Thursday, January 12, 2017

Chuck Berry – You Never Can Tell – His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966

Truthfully, when I requested this (I got it for Xmas - thanks Mike!), I thought it was a set of ALL his Chess recordings, not just from 1960-66, but this is an amazing 5 CD compilation with lots of hits, which I had assumed had mostly dried up by the 60's. I was certainly wrong!

This collection opens with a pure blues number, “Drifting Blues”, which is not particularly surprising as he moved to Chicago because he was a big Muddy Waters fan. He then moves into his more familiar r’n’r fare with “I Got To Find My Baby”, with several takes. There are lots of examples of multiple takes in this set, but they never get boring as they have enough variation – not to mention that they are short’n’simple r’n’r tunes.

The first CD also includes greats such as "Don’t You lie To Me", "Worried Life Blues"  (Maceo Merriweather), "Our Little Rendezvous" (early version of "I Wanna Be Your Driver" which was taken from Memphi Minnie’s "Chauffeur Blues"), "Bye Bye Johnnie" (multiple takes), "Run Around" (with some nice slide work), "Jaguar and Thunderbird",  the pop of "Diploma For Two" and the downright corny – especially the background vocals –  ballads "Little Star" and "The Way It Was Before", more rocker like "Down the Road Apiece", a somewhat unusual – for Chuck – minor blues in "Stop and Listen", a Duke Ellington cover ("I’m Just a Lucky So and So"), a Billy Davis slide instrumental, "Mad Lad" and another slide instro, "Surfin' Steel", this time one of Chuck’s, then cool, almost jazzy, takes on "Route 66",  back to the r'n'r with "I’m Talking About You", Little richard’s "Rip It Up", and "Come On" (the Stones first single). All that and more is on just CD one!

CD two starts off  with the rockin’ "Go Go Go". several takes (including an instro) on "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" that has "Sweet Little 16" licks in them,  there's the geographical "All Aboard" that the Groovie Ghoulies covered to great effect, a bunch of live stuff with a great band, enthusiastic audience and a rockin’, joking Berry playing hot guitar and getting the crowd to sing along take big chunks of the vocals duties at times. A weird live medley of "Johnny B Goode" and "Goodnight Sweetheart" has Chuck jumping from a verse of the rocker – with the crowd singin’ and clappin’ – to the ballad and back again. Back to the studio with the fantastic "Nadine", "You Never Can Tell", "The Little Girl From Central" would become "Sweet Little 16" (I assume – or he just copied "16") and several cool blues tunes fill out the disc.

CD 3 commences with the ballad "Fraulein" and then his version of "Crazy Arms" (the Jerry Lee Lewis hit - this is cool, but I think Jerry does better Chuck than Chuck does Jerry) followed by "Big Ben" (basically "School Days"), "Promised Land", "No Particular Place to Go" then there’s a couple of fun (unedited) instrumentals from an album that he did with Bo Diddley before we get "Little Marie" (a variation on "Memphis, TN"), "Dear Dad" and the afore-mentioned "I Wanna Be Your Driver".

CD 4 leads with covers ranging from "You Came a Long Way From St Louis" to several Louis Jordan numbers  and, of course, a batch of terrific originals. A very secular version of "This Little Light of Mine" is named "My Little Love Light",  then a very Chuck-esque "St Louis Blues", "Shake Rattle and Roll" and "Honey Hush". "Wee Wee Hours" is done instrumentally, Johnnie Johnson gets to cut loose on the instro "My Mustang Ford" before Chuck sings a couple of takes. "Merrily We Rock and Roll" is a clown-ish Chuck Berry fairy tale, Johnson also shines on "Wee Hour Blues" and Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield add some guitar and harp to “It Wasn’t Me” and terrific lead harp on "Sad Day, Long Night", there's cool sax and organ on "Ramona Say Yes" and the whole she-bang concludes rather anti-climatically with "Lonely School Days".

There are plenty of more tunes, as well - this is a great, huge package - and fer crissakes, it’s Chuck Freakin’ Berry before he got jaded and stayed in it just for the money. The songwriting here is still pretty damned inspired and genius and the bands all are terrific. The packaging is excellent – it folds out with the four cds and booklet – and when folded up it is tied together with a thread, like an old fashioned tied envelope. Great booklet with lots of pix, a bio and extensive notes on the sessions, with the musicians all listed (when known). Overall, a superior product all around! I can't wait to get the 50's set!