RIP Chuck Berry – Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll

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I know I’m late to the game on mourning Chuck Berry… Unfortunately, my Corporate Overlords have had me sequestered in Las Vegas at a conference since Saturday when the news broke that the Rock’n’Roll Legend Chuck Berry had passed away at the age of 90 years old. I haven’t had a chance to come up for air to express the sadness I feel at his passing. I hate it when work interferes with music. When I go out to Vegas for these conferences it’s a bit like entering Biosphere… I don’t see the sky or the sun for seven or eight days. Likely everything I could say, will have already been said, but Hell, I don’t even know what’s been said. I’ve been under what feels like house arrest at a casino for a week….and I’ll admit, there are worse places to be under house arrest, but I digress.

If I were to sculpt the Early Rock Music Mount Rushmore, it would have Elvis (The King), Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and naturally, Chuck Berry. These artists are the foundation for everything that came after them. The influence of those acts is indescribable. As anyone who has read B&V before knows, in my opinion America has had many Presidents, but it’s only had one King… and that’s Elvis Presley. But, that said, the Vice President of Rock and Roll, for me has always been Chuck Berry. The thing I always loved about Chuck Berry besides the great songwriting, was that he was the first Guitar Hero rock star! Yes, Elvis had the moves and the voice… but Chuck not only sang and duck walked, he played a mean guitar.

And what a guitarist he was. He never gets the credit that is his due on the six string… So many people were influenced by Chuck Berry as a guitarist – there would be no Keith Richards without Chuck Berry – its difficult to overstate his influence. John Lennon once said, “if you want to find another name for rock ‘n’ roll just call it Chuck Berry.” Everyone who got big in the 60’s/70’s either covered Chuck or wrote a song like Chuck would….

The Beatles did “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “No More Monkey Business.” As solo artists John Lennon (“You Can’t Catch Me”), George Harrison (various tunes) and Paul McCartney (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”) each covered Berry either on record or in concert. The Stones most famously did “Carol,” a real gem of a cover and also “Around and Around” on ’12×5′ their second (and an essential) album. The Stones later did an original tune, “Star Star” that is as pure of a Chuck riff as I’ve ever heard. Berry was as much of an influence on the Stones as the Blues giants they imitated in their early days. As a solo artist Keith Richards covered “Run Rudolph Run” as a Christmas single and produced the fabulous documentary “Hail, Hail Rock N Roll” around a special Chuck Berry concert.

I’ll never forget a scene in “Hail, Hail…” where Berry is schooling Richards on a tune they’re playing in rehearsal. Keith plays the riff, and to these uneducated ears it sounds perfect. Chuck stops the band and says, “If you’re going to play it, play it right…” then lays the riff down again. Keith, clearly agitated, listens to Chuck replay the riff and realizes, yes, he got it wrong. Keith then dutifully replays the riff exactly as Chuck did. I fell out of my theater chair. The perfection was spectacular.

Artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen and REO Speedwagon, yes REO, covered “Little Queenie.” Although you’ll have to find Springsteen’s version on a bootleg… you’re on your own there. The Stones covered it live as well. “Let It Rock,” which is a mammoth tune was covered most famously by Bob Seger and became his de facto concert ending/encore song. I saw Drew Abbott, Seger’s guitarist play that song at Kemper arena one time and it was mind blowing. Seger even name checks Berry on “Rock And Roll Never Forgets,” when he says “all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his riffs…” If anybody has heard the early Seger tune “Get Out of Denver” I defy you to tell me that’s not a Chuck Berry influenced tune. The fast, galloping, nasty guitar riff is signature Berry. Hell, Jerry Garcia covered “Let It Rock,” and it was oddly wonderful.

One of my favorite covers of a Berry tune is, and yes, those of you who have read B&V will have already guessed, The Faces doing “Memphis.” Ronnie Wood plays a wonderfully distorted guitar line and Rod Stewart just nails the vocal. The only Berry cover by those guys I like as much or better might be “Sweet Little Rock N Roller” done on Rod’s under rated solo disc, ‘Smiler.’

The list of covers could go on and on… Let me just say that every band you love, if you love classic rock, was influenced by Chuck Berry. Hell, AC/DC did “School Days.” I can’t list the number of acts who’ve done “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Reelin and Rockin.” Linda Ronstadt even did “Back In the USA.” I mean, holy shit, Linda Ronstadt? What’s next, my wife’s cat doing “Maybellene?” If only….

Chuck wasn’t perfect… a lot of rock and rollers and musicians also had a dark side. Elvis, James Brown… name anybody who made it big and they probably had demons they were wrestling with. But those demons fueled the artistry that created some of the greatest rock music ever heard.

Chuck Berry was a true American original. While he’s left us, his influence will always be felt when a guitarist steps to the front of the stage and lays down a nasty, beautiful, dirty, fast riff.

RIP Chuck! You are already missed!

Put on “Maybellene” this weekend and play the – “how many songs were based, in part, on this song” game – the list will be long…. Hail, Hail, baby!

Cheers!

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Happy Keithmas Everyone – Keith Richards’ Birthday

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I spent a very cold December winter day watching my Chiefs once again fumble away a winnable game against the Tennessee Titans… Needless to say I found myself sulking around the house, as adult men do when their sports teams lose. I was thinking that this dark funk of a mood was something that even a tumbler of Buffalo Trace wasn’t going to help… Although I will admit, with the Rock Chick making her dangerous egg nog, the bourbon was quite available…

Suddenly I realized that today is one of the 12 days of Christmas… It’s Keithmas…. Keith Richards’ birthday. While that may not help my hapless Chiefs playoff chances, it’s a great thing that Keith is even alive at 73. How long was this guy number one on the famous people’s “Death Pool” during the 70s and 80s. The fact that this man, with all the drugs, booze, arrests and alas, his head injury has survived into his 70’s is a cause for hope for all of us out here. If this guy can persevere, can’t we all. I often find myself thinking, “What would Keith do?” And when I do that, things turn out all right.

If his last album, “Crosseyed Heart” is any indication there’s still a lot of life in rock and roll’s original pirate, outlaw, renegade. I’ve always loved Keith Richards. When I was a teenager, and I was first turned onto the Stones, I wanted to be Mick Jagger. As I got older and the realities of life began to settle in on me, I realized I wanted to be Keith. He was the outlaw, living outside of society. Never one to give into the conventions of “straight” society, the man has lived, as Sinatra sang, “my way.”

So many rock stars have tried to imitate the style and the sneer of Keith Richards… but he was truly an original and remains so to this day. I love this picture of Keith I used for this post – it’s not the young 70s superstar, it’s the rocker in repose, aged like a fine wine. Hat cocked to the side, taking a drag of a cigarette, skull ring on the right hand, staring right at you – perhaps right through you. Keith, 73, and still the man!

So, Happy Birthday Keith Richards and here’s to wishing you many more. In Keith’s honor today, I poured my bourbon over a skull-shaped ice cube that the Rock Chick produced from the freezer. It seemed only appropriate. And while I’m still stinging from the horrific offense the Chiefs put on the field today… Buffalo Trace, a skull-shaped cube and “Crosseyed Heart” on the stereo…. Yeah, it’s going to be ok… As Keith would sing, “You shouldn’t take it so haaaaard…”

Cheers!

LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle

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In the beginning, for me, it was The Rolling Stones. As a kid, I only turned on the radio to listen to sports, most likely the Royals game while I was trying to go to sleep. It was my brother who had the stereo and all those odd albums with the strange, colorful covers. Then I heard the song, “Miss You,” and shortly after that “Beast of Burden.” That music hit me in the lower brain stem. I immediately went out and bought the LP “Some Girls,” the first album I ever bought with my own money. In many ways that album changed my life forever… I’ve been looking for that same “Some Girls” high every time I drop the needle on the vinyl. I then made a cassette recording of my brother’s double album, “Hot Rocks,” the Stones iconic greatest hits album. I wore that damn thing out. Suddenly I was saving up money for one of those cheap, turntable/receiver/cassette players all in one stereo unit.

In the beginning, for the Stones, it was the blues. Thank God, it was the blues. Everything I’ve ever liked is based on the blues and I think that’s probably because the Stones were my “first.” Their early albums were essentially blues cover albums. “England’s Newest Hitmakers” and especially “12×5” are two of the greatest blues/blues rock albums ever recorded. They were full of young man bluster back in those days. Now, with the release of the amazing new “Blue And Lonesome” it seems that the Stones have come full circle. They’ve returned home, they’ve returned to their roots, the blues. In many ways it was the Stones who turned America back onto the blues. They shined a light on this “black” music and suddenly white audiences rediscovered the blues. Keith says shining the light back on the blues may be the only thing that gets him into heaven… good luck with that Keith.

Much has been written about the creative conflict between Keith, the blues/rock traditionalist and Jagger, who has always had an eye on what’s current. That push and pull, with Keith looking backward and Mick looking forward is what a lot of the experts think has fueled the Stones creative process over the years. In light of that, it’s easy to think of this as a “Keith album.” And, it was Keith who suggested they try the Little Walter tune, “Blue And Lonesome” in order to get comfortable in the new studio they were recording a new album in last December.

However, I would beg to differ with the idea that this is a more Keith-centric record. People forget that while Mick likes to stay current, he’s always kept an eye on the blues. As late as 1993 he holed up in L.A. with a local blues band, The Red Devils, and recorded an album of blues songs, which sadly remains unreleased to this day, except for 1 track on Mick’s solo “Charmed Life” collection. I found a great live set of Mick doing blues tunes at the Mustique Blues Festival with his back up band. Yes, he’s always looked forward, but Mick is still firmly rooted in the blues. At the Stones 50th Anniversary show I saw in New Jersey, Mick brought the Black Keys and Gary Clark on stage to do Freddy King’s “Goin’ Down.” Mick’s blues cred is pretty solid with me. I would argue, with all their personal issues (the biggest being Keith’s stupid comments about Mick in his autobiography) the one thing that holds these guys together is the blues. It’s their common vernacular.

The Stones never completely abandoned the blues. I can remember the first time I heard “Down In A Hole” from the “Emotional Rescue” album. That’s a great blues song. “Black Limousine” from Tattoo You and “Back of My Hand” from their last studio album, “A Bigger Bang” are great, later period blues tunes from the Stones. Every Stones album has a great blues tune hidden in their somewhere. Each live album they did seemed to have a blistering blues cover on it. They never really left the blues, however far they roamed musically.

“Blue And Lonesome” does bring the Stones full circle but these aren’t the same young men who recorded the blues over fifty years ago. These guys now sound like Muddy when he did “Hard Again,” elder statesmen who have grown into these songs. While I can certainly picture Keith sitting with his guitar on a chair near Charlie’s drum kit with a shit-eating grin on his face while they recorded this album, this is the Mick Jagger show. His vocals are so committed, he’s feeling these tunes. There’s zero affect in his voice. His enthusiasm was clearly infectious within the band. Mick Jagger is the greatest harmonica player in rock and roll and he proves it on this album. It had to be a very conscious decision of Keith’s to lead Mick to the songs of Little Walter (three of which are recorded here), the blues’ greatest harmonica player, to get this thing jump started. It was an inspired choice. The harmonica drives a lot of these tunes. I was frankly blown away by Mick’s playing, it’s simply put, out of this world. Even the Rock Chick came in and said, “This sounds great, Mick is an amazing harp player…” which was a surprise as I’ve never heard the Rock Chick use the term “harp” to describe a harmonica. That woman is like an onion… so many layers.

The sound of this album grabbed me right away. These are loud, dirty blues. The music explodes out of the speaker with a strength and force that surprised me. The album has the sound of a late night blues club, in a shack on the outskirts of town, near the crossroads. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly pay the cover charge to get in. It sounds like a party and the Stones are having a blast. Mick’s vocals and harmonica are right out front in the mix. The rest of the band just sort of rides behind him in the pocket. The playing is right in the groove. There is some great guitar playing, but again it takes a back seat, it’s more of a compliment to the songs. Eric Clapton plays on two tracks, and his best solo is probably on “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing.” I would say that Ronnie Wood matches the heights of Clapton’s solo on the title track, his playing is just great. The vocal from Jagger on “All Of Your Love” starts off as a visceral howl. It’s his most impassioned vocal here. I can never say enough about the fabulous drumming of Charlie Watts, he’s definitely the engine. I love the fact that they didn’t select well known tunes, they went deep into the blues catalog. Only a band like the Stones, with their knowledge of the form, could put together a song list like this. I love the version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime.” Many folks think the blues are all slow tunes, but a lot of these tunes are upbeat “jump blues” kind of tracks like “Ride Em On Down.”

This is a great, great album. It seems the Stones now only put out one album per decade so this is a big fucking deal. I’m hopeful they continue working on that new album they were recording when this creative blues super nova burst. Now that they’ve gone back to their early days, playing the blues, maybe they’ll revisit their dirty rock 70’s period. “A Bigger Bang” was such a great late-period album from the Stones I was hopeful we’d see a return of them releasing albums more frequently. Of course that was 11 years ago. Even if they don’t finish the new batch of tracks for an all-new album, I’m pretty happy to have “Blue And Lonesome.”

Put this one on loud, pour a Blanton’s bourbon over some ice cubes and dance around… I guarantee clothes will start coming off. “Blue And Lonesome” gets BourbonAndVinyl’s strongest recommendation! Enjoy!

Cheers!

The Rolling Stones: “Just Your Fool” The First Single From ‘Blue And Lonesome’

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I haven’t been able to post much lately as my corporate overlords have had me on the road, traveling almost constantly. Then as inevitably happens in the fall, I fell ill. Too much time breathing the shared air of the airplane probably didn’t help either. Although I will say bronchitis does give me an excuse to cut back on the bourbon I am so fond of…but I digress. There is a lot of exciting new music coming out and newly released music to blog about. It’s truly an exciting time for rock fans – I just wish I felt better to enjoy it. Most exciting for your humble BourbonAndVinyl enthusiast is the new blues album coming out in early December from the Rolling Stones.

In the beginning for me, as a rock fan, it was the Stones. They were the first band to pierce my seeming obliviousness to music and all things rock and roll. ‘Some Girls’ was the first proper album I purchased with my own money. And for the Stones, in the beginning, it was The Blues. Their early records, “England’s Newest Hit Makers” and “12×5” were basically blues covers albums. It was the blues that brought Mick and Keith together at that train station over 50 years ago. It was the blues they played all around London at clubs like the Marquee Club.

I have always loved the Stones but have been frustrated with the lack of new music from them. The last non-greatest hits, non-live LP they put out was the superb “A Bigger Bang” and that was in 2005. It’s hard to believe these guys have waited 10 years to put out new music. Keith’s autobiography “Life,” where he disparaged Mick probably didn’t help their ability to sit down across a table and write music together. Sure it’s easy to tour and play on a stage but creative chemistry is a tougher thing to gauge.

I had heard that the Stones had gone into the studio late last year and was elated. Keith has said recently they were struggling to find a groove when he suggested they jam on some old blues covers to knock the cobwebs off. Apparently those sessions caught fire. Even Eric Clapton, who was recording next door, was pulled into the room for a couple of tracks. Over the course of three days the Stones recorded enough old, Chicago blues to fill an album.

The first salvo from that record is a great blues scorcher “Just Your Fool.” As the Rock Chick commented when I played it for her, “I love it when Mick Jagger plays the harmonica.” His harmonica is the first thing you hear on this old blues chestnut. This is rough and raw blues, the way it was meant to be played. Charlie Watts beat is in the pocket, his playing is just superb. These guys have been playing the blues for so long it’s their second language. Mick and Keith may diverge on a lot of points these days, but not the blues. It’s the thing that ties them together. They sound like they’re having a lot of fun. This is a great first single from what I hope to be a great album.

Of course this blast of blues leaves me with more questions than answers. Will they continue to work on a new LP of all new stuff? Will this spark the creative juices and heal the wounds between Mick and Keith? I certainly don’t know but I’m glad we have the Stones doing what they do best, the blues.

Cheers!

Review: Keith Richards, Crosseyed Heart – The Triumphant Return of Rock’s Gypsy Pirate Outlaw

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Is there anybody in the world who personifies BourbonAndVinyl more than Keith Richards? I don’t think so. Oh yes, Crosseyed Heart is going to be in “high-rotation” here at the house for quite some time.

I remember being at my friend Jack’s place back in the late 80s/early 90’s drinking giant martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives. I’m still not sure where the blue cheese came from. Anyway, he had his Chicago pal Kurt over and we were grooving before heading out for the night. Kurt pulled out Keith’s masterpiece 1988 album Talk Is Cheap, and started dancing around the smallish kitchen to the great song “Take It So Hard”. I think he was trying to do a Mick Jagger-type move but it looked more like a white man with an overbite running in place. As he was twitching and jumping around, impressively not spilling a drop of his vodka, he looked up and shaking his head from side to side as if in a grand mal seizure, said, “This is what rock and roll is fucking all about man, good times.” Sage words, Kurt, sage words.

I know what many are thinking, Keith Richards, ugh, that voice. I’m the opposite. Like my friend Drew, I always searched the liner notes on Stones albums wondering which tune would feature Keith up front. His songs were amongst my favorite Stones tune. I always liked when I read the words “Vocals: Keith Richards” deep in the credits of a song.

Keith Richards was always a reluctant solo artist. I think he would have been content to out-live us all, simply playing Stones concerts until the end of time. Enter the 80’s and Mick decided he wanted to make music with other people. Naturally Keith didn’t take it well. Since Mick hooked up with Anita Pallenberg, after Keith had stolen her from Brian Jones, there isn’t much Mick has done that has pleased Keith. His pissed off response was to finally do a solo album. Talk Is Cheap was a true rock masterpiece. That album is the best Stones solo album, although Have My Own Album to Do by Ronnie Wood is an overlooked gem as well.

Keith returned in 1992 with Main Offender, largely with the same group he’d used on his first album, The X-Pensive Winos, but it just didn’t make as much of an impact. Maybe since the Stones had resumed he wasn’t as pissed any more. Steve Jordan was the drummer in the X-Pensive Winos and he returns here on Crosseyed Heart to drum. co-produce and co-write. They wisely brought in their old friend, session guitarist extraordinaire, and X-Pensive Wino alum Waddy  Watchel (Warren Zevon, Buckingham-Nicks, Jackson Browne, etc) to play lead guitar. Waddy and Keith meld guitars like Keith and Ronnie do. “The ancient art of weaving,” as Keith is fond of saying.

This album is a triumphant return for Keith. I heard they tinkered with it casually for a number of years. The music doesn’t feel over-produced or fussed over, it’s simply straight up Keith. It feels like a labor of love. He covers the usual waterfront the Stones cover – not just blues and rock but reggae, country, folk and heart rending ballads. If there is one criticism of Crosseyed Heart, it might be there are a few too many ballads, but Keith has always been a softy. If you look at his tracks with the Stones, there are a preponderance of ballads. The one song that loses me a bit is the rocker “Substantial Damage” but even that tune has a funky rhythm guitar that is infectious.

The rockers on this album are among Keith’s best. The first single, “Trouble”, which I commented on in a “Stray Cats” entry on BourbonAndVinyl previously sounds like an outtake from Some Girls. “Something For Nothing” and “Heartstopper” are great songs. The singular greatest track here is “Nothing On Me”, as in “the cops got nothin’ on me”. No, Keith, none of us have anything on you.

The song “Robbed Blind” is a brilliant country weeper. I can almost imagine Gram Parson, Keith’s old pal, singing this with Keith if he’d lived this long. Keith chooses to cover an older reggae song, “Love Overdue” and it’s great fun. It’s a shame Peter Tosh, Keith’s old pal didn’t live long enough to hear that one… Hey, wait a minute, I see a trend here.

There is a fabulous duet here, with Norah Jones, “Illusions”. Full disclosure – I love Norah Jones’ voice. She could sing the phone book and I’d listen. Plus, were I still a single man, I wouldn’t mind buying her an Old Fashion and seeing where that went… but I digress. I do believe after hearing “Illusions” and watching her and Keith duet on “Love Hurts” on YouTube at a Gram Parson’s tribute, Norah was born to sing duets with Keith.

On the ballads, and there are several, you must check out “Suspicious”, “Lover’s Plea” and “Just a Gift”. The songs remind of “Theif in the Night” or “Losing My Touch” a couple of recent ballads he did with the Stones. These tunes have that Sinatra-esque, closing time, baby-let-me-crash-with-you feel that I have always loved.

The album starts off with an acoustic blues number, more a sketch than a song, the title track “Crosseyed Heart”. It sounds like a lost Robert Johnson track. At the end of the track, Keith can be heard saying, “That’s all I’ve got…” I beg to differ Mr. Richards. As the rest of Crosseyed Heart proves, you have a hell of a lot more. Let’s hope Keith has saved a little for the next Stones record, which they’re rumored to be heading into the studio to record next year…

Listen Loudly and Enjoy!