I looked at my watch and it was quarter past two, time for a little hump day fun with you and we’ll reel… Reelin’ and Rockin’ with Chuck Berry. Was Chuck a blues man? His path to fame followed in the footsteps of the great blues men. He came from a southern city, moved north, made his name playing electric guitar and singing energized versions of down home songs, and wound up at the home of Chicago Blues – Chess Records. Modern blues players certainly recognize Chuck’s Blues. Sure his blues was faster and had an undeniable swing but it was blues nonetheless. The father of Rock & Roll was a Blues man. Hey, if Willie Dixon played on your records, you’re a blues man.
I’ve been digging some Chuck Berry grooves lately and I’ve been particularly smitten with an album called The London Chuck Berry Sessions. Chess had several of its big acts record with some of their British fans who just happened to be some of the most popular musicians in the world in the late 60s and early 70s. Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Rory Gallagher, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mitch Mitchell and several others from the British music scene sat in to record with their heroes like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Chuck Berry. The live half of The London Chuck Berry Sessions is my favorite however.
The recording captures Chuck in a playful mood as he rips through “Johnny B. Goode,” guides the audience through the ins and outs of “My-Ding-A-Ling,” and best of all, he offers a down and dirty version of “Reelin’ And Rockin’.” You may recall that Rock & Roll was a southern term used by the blacks to refer to sexual intercourse. Naturally Chuck ran with that euphemism and created a one-eyed monster all his own. In the lyrics of “Reelin’ And Rockin'” he definitely blurred the lines between sock-hop dance moves and the backseat after-party. The original lyrics were innocent enough to get radio play in the ultra-conservative 1950s, but were filled with double-entendres for those in the know. Chuck was the master of the double-entendre. Sometimes it seems like all the double-entendres currently in use are on loan from the collection of Charles Edward Anderson Berry.
So, for Hump Day this week I’m dedicating this feature to “Reelin’ And Rockin'” and it’s many variations. First is the version from The London Chuck Berry Sessions, then there’s a live appearance, also in London recorded around the same time. you’ll notice some of Chuck’s schtick is the same but his facial expressions are priceless. Next up we have a powerful houserockin’ version from one of Chuck’s biggest followers, George Thorogood. George and the band leave the Hampton crowd exhausted. After that we have a slightly laid back version courtesy of the Sam Lay Band. From there we head to the outer perimeter of the Blues World to one of my favorite roots rock bands – Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers. In the synth pop 80’s, Tommy and the band had the audacity to sneak blues tinged tunes like “I’m Not your Man” and “Love’s On Fire” into the top 40. Deeper album cuts like “Workout” and concert staples like Freddie King’s “Hideaway” gave away Tommy’s love of blues. Unfortunately they are a largely over-looked band and we’ll give them a glance right here and now. Also from the Rock and Rockabilly portion of our Venn Diagram of Blues comes a band called The Head Cat. The Head Cat features Slim Jim Phanton from the Stray Cats, Danny B. Harvey from Lonesome Spurs, and Lemmy from Motorhead. Yes, that Lemmy. Seriously, how many Lemmys do you think there are? Give it chance. Maybe you’ll hate it, er, like it. Yeah, maybe you’ll like it. I love it.
If you stick with us, Reelin’ and Rockin’ your way from Chuck Berry to Lemmy, you get a special Hump Day treat at the end. No, not that kind of treat! Play with your own Ding-A-Ling!
Chuck Berry Reelin’ And Rockin’
Chuck Berry Reelin’ And Rockin’ – BBC Theatre, London 1972
George Thorogood Reelin’ And Rockin’
The Sam Lay Blues Band Reelin’ And Rockin’
Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers Reelin’ And Rockin’
The Head Cat Reelin’ And Rockin’
Chuck Berry My Ding-A-Ling