Tuesday, February 3, 2015

He WAS a Contender! He COULD have been anything! Bob Dylan Talks About Chuck Berry.

Bob Dylan talks about Chuck Berry’s greatness in the current issue of AARP:

"Chuck Berry could have been anything in the music business. He stopped where he was, but he could have been a jazz singer, a ballad singer, a guitar virtuoso. He could have been a lot of things. But there’s a spiritual aspect to him, too. In 50 or 100 years he might even be thought of as a religious icon."

Bob Dylan, on our hero's importance, as told to AARP Magazine.  You can read the whole thing (including more about Chuck Berry) HERE!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Jack Hadley Talks about The St. Louis Sessions

For a year or two now I've been remotely following a Colorado musician named Jack Hadley after first hearing about him from Bob Lohr.  A few months later things started heating up with word of recording sessions and big Italian meals in St.. Louis's Hill neighborhood.  A couple weeks ago I got my hands on the results, a CD called Jack Hadley: The St. Louis Sessions, and decided it was time to revive the website again.  After all, here's a record that includes a couple of Chuck Berry's current musicians, recorded by one of his older ones right in Mr. Lohr's "Blues Rock Ground Zero."  So I sent Mr. Hadley some questions and got back golden prose.  So, buy the CD HERE.  And enjoy!

How did a blues man from Colorado end up recording in St. Louis?

In April or May of 2013 I was invited to play at the Rauma Blues Festival in Rauma, Finland with Bob, Keith Robinson and bassist Terry Coleman. The original performer, Chicago guitarist/singer Chainsaw Dupont, was scheduled to play at this festival, but he had some health issues couldn’t do the tour. My wife is from St. Louis and we had been down there visiting her family. While we were in town I played at BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups with these guys. When we got back to Colorado Bob called and asked if I had a current passport. I said “Yes” and that was it. One thing led to another, the promoter checked me out and gave me the green light. The festival went very well (took place in July 2013). When we got back to the USA, Bob said I should come down to St. Louis and record some new music. The vibe is completely different there. And that’s how I ended up recording “The St. Louis Sessions.”

Tell us about the record. What were you trying to do? How do you feel about the result?

Well, I was trying to make a blues record, period. I have a lot of different influences in my playing and songwriting: folk, reggae, fusion, rock, blues, and many others. Bob Lohr was instrumental in keeping me on the blues road, musically speaking, while still keeping my own voice in the mix. For example, when I sent the rough mix of “I Need Somebody” to Bob, he said I needed to “shuffle-ize” it, make it more blues. I didn’t understand it at first. But I changed the rhythm guitar approach and turned it around. It’s a shuffle done my way — a little bit outside, if you know what I mean. I fingerpick a lot, and that’s the approach with this song. And I know it resonates with people, on the radio and especially on the dance floor.

I played a lot of funk and R&B music in the past, and it shows. I also have the Hendrix thing which is also a huge influence for me. I needed to reign in the funk (although that style is prominent in “Something So Bad”), and bring my inner B.B./Robert Cray to the forefront. I wanted to showcase the blues/soul feel that I have and focus on good songs. I’m very happy with the result. I think we avoided a lot of blues clich├ęs…and God knows there are so many out there. 

I have to give props to Nichole Olea, a great St. Louis-based photographer. She and Bob are friends and she took the fantastic shots that I used on the CD and all of my promotional material for “The St. Louis Sessions.” I also used K-Line Guitars courtesy of Chris Kroenlein, another St. Louis bad-ass. This guy makes custom electric guitars that are second to none. 

How long did the process take? How long were you in the city?

The recording process took a little more than 4 months. I live in Boulder, Colorado, right outside of Denver. I flew into St. Louis every 6 weeks or so, working on my own here in Colorado and the songs were refined in St. Louis. My wife is from St. Charles and I was able to stay with my mother-in-law, drive to the studio, and take care of business. I couldn’t have made this CD without her help. The recording process started in September 2013 and finished up in January 2014.

The next phase was mixing the tracks. David Torretta worked his magic and Bob sent the tracks to me as he moved forward. This took 2-3 months. When the final mixes were done, we sent them to Matt Murman for mastering. This took a few more months. Matt has a worked with tons of blues artists, people like Lurrie Bell, Arthur Crudup, Big Joe Williams, Eddy Clearwater and Roosevelt Sykes, to name a few. The engineering of David Torretta, the guidance of Bob Lohr and the final touches by Matt Murman really brought this project to a higher level. 

Did you make it out to the local clubs to hear some of the local musicians? 

I didn’t really have time to do that. But I’ve spent time at BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups before. I have played there a few times with Bob, Keith and Terry before the CD was recorded. In fact, the inside cover shot was taken on the roof of BB’s. Very cool experience. 

Is the record getting some airplay? Do you have any plans to tour with the guys who are on it? Your own band?

“The St. Louis Sessions” is already getting tons of airplay. The official release date was Oct. 20th, 2013. We are working with Todd Glazer Promotions and he’s made all the difference. You need a professional to get your music heard on the radio. I get reports from Todd on a regular basis. The CD has been added to playlists all over the U.S. and Canada. And it’s increasing every day. 

I’m definitely planning on touring with Bob, Keith and Terry, collectively known as The St. Louis Blues All-Stars. I’d like to hit the European festival circuit sometime in 2015, do some shows in America, too. I’m already playing most of these songs with my current trio, The Jack Hadley Band, here in Colorado.

Is it my imagination, or does St. Louis have a special sound and feel? And where does that come from?

It is not your imagination. There is a St. Louis sound. I noticed it the first time I heard Bob Lohr play at a festival here in Colorado a few years ago. And when I came to St. Louis I heard it immediately at BB’s. Drummers know how to play a shuffle in that city – as well as everything else. The guys in the St. Louis Blues All-Stars can play all kinds of different music. 

It could be that St. Louis is much closer to the South, musically speaking. The roots of blues, Rock n’ Roll, gospel, soul and R&B are really apparent. I also think there is a respect for the blues, and people take it seriously. 

What’s the blues scene like in Boulder and Denver? Is there any real history to the music there?

The blues scene in Boulder and Denver is complicated. There is a blues scene but it’s not like St. Louis. There are very few “blues” clubs, and — like many other places — many people only want to hear blues-rock. The blues audience here is a predominately older, White audience. Most Black musicians I know are not interested in the blues, period. A real blues history in Colorado? I would say no. And many of the people who are involved in the local blues scene come from somewhere else. It’s odd. This is almost a reverse segregation with Black people on the R&B/funk/smooth jazz end of the scale and very little crossover. And I’m saying this to you as a board member of the Colorado Blues Society and a musician. I see it every day. The audiences I’ve seen in St. Louis are much more diverse.

The West is a more laid-back environment. It’s easy to live out here. And there are a lot of distractions that might take away from a real interest in what many people consider to be “old” music. People are outside quite a bit since we have lots of sunshine, and you get the impression they would rather hear classic rock or a DJ. Anything but real blues.

Your music seems to mix straight up blues with some really pretty melodies. Who were your influences? Where does that sound come from?

You are correct. I listened to all kinds of music. My Dad is from Louisiana and my Mom was from the Philippines (I was born there). We had Nat King Cole and the Platters on the stereo, never heard any blues. And living in the Bay Area as a kid was a different experience, too. I listened to folk music, started out playing the acoustic guitar, still love finger-picking. Joni Mitchell, CSN&Y, Dylan, you name it.

I like pretty melodies and straight blues. Growing up with all these styles made me realize that I should play what I like. I listened to Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Chambers Brothers, Curtis Mayfield, all that stuff growing up. I enjoy funky stuff, too, but I drifted away from R&B because it isn’t guitar-oriented music. Modern R&B has been keyboard/bass/vocal dominated for a long time. 

My guitar influences are all over the map, but in the beginning: Hendrix, Clapton, B.B. King. I think I was influenced by their approach to the guitar, how they construct their solos, their voicing. I dig Hendrix’ inversions, the sting of Robert Cray, the soul of B.B., the raw blues power of Albert King. I love any great music played by masters of the Telecaster, people like Albert Collins, Redd Volkaert and Danny Gatton. Jazz players like Bireli LaGrene and Wes Montgomery. This is all beautiful music to me.

I came to the blues through the back door, listening to everything my friends were into, and realizing much later this is actually another version of the blues – the original pop music. 

Can you talk a bit about your early work in music? Were you in bands as a kid? What were you playing?

I was 12 or 13 when I started playing the guitar. Nothing serious because it was difficult to play. I didn’t realize that a guitar needed to be set up for you in order to play it. As a teenager I played a lot of folk music, rock (courtesy of Hendrix, the Beatles, etc.) I also started playing with other people in bands, sometimes acoustic duos. I remember playing in a duo with a friend of mine playing any kind of music with great harmonies, like Simon & Garfunkle, CSN&Y, that kind of stuff. We played wherever we could, parties and church ceremonies. 

Later on I started playing music by Sly & The Family Stone, early Commodores, Parliament Funkadelic and Slave. I’ve always had one foot in soul music. I’m a huge reggae music fan, too. I played with some guys from Trinidad for a few years in the ‘80s. Another form of soul music, for me, coming out of the Caribbean. 

Your St. Louis sessions brought you in contact with a lot of Chuck Berry’s people-- Bob Lohr, Keith Robinson. Dave Torretta has been working on the “new” Chuck Berry record and played bass on one of my all time favorite unknown CB numbers. What was that like?  

These guys are some of the best musicians I’ve ever played with. Again, the St. Louis thing: the ability to play real blues, not just pretending to play it. The depth of these players can’t be overestimated. When you’re playing with musicians at this level it changes everything. It’s the right sound and you can’t deny it. Terry Coleman on bass? You can’t touch him. Good people, too, with some crazy stories from the road and just the life of a musician.

Casa Del Torretta was a very easy place to record. David Torretta has this dialed in. There are instruments hanging on the walls, small guitar amps, great vocal mics — all the right elements to make good music. And that’s what we did. When we hit a wall we’d take a break and have some great Italian food and a few beers on The Hill, and then get back to work. 

Yes, I’ve heard about the unknown CB tracks. Apparently they’ve been in the works for some time. Hopefully they will be released sooner rather than later.

When you’re working with musicians in St. Louis, can you feel the presence of the greats who started there?  

Oh, hell yes. And when you’re on the Walk of Fame on the Loop and you realize how many great musicians have come out of St. Louis, it’s overwhelming. It makes you want to play well, do the best you can. I didn’t want to half-step on stage or in the studio.

And I have to ask: did you meet Chuck while you were there?

Yes. My wife, Jill, and I did meet Chuck at Blueberry Hill one night in 2013. Bob brought us in through the backstage door. I was speechless. I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself and ask for an autograph so I just said hello and that it was an honor to meet him. We talked for a few minutes, then joined the audience for his one hour set. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chuck Berry LIVE at The House of Blue Lights

 Well, not really!  It was Chuck Berry and Company at Blueberry Hill, the 11th day of December, 2013.  But as you'll see, with my old camera and no flash, there's a blurry blue light that captures the event better than the cold, hard light of my flash.

It was a fun night.  Sometimes it was so much fun Chuck seemed to think we were laughing at him.  "I hear you talking and laughing.  But no man is perfect!"

But never, Mr. Berry.  Everybody loved every moment.

It began, as ever, with "Roll Over Beethoven," followed by a long, beautiful version of "Wee Wee Hours" and a short half version of "Maybellene."  Then a long rock and roll instrumental in G, where Chuck and his band hit the St. Louis groove that I became more familiar with on this trip.  "That was pretty good!" he said, with considerable understatement.

Someone yelled "We love you, Chuck!"

"Thank you girls," he said.  "I know a girl when I hear one!"

There was a moment in the set where Chuck Berry tried to show us all his hearing aid.  "This one's gone," he said, pointing to his right ear.  "If you spend 52 years in front of a drummer you pay a penalty!"

"I didn't say 'a penny,'" he added.  "I've paid this one plenty!"

But that hearing aid obviously helps.  There were some flubbed notes, but on "Wee Wee Hours" and a couple of the instrumentals, Chuck was killing it.  So was the band.

He did "School Days (Ring Ring Goes the Bell)," but forgot to let us sing "Hail! Hail!"

He launched into a short one about no poem as lovely as a tree and admitted "We've never played this one before."  The band members agreed.

When he asked what Chuck Berry songs we wanted to hear I used my position in the front row to lobby for one I've never heard him play.  "No Money Down!" I yelled.  I hold a perfect record on that one.  I still haven't heard Chuck play it-- he stood there listening while Ingrid and the band did a great job on the song.  That made me feel a little bad, but I was consoled by a high five from the rhythm guitarist.  Anyway, it was a great Chuck Berry song that ought to be played more!

To get himself back on track Chuck launched into another rocker instrumental, and once again, they killed it.  Then he asked Bob Lohr what to play.  "How about Johnny B. Goode?"  And they rocked that one, too, with some lyrics I've never heard but that I liked: "a little boy who looked a lot like me!"

Ingrid did a slow blues next.  "You know what I'm talking about ladies, don't you.  I work hard every day taking care of castle keep."

And then a wonderful version of "Reelin' and Rockin'," with the vocal highlight coming from bass player Jimmy Marsala.  At a quarter to 12 Chuck began singing "I didn't know if I was...".  And when he paused for just a breath Jimmy filled the void with "going to Hell!"  Charles was laughing so hard he was unable to play guitar for at least four bars.

A band called Palace opened.  We heard their soundcheck and knew they were good, but during the first few numbers the sound equipment faltered badly and they had to stop mid-song two or three times.  One of their singers-- a very pretty young woman-- told stories and jokes and answered silly questions from the audience while BBH's sound man figured out the problem, and then they went back to work with a shortened by triumphant set of rhythmic pop that mixed bits of Brian Wilson, Queen and The Beatles.  The crowd loved them, so did I, and so did Charles Berry, Jr., who applauded their professionalism afterwards.

All in all, a wonderful night.  We topped it off by staying up way past our bedtimes to see a bit of Roland Johnson's set downtown at The Beale.  I guess I'll pay tomorrow.  Tonight, I'm just pleased we came back to St. Louis one more time.

(Unbelievable!  Just lost all the pictures I was trying to show you.  It was taking forever, so I'll do a selection!)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Night of Blues and Soul in St. Louis

(I didn't go out in St. Louis with the idea of writing about what I'd seen and heard, so I didn't take notes.  But what I saw and heard was worth recording somehow.  Here's the best I can do under the circumstances.  The way to find out what it was really like- head there yourself!)

I’ve never been to New Orleans (I’m saving it up) but I know about New Orleans-- that it’s a place famous for its musicians.  I know about Memphis, Nashville and Austin (though, come to think of it, I’ve never been to to a couple of those, either.) Everybody knows these places are music places, and still lively that way.

But I didn’t really know about St. Louis.  

Which is odd, considering that my hero and the lifelong object of my obsession hails from St. Louis, and considering that I associate the city names like Albert King, Miles Davis and Ann Peebles.  

But after a quick trip back to St. Louis this December-- one of several that I’ve taken in the last five years-- I’ve finally begun to scratch the surface and learn a little about the city’s still thriving Blues scene.  

In the course of three nights-- December 7, 10 and 11-- my wife and I saw five great performances by artists like Boo Boo Davis, Marquise Knox, Eugene Johnson, Kim Massie and Roland Johnson.  It was easy to do since all of them performed at two cool venues that sit across from each other a few blocks south of the Arch on South Broadway-- B.B.’s Soups, Jazz and Blues and Beale on Broadway.

I’d gone to St. Louis to see my old hero Chuck “one last time.”  (He keeps fooling me.)  But these two clubs-- and I’m sure there are a half a dozen more to add to the list-- are worth a trip to St. Louis all by themselves.  The drinks are big and cheap.  The food at B.B.’s is good.  The crowds ranged from boisterous on the weekend to intimate on a Wednesday.  The music was consistently stellar.

Every night we found a new mix of musicians, always with some crossover from a prior night.  Bassist Gus Thornton played for both Marquise Knox and Kim Massie.  Guitarist Stephen Martin backed up Massie and Roland Johnson.  Drummer Gerald Warren played with Eugene Johnson and stayed to provide beats for Kim Massie.  Keyboardist Robert Lohr was with Delta blues great Boo Boo Davis on Saturday night and on the following Wednesday crossed town to back Chuck Berry.  Eugene Johnson led his own group on Tuesday but also appears on  Marquise Knox’s newest cd.

I can’t pretend to know much about these musicians, (and I went to enjoy the music, not to take notes; I wish now I’d written a few things down) but bassist Gus Thornton provides an example of the depth of talent.  Watching him back up the remarkable Marquise Knox, I was struck by Thornton’s easygoing smile and the effortless way his fingertips touched the five strings of his bass to drive the songs.  A couple of days later Bob Lohr clued me into Thornton’s background playing bass for people like Albert King.  You can check it out yourself and read a good interview of the man HERE.   

Guitarist Stephen Martin, who played with Massie and Roland Johnson has a similarly angelic smile but plays devilishly good stuff on his pale blue Telecaster.  Massie was complimenting him on a new haircut when we saw them together.  You had to crane your neck to see him, tucked away in a corner behind Thornton, but you could hear every lick, down to the subtlest little bent “twing” that got drummer Gerald Warren laughing and nodding at the end of a song.  

And that’s one of the best parts: these musicians, who collect themselves in different groups every night, (or twice a night,) seem to really enjoy hearing and playing with each other.  In Memphis, on Beale Street, we saw some fine musicians putting on a fine show for us toursits, but at Beale on Broadway we saw fine musicians making music with and for each other.  Which works out fine for the audience.  

At the Marquise Knox show one young woman danced with half the men in the place, enticing them to all sorts of silly acts of lust which she then rejected with a grin.  Kim Massie brought out post-it notes and a vase to collect requests and big bills.  (She got plenty!)  Eugene Johnson invited a drummer he’d met in Europe to sit in.  The drummer, who took the sticks from Warren, might have regretted his decision about half way through “Brick House,” but it proved just how good the Warren and the other regular musicians are.  Another guy who took the stage before Roland Johnson’s set had better luck.  He borrowed Stephen Martin’s guitar and began to sing and strum a bit timidly.  We thought it was going to be a disaster, and one man made a face and laughed.  But the further he got, better it sounded, and one by one the musicians began to join him on stage.  Lew Winer, III, comedian of the group, played some wonderful sax, Eugene Johnson added bass, and Roland Johnson even tried to play the drums.  It was downright pretty.

As for the stars, dang!  To hear voices like Kim Massie’s and Roland Johnson’s from ten feet away restores a soul.  Both are great performers, too.  Johnson is as close as I’ll get, in attitude, to seeing Otis Redding alive, and Massie’s all attitude.  (To see Johnson and his band Soul Endeavor live, check out this clip of them playing at the Blues Deli in St. Louis's Soulard neighborhood.  Follow this Link!)  Between great songs Massie fires off wickedly dry one liners and singled me out for a cruelly shouted line questioning my manhood!  (It took a while to forgive her- but you can’t hold a grudge against a voice like that!)

(Here's a chance to hear her with a pretty well known drummer.)

Boo Boo Davis, who plays the first Saturday of every month at B.B.’s Soups, Jazz and Blues, was the old timer of this group, a veteran Delta Blues musician and drummer who helped nurture the current St. Louis blues scene back in the 1970s. B.B.‘s is a long, narrow place with a long bar that opens into a dining room and stage.  You can eat there, too.  When we arrived Davis, resplendent in black leather and bordello red, was seated at the front of the house just beneath the stage taking visits from audience members.  Boo Boo Davis was preceded on stage that night by singer and harmonica player Tom “Papa” Ray, who did a rhumba style “Summertime” on a very cold fall night backed by a group that included Robert Lohr on Piano, Nephew Davis on bass, Carlos Hughes on drums and Larry Griffen on guitar.  Then Boo Boo Davis, who alternates his deep growl of a voice with harmonica.  A man claiming to be his little brother sat whooping and hollering a few feet from us.  I decided his claim might be true when he said “the Wolf’s in the house” just before Davis launched into a startling imitation of Howlin’ Wolf.

When Davis’s first set was over we crossed the street to see and hear Marquise Knox.  At Beale on Broadway, the stage is right next to the front door, so as soon as you enter your are slammed with blues coming full force from a line of old guitar amps that seem to be stationed permanently against the back wall.  We paid our 7 dollars and sat on stools right next to the door while Knox, just 21 years old but completely mesmerizing, leaned forward to do a medley classics and originals.  (One song takes the title of a Billy Peek classic, “Can a White Man Play the Blues?” and makes it relevant to Knox by asking if a young man can.)  (The answer, in both cases, is that if it’s the right one, yes indeed.)  Here's a sample.

I don’t know if Chuck Berry will get me back to St. Louis again, but I know I’ll be back, and that when I return, I’ll go wherever these folks are playing.  And then I’ll head down the river to New Orleans.  ‘Cause I haven’t been there, yet.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chapter 12 - Why He Matters, Part IV: Chuck Berry as Businessman

Which leads to the next topic— because beyond the art, the poetry, the songs, the performance and the pure presence, there are a couple of other things that make Chuck Berry’s long career so notable.

He fought for himself as an artist—and continues to do so. He makes sure he is paid in advance for his performances. He manages his own career. He insists that every promoter provide the bare bones necessary for him to put on a proper Chuck Berry show: i.e., a few professional musicians, the proper guitar amplifier, and cash. When they fail, he lets them know.

Various people have criticized Chuck Berry’s insistence on being compensated for work performed, including later generation rockers who take in unimaginable riches and have riders demanding assorted wines and chocolates, or tea served in china cups, and who undoubtedly leave most details to legions of attorneys, agents, handlers, publicists, and hangers on.

Eric Clapton said “I still love his music, but meeting him in some senses took the edge off it for me. I found out bit by bit that he was so concerned with money and himself, and he is such an ambitious man, that in a way it kind of spoiled the feeling for the music.”

This is ironic commentary from a man who, with The Yardbirds, The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, and as a solo act, has gathered more windfall from the inventions of African American and Jamaican musicians than whole armies of the original artists. As best I can tell, from what I admit is only idle knowledge of his music, Clapton himself invented nothing and has written just one truly good song. Instead, like a good second story man he lifted the good stuff, polished it beautifully, and then fenced what he took at great personal profit. Good for him—that’s music. Musically Chuck did much the same thing (though he added several dozen beautifully crafted songs to the mix). But where, then, does Clapton get off talking about ambition, money and self importance? He’s got all of that in spades.

Or listen to Keith Richards, who started his own career covering hits from Chess stars like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. In my mind he deserves more artistic credit than Clapton—Richards helped write whole bunches of great songs. But discussing the 1986 film Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll he said: “Chuck said to the promoters that he wanted to bring his piano player, but only if they pay him. Chuck’s about bucks.” The Rolling Stones reportedly earned more than $400 million from its “Bigger Bang Tour,” and in 2001 the British paper The Guardian once reported that Richards was worth 130 million pounds. I guess with $200 million in your pocket, a busload of roadies, and a bunch of lawyers, managers, accountants and hangers on, you can be all about the art.

I got the Clapton and Richards quotes from John Collis’s Chuck Berry: The Biography. Collis himself chimes in: “Berry’s prudence with money, his fascination with its accumulation, is legendary. He loves it more than he loves rock ‘n’ roll. The deal is what matters to him, and he reads a contract with X-ray eyes.”

Collis’s quote is probably “on the money,” and less judgmental than the statements by the two well nourished rockers. Chuck Berry would never deny that he’s interested in the money. He remembers how much he was paid at his first gigs in the early 1950s. He remembers how much he was paid to paint the walls of the club, too. (“When the money got larger, I put the paint brush down, picked the pick up, and fiddled!”) He remembers the cost of old cars, tape recorders, guitars, even an $8 pair of pants. As an African American born in 1926, he is a child of both Jim Crow and the Great Depression. Yes, money means something to him.

And to his art! The pecuniary details are as important to his songs as the machines, the safety belts, or the young love. Johnny’s mother remembers where she got the bus money and the money for the guitar, which she bought at a pawn shop. The protagonist of “No Money Down” knows exactly how much he’s got left to spend to insure his “yellow convertible four door de Ville.” The “little money coming worked out well” for Pierre and the Mademoiselle.

There’s a scene in the film Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll where three legends gather around a piano at Berry Park. Bo Diddley starts talking about his early recording contracts. Little Richard admits he never read them. Bo says he did, and begins to say how much he earned per record. Half a cent says Chuck. The records sold for 59 cents. “There were 58 other pennies going somewhere,” says Chuck. “I majored in math. I was looking at the other 58 cents!”

At another point in the movie he talks about the payola scandal, and about finding two other names credited on his first hit record, “Maybellene.” “I knew Alan Freed. I heard him on the radio. He was the disk jockey in New York that played the records. Who was Russ Fratto? He owned a stenography store—a stationary store that supplied Leonard [Chess] with his stationary.”

“Maybellene” is now credited to just one man—Chuck Berry. Berry and his record company also fought to get royalties owed to him by the Beach Boys for using the melody of “Sweet Little Sixteen” to make “Surfing U.S.A.” Even John Lennon had to settle with Berry (he agreed to record more Chuck Berry songs) in return for using Berry’s line “here come old flattop” in The Beatle’s song “Come Together.” Call it hardnosed, or call it smart, or call it taking care of his family and his legacy— it was the right thing to do. How many blues and R & B stars died homeless, their efforts ripped off and returned home by foreign invaders? Not Berry. There’s a mansion on the edge of Berry Park that wasn’t there when my car stalled in 1978. (And that’s his other home. I’m pretty sure the big one is down the road a piece.)

His own musicians sure respect him. “The money's always right and on time,” says Bob Lohr, Chuck’s long time St. Louis piano player. “The touring conditions are the absolute best as well— five star hotels, sometimes first-class airfare, all expenses paid.” Fellow pianist Bob Baldori agrees. “I have never found Charles difficult to work with. He's always been 100% professional and easy going with me.”

If Chuck Berry reads a contract with “X-ray eyes” it’s because he’s a businessman who has been burned and would prefer to avoid it. “I have tried to curb the manners in which I have been ripped off so that it doesn’t happen again,” he told an interviewer from the BBC. “Which has given me a reputation of being—cynical, is it? It’s not that I’m distrustful—it’s just that if the same type of dog comes up and you think that he’ll bite you, well, move out!”

In his book he talks about his first and only manager. Chuck fired him when he learned he was stealing money. After that Berry managed his own career with the help of a few trusted agents and friends.

He wasn’t alone. The great Chess Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf also paid attention to money matters. Wolf paid his musicians’ taxes, social security and unemployment insurance—all unheard of in the blues world of the 1950s. When he fired a musician, or there wasn’t work, that musician could still get a check. When the musician retired, he’d get social security. Wolf also insisted on following the rules of the musicians’ union. Once, Elmore James put Wolf’s name on a poster without Wolf’s permission. Wolf fined James $25.

One of Wolf’s contemporaries talked about Wolf the same way some people talk about Chuck Berry. “He was mostly about money,” the musician said. “He conserved his money and he was always singing about money…. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him broke… He really was into that money thing and he had some money!”

Berry and Wolf, entertainers, sometimes clowns on stage, and undeniably great artists and musical innovators, were serious business people who insisted on being treated with respect, dignity and fairness in the financial rough and tumble of the music business. Musicians should thank them, not just for paving the way musically, but for helping turn the rough and tumble music business into a viable and dignified profession. It is a legacy almost as great as the music itself.

(Earlier chapters of this book length piece can be found in the "pages" to the left, and scattered throughout the blog.  I'll be publishing additional chapters once or twice a week throughout summer.  It starts HERE.  Or to read the next chapter, click HERE.)