Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Berry’

I am back after an absence I will attribute to my day job but which might be attributed to any number of distractions.   As promised however, I bring you my picks for the Top Five Live at the Fillmore albums.  I have included all three establishments bearing the Fillmore name which were established and had been owned by the impressario and promoter Bill Graham:  The Fillmore, at Fillmore and Geary in San Francisco; the Fillmore West, at Market and South Van Ness, also in San Francisco; and, the Fillmore East, in the East Village in NYC.

Why is there so many fine live albums from these venues?  I think credit goes not only to the various artists who turned in so many sublime performances but also to Bill Graham who promoted the shows and provided the wonderful venues for music to be made in.

1. Live at the Fillmore East, Jimi Hendrix

Recored on the evenings of December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970, and released posthumously in 1999, this album captures Hendrix at his creative zenith.  Accompanied by the Band of Gypsys (Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass), it displays Hendrix’s improvisational best: who can argue with two versions of “Machine Gun”?

2. Live at Fillmore Auditorium-Chuck Berry

This is a 1967 release.  What sets it apart is the “pick up” band, which was the Steve Miller Blues Band, later to become simply the Steve Miller Band.  The finest band ever to accompany Chuck, save the outfit Keith Richards put together for “Hail Hail Rock and Roll”

3. Live at The Fillmore-Lucinda Williams

This is, as far as I know, Lucinda’s only live album.  Never released on vinyl, it contains equal measures of Lucinda’s sexually and emotionally charged lyrics and performance, and Doug Pettibones’s outstanding guitar work.  I couldn’t find a Youtube clip from the show, but this one gives the idea.  My oh my.

4. At Fillmore East-The Allman Brothers Band

This album is often said to be not only the finest album by the Allman Brothers, but also the finest live album ever.  Whether correct or not, this double album gem was recorded over two nights in March, 1971 and still sounded pretty fine this morning.  It appears on numerous lists attesting to its influence and my list would not be complete without it.

5. Fillmore West 1969-The Grateful Dead

An expansion of the classic album Live/Dead released in 1969 (rock’s first 16 track live recording)  into a three cd set released in 2005, these recordings showcased the Dead as only live music can: as free form, psychedelic rock.  The track here, “Dark Star” is one of the finest examples.

So, just to be clear, these are not necessarily top road songs, but songs about cars or that use the car as a central metaphor. Cars were a huge part of my coming of age. My father had a 55 Ford Fairlane, the only new car that he ever purchased. His boys, including me, basically ran the car into the ground, doing brake stands and squealing tires down Churchill Drive in Winnipeg. Tragic. I’ve always had the fantasy of buying a reconditioned 55 and driving it up to my father’s house with a big ribbon and bow.   I picked my first love up in that car, got my driver’s license in it the day I turned sixteen, went fishing in it with my brothers and fathers to Hazel Creek at the crack of dawn. I drove it to Grand Beach, Lake Winnipeg for our weekend volleyball tournaments, and more times than I care to remember, she got this drunken sot home from the infamous Winnipeg “socials”. I wrote a song about her, which I’ll spare you, but here’s the first verse.

I was born in the year of the 55 Ford,
Pink and white two-tone on a prairie road.
Elvis was singing, my daddy was drinking
beers with the boys and makin’ lots of noise.
But my mom made him choose.
It was her or the booze.

1. The Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coupe

Topping the list, Little Deuce Coupe by the Beach Boys.

2. Bruce Springsteen, Pink Cadillac

The next one is still one of my favorite workout songs, third set of squats, when I’m tempted to bail early. Written by Jerry Lee Lewis, but Brooose’s version gives me the juice to finish strong.

3. Tracy Chapman, Fast Car

What is it about Tracy Chapman that when she starts singing you just feel like crying? Here the car is a metaphor for freedom. In a Fast Car, the subject innocently imagines that her boyfriend’s car has the power to transport them to a world free from poverty, class, and their dead-end life. Remember how the womb-like interior of a car was a place where dreams of your future gestated and sometimes even got fertilized!

4. Golden Earring, Radar Love

In the summers my buddies and I would worked planting trees for the city of Winnipeg at Bird’s Hill Park. Waso would pick us up in his father’s Ford LTD at the crack of dawn, laden with sandwiches and enough Kool Aid to make it through the hot prairie day. When we hit the perimeter, it was pedal to the metal the whole way. We’d get the old beast up to 130 mph, windows down, and more often than not we could count on Radar Love being on the set list of our favorite radio station.

5. Chuck Berry, No Particular Place to Go

There is a spiritual state associated with driving a car, especially when you are still young and are inclined to let life unfold rather than over-engineer it. Life comes to you, rather than you having to make it happen. And “driving around” with no particular agenda was a big part of my growing up was a kind of zen practice. I didn’t quite have the luxury of unfettered access to the car, as we had to share amongst five or six, but Dave Korven owned a very cool GTO (if I’m not mistaken). We’d pack five or six in and just start driving, with a supply of decent B.C. bud.  Chuck Berry captures this adventurous spirit (but with a girl and not the boys) in No Particular Place to Go.

This week’s post was written by my friend Bruce, who regularly blogs on spiritual matters. Check it out.

Next week I will be back on the keyboard with Top Five Live at the Fillmore Albums.

I was fortunate to travel to St. Louis last week to see Chuck Berry.  I missed out on Levon Helm’s Ramble by saying for too many years “yeah, CB-071812one day I will do that”.  I didn’t want the same thing to happen with Chuck and am very glad I didn’t.

Along the way, I made some new friends (Ben, Jack, Alexcia and Alex) which demonstrates to me, once again, how music is something that tends to bring people together.  This is particularly so when we are talking about  the music that is the root of all rock and roll music, from Elvis and the Stones and the Beatles, to The Allman Brothers and Tom Petty and Florence and the Machine.

The show took place in “The Duckroom” where Chuck plays once a month.  I was maybe 15 feet from the stage, and was treated to Chuck being Chuck, flirting with the “pretty girls”, smiling and joking with his audience and his band-which included his son on guitar and his daughter on harp. Oh yes, and playing music that everyone in the room knew every beat and note of.

Chuck is 86.  His Gibson ES 355 sports bits of duct tape here and there. He sat down frequently in his one hour set and missed more than the occasional note.  So what. In my view, any of these issues could easily have been dealt with had I made the trip to out to The Loop in St. Louis a few years earlier.  It is not Chuck’s fault he is still alive and well and playing music.

To list the Top Five Chuck Berry Riffs is a bit of a challenge.  There are too many songs, too many variations on the basic model.  It is sort of like asking for a list of Beethoven’s Top Five Melodic Motifs:  it can be done but doesn’t really do justice  to the body of work. So what this really is, then, is the Top Five Most Recognisable Chuck Berry Riffs.  I hope you enjoy them here as much as I did live last week.

Next week:  Top Five Guilty Pleasure Songs

1. Carol

“Carol” was first released in 1958, during Chuck’s seven years with Chess Records, which commenced in 1955.  It is has been covered countless times, notably by the Rolling Stones, a live version of which is on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out”.  This version is from the concert/biographical film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll”, which chronicled Keith Richards’ efforts at staging a musical party to celebrate Chuck’s 60th birthday.

2. Memphis, Tennessee

This is another Chess release, from 1963.  Covered by everyone from Paul Anka to The Grateful Dead, it tells a story (as all Chuck songs do) to a riff that sets the stage and itself evokes a sense of distance and travel.  Genius really. This version is live in London, England, in 1972.

3. Johnny B. Goode

Another 1958  release (and a  similar riff to Carol), this was one of the first songs to be listened to by both black and white audiences.  Legend has it that “country boy” was a replacement for “coloured boy” so as to ensure that the record in fact got played.  The voice overs here from notables who say they were inspired by Chuck in general and this song in particular makes my opening point far better than I ever could.

4. Too Much Monkey Business

This was Chuck’s fifth single and was recorded in 1956.  As with all the songs here, the riff really provides the musical basis for the story.  Here is the “Hail Hail Rock and Roll and Roll” version.  Chuck’s expressions are priceless.

5. Nadine

Now with Mercury Records and after after serving an 18 month jail term, Chuck released “Nadine” in 1963.  Fueled in part by the popularity of various covers of his songs “Nadine” was a success but not to the extent of some of his earlier work.  Chuck closed the show with this last week, after inviting as many women who would fit onto the stage to dance.  Alex and Alexcia hesitated, and alas, were lost in the shuffle to the front.