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Johnny B. Goode: His Complete '50s Chess Recordings

Chuck Berry

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iTunes Editors’ Notes

Attempting to pinpoint the exact moment when Rock and Roll came into being is ultimately a futile endeavor but few songs have as solid a claim to "first" as Chuck Berry’s epochal reading of “Maybellene.” With a single bold stroke and a half a dozen badly mangled guitar strings Chuck Berry turned Bob Willis’ old western swing number “Ida Red” into an unfettered rocker of undeniable power. His Complete ‘50s Chess Recordings, reveals a Chuck Berry who, not content to be merely the quintessential rocker, is a master of a multitude of musical styles. Berry fearlessly tackles jump blues, calypso, country and more and reinterprets them on his own terms, recasting them all as joyous uptempo boogies and establishing a new vocabulary for the electric guitar along the way. This set, which comes replete with an abundance of seldom heard rarities and outtakes, is a truly historic document, and represents one of the greatest bodies of recordings in American popular music.

Customer Reviews

A historic collection!

Let me begin by saying I’m a huge fan of almost anything Chuck Berry. That being said, this collection offers some great insight in the development of the rock-n-roll sound epitomized and founded by Chuck. Consisting of most of the usual favorites easily found elsewhere (the Chuck Berry Chess Box includes his later works), also included are out-takes and alternate versions of cuts previously unavailable, along with some harder to find Berry tracks. While some may find these alternate versions redundant, I find them a historic insight into Chuck and his music. These tracks are somewhat of a early studio version of what Taylor Hackford captured years later in his sensational documentary ‘Hail! Hail! Rock-N-Roll’. Listening to the evolution of the archetypal classic rocker ‘Johnnny B. Goode’ as Chuck chides his pianist to not play the ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ piano lick and you can somewhat envision Chuck wagging his finger at Keith Richards in the rehearsal studio years later in the Hackford film as Keith tries to capture the opening guitar salvo of ‘Carol’. The four alternate versions of ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ include some of the the greatest piano rolls you’ll hear on record. ‘Sweet Little Rock-N-Roller’ includes an extra lyrical verse not included on the finished recording. The ‘overdub’ cuts are a special treat as Chuck lays down additional guitar leads over his chugging, steamrolling rhythms. ‘Around and Around’ is by far the best of these, with the overdubbed guitar track offering some great leads and fills over the driving rhythms. One can only imagine how great Chuck’s live shows would have been had he’d been able to ‘clone’ himself as a second guitarist instead of relying on the often spotty pick-up guitarists he mostly relied on live! The addition of the many instrumental tracks are particularly worthwhile, including some rockers and other, bluesier tunes. These cuts reinforce Eric Clapton’s assertion in the Hackford film that Chuck is truly one of the great blues guitarists in addition to being the pioneer of the rock-n-roll guitar sound. Perhaps worth the cost of the set themselves are the two great studio jams included with album purchase only - one a rocking jam and the other a slower blues cut. Featuring some of Chess’s best musicians, sit back and enjoy some raw string-slappin’ upright basslines, rollicking piano rolls, shuffling drums, and of course Chuck’s unmistakable guitar rhythms and leads. These two cuts, while rough and raw, are historic in their own right and well worth the price of admission! Overall this collection offers a delightful retrospective of Chick’s early career at Chess, and offers insight into how he took his personal influences including the guitar sounds of Carl Hogan, T-Bone Walker, along with the vocal stylings of Nat Cole and Louis Jordan and molded them into the distinctive sound that became Chuck Berry, the founder and true ‘King’ of Rock-N-Roll. Perhaps iTunes’ inclusion of an accompanying ‘digital booklet’ would have made this an even better buy (I haven’t seen this in stores yet so I don’t know what’s included in the actual box), however the music is what it’s all about and this set is truly a gem! A ‘must-have’ for all fans of Chuck Berry and for all students of music! Hail! Hail! Rock-N-Roll!


Born: October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, MO

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none is more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He is 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 a myriad others. There would be no standard "Chuck Berry guitar intro," the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting....
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