The Witching Hours Session – 02/04/2018.
Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none was more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry (1926 – 2017). He was its greatest songwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, without him there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor myriad others. Like Brian Wilson said, he wrote “all of the great songs and came up with all the rock & roll beats.”
For all of his off-stage exploits and seemingly ongoing troubles with the law, Chuck Berry remains the epitome of rock & roll, and his music will endure long after his private escapades have faded from memory. Because when it comes down to his music, perhaps John Lennon said it best, “If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”
1 – After School Session (1957)
Chuck Berry’s debut LP is fairly strong musically, as well as having a really cool cover (a still shot of Berry, guitar slung in front of him, from the movie Rock, Rock, Rock!’). ‘After School Session’ was just the second long-player ever issued by Chess — only the soundtrack to the movie ‘Rock, Rock, Rock!’ preceded it. All of it was recorded in four separate sessions spread across almost two years; the rock & roll numbers and the guitar-driven instrumentals out-class most of the blues and ballads, but there’s nothing here that could be classed as “filler,” either — a lot of British Invasion bands wore out copies of these same sides learning their basic repertory,
2 – Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (1987)
This is the soundtrack to a documentary film chronicling a concert held to celebrate Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday. The band was led by Keith Richards and featured Berry’s regular pianist, Johnnie Johnson, Richards’ regular pianist, Chuck Leavell, Rolling Stones sax player Bobby Keys, bassist Joey Spampinato from NRBQ, and drummer Steve Jordan from Richards’ solo band. The guests included Robert Cray, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Julian Lennon, and Etta James. Berry was ragged-voiced but enthusiastic, the band had spirit, and the guests, even if they were sometimes unlikely, were sincere. The best way to hear Berry’s music is to obtain the original recordings, of course, but as a souvenir of the Taylor Hackford film, this is an enjoyable romp through the catalogue.
3 – The Great Twenty-Eight (1982)
This is the place to start listening to Chuck Berry. ‘The Great Twenty-Eight’ was a two-LP, single CD compilation that emerged during the early ’80s, amid a brief period in which the Chess catalogue was in the hands of the Sugar Hill label. In the decades since its release, there have been more comprehensive collections of Berry’s work, but this is the best single disc collection.
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