(3 / 5)
Who invented rock and roll? Bill Hayley and his Comets? Little Richard? Chuck Berry? Jerry Lee Lewis? Elvis Presley? The list of contenders and suspects is long and it is an old chestnut of a debate. Doubtful if anyone has ever or will ever come up with a definitive answer.
How about Sister Rosetta Tharpe for an outside bet? Gospel superstar in the 1930s and 1940s, who played acoustic guitar until she switched to a Gibson electric guitar in 1947. That gal could really play and was a sight, standing there wearing a gown and sometimes a fur coat, while attacking the guitar with ferocity. Ms Tharpe got so famous, that in 1951, more than 25,000 people paid to see her get married (for a third time), in a stadium in Washington DC.
Well, it doesn’t really matter who is responsible for the birth of rock and roll, because the music is here to stay. Rock and roll will never die. Who said that; well, I just did! Chuck Berry is still a rockin’ and a rollin’ at the ripe old age of 90. Little Richard is 84. Jerry Lee is 81. I have met and worked with Jerry Lee twice (nightmare, don’t ask!), Chuck (got awkward!) and Richard once (very pleasant man, wearing lots of face makeup!). Never saw Bill or Elvis, sadly. But for those we have lost and will lose, their legacy is their great music which lives on.
Testimony to the heyday of rock and roll is this fabulous 40 track, two-disc compilation celebrating the rock and roll output of famed label, Chess Records. Although Chess is arguably the most important Blues label in history, one could make a very solid case for their Rock and Roll output being even more significant in terms of influence on the sound of modern music.
Strangely, and not as the result of any particular design or marketing tactic, the Chess Rock and Roll story mirrors the Blues’ tale in that there were two massive stars who dominated the company’s successes. For Blues it was Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and for Rock and Roll it was Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. These leading men were supported by a legion of lesser lights who also contributed their own verses to the Gospel.
A detailed overview of rock & roll on the Chess label, this release is founded on the work of those bona fide ‘originators’ Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, but also features contributions from greats like Bobby Charles, Paul Gayten, Dale Hawkins and Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, as well as highly collectable recordings by such artists as Baker Knight, Lou Josie, Eddie Fontaine and TV Slim & the Heartbreakers.
It begins in 1951, with what is widely regarded as the first rock & roll single, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston & his Delta Cats, featuring Ike Turner. Many may say that Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” was the first proper rock and roll record, but that was not written until 1952 (not by Haley) and not released until 1954, and then again a year later.
This rocking collection closes with the label’s last major hit, Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” in 1972. The single caused controversy in the UK and USA – where it was Berry’s only number one – with its double-entendre lyrics, and here; morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse tried to have it banned from the BBC airwaves. In the US, some stations did not play it. The single version was recorded at a Berry concert as part of an Arts festival in Coventry, where Berry was backed by The Roy Young Band, and on the same bill was Billy Preston, Slade and US comedian George Carlin.
In Berry’s band were two guys who went on to become members of the Average White band and the drummer from Prog rockers Van der Graaf Generator. The song actually originated from a guy called Dave Bartholomew who wrote and recorded it in 1952, and again when he moved record labels, and in 1954, a band called The Bees released a version called “Toy Bell”.
The rhythms and grooves minted at Chess in the 50s and 60s continue to resonate throughout popular music, and this is a collection of seminal recordings from a seminal label. Combining public domain and non-public domain material, it will appeal to those with an interest in R&B, rockabilly and the roots of what became ‘rock’ as we know it today. Many of the Chess artists here, led by Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, inspired a generation of white kids to pick up guitars and knock out a tune on both sides of the Atlantic – notably The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who further advanced the rock template and themselves went on to influence others.
Too many titles to list them all here, but Bo Diddley gets seven slots, Chuck Berry has six cuts, Dale Hawkins three and Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats two tracks. Bo gives us “Bo Diddley”, “Who Do You Love?”, “You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover”, a live version of “Road Runner”, from the Beach Club, Myrtle Beach. Plus, “Stinkey”, “Soul Food”, and “Another Sugar Daddy”. Mr Berry offers up his hits “Maybelline”, “Johnny B. Goode”, “Nadine (Is It You)”, “No Particular Place To Go”, “You Never Can Tell” and the final track on disc two, “My Ding-A-Ling.”
The set also give up tracks from Sugar Boy & His Cane Cutters, The Coronets, Bobby Tuggle (great surname!), Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Paul Gayten, Bobby Charles, Bobby Sisco, Johnnie & Joe, Billy Barrix, Bobby Dean, Eddie Fontaine, Lou Josie, The Satellites, Del Saint & The Devils, Johnny Fuller, The Jet Tones, Mel Robbins, Dave “Baby” Cortez and Baker Knight. Some of these names are new to me, but there are plenty of old favourites and some songs I have not heard in many a blue moon. All but seven of the 40 are mono recordings, by the way.
All I need now is the crackle of scratched vinyl, plus the hum and smell of the warm valves in the record player and I am back in my countryside bedroom in the 1960s, soaking up as much music as I could from my two elder brothers’ and my sister’s record collections. Who says nostalgia ain’t what it used to be?
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’