August 1, 2021

Ten Songs That “Inspired” Chuck Berry

Xavier Valiño continues with his musical tribute to Chuck Berry, this time selecting ten of the songs from which the Saint Louis guitarist was able to drink to compose his own.

Selection and text: XAVIER VALIÑO.

The magazine “Rolling Ston” and went so far as to say that with ‘Maybellene’ rock and roll had begun. True or not, Chuck Berry didn’t show up one day out of nowhere. What he had heard – blues, rhythm and blues, folk, and even country and western – would serve as a starting point for the new style. It just continued the tradition of blues musicians, who reinterpreted previous songs they had heard. Here are ten songs that Berry sure had in mind when creating other of his.

1. Robert Johnson: ‘I’ll Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’

Also known as’ Good Lovin ‘Woman’, ‘Good Looking Woman’ was released by Chuck Berry as a single in September 1969, with ‘It’s Too Dark in There’ on the B side. it was released a month later, within “Concerto in B. Goode”. His melody is still an accelerated update of the blues classic ‘Dust My Broom’ recorded by Robert Johnson in 1936 (although this, in turn, had been inspired by others such as, for example, ‘I’ll Believe I’ll Make a Change ‘recorded by the Sparks brothers as Pinetop and Lindberg in 1932).

Chuck Berry: ‘Good Looking Woman’

2. Memphis Minnie: ‘Me and My Chauffeur Blues’

‘I Want to Be Your Driver’ (‘I want to be your driver’) appeared on the B side of Chuck Berry’s single ‘Jamaica Farewell’ released in February 1965 and on the LP “Chuck Berry In London” in March of the same year. . More than an original by Berry, it was an also accelerated adaptation of ‘Me and My Chauffeur Blues’ (‘The blues of my driver and I’) that Memphis Minnie had composed and recorded in 1941, with which he shared not only melody but also thematic. Minnie’s song was inspired, in turn, by Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Good Morning, School Girl’ from 1937.

Chuck Berry: ‘I Want To Be Your Driver’

3. Louis Jordan & His Tympany 5: ‘Ain’t that Just Like a Woman (They’ll Do It Every Time)’

‘Johnny B. Goode’ sang to the classic myth of the American dream, the story of a young man of humble origin who wants to reach the top and be someone respected in the world of music. Released on March 31, 1958, her lead guitar riff is essentially a note-for-note copy of the opening solo of Louis Jordan’s ‘Ain’t that Just Like a Woman (They’ll Do It Every Time)’. His Tympany 5 (1946), played by guitarist Carl Hogan, and its melody is not much different. In fact, Berry was very fond of Jordan. “He is the artist with whom I most identify,” he declared at the time. As for the rhythm of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, T-Bone Walker’s’ Strollin ‘with Bones’ (1950) was a more than notable influence.

Chuck Berry: ‘Johnny B. Goode’

4. Chuck Berry: ‘Run Rudolph Run’

Although the single released by Chuck Berry in 1958 with the Christmas song ‘Run Rudolph Run’ is credited to C. Berry Music, the truth is that the song had been composed by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie, as all the later versions that have been made. So when Berry released ‘Little Queenie’ to the same tune the following year, he was not recycling one of his songs but copying the idea of ​​two other people.

Chuck Berry: ‘Little Queenie’

5. Bob Willis & His Texas Playboys: ‘Ida Red’

‘Maybellene’ was written by Chuck Berry and released in July 1955 as his debut single. However, its origin is in ‘Ida Red’, in the interpretation that Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys did in 1938. Encouraged by Muddy Waters, in 1955 Berry brought to Chess Records a recording of his version of the Wills song, which he had renamed ‘Ida May’. The label was enthusiastic about the commercial possibilities of this “hillbilly song sung by a black man”, but asked to give it more rhythm. The titles ‘Ida Red’ and ‘Ida May’ were considered ‘too rural’. After seeing a Maybelline mascara wrapper lying on the studio floor, the spelling was altered to avoid a lawsuit from the cosmetics company. For his part, Berry changed the lyrics to appeal to young and adolescent audiences fascinated by cars, speed and sexuality.

Chuck Berry: ‘Maybellene’

6. Little Walter: ‘Last Night’

‘My Woman’ was another of the songs that Chuck Berry included on his album “Concerto in B. Goode”, released in October 1969, and that featured Billy Peek’s piano and harmonica, Halveen’s bass ‘Kermit’ Cooley and Dale Grischer’s percussion. With a bluesy beat, it was clearly inspired by the song ‘Last Night’ that Little Walter had released as a single in 1954 and in which the harmonica also played a prominent role.

Chuck Berry: ‘My Woman’

7. Roy Acuff: ‘Wabash Cannonball’ (folk song)

‘Wabash Cannonball’ is a 19th century North American folk song, about a fictional train, composed by JA Roff. In the last century, The Carter Family recorded it in 1929 and Roy Acuff brought it to success in 1936, selling at least 10 million copies then. In the list of the 500 Songs that shaped rock and roll, of the Rock Hall of Fame, it is the oldest song. Chuck Berry copied the tune for his December 1964 single ‘Promised Land’, a track that also tells of a trip across different states of the Union.

Chuck Berry: ‘Promised Land’

8. Goree Carter & His Hepcats: ‘Rock Awhile’

Although ‘Rocket 88’ (1951) by Ike Turner is often spoken of as the first rock and roll song, the truth is that ‘Rock Awhile’, released three years earlier, could well be considered as such. Recorded by its author, Goree Carter, at age 18, his influence and his way of playing the guitar was clear in Chuck Berry, who in ‘Roll over, Beethoven’, released in 1956, appropriates the introduction and the melody. Berry composed this song in response to his sister Lucy, who always played classical music on the piano in her house (symbolized in her mentions of Beethoven or Tchaikovsky) when what Berry wanted was to use it himself to be able to interpret rock and roll and rhythm & blues. .

Chuck Berry: ‘Roll Over Beethoven’

9. Big Joe Turner: ‘Wee Baby Blues’

Composed by Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson, ‘Wee Baby Blues’ was first recorded by Art Tatum and his band in 1941. Chuck Berry turned it, with some slight variation, into ‘Wee Wee Hours’, one of the songs that He introduced himself to the Chess record company in 1955 to secure a record deal. Although the label wasn’t overly interested, it ended up appearing as the B-side of their debut single, ‘Maybellene’.

Chuck Berry: ‘Wee Wee Hours’

10. Mitchell Torok: ‘Caribbean’

In ‘You Never Can Tell’, released as a single in August 1964 and also known as ‘C’est La Vie’ or ‘Teenage Wedding’, Chuck Berry tells the story of a teenage couple who get married and begin to enjoy a relative prosperity to, at one point, buy a car and travel to New Orleans to celebrate its anniversary. Although he did not recognize it at the time, it is clear that Berry was inspired to compose it in the hit ‘Caribbean’ by country singer Mitchell Torok, released eleven years earlier.

Chuck Berry: ‘You Never Can Tell’

Bonus Track:
Chuck Berry: ‘School Days’

In this case, Chuck Berry did not copy anyone but himself. Yes, both ‘No Particular Place to Go’ and ‘Big Ben Blues’ sound like ‘School Days’, a song that I had previously composed and released. Berry, displaying a fairly profitable economy of means, used the same melody on all three songs with little variation.

Chuck Berry: ‘No Particular Place To Go’

Chuck Berry: ‘Big Ben Blues’

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