Wednesday, March 22, 2017

a rejuvenating twirl

"Here come a flat-top, he was moving up with me..."

~~ Chuck Berry

The Guardian, UK edition
Saturday 18 March 2017
"Chuck Berry:  the rock'n'roller who wrote the soundtrack for teen rebellion"
by Richard Williams
--------------------------------- [excerpts] ------------------ When Chuck Berry wrote School Days (Ring Ring Goes the Bell), his detailed evocation of a day in the life of an American teenager in the Eisenhower era,

   he created an anthem for a generation:  "As soon as three o'clock rolls around, you finally lay your burden down / Close up your books, get out of your seat / Down the hall and into the street / Up the corner and round the bend / Right to the juke joint you go in." 

What he also provided was an education. 

Young Britons of the postwar era took their 11-plus exams, followed a few years later by their O-levels.  In between, a significant number of them studied Chuck Berry.

Also on the informal course were the works of Bo Diddley

and Jimmy Reed.  The more advanced students made their way to Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker. 

But among the array of great American rhythm and blues heroes, it was Berry who provided the most stimulating and influential set texts, mainly because it was in his work that the harsh poetry of the blues was softened, streamlined and neon-lit in a way that made it immediately palatable to a young white audience.

To the generation born in Britain around the end of the second world war, his songs opened up a new world.  What Little Richard and Elvis Presley suggested in sound, he portrayed in words as well....

--------------------------- Those of us who had never even seen a jukebox heard from his lips what it might be like to drop the coin right into the slot and hear something that's really hot.  In a provincial England where Levi jeans and white T-shirts were virtually unobtainable, Berry's word-pictures were a tantalizing glimpse of a better world elsewhere, or at least one soon to come.

-------------------- Instead of a music that reflected the experience of hobos riding the rails or convicts on a chain gang in some southern penitentiary, here was the soundtrack to the experience of being a teenager in the postwar years of growing affluence, when society's rules were being gently tested for what seemed like the first time....  Roll Over Beethoven seemed, if not exactly a call to the barricades, then a harbinger of the end of deference.

Berry's influence was (and is) everywhere, starting with every note ever played by Keith Richards, who mastered Berry's distinctive hard-driving riffs --

as heard on the introductions to Johnny B Goode, Sweet Little Rock'n'Roller and Promised Land --

and fashioned them into his own style.  By learning how to play Berry's signature figures, in their simple but potent thirds and fourths, a young musician acquired free access to the driving momentum of early rock'n'roll.

This was a cooler, more modern equivalent of Fats Domino's or Little Richard's hammered boogie-woogie eight-to-the-bar piano riffs -- cooler and more modern because it was played on an electric guitar, a glittering and still exotic device that,

unlike the upright Victorian keyboard instrument residing in your parents' parlour, clearly belonged amid the glittering world of tailfins and jukeboxes.

Richards' group even made their recording debut with a Berry song, Come On, with its typically wry lyric:  "Everything is wrong since me and my baby parted / All day long I'm walking cos I couldn't get my car started / Laid off from my job and I can't afford to check it / I wish somebody'd come along and run into it and wreck it ..." ...

Naturally, there were young Americans who responded to what Berry was doing.  Buddy Holly, the first great white rock'n'roll singer-songwriter, had a posthumous UK hit with his cover of Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.  The Beach Boys took Sweet Little Sixteen and turned it into Surfin' USA.  But it was in Britain that the spark turned into a blaze.

In those days, you went to a club to see a Mersey Sound group or an R&B band from the Thames Delta, at a time before any of them got famous, simply hoping to hear one or more of Berry's songs played live, with those guitar riffs powering out of a Vox. 

For a while, the Stones practically lived off his work.  Carol was on their first album, I'm Talkin' About You was on Out of Our Heads, and Little Queenie was still in their repertoire when a 1969 show at Madison Square Garden was released as Get Yer Ya-Yas Out. 

Like many others, they borrowed his radical rearrangements of Bobby Troup's Route 66 and Don Raye's Down the Road Apiece.

The Beatles' second album included Roll Over Beethoven,

and the anthemic Rock'n'Roll Music appeared on Beatles for Sale.  A few years later, on the White Album, Paul McCartney paid homage to Back in the USA with Back in the USSR.  John Lennon, who once said, "If you had to try and give rock'n'roll another name, you might call it Cuck Berry", modeled a line in Abbey Road's