It's easy to forget at times just how influenced Chuck Berry was by solid blues and jump tunes when you scan his contributions to what, at the time, was early rock 'n' roll, but Catfish Records has stepped up with over an hour to instill the thought in our minds. Adding to the considerable list in their "Roots" series, this disc puts Chuck's influences front-and-center and a sparkling array it is with 21 tracks, plus it offers great sound and informative liner notes by Fred Rothwell along with complete session details.
What are now signature guitar licks certainly didn't begin with Berry as many are aware that artists frequently lift ideas from others who came before them, and simply put, Chuck made good use of a storehouse of recorded material. He does not get credit for inventing the rock and roll guitar style, but rightly so, he should for updating a number of ideas, including the leadoff track. What's recognized today as one of Chuck's infamous intros popped up in 1946 when Louis Jordan dropped "Ain't That Just Like A Woman" on the market with Carl Hogan's guitar punching the gas while the jumping band let out the clutch, and Goree Carter's "Rock Awhile" might make others think about the ongoing discussion on what was the first recording to feature a then new style, rock 'n' roll. Big Maceo's "Worried Life Blues" could easily have been based on a Sleepy John Estes song, but there's little doubt that Chuck took more of a liking to the 1941 version, and the Big Three Trio, which featured the talents of stalwart bassist, Willie Dixon, throw out a fine "Big 3 Stomp" that Berry lifted years later for a surging instrumental, oddly enough with Dixon in the bass slot. Charlie Christian's early experiments with what was, at the time, the recently discovered electric guitar come to the surface in "Solo Flight," recorded with Benny Goodman's orchestra in 1941, and Elmore James serves up "Dust My Broom," the seminal Trumpet side from 1951 where Sonny Boy Williamson II hands in stunning harp. Over his storied career, Berry has cut the classic "Flying Home" more than once, duplicating the repeating riff with guitar, and here, Illinois Jacquet's 1945 side plows with relentless fury while Charles Brown shows up with another highly influential cut, "Drifting Blues," from 1945. Tampa Red proved to be another with immense impact on Chuck when his 1940 recording of "Don't You Lie To Me" was later recut by Berry, and although Memphis Minnie might not seem a likely candidate, her "Me And My Chauffer Blues" from 1941 offered futuristic possibilities when "I Want To Be Your Driver" showed up in the rocker's bulging catalog years later. If this isn't enough of an attraction, Memphis Slim is aboard with "Beer Drinking Woman," Big Vernon gets in on the party with "Around The Clock Blues (Parts 1 & 2)," and T-Bone Walker hands in the storming "Mean Old World," plus we get glimpses of more influential tracks from Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Ella Mae Morse, and others.
Chuck Berry is still enjoying a career that first lurched forward in the 1950's once he garnered the interest of Leonard and Phil Chess in Chicago, but there's little room for thinking he developed his innovative style single-handedly and the proof that he owes great debt to countless artists lies here. It's truly enlightening to learn how influences have been passed on, picked up, and thrown further forward, and the folks at Catfish have delivered another fine addition to a fine and growing catalog, which you can access at www.catfishrecords.co.uk to have a look.
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