I hadn't heard before, Go Go Go, where Chuck speaks of things like "now they tell me Stan Kenton's cutting Maybellene", another rockin' instrumental Guitar Boogie followed by Our Little Rendezvous, which is amazingly reminiscent of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, then Blues for Hawaiians and a tune later done by the Animals, How You've Changed, winding up with what might be my favorite number with the great bass work of Willie Dixon, Rockin' at the Philharmonic.  Not a Bluesman?  Then how is this our longest set today?


Promised Land No Money Down You Can't Catch Me Reelin' and Rockin' Maybellene Nadine Oh Baby Doll Don't Lie to Me Beautiful Delilah


This write-up is the product of some of my favorite sources.  Wikipedia is always a good place to start a chronological foundation and, despite my early fears of its inaccuracies, has proven to be pretty much reliable, but oftentimes there are discrepancies between sources and I usually try to point out the significant ones (you're welcome).  Following that up today is the online All Music Guides, whose paperback Blues edition has long been my highest regarded volume, but Chuck does not appear in its pages so their online edition is the way to go, not to mention the updates that have occurred since I purchased my copy more than twenty years ago.  And Rolling Stone also had an extensive article is well, but probably most of the embellishments came from a biography I purchased, author Krista Reese's Mr. Rock and Roll.

I will readily admit that I will steal a quote made by the subject of my stories anytime I find one appropriate, but I think this is the first time I have stolen from one of the biographers.  I mentioned I am a big fan of All Music, and one of their best Blues biographers is Cub Koda, who opined in his report on Chuck Berry as follows: "Quite simply, without him there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor myriad others. There would be no standard 'Chuck Berry guitar intro', the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have been mainstreamed into the now standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. There would be no obsessive wordplay by modern-day tunesmiths; in fact, the whole history (and artistic level) of rock & roll songwriting would have been much poorer without him . . .  Elvis may have fueled rock & roll's imagery, but Chuck Berry was its heartbeat and original mindset."

And with that said, let's move right on to my version of the Chuck Berry life story.


According to the book Mr. Rock and Roll, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born October 18, 1926 right here in San Jose so I am going with that, although all the others list St. Louis, Missouri, where he moved shortly afterward, the fourth of six children (MR. R'n'R says two brothers and two sisters) in a family headed by his father Henry William Berry and mother Martha Bell (Banks) growing up in the middle class black neighborhood Wentzville (referred to as the Ville).  Henry was a carpenter and a deacon at a nearby Baptist church and his mother was a certified public school principal. 

Chuck's parents gave his music a chance to blossom, beginning at the Antioch Baptist Church where his parents sang, as well as his sisters Lucy Ann and Thelma while they also began learning piano.  Chuck joined the choir when he was just six: "The first music I can remember enjoying was way back in church.  I was four years old and I was amazed by this particular song.  It had this part that went . . . 'and we will walk, walk, walk.'  Each time they'd sing 'walk' the deacons would pat on the wooden floor.  It jarred the whole church and got into me - that vibration from the floor."  Also, "The feeling to harmonize began to be a desire of mine; to get away from the normal melody and add my own melody and harmony was imperial, and I guess that grew into the appreciation for music".

As a teenager, Chuck spent $4 on a used Spanish guitar, transitioning from a four string tenor guitar to the normal six string model.  He was also teaching himself piano and saxophone but was assisted in his guitar education by a local barber and later his high school music teacher, Julia Davis.  Chuck's first public appearance was in 1941, his junior year, when he won a talent contest at Sumner High School with his guitar and vocal rendition of Big Jay McShann's Confessin' the Blues. 

Among his other early influences were the master Jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, who was exposed during his 1939-1941 stint with Benny Goodman before he died so young at the age of 22, and vocally Nat "King" Cole and Louis Jordan.  "If I had to choose an artist to listen to through eternity it would be Nat Cole.  And if I had to work through eternity, it would be with Louis Jordan."  He would describe his own singing as, "Nat and (Billy) Eckstine with a little bit of Muddy".  No less of an influence was T-Bone Walker for stage showmanship and his impressive early electric Blues/Jazz guitar style.

Chuck was still a student at Sumner in 1944 when he was convicted of the armed robbery of three Kansas City, Missouri businesses and stealing a car at gunpoint.  Berry's autobiography admitted that he had waved down the car but the gun he used was not functional.  During his term at the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men, he took up boxing and formed a vocal quartet that was good enough to be allowed to perform outside of the prison confines.  He was released in 1947 on his 21st birthday.

Berry would marry Themetta "Toddie" Suggs on October 28th 1948 and their first of two daughters Darlin Ingrid Berry was born almost two years later on October 3rd.  Chuck tried a lot of things in St. Louis to put bread on the table, including working at the General Motors Fisher Body auto assembly plant, as a janitor at the apartment house where the family lived, then went through night school at the Poro College of Cosmotology, all of it ultimately leading to his being able to buy a "small three room brick cottage with a bath" which can be found on the National Register of Historic Places as the Chuck Berry House.  And it took him three months to pay for his first car, a 1933 Ford.

But it wasn't long before he was adding to his day job income by joining local combos in the city's club scene and sitting in as often as he could.  He began incorporating the Blues guitar playing techniques and stage presence of T-Bone Walker into his performances.  Early in 1953 he established a long relationship with pianist Johnnie Johnson (whom Chuck said was "born thirty years too late", referring to the Boogie Woogie piano craze beginning in the late 20s) as a Blues and Ballad trio (the drummer was Ebby Harding).  Over the next four years they played house parties, church gatherings and, of course, gigged in the East St. Louis clubs like the Moonglow Bar, the Crank, and especially the Cosmopolitan Club essentially as the house band for $14 a night.

Against competition like Little Milton, Albert King, and his main rival Ike Turner, the Johnson Trio became one of the most popular black combos around, but also satisfied the many Country fans in the area.  "Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our Country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of our black audience began whispering 'who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo'.  After they laughed at me a few times they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it.'  And it also began a history of Chuck's crossover with the white fans, much the same as one of his idols, Louis Jordan, had done a decade before.

After befriending Muddy Waters during a May 1955 visit to Chicago, the Blues maestro recommended he get in touch with Leonard Chess of Chess Records.  According to one story Chuck expressed, he went in to the Chess office the next day where it was suggested he come back with some original material, inspiring him to go home and come up with a few tunes.  "It had never occurred to me to write my own songs."  Berry thought his Blues would be a natural fit for the label, but his May 21st 1955 session produced his re-inventioning of Bob Wills' recording of the traditional fiddle tune Ida Red, under the title of Maybellene (accompanied by Johnson, Bo Diddley's maracas man Jerome Green, drummer Jasper Thomas and bassist Willie Dixon) that Chess chose as his first release as the company moved to expand from its Blues base.  Johnson was surprised at the choice.  "We thought Maybellene was a joke, you know.  People always liked it when we did it at the Cosmopolitan Club, but it was Wee Wee Hours that we was proud of.  That was our music." 

Leonard Chess promptly took a demo of the song to Alan Freed at New York's WINS to put on the air.  As Chess told Ramparts magazine, "The dub didn't have Chuck's name on it or nothing.  By the time I got back to Chicago, Freed had called a dozen times saying it was his biggest record ever.  History, the rest, y'know?"  Presumably in exchange for airplay, Freed received one third writer's credit, something Chuck would never allow to happen again.

The song was a success with over a million sales and a number one rating on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart as well as number five on its Best Sellers in Stores listing for the week of September 10th.  It was also the first record to achieve Billboard's "Triple Crown" by appearing on the Pop, Country and R&B charts.  As Chuck saw it, "It came out at the right time when Afro-American music was spilling over into the mainstream pop." 

Once signed on with Chess, the trio became known as the Chuck Berry Combo as they hit the road to promote the records.  In the process, he went from $14 a night to commanding a fee a hundred times that.  At one point, beginning on August 9th at Gleason's in Chicago, the band played 101 gigs in 101 nights.

Carl Perkins was a part of the "Top Acts of '56" tour (there is also mentioned a Stars of '56 mentioned, presumably the same tour) with Chuck, who was riding on the success of Roll Over Beethoven's cresting at number 29 on Billboard's Top 100, and the hillbilly rock legend said, "I knew when I first heard Chuck that he'd been affected by country music.  I respected his writing.  His records were very, very great."  Perkins went further regarding Chuck's knowledge and enjoyment of Country: "Chuck knew every Blue Yodel and most of Bill Monroe's songs as well.  He told me about how he was raised very poor, very tough. He had a hard life. He was a good guy. I really liked him."

On one of the Freed tours, Perkins decided to follow the tour bus in his Cadillac and Chuck enjoyed the opportunity to ride with him, even to the point of composing his Brown Eyed Handsome Man in the Caddy's back seat.  Perkins was no stranger to writing songs in strange situations either, having worked out his Blue Suede Shoes on a potato sack in the kitchen early one morning.

The Biggest Show of Stars for '57 included in its 80 day tour Fats Domino, who had headlined the year previous, Bill Haley, Frankie Lymon and his Teenagers, the Drifters, the Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Laverne Baker, Clyde McPhatter, Jimmie Bowen and Buddy Holly and the Crickets.  The rigors of touring prompted Chuck to obtain his own custom interior bus he named Maybellene.

While Elvis was considered a white artist performing in a black style, Berry was somewhat the mirror image, his Rhythm & Blues about so many of the high schoolers' concerns (cars, girls, the after-school day and especially music) would make him the first Black Rock 'n' Roller as he blurred those racial lines.


So, a little bit about some of the songs.  The flip side of 1956's You Can't Catch Me was Havana Moon, one of the earliest Calypso tunes, predating even Harry Belafonte.  From an interview with Patrick Salvo came the revelation that the phrase "little country boy" in Johnny B. Goode started out as "little colored boy".  It is also likely that "Goode" came from the street where Berry grew up.  His least successful (commercially) single was the 1958 pairing of Run Rudolph Run with Merry Christmas Baby, which still was loved by some critics, as one Billboard writer revealed: "It's no secret at all that the Berry Christmas disc fractured the Billboard panel and had them stomping around the record room like few records have done."  1958 also marked the September release of the first of many albums compiling the single tracks already put on the market, After School Session.  Memphis, Tennessee was recorded in his office with his secretary Fran providing the drums while its B-side, Back in the USA, represented Chuck's frustration while touring Australia being unable to order a burger or a hot dog.

Chuck maintained his band in a totally professional manner, right down to the uniforms.  "I had to outfit my trio, the three of us, and I always remember the suits cost me $66, $22 apiece.  We had to buy shoes and everything . . . anyway, when we got to New York, the suits, they were rayon but looked like seersucker by the time we got there. . . so we had one suit, we didn't know we were supposed to change.  so we wanted to do something different, so I actually did that duck walk to hide the wrinkles in the suit - I got an ovation so I did it again, and again, and I'll probably do it again tonight."  And thus, at that Labor Day 1956 show at the Paramount in Brooklyn, a legendary piece of showmanship was first seen.

A different version of its beginnings from Chuck's own lips says he was "stooping with full-bended knees, but with my back and head vertical" in order to get a ball that had rolled under a table and the response his family gave was what led to "performing in New York for the first time and some journalist branded it the duck walk."


Another time, Chuck had a disagreement with Dick Clark, who had all the acts on his American Bandstand lip-synch their performances, but this was not how Chuck did things, saying, "Chuck Berry is not gonna open his mouth and have nothing come out."  Leonard Chess finally convinced Chuck to do it Clark's way and the show went on.

Chuck was on another multi-artist tour in 1957 with Alan Freed's "Biggest Show of Stars for 1957", where among the stars on the bill were The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly.  Berry was in full stride between 1957 and 1959 with more than a dozen charting 45s, most significantly School Days (#1 R&B, #3 Pop), Rock and Roll Music (#6 R&B, #8 Pop, which he also performed on ABC-TV's Guy Mitchell Show), Sweet Little Sixteen (#1 R&B, #2 Pop, his rendition of this number at 1958's Newport Jazz Festival made it onto celluloid in Jazz on a Summer's Day), Johnny B. Goode (#5 R&B, #8 Pop), Carol and Memphis, Tennessee.  

Alan Freed put out films loosely based on his mega-shows and tours, the first being 1956's Rock, Rock, Rock which featured Chuck singing You Can't Catch Me.  Freed was referring to himself as Mister Rock and Roll in 1957 which listed Chuck in the credits but didn't make it past the cutting room floor.  1959's Go, Johnny, Go saw him performing Johnny B. Goode, Memphis, Tennessee and Little Queenie and also included a speaking role as himself.  His 1958 Newport Jazz Festival rendition of Sweet Little Sixteen can be found in the film Jazz on a Summer Day.  The movies gave kids who had only heard Chuck's records or on the radio a chance to see his onstage antics.

Chuck's star could not be ascending any quicker what with the heavy touring, vast record sales, big and small screen entries...  He opened the racially mixed Club Bandstand in 1958 and also invested in real estate in the St. Louis area, even planning to open an amusement park in Wentzville.  In August 1959, it was reported by the New York Times that Chuck was arrested in Meridian, Mississippi for "trying to date a white girl", but after spending some time in jail with no bail he was released saying it was all a mistake, that the girl was just looking for an autograph when her boyfriend got jealous.  Then it all came crashing down when, in December, it was alleged that he had sex with a 14-year-old Apache waitress he had brought across state lines (from Mexico, actually) to work in his club.  It was brought out that, unbeknownst to Chuck, the girl was supplementing her income via prostitution at a hotel across the street from the club.  He was convicted under the Mann Act in a two-week trial and faced $5,000 in fines and five years in prison. 

Alan Freed was getting a lot of flak for putting black and white artists on the same bills as well as some of the topics and language used.  Pamphlets from the KKK warned parents about their children listening to "nigger music" and Congress considered a motion whether Rock 'n' Roll was a Communist plot, to which economist Vance Packard testified in the affirmative.  With this sentiment just looking for a target, Berry had placed himself directly within their gunsights.

Chuck appealed and won on the grounds that the judge's comments and attitudes were racist (he referred to Berry as "this negro"), thus prejudicing the jurors.   After hearings in May and June of 1961, he was convicted again as a second trial against him resulted in a three year penalty.  Berry unsuccessfully mounted another appeal, but his conviction stood and Chuck served the year and a half between February 1962 and October 1963.

The notoriety from the three plus years of trials was not the right publicity to keep his career thriving and, while he continued to gig, record and release right up to his incarceration, it strikes me that Chuck was distracted (duh!) and his quality suffered, although there were a few tunes that came close to his heyday as well as some good Blues.  There were a couple of good signs for the future with the reissue of Buddy Holly's version of Brown Eyed Handsome Man charted #22 and the Berry beat was still popular as proven by the Beach Boys first hit, Surfin' USA, a blatant knockoff of Chuck's Sweet Little Sixteen.  The whole sordid mess took its toll as the Berry family, including four children, fell apart within two years of the end of his jail term.

Chuck got a deserved boost for his career upon his release because the burgeoning "British Invasion" bands had taken his music as a big part of their repertoire, as can be seen in some of our sets today.  Of the eight singles he released in 1964 & 1965, three of them went into the top 20 of the Billboard 100: No Particular Place to Go, You Never Can Tell and Nadine.  Chuck made a success of his first UK tour in May 1964 through January of 1965 and it is somewhere around this time that he gave up his touring and opted to use pick-up bands in each of the many town's he played.  He also got very hard-nosed in his dealings with promoters but in spite of all this his past musical output still kept him a constant draw.

1964 also saw Berry in the T.A.M.I. show, later known as the Teenage Command Performance and finally called Gather No Moss, a documentation of the live performance at Santa Monica's Civic Auditorium featuring a mixed bag of performers, beginning with Jan and Dean introducing the artists beginning with the Rolling Stones, the Barbarians, Chuck, Marvin Gaye, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, Jan and Dean again, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Supremes, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, but I believe the highlight of the show was the man who followed Berry, James Brown and his Famous Flames.

As the Rock 'n' Roll decade was making way for the new peace movement and it's music, Chuck varied his stage act to include more slow Blues as he frequently appeared on the Festival and hippie ballroom circuits.  In 1966, Mercury's $150,000 advance drew Berry away from the Chesses, whom he felt were more than business associates, and Leonard said, "Go, and you'll be back in three years".  The highlight of the five albums Chuck put out for Mercury between 1966 and 1969 was the Live at the Fillmore Auditorium backed by the Steve Miller Band.  A couple of the major concerts were the July 1969 Schaefer Music Festival in New York City's Central Park and October's Toronto Rock and Roll Revival.  But evidence of the decline of Rock 'n' Roll was provided by the fact in July of 1969, New York's Paladium sold only 600 seats of their 6,000 capacity.

Leonard had passed away before Chuck's return to Chess, but his statement was none the less true.  Chuck had a comfort level at Chess that Mercury could not match.  The Chesses understood Berry's ideosynchracies and, even without Leonard around, Phil and Leonard's son Marshal dealt with them easily.  Chuck would ask Mercury for his money but they told him the royalties were paid out semi-annually, and when that did not please Berry they offered to write out a check but that was no good either; Chuck did not like contracts or checks or any semblance of a financial paper trail, ultimately leading to his 1979 conviction of tax evasion, but Chess was much more used to dealing in cash.  When they bought WVON, Chicago's main Soul station, it was with over a million dollars in $10,000 bills.  The Chesses sold out to GRT for an estimated ten million dollars shortly after Chuck's return, but Phil remained with the company until his death in 1974 and Marshal was there until he took on responsibilities with Rolling Stone Records in the early 70s.

There was a concert at Los Angeles' Palladium where the Rolling Stones' Keith Richard jumped onstage to join Berry and Chuck kicked him off.  He told reporter WilliamPatrick Salvo that he didn.t recognize Richard and that the guy (along with pianist Dr. John) was just playing too loud for Chuck to be heard.  "Gee, I love the cat.  I guess it was just a bad night; they must have been high or something."

1972 first #1 in 17 years of recording with My Ding-a-ling.  It had been recorded somewhat differently as My Tambourine on the 1958 album Berry's on Top.  The London Chuck Berry Sessions contained another live number (Reelin' and Rockin' ?)

Berry appeared in another movie in 1973, London Rock & Roll, along with Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard in that order preceding him, seen both performing and backstage.  Reese's book states that the movie "shows some of the best footage ever of Berry; he is relaxed and his movements seem totally without strain".  Unfortunately, a power problem shut down the guitars and mikes in the middle of Johnny B. Goode while he was doing his duck walk, but the problem was resolved and the show came to its natural conclusion.

1975 saw Chuck again touring the UK, playing at Nader's sixth annual event and being named by DJs and critics for the Rock Music Awards to Don Kirschner's Hall of Fame.  Another UK tour was done in 1976.  The movie American Hot Wax came out in 1978 with Berry performing Reelin' and Rockin'.  

Berry was again facing legal proceedings in June 1979 from an indictment for tax evasion based on twelve 1973 concerts, the underestimated amount estimated at $110,000.  Prosecutors claimed Berry had received a suitcase loaded with $45,000 in cash each time, converted them to cashier's checks and then into certificates of deposit to obfuscate his income.  His taxable earnings were claimed to be $589,555 for the year but Berry reported only $374,982.  Assistant US Attorney Kathleen March stated, "What we have here is calculated activities to avoid paying taxes.  This man has $2.6 million of net worth.  The motivation was not need.  It was greed."

Berry ultimately pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 120 days in federal prison, benefit concerts and 1,000 hours of community service.  He was allowed thirty days to set everything up and go on an already scheduled twelve day European tour prior to beginning his time at Lompoc, California on August 18th.  (Chuck preferred the trial be held in California rather than Missouri this time.)  Just before this incarceration, his Atlantic release Rock It had hit the market.

Once again, musical tastes were changes and Disco was becoming the rage but Chuck declined disparaging it.  "Disco is just Rock with an exaggerated beats and lights, effects and a few other things.  Rock has always been dance music.  That's why it has lasted.  People like to be happy."

The last single by the Beatles Come Together used "Here come old Flattop, he was movin' up slowly" as its opening line, taken verbatim fro Chuck's You Can't Catch Me, and it's flip side's Get Back opening line uses Jo Jo as a direct reflection of Jo Jo Gunne.   pg104

Professor Jim Curtis of Chuck's home state University of Missouri in Colombus teaches a popular culture course and has long tried the school to give Chuck an honorary degree. It is not common practice to hand these out to musicians - the only past recognition of a musician was to another Missouri-born artist, Count Basie in 1978 - rather to businessmen who would hopefully follow up with donations.  More than forty nominees are proposed each year and only two or three go through and Reese's book, which was published in 1982, said he had offered Berry's name up for nomination four years before, but if his nomination failed he would continue to bring up the matter.


In December, shortly after his release, Chuck made an appearance at San Francisco's Old Waldorf backed by Mark Naftalin (formerly keyboardist for Paul Butterfield) and guitarist Mel Brown (veteran of Bobby "Blue" Bland's band) where he played an unprecedented two hours plus an encore.


Agent-turned promoter Richard Nader booked Madison Square Garden for a 1970 event and signed up Bill Haley, the Platters, the Shirelles and the Coasters, but he wanted Berry to truly make it great.  Chuck's agent signed on, but when he felt unsure of Nader's ability to pay he booked Chuck to another concert.  Nader already had the publicity rolling so he went to the agent's office with the money promised and bumped it up another $250.  "I offered the agent $250 to lose the contract.  I bought (the agent) a hi-fi."  After the success of that first concert, Nader has made it an annual event.

Nader confirmed having his problems with Chuck.  Berry was not pleased sharing top billing with the Platters nor the fact that there were two shows and that the Platters closed the first one.  Part of any deal would be cash payment in advance and the provision of two dual showman amplifiers.  At a Nader show in Pittsburgh, Chuck was refused the extra money he demanded so went on stage and tuned up for 45 minutes, stating that he hadn't been paid at all.  Nader said, "Just fucking play, Chuck", which he finally did when the audience began booing him.  Still, no one has claimed Berry ever put on a poor show, as Nader agrees.  He "never delivered less than 110% on stage . . . never left until the last person was standing."

Nader related a story Chuck had told him as to why he was so stringent in his contracts.  Chuck got an offer from a woman in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to perform for $750 and Berry drove all through the night in hard rain to get there from St. Louis.  Upon arrival, he found an audience of about 20 kids in a rundown ice cream shop behind the woman's house.  He played the gig, but when he asked for his money was handed a list of all the expenses incurred.  As Nader said, "She had everything down there, down to the light bulbs."  When all was said and done, Berry was offered $1.75 so he told to keep it, but forevermore it would be cash up front. 

Nader concluded that, "of all the artists in Rock 'n' Roll, he is one of the three - Elvis, Paul Anka and Chuck - who has held onto his money".  He says Berry told him, "You use my name.  You take money from the public. I show up.  You pay me".


At the request of Jimmy Carter, Berry performed at the White House on June 1, 1979.  Among the honors Berry received were the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984[92] and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000.[93] He was ranked seventh on Time magazine's 2009 list of the 10 best electric guitar players of all time.[94] On May 14, 2002, Berry was honored as one of the first BMI Icons at the 50th annual BMI Pop Awards. He was presented the award along with BMI affiliates Bo Diddley and Little Richard.[95] In August 2014, Berry was made a laureate of the Polar Music Prize.[96]

Berry is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine's "Greatest of All Time" lists. In September 2003, the magazine ranked him number 6 in its list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".[97] In November his compilation album The Great Twenty-Eight was ranked 21st in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[98] In March 2004, Berry was ranked fifth on the list of "The Immortals – The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time".[8][99] In December 2004, six of his songs were included in "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time": "Johnny B. Goode" (#7), "Maybellene" (#18), "Roll Over Beethoven" (#97), "Rock and Roll Music" (#128), "Sweet Little Sixteen" (#272) and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" (#374).[100] In June 2008, his song "Johnny B. Goode" was ranked first in the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time".

inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986; he was cited for having "laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance."[7] Berry is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine's "greatest of all time" lists; he was ranked fifth on its 2004 and 2011 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[8] The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll includes three of Berry's: "Johnny B. Goode", "Maybellene", and "Rock and Roll Music".[9] Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" is the only rock-and-roll song included on the Voyager Golden Record.[10]

inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986; he was cited for having "laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance."[7] Berry is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine's "greatest of all time" lists; he was ranked fifth on its 2004 and 2011 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[8] The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll includes three of Berry's: "Johnny B. Goode", "Maybellene", and "Rock and Roll Music".[9] Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" is the only rock-and-roll song included on the Voyager Golden Record.[10]

Johnny B. Goode


School Days

Downbound Train

Back in the USA

Bye Bye Johnny

   Chuck Berry   20mins

Rock and Roll Music

Roll Over Beethoven

   The Beatles

Come On


Little Queenie

Around and Around

   The Rolling Stones   17mins

Wee Wee Hours

Confessin' the Blues

Down the Road Apiece

Worried Life Blues

One O'clock Jump

Go Go Go

Guitar Boogie

Our Little Rendezvous

Blues for Hawaiians

How You've Changed

Rockin' at the Philharmonic

   Chuck Berry   29mins

Promised Land

   Johnnie Allen

No Money Down

   Johnny Hammond

You Can't Catch Me

   Love Sculpture

Reelin' and Rockin'

   Chris Farlowe




   The Blues Band

Oh Baby Doll

   The Pretty Things

Don't Lie to Me

   The Downliner Sect

Beautiful Delilah

   The Kinks

Run Around

I Got to Find My Baby

Blue Feeling

It Don't Take But a Few Minutes

Roly Poly

Drifting Blues


Anthony Boy

Berry Pickin'

   Chuck Berry   23mins

Too Much Monkey Business

I'm Talking About You

Let It Rock

   The Yardbirds

Memphis, Tennessee

Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller

   The Faces

Come On

   The Blues Band

Brown Eyed Handsome Man

Downbound Train

Havana Moon

Rip It Up

Jo Jo Gunne

Run Rudolph Run

   Chuck Berry   15mins