DUALTONE RECORDS – 17th December 2021
One of the pioneers of commercial rock and roll, Chuck Berry is so early and primal that by the mid-sixties he was already considered a nostalgia act. His songs are woven into the DNA of rock music and there can’t be a garage band that hasn’t jammed on Johnny B Goode or one or other of the songs here. Here, in performances from 2005/6, aged about 80, Berry revisits the essence and shows it’s all about the rhythm as he toys gently with the tension on the beat, just a teeny bit, highlighting the sex hidden not so deep below the chords.
A man who often worked with pick-up bands, it is nice to hear him play with trusted sidesmen at his local St Louis Club, the Blueberry Hill. He could (and did) play much bigger places but missed the small places and, together with the owner, arranged to play a dozen shows a year for well over a decade. The result is a free-rolling sense of fun with a couple of family members and other close musical partners. I always think you get the real measure of a band when you hear them live and this is simple, relaxed, rocking and full of energy.
Chuck didn’t meet rock and roll till his late twenties, in the mid-1950s. By that point he’d been in reformatory for a school age armed robbery and worked in a car factory. At the same time, people like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were making their names – it must have been a great time to be listening to the radio under the covers. It wasn’t long after his run of hits (Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music etc) that he was back in prison again. It’s not ironic that the writer of Sweet Little Sixteen was shortly after his run of hits, sent down for transporting a 14 year-old girl for immoral purposes. By the time he was out, he was on the nostalgia circuit and had the novelty innuendo hit, My Ding-A-Ling, in 1972. Clearly a man obsessed with his ‘ding-a-ling’, he was later arrested for his hidden camera in a women’s toilet. Quite how his musical ability and personal qualities stayed separate is a mystery, but be grateful we didn’t lose these wonderful pieces of rock and roll just because the performer was a poor example of a civilised man.
The songs played here are the bones and blood of rock, fizzing with crunchy energy and grind. It’s nice to see that he had the recognition and honours he deserved for his music (if not his other behaviour) later in life and this album is a great snapshot of someone celebrating his legacy with an audience.