Tag Archives: Chuck Berry

Empathic Vibrations: How Music Allows Us to Understand One Another

This post is part of a series of daily blog posts written during the month of May as a form of artistic protest. This Blog March was organized by writer/musician Robin Renée. You can learn more about Robin and the Blog March by visiting her website.

A few years ago, I had a co-worker who was really into music. When he found out that I enjoyed many of the classic rock bands that he liked, he’d come by my desk to have long, meandering conversations about music. One day he and I were discussing Hendrix, and he said that he didn’t like Jimi Hendrix and thought he was overrated. I told him that I tended to agree, that the cult of personality surrounding Hendrix had gotten a bit out-of-hand. Then in another conversation, we were having about guitarists we thought were overlooked, I suggested Prince and his reaction was one of disgust. “Prince? Prince? Surely you are joking…” I thought that was an odd reaction for such a big music fan to have, but I didn’t think too much about it. Then there was the time the subject of blues music came up, and he emphatically told me that he couldn’t stand it and that it held little artistic merit (or some such thing). I thought that was a pretty odd perspective to have, especially considering his favorite band was The Rolling Stones. I called him out on this, and he shrugged me off.

Imagine my surprise, however, when his hero Keith Richards released an album of all blues covers. There was no way that this guy was going to like that, right? Wrong, he loved it. I called him out on his inconsistent stance on blues. Then I asked him if he listened to any music made by a black artist and he told me frankly: “I don’t listen to black music…it just doesn’t speak to me. I can’t relate to it at all.” I laughed, not because the statement was funny (though it was) but because I thought this guy was joking. He was not. It turned out this guy avoided “black music” and only listened to bands/singers who were white, like him. Now, whether or not this guy was racists is neither here nor there–the point is, I think it’s pretty common for people to enjoy music made by people who most resemble themselves. As I’ve said many times, I didn’t seriously listen to female bands/singers until I was in my early 20’s when radio host/E-Street Band member Little Steve told me that Tegan & Sara were “cool.”

Now, if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for this guy to think he has more in common with Keith Richards than he does with someone like Robert Johnson. This guy was a teacher so economically, Johnson and his day-to-day life were much more “relatable” than Richards (who is a millionaire-vampire).

As I’ve matured and expanded my sphere of listening, I’ve come to realize how valuable it is to hear music created by people vastly different from myself. About a year or so ago, I was listening to a rap song, I wish I could remember what song or who the artist was (I think it was Run The Jewels), but I remember taking my headphones off and thinking: Oh, my God…”Black Lives Matter” means “All Lives Matter.” I had never taken issue with the sentiment of BLM, but like a lot of middle-class white people, I also thought it should be “All Lives Matter.” But through exploring both classic and modern rap/hip-hop, it became apparent to me that the way I experienced the world was fundamentally different than the way people of color experience it. Listening to rap provided a window of insight into how other people see and feel about things. I no longer have a problem with “Black Lives Matter,” because I can see now how they currently don’t matter (in this country and elsewhere in the world) and it was music that allowed me to begin the process of understanding. And right now what the world needs more than anything right now is more understanding.

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Run the Jewels.

100+ days ago, I would say this revelation would be pretty important, but now in May of 2017, I think it’s probably the most important thing music is. No matter who you are, take the time to explore the art of people who are different from you. Art is where we exalt our joy and preserve our pain. That old saying about not knowing someone until you walk a mile in their shoes? Well, one way you can do that is to experience their films, books, and music. I love Keith Richards to death, but it blows my mind that a person could enjoy his work and have zero interest in his mentor Chuck Berry. Don’t you dare be that narrowminded.

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The master and the apprentice.

Our Hater-In-Chief and those like him can only see divisions, but the truth is that our world is overflowing with art that can link us together. We’re all floating islands of isolation, but art tethers us not just to this world but to one another. Stop reading this post and listen to music made by someone who doesn’t look like you.

And if you want a suggestion:

 

Check out the next Blog March blog, by David Jamison here: https://davidjamison.wordpress.com/

 

 

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Pig River Records

As history buff, I think there’s something both enjoyable and infinitely rewarding in re-examining the past.  The good folks over at Pig River Records agree, and to that end have constructed a very unique website dedicated to re-examining and enjoying the music of the early 1960’s.  The website “was established on the 1st of January 2012, (1962) since which time it has seamlessly reported on the world of music as if it were happening today.” 

The website features both full-album and single-track reviews, as well as thoughtful essays on the music scene of 1962.  There’s even a music stream of the songs featured on the website.  It’s a fascinating endeavor that’s equal-parts time-capsule, museum curation, and rock criticism.  Artists commonly overlooked or (even worse) forgotten by today’s generation of music fans are given their proper due in the same breath at Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry.

In addition to my duties here at DEFENDING AXL ROSE, I have graciously been afforded the opportunity to contribute to Pig River Records.  If you would be so kind, please go and visit Pig River Records.  Tell them Axl sent you. 

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Classic Albums Revisited: DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP

The second album that AC/DC recorded, DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP has an unusual release history. In this modern age of iTUNES and instantaneous/simultaneous global releases it sometimes shocks people to learn just how fucked up some band’s catalogs are. The best examples are The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. For whatever reason, there is a huge differences in album art, album titles, track listing, etc. on much of the these classic band’s output. This issue often creates a problem for international fans who invariably ask, “which is the official or canonical release for this band?” Oddly enough, The Beatles and Stones are (like in most cases) polar opposites. For The Beatles, the British releases are considered the “true” or “real” catalog. Thus, in the 1980’s when their records were converted over to CD the American public was…confused when the British LP’s were released on CD. Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones choose to have the American release act as their “official” cannon.

Whatever.

What does any of this have to do with AC/DC? Well, if you live in Australia or Europe DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP was the band’s second album, and it came out in 1979. If you lived in America it came out in 1981 after the massively successful BACK IN BLACK record. This might seem like a little detail, but if you’re living in America and AC/DC puts out BACK IN BLACK as a tribute to their fallen lead singer, Bon Scott, with new vocalist Brian Johnson and a year later Scott returns on a “new” record…you might wonder what the hell is going on.

The following “Classic Albums Revisited” is true, only the names have been changed to protected the innocent.

The delay in the album’s release in America is all about taste. The good folks over at Atlantic records didn’t get, probably couldn’t get, songs like “Squealer” or “Big Balls.” What they could ‘get’ was the piles of money the band made after Johnson’s death when BACK IN BLACK hit #4 on the US record charts. What’s amazing, however, is the success of DIRTY DEEDS. It went on to reach #3 here in the US, making it the highest charting AC/DC album.

This of course just goes to show you that the suits at the top have no idea what the hell they are doing.

I first heard AC/DC growing up listening to classic rock radio with my parents. I never really noticed a difference between Brian Johnson and Bon Scott. As an older, more critical listener I can separate the two (Scott having a slightly higher register than Johnson). Many consider Johnson to be an imitation of Scott, but I don’t think that’s very fair. However, as a music geek/nerd I have to love the original line-up more.

Growing up, I only knew one person in the whole world that liked AC/DC, a kid named Josh that lived over on the next street. I remember him showing me his CD collection before class in 8th grade. Our teacher was one of the younger teachers at our school, she happened to be walking by when he was showing me his collection:

“Oh, AC/DC…they were popular when I was in High School. I can’t believe people still listen to them.”

She had a nasty, slightly disgusted look on her face. Like we were looking at a Playboy instead of a stack of shiny plastic discs. I can’t really say I blame her, there is something inherently…dirty about AC/DC. Oh sure, they sing about the usual sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll…but that’s not quite what makes them seem so…’brown bag.’ For me, and I suspect lots of people, AC/DC is a bit of ‘brown bag’ bag. You know, the sort of thing you buy looking down at your shoes. The sort of thing you stuff under your mattress.

The album’s title track, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” is one of the most cinematic rock songs I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear this song, a roaring advertisement for a dubious, back-alley problem solving service, I can see the vicious High School principal. I can see the cheating boyfriend who needs his ass kicked. The bitchy woman that needs to be put in her place. All of these people harass us throughout our lives– how often have we wished for a tough-talking wise guy to appear and magically “solve” these walking-problems by kicking some ass? The only thing better is: this service is surprisingly affordable (dirt cheap).

“Big Balls.” I’m sure there are a few of you reading this that have never heard this song. And I bet just by reading the title you have a pretty good idea what this song sounds like. Right??? Wrong. Oh sure, AC/DC could have gone all low-brow and written a song about how big their balls are. They could have, but they didn’t. Instead, these (seemingly) dunder-headed rockers form Down Under have crafted a shockingly up-scale double entendre. A song that’s both rockin’ and 10X funnier than any Weird Al song.

My favorite part:

“Some balls are held for charity
And some for fancy dress
But when they’re held for pleasure
They’re the balls that I like best”

The Chuck Berry-esque “Rocker” is an awesome, breathless song that clocks in at only 2:52 but manages to perfectly encapsulate everything about rock music. That this track is so perfect (and yep almost haphazardly dashed-off) is surprising…but not as surprising as “Ride On.” Think about AC/DC and what do you think of? Loud. Balls-to-the-walls rock, right? “Ride On” is a quiet, introspective cowboy song. It’s my favorite track because of the vulnerability in Bon Scott’s voice, the regret and yes…heartache in his soul. At five minutes, it’s too long for radio-play (and was thus, never released as a single) but in my book ranks as one of the greatest rock ballads of all time. The guitar solo starts at 3:40 and goes all the way to 4:47. It’s not a complex or blistering solo, but like great bluesman of the past, Angus Young astounds by somehow conveying real human emotion through thin steel stings.

It’s an amazing, beautiful moment and it’s on an AC/DC record.

The original Australian Artwork:

This album artwork was…DONE…DIRT…CHEAP!!!

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C. Berry

Last winter I saw the King of Rock ‘n Roll.  It’s pretty hard to believe that he’s still alive, let alone still performing, but it’s true.  Once a month Chuck Berry plays a concert at a place called Blueberry Hill here in St. Louis.  It’s a kitschy restaurant full of dusty memorabilia cases and old arcade games.  There’s two bars, one upstairs and another in the basement which is called The Duck Room.  Named after Berry’s signature dance move (you’ve seen it even if you didn’t know what it was called, Michael J. Fox does it at the end of BACK TO THE FUTURE) The Duck Room is not a glamorous place, it looks exactly like the basement of a restaurant.  Only with a bar and a funny ha-ha duck decor.  Blue Berry Hill has quite a few concerts down in the Duck Room, I’ve seen a few acts there–but the only time I’ve ever seen the place sell-out is when Chuck Berry plays.

Usually The Duck Room is a standing-room-only affair, but for Berry they owners brought out a few crappy chairs.  The audience was mixed, young and old, there were more than a few people pushing 70 in the crowd.  Which seems about right considering Berry himself is 85 years old.  A serviceable cover band opened the show (sorry I can’t remember their name) and once they finished, Chuck Berry’s band, which consists of his children and family friends, took to the tiny stage.  After a little intro music a very tall, very spry man shuffled up onto the stage.  He was wearing a white captains hat and had a guitar.  If you’ve ever seen a picture of Chuck Berry, from any year, then you know what he looks like to this very day.   It’s amazing how some people age…and how others don’t.  I’d like to think that in Berry’s case, it’s rock ‘n roll that’s kept him young.

Seeing Chuck Berry play songs like “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “No Particular Place To Go,” “You Never Can Tell,” and yes “Johnny B. Goode,” was akin to the times I saw  Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones.  It still doesn’t feel real to me that I’ve been in the same room as them.  And as amazing as they were, Berry is in a whole class to himself.   Open up Keith Richards (excellent) autobiography LIFE.  Go ahead, open up that massive book to just about any page and chances are you’ll see Chuck Berry’s name–he talks about Berry endlessly.  I’ve read more than one rock biography or interview where Berry’s name was spoken as though he were a living, breathing God.  We sort of take it for granted now, but once there was a time when there was no rock music.  White people liked really boring big band music (or whatever) and black people played blues music for each other. Berry didn’t invent rock ‘n roll, that suggests that he plucked it out of thin air or that it’s components didn’t already exist.  No, Berry took rhythm and blues music and he distilled it like Jack Daniels, into the potent concoction we know today.

It’s pretty amazing that Berry is still alive and even more amazing that he still performs regularly.  I feel honored to live in the same city as the man who changed pop music forever.  The rest of St. Louis feels the same way because recently a monument was built in Berry’s honor.  Located directly across the street from Blueberry Hill (and a stones throw from Vintage Vinyl, the city’s best record store), the monument features Berry’s lyrics carved into the ground, an illuminated wall that displays the musical notes for “Johnny B. Good,” and an 8-foot bronze statue of the man himself.  All hail the King of Rock ‘N Roll! Long live the king.

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Mötley Crüe, Stage Theatrics, and “360 Drumming”

So last night I went to a concert (not Van Halen, though they were playing less than 2 miles from the show I was at)  and in between the opening band (Blood Orange, who I thought was pretty cool) and the main attraction (Florence + The Machine), the topic of Tommy Lee’s stupendously-stupid “360 Drumming” somehow randomly came up.

I’m not the world’s biggest Mötley Crüe fan, but I can acknowledge that they have a few pretty good songs.  Anyway, my best friend (a Fiona Apple kind of guy) had never heard of Tommy Lee’s stage antics, so I decided to track down a video.  I honestly thought it would be hard to find, I had no idea that as recent as last year Mötley Crüe was still using this schtick in their live act. You would think that after years of drug and alcohol abuse, ‘ol Tommy wouldn’t be able to hang upside down and bang the drums…but I guess he still can.

Not the first time Tommy Lee gave one of his fans a "ride."

Growing up I had a pretty big aversion to being upside down. I’m still not crazy about roller coaster loops, but I can do them because they’re usually mercifully brief. But hanging inverted like he does in the video below? Forget about it.  I know he’s strapped in there pretty good, but how the hell does he keep from dropping his sticks? Part of me wants to dismiss these shenanigans outright…but how is this any different than Jimi lighting his guitar on fire? Or Ozzy “biting” the heads off fake bats? Or Alice Cooper beheading himself? Theatrics have been a part of rock since the beginning, like Chuck Berry’s duck walk.  Something to think about.

Oh the humanity.

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