Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry.

For the latest instalment in Ace Records’ long running and successful Songwriter series, the spotlight was shawn on the man regarded by many as the Poet Laureate of Rock n Roll, Chuck Berry. He celebrated his ninetieth birthday on October ‘18th’ 2016. This was a major milestone in the life of one of the pioneers of rock ’n’ roll, and someone who helped to refine and develop the R&B sound. So to celebrate this milestone, Ace Records released Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry. It’s the latest instalment in their Songwriter series and is a celebration of the most successful period of Chuck Berry’s career.

This period began in July 1955 and lasted until 1964. However, the Chuck Berry success story began in May 1955, when Chuck Berry entered the recording studio with Leonard and Phil Chess to record  a Chuck Berry composition Maybellene. It was inspired by the Western Swing fiddle tune Ida Red. Two months later, when Maybellene was released, it made  musical history when it became one of the first rock ’n’ roll songs.

When Maybellene was released by Chess Records in July 1955, it reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B charts. Eventually, Maybellene sold over a million copies, and launched Chuck Berry’s career.

For Chuck Berry, this was the start of one of the most productive, prolific and successful periods of his career.  Over the next two years, Chuck Berry wrote and recorded Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, School Days, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen and Johnny B. Goode. Chuck Berry was a hit making machine and by late 1957. He had enjoyed five top ten hits in the US Billboard 100. However, in the US R&B charts, ten of Chuck Berry singles reached the top ten, with four reaching number one. Other artists looked on enviously.

During 1958, Chuck Berry continued to write and release singles. However, he didn’t scale the same heights as previous years. His The most successful singles were Carol with Sweet Little Rock and Roller. However, further success was just round the corner for Chuck Berry in 1959.

When Chuck Berry released Almost Grown in early 1959, it reached thirty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B charts. Chuck Berry was back on form and released  Back in the U.S.A. and Little Queenie as singles. By then, he was one of the most successful entertainers of the late fifties. 

Apart from enjoying a successful recording career, Chuck Berry spent much of his time touring and had even made appearances on television and films. This was proving lucrative, and allowed Chuck Berry to invest in real estate and the first racially integrated nightclub in St. Louis. The future looked bright for Chuck Berry.

That was until December 1959, when Chuck Berry was arrested under The Mann Act. Americans were shocked as they heard the allegations. They were that Chuck Berry had sexual intercourse with a fourteen year old Apache waitress, Janice Escalant. She had been transported across the state lines to work as a hatcheck girl in Chuck Berry’s St Louis nightclub. These were serious allegations that if proven, would result in Chuck Berry quite rightly, losing his liberty.

When the case went to trial in March 1960, it lasted two weeks, and Chuck Berry was found guilty. He was, fined $5,000, and sentenced to a total of five years in prison. However, Chuck Berry decided to appeal the judgment.

His grounds for appeal were that the judge’s comments and attitude were racist. This his counsel argued prejudiced the jury against the appellant. The appeal was upheld, and a second trial was scheduled to take place during May and June 1961.

At the second trial, Chuck Berry was again found guilty. This time, Chuck Berry was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Again, he decided to appeal the sentence. This time though, the appeal failed and Chuck Berry started his jail sentence in February 1962. He was released in October 1963 having served just eighteen months.

During both trials and appeals, Chuck Berry continued. He played live and continued to release singles and albums. However, Chuck Berry’s popularity had slumped. Chuck Berry enjoyed two minor hit singles in 1960 with Let It Rock and Too Pooped To Pop.  However, upon his release from prison, Chuck Berry resumed his career.

During 1964, he enjoyed a very brief resurgence in popularity. Chuck Berry returned to the charts. Six singles entered the US Billboard 100 and five made it into the US R&B charts. The most successful single was No Particular Place to Go, which reached number ten in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts. Chuck Berry also enjoyed hits  with Nadine, You Never Can Tell and Promised Land. For Chuck Berry, that was as good as it got.

Chuck Berry only enjoyed two further hit singles during his career. His last hit was Reelin’ and Rockin’ in 1972. While Chuck Berry continued to release singles, his time had passed. That had been the case since the mid-sixties. Music had changed and Chuck Berry no longer enjoyed the same success as a recording artist. Since then, many other artists have covered songs penned by Chuck Berry.

That has been the case throughout Chuck Berry’s long career, and twenty-four cover versions feature on Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry.  This includes covers by Helene Dixon, Marty Robbins, Don Covay, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, John Hammond, MC5, The Beach Boys, John Prine and Dave Edmunds. They’re just some of the artists on Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry.

Helene Dixon’s cover of Roll Over Beethoven opens Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry. It was released by Vik, an imprint of RCA Victor in 1956. Accompanied by the Howard Biggs Orchestra and some blistering guitar licks from Mickey Baker, Helene Dixon unleashes a vocal powerhouse on what’s one of the best cover of Roll Over Beethoven.

By August 1955, Marty Robbins had been signed to Columbia since 1952. He was already a successful artist, who would later become one of the legends of country music. However, in August 1955, Marty Robbins released a lively and memorable cover of Maybellene as a single. It went on to reach number nine in the country charts, and is without doubt, one of the finest covers, of this oft-covered song.

After Brinsley Schwarz split-up in 1975, rhythm guitarist and frontman Ian Gomm embarked upon a solo career. By 1978, he had signed to Albion Records and was about to release his debut single Come On. A year later, in 1979, Ian Gomm had been signed by Stiff-Epic and had just released  his sophomore album Gomm With The Wind. One of the highlights was his moody and emotive cover Come On, where Ian Gomm transforms the Chuck Berry composition.

In 1965, The Pretty Things were about to released their eponymous debut album in Britain and America. When Fontana released the album on both sides of the Atlantic, the American and British versions had different track listings. The American version didn’t include the two Chuck Berry covers. This included Oh Baby Doll, where The Pretty Things stay true to the original and pay homage to Chuck Berry. It’s one of the highlights of The Pretty Things which reached number six in the UK charts. 

Four years after the tragic death of Buddy Holly, his cover of Brown-Eyed Handsome Man was released by the Coral label.  They had added a few overdubs to the single. This paid off and Brown-Eyed Handsome Man reached number three in the US Billboard 100. It’s a reminder of a true musical legend,  Buddy Holly as he unleashes a blistering cover of Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.

Despite commercial success eluding Chuck Berry’s singles in America by the mid-sixties, many British groups had covering his songs. This included one of the British Invasion groups, The Hollies. They covered Sweet Little Sixteen for their fourth album Would You Believe? It was released in 1966 on the Parlophone label. One of the album’s highlights was a scorching take on Sweet Little Sixteen, where The Hollies don’t stray to far from the original.

By 1968, Too Much Monkey Business was an oft-covered song. Several British Invasion bands, including The Kinks, The Hollies and The Yarbirds. Even The King, Elvis Presley had covered Too Much Monkey Business for a little known, budget priced album Singer Presents Elvis Singing “Flaming Star” And Others. It was only available from shops that sold Singer sewing machines. So the album passed many music fans by. However, those that discovered the album found Elvis delivering a irreverent and insouciant vocal as he rolls back the years.

John Hammond was only twenty-two when he released his sophomore album Big City Blues, on Vanguard in 1964. It featured a number of cover versions. Two of the cover versions were written by Chuck Berry, This included No Money Down, where John Hammond slows the tempo and reinvents this blues. It’s a tan tantalising taste of a future star of R&B and blues, John Hammond as he embarked on a long and successful career.

Originally, Havana Moon featured on Chuck Berry’s debut album After School Sessions in 1956. Twenty-seven years later, in 1983, Carlos Santana had recorded Havana Moon for his first album in three years. Havana Moon also lent its name to the album, which was released by CBS in 1983. It features a soulful vocal from Booker T as his all-star band combines blues rock and Latin. 

After releasing their debut album Kick Out The Jams on Elektra in 1969, MC5 signed to Atlantic. They began work on their much anticipated sophomore album, which became Back In The USA. That is fitting.  One of the songs that stood head and shoulder above the rest was MC5’s high energy and ironic take on Chuck Berry’s Back In The USA. It features MC5 in full flight, as they Kick Out The Jams.

By 1976, The Beach Boys were no longer the force they once were. The once successful group had been torn apart by internecine warfare. Despite that, The Beach Boys managed to record a double album 15 Big Ones. It opened with a melodic memorable cover of Chuck Berry’s Rock And Roll Music.

Closing Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry is Dave Edmunds’ cover of The Promised Land. It featured on Dave Edmunds’ 1972 debut album Rockpile. Recorded on a portable four-track tape machine, with Dave Edmunds playing every instrument, The Promised Land features the multi-talented Welshman as he embarks on what’s been a long and successful career.

The twenty-four songs on Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry are reminder of what was the most productive, prolific and successful period of Chuck Berry’s career. Although the period covers between 1955 and 1964, Chuck Berry’s popularity nosedived after the events of December 1959. Almost overnight, one of the most successful entertainers of that time, went from hero to zero. 

During the two trials and appeals, Chuck Berry’s career continued. Apart from a brief fillip in 1964, that was the end of chart success for Chuck Berry. Top ten hits and number ones were a thing of the past. Chuck Berry had enjoyed the most successful period of his career was between July 1955 and late 1959. He was thirty-three.

By the mid-sixties, many bands, especially British Invasion bands, were covering Chuck Berry’s music. He was more popular in Britain than in America. It seemed that many Americans hadn’t forgiven Chuck Berry for what happened in December 1959. Just like Jerry Lee Lewis, he was seen as a pariah in America.

Despite this, many musicians and bands would cover Chuck Berry’s music. That is still the case today, just a few months after Chuck Berry celebrated his ninetieth birthday. Twenty-four of these cover versions feature on Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry, which is the latest instalment in Ace Records’ Songwriter series. There’s everything from R&B to rock ’n’ roll and rock to blues, country and pop. It’s an eclectic selection of songs. They were recorded by new names and old friends. Many songs were recorded by some of the biggest names in music. However, with each song the emphasis is on quality. That is the case throughout Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry, which features twenty-four of the finest songs penned by the man regarded by many as Poet Laureate of Rock n Roll, Chuck Berry.

Rock and Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry.

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