Tag Archives: 1956

Still with us: Chuck Berry

We are not even two months into 2016, and David Bowie is gone. So are Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson. So are Maurice White, Vanity and Otis Clay, Glenn Frey, Gary Loizzo and Dan Hicks.

Time, then — well past time, really — to appreciate four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different.

The legend: Chuck Berry.

Age: 89.

Still performing? It’s been almost a year and a half since he last played at the Blueberry Hill nightclub in suburban St. Louis. “Chuck Berry does not have any upcoming events,” his Facebook page says.

What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: Chuck Berry is not necessarily a nice man, from his troubles with the law and the tax man to his reluctance to give longtime co-writer and side man Johnnie Johnson his due.

Where I came in: I’m part of the generation introduced to Chuck Berry by the naughty novelty single “My Ding-A-Ling” in 1972. Then I bought “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” the two-record greatest-hits compilation reissued by Chess in the wake of the success of “My Ding-A-Ling.” Long one of the greatest records in my collection.

My evening with Chuck Berry: Seven years ago, I saw Chuck Berry — then 82 — play our local casino ballroom. After that show, you wondered whether he’d played for roughly an hour, or played roughly for an hour. Which was OK. With Chuck Berry, you never can tell.

Appreciate the greatness:


“Roll Over Beethoven,” 1956. Electric Light Orchestra’s long, raucous cover of this is one of my all-time favorites.

“Too Much Monkey Business” 1956. The roots of hip hop? Dig that patter. Ahhhhhh.

“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” 1956. The flip side to “Too Much Monkey Business.” Dig that Johnnie Johnson piano.

“Johnny B. Goode,” 1958. Rock Guitar 101.

All by Chuck Berry, all from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” 1967. My vinyl copy is a 1972 reissue. It’s out of print. All of these cuts available digitally.



Filed under February 2016, Sounds

Jerry’s basement revisited

It was a little surprising to read the comments on last week’s post and to learn that you dig the records we listened to in Jerry’s basement in the mid-’70s. Your affirmation is much appreciated.

We certainly weren’t trend-setters among our peers, and we certainly weren’t all that sophisticated. Jerry reminded me that we also listened to “The Best of the Guess Who, Vol. 2,” which came out in 1973.

That we listened to good records in Jerry’s basement simply reflects what we heard on the radio at the time.

We grew up in the glory days of free-form FM, deep album cuts and adventurous DJs. Even though we lived in a small town in central Wisconsin, we were exposed to many sounds beyond the Top 40 after the sun went down. All that, plus the drinking age was 18, so you heard plenty of new stuff at parties.

I can’t think of any other way we would have heard Montrose or New Riders of the Purple Sage. Having records by Sweet and Led Zeppelin simply meant you liked the singles and perhaps had heard some album cuts. Having records by the Guess Who and Steppenwolf simply meant you liked the singles.

(Richard Pryor had to have been a word-of-mouth recommendation or something heard at a party. None of those cuts could be played on the radio.)

In the early ’70s, we had only one real record store in our town. The guy who ran Bob’s Musical Isle was said to have been a bit of a perv. Regardless, BMI was one of those ’50s-style record shops that hadn’t aged well in the ’70s. So I bought records at Prange’s department store until a laid-back hippie opened another record store, the Inner Sleeve, in 1975.

I would like to say I bought a lot of cool records at Prange’s and then the Sleeve in the mid-’70s. One look at the iTunes suggests otherwise.

Yet in the early ’70s, Aerosmith covered “Train Kept A Rollin'” and “Big Ten Inch Record,” a couple of old ’50s R&B tunes by Tiny Bradshaw. Curious about that kind of music from that time, but wanting to go a different direction from all the “American Graffiti” stuff so popular at the time, I picked up “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade” and started digging it. Still do.

“Too Much Monkey Business” and “Nadine,” Chuck Berry, 1956 and 1964, respectively. from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” 1967. My vinyl copy is this 1972 reissue. It’s out of print. Both cuts are available on “The Chess Box: Chuck Berry,” a 3-CD comp released in 1990.

Can’t say whether we ever played this in Jerry’s basement, though. Not sure whether the fellas shared my enthusiasm for Chuck Berry.


Filed under August 2011, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 46

By now, you know Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, is a honky-tonk man.

Today, he demonstrates. Sleepy covers a tune debuted by Johnny Horton in 1956, covered 10 years later by Conway Twitty and covered 30 years later by Dwight Yoakam.

Horton wrote “Honky Tonk Man” with Tillman Franks and Howard Hausey. It was his first top-40 hit.

You may be more familiar with a couple of Horton’s No. 1 hits — “The Battle of New Orleans” from 1959 and “North to Alaska” from 1960. (Both of those songs were on the jukebox at a bar one of my friends worked at after high school, so they’re etched in my head.)

Sleepy recorded this version at Regent Sound Studio in London on April 23, 1979. It’s a fairly straightforward cover, but pleasant enough.


“Honky Tonk Man,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “A Rockin’ Decade,” 1997.


Filed under January 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 41

I have lots of tunes by Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, but no Christmas tunes. So our regular Sunday feature will carry on with another fine cover.

Johnny Cash is widely credited as having written “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ruby,” which was a big hit for rockabilly singer Warren Smith on Sun Records in 1956. However, Smith insisted George Jones wrote the tune and sold it to Cash for $40. Hmmm. Good story if true.

Sleepy is loose as a goose on this one, counting off “1, 2, 3, 4” to get things started, a yelp breaking out from his deep baritone and name-checking lead guitarist Cliff Parker. It was recorded March 6, 1979, at Singleton Sound Studio in Nashville.


“Rock ‘n’ Roll Ruby,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “A Rockin” Decade,” 1997.

Video bonus: Watch Sleepy and the boys lip-sync to the same tune!

Leave a comment

Filed under December 2007, Sounds