Showing posts with label Chuck Berry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chuck Berry. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

James Cotten, Chuck Berry

James Cotton Monterey 1981.jpg
Harmonica master James Cotten, dead at 81 years old. He was a great player and a huge influence on my particular harmonica hero, Paul Butterfield, but Cotten's playing never grabbed me the way it did most other blues aficionados . There was nothing wrong with his playing, and I wasn't looking for flaws  or mistakes--his tone was second to none , his phrasing and the way he could build a solo were testaments to what can be done in a 12  bar and 16 bar format, his sense of funk revealed the dual qualities of grit and artful finesse-- it's just that I was paying attention to other players. One can say that I had missed my chance  to attain a lifelong love of the man's music. Still, I liked his playing and tip my hat to his legacy. He helped create a path later players I would follow in turn .This is as fitting a tribute I can manage, and I apologize to any stalwart fan who might be   reading this searching for more animated words describing this good man's life. All the same, godspeed and rest well, Mr.Cotten.

Chuck Berry 1957.jpg
For Chuck Berry, gone at 90 years old, what can one say  other than he perfected rock and roll as musical form and going aesthetic concern?Chuck Berry is the Beginning of it all. His is a shadow that falls over ABSOLUTELY ALL who took up guitar after him. He created the language and vocabulary of rock and roll, both as musician and songwriter. His body of work , truly, is the Gold Standard against which all others are judged. One may be considered a jazz guitarist if one hasn't studied the work of Django or Joe Pass, but if a would be -rocker hasn't learned Chuck Berry's resolutely brilliant set of chops, may relinquishes the right to call themselves a rock guitarist. All good things in rock and roll pass through the innovations of Chuck Berry. He is to rock and roll what the oracular literary critic Harold Bloom says --too sweepingly, perhaps-- Shakespeare is to the rest of literature--without his existence , we would be saying less interesting things about our lives in far , far less imaginative ways. Without the emergence of Chuck Berry , with his assimilation of American music styles ,verbal idioms and his desire to create something new  from the energetic geniuses that moved him to pick up a guitar and a pen, our imaginations, if not stymied, certainly would have collectively stalled, and that would not have been good at all.  Hail, Hail Rock and Roll.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Aging of the Ageless

photo by Scott Stewart / Sun-Times Media
Chuck Berry, 84  years old and, in my opinion, the Grand Architect of the great American art form we call  Rock and Roll, gave a January 1st  concert at Chicago's Congress Theatre where his age where his age, it appears, got the best of him more than once during the performance. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel art and architecture critic Mary Louise Schumacher was in attendance, and the frail on stage doings of an iconic rocker in his ninth decade were too much for her, as she reports here.  It was such a sad display that she and her companion felt compelled to leave. Her resulting story is more a sulk than a report; although she is not the paper's pop music critic, you'd still expect her to apply more perspective and less woundedness into her column.  It's gamy to announce yourself as a critic for a publication and then compose something that suggests your issues with mortality.

 A great writer, a superb stylist, a keen scribe with a skewed perspective can be forgiven and even appreciated for a skewed, personalized accounting, but these geniuses are rare in journalism, let alone criticism, and most of us lacking an interesting way of expressing their fears and funneling their emotions into their columns adhere to  the job description.  It wasn't about Chuck Berry or his music, his lasting art, but how morose she felt as a result of going.

It might be sad to see a genius like Chuck Berry perform his brilliant songbook years beyond his prime, but reviewer Mary Louise Schumacher sounds more heartbroken that the musician/songwriter got old. She seems unaware that Berry's performances have, for decades, been erratic affairs. I've seen him three times in forty years of concert going, and found him sloppy and ill-prepared twice and inspired and exciting once. The film "Hail Hail Rock and Roll", a documentary about the rehearsals for a 60th birthday concert by Berry in St.Louis, is notable for the contentious arguments over event organizer and music director Keith Richards and Berry: Richards wanted a disciplined rehearsal time to do honor to Berry's songs while for Berry it was merely another money-grabbing opportunity.

 Berry did get with the spirit of his own music, though, and the filmed concert sequences show the genius behind Berry's music, but it also gave evidence that the man had "lost his art" long ago. Schumacher, I rear, failed to go to the concert with reasonable expectations, as Berry's crankiness is generally well known. A pop music reviewer should know this and temper their judgment. It would have been another knowing touch had she made the distinction between Berry and The Work he has done; he may have lost his art as a performer, but the real art isn't lost to the audience. It exists in his songs, which are on record and which we can rediscover and marvel at our leisure. However tragic his late life may be, Chuck Berry's contribution to American Music is immense.