Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, Emmylou Harris : You Never Can Tell

When you are young you think you know.

You know how the world works.

You know just how things are going to turn out.

But you find out the world is a much stranger place than you thought.

People – your parents, your friends, your one and only love, strangely decide to behave in ways you never expected.

The 16 year old school no-hoper strangely turns out to a world-beater by 25.

Volcanos erupt. Impregnable Walls are torn down.

True Love sometimes turns out to be exactly that.

You learn not to make such definite snap judgments.

When things happen you didn’t see coming you’re not outraged.

Instead you smile a wry smile and say ’C’est La Vie – it goes to show you never can tell’.

 

And, if you’re a great songwriter reflecting wryly on life and love you decide to write a song filled with acute observation, humour and wisdom.

At least, that’s what you do if you’re Chuck Berry – even if you’re in Prison when the inspiration strikes.

Embed from Getty Images

Chuck was, of course, a writer of both inspiration and deliberation.

There’s immense craft in the song.

The story is told in four short verses.

‘C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell’ is an arresting and immediately memorable lyric hook neatly and beautifully rhythmically encapsulating the moral of the song.

The AAAA Rhyme scheme is used with finesse and wit building up rhyme by rhyme a complete picture of the situation.

Chuck delights in marrying his New Orleans Creole Rhythm with a French name for teenage spouse, Pierre, and playfully using both madamoiselle and Madame, in the correct order, to signify that the truly in love couple have indeed rung the chapel bell.

So, married life begins with a well stocked Collerator just crammed with those dinners they wolfed while watching their favourite shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if they mixed that ginger ale with something a little more potent!

I was delighted to discover that ‘Coolerator’ was a genuine brand name (see image below) and that the refrigerators were manufactured in Duluth – making it certain that they would have been known to Bob Dylan and very likely stocked in the family electricals store.

 

It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well
You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle
And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale
The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale
But when Pierre found work, the little money comin’ worked out well
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast
Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm and jazz
But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They bought a souped-up jitney, ’twas a cherry red ’53
They drove it down to Orleans to celebrate the anniversary
It was there that Pierre was married to the lovely mademoiselle
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

 

Chuck always delighted in his references to US Car Culture and I have to admit that from the first moment I heard You Never Can Tell I sorely longed for a ‘Cherry Red ‘53’!

Embed from Getty Images

I haven’t got mine (yet).

But, I surely did get me a fine Hi Fi Phono and boy, as all my neighbours will tell you, did I let it blast!

And, taking pride of place among my 700 or so 45s there will always be a high stack of Chuck Berry singles.

Because he was the greatest songwriter of the primal Rock ‘n’ Roll era and because nothing lifts the spirits like three minutes of prime Chuck Berry!

Consider that You Never Can Tell was preceded by, ‘No Particular Place To Go’ and succeeeded by, ‘Promised Land’ – a run of classics that would have worthily constituted a lifetime’s achievement for another songwriter/performer.

Image result for coolerator images

I should draw your attention to the glorious piano playing of Johnnie Johnson for once foregrounded in this song.

Released from dramatic guitar playing duties Chuck concentrates his genius on his sly and smooth vocal.

Image result for 1950s hi fi images

Of course, it was a given that once a new Chuck Berry song hit the airwaves and Jukeboxes that a flood of cover versions would appear.

So many to choose from for our Immortal Jukebox!

Let’s kick off with Emmylou Harris and her aptly named Hot Band more than kicking up their heels!

 

 

Emmylou and Co hit that shuffle rhythm from the get go don’t they.

Glenn D Hardin on piano and Hank Devito add colour with England’s own Albert Lee providing the stellar guitar.

What an apprenticeship in the big time this was for the young Rodney Crowell!

Naturellement he was in love with Emmylou  – putting him in company with all red blooded music fans of the time!

Now we let the arm come down on something really special.

You want a demonstration and distillation of the spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen and Jukebox afficianados the whole world over I give you the one and only Ronnie Lane with Slim Chance!

 

 

Now that’s a New Orleans second line party!

That’s ginger ale laced with the very finest bourbon!

That makes the big toe in your boot shoot straight up to the sky!

Every time Ronnie Lane strapped on his bass and stepped to the microphone he put his whole heart and soul into his performances exuding sheer glee in the music he was making.

The same holds true for Bruce Springsteen.

I love this version of You Never Can Tell from Leipzig in 2013.

Bruce takes the crowd request and coaches the initially sceptical Band until they produce a wonderfully ragged celebration of Chuck Berry’s anthem.

Chuck Berry will always be the heartbeat of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Thank God apostles like Bruce Springsteen, Ronnie Lane and Emmylou Harris ensured that the message still resounds.

 

 

And, even today, somewhere in Chicago or Cairo someone is saying – you know we could really do a killer version of that Chuck Berry ‘C’est La Vie’ song.

It goes to show you never can tell where a great song will end up except that it will surely keep traveling on.

Crying In The Rain : Phil Everly (1939 – 2014)

… A time to rise and a time to fallPhil Everly

Come fill to me the parting glass

Goodnight and joy be with you all.

There is a magical moment during the Everly Brothers celebrated and triumphant reunion concert at The Albert Hall in 1983 which goes some way to explaining the source of their enduring appeal.

After opening with a heart warming , ‘Bye Bye Love, a rocking Claudette, the magesterial, ‘Walk Right Back’  a forlorn, stately, ‘I’ll Do My Crying In The Rain and the knock-out punch of, ‘Cathy’s Clown’ the band, which featured England’s guitar legend Albert Lee, took a momentary breather.

The two brothers briefly smiled at each other knowing now that a decade apart had in no sense diminished their power as performers.  Reassured, they leaned their heads close together and began to sing acapella, ‘These are the words of a frontier lad who lost his love when he went bad.’

The opening lines of, ‘Take A Message to Mary’.  As their two voices entwined in a rich fraternal harmony of heartbreakingly vulnerable perfection you can feel the whole audience catch their breath as countless personal memories are evoked.

Memories of the passing years with all their freight of love, joy and loss.  Memories of friends, lovers and family happily present and memories of those now separated by distance, time and mortality.

Looking around the auditorium it was clear that few popular music figures have ever burrowed so deep into their fans emotional core or repaid that loyalty and affection with such tender grace.

Simply put the Everly Brothers were the greatest duet singers and brother act in the history of popular music.

It will remain a mystery as to why the sibling relationship and consanguinity combined to supercharge the emotional resonance of Phil and Don’s harmony vocals and how this mysterious power could survive and endure for virtually all their lifetimes as brothers – whatever the state of their personal relationship.

It was surely a mystery to them as much as to anyone else.

Phil Everly’s life began in Chicago but he was in every other sense a son of the South.  His parents were Kentuckians and musicians.  From the age of six he was singing on the radio with elder brother Don and his parents.

The songs they sang were country songs or those weird and wonderful folk songs as Dylan put it about, ‘Roses growing out of people’s heads’.

From the get-go it was clear that these two brothers, influenced by other brother acts like the Delmores and Blue Sky Boys, had a uniquely potent mystical chemistry that made their arousing and keening singing able to thrill and also to pierce the hardest heart.

As they grew older the cute boys became handsome young men, accomplished guitar players and confident performers.  They were thus in prime position in the late 1950’s to shoulder their jet black Gibson guitars ready to ride and help drive the runaway rock ‘n’ roll train as far as it could go.

Settling into their recording career at Cadence Records and supplied with a string of classic teenage angst songs by the likes of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’) the Everly’s took up residence in the hearts and memories of a generation.

Phil himself wrote one of their signature teenage classics, ‘When Will I Be Loved’.  Up until the advent of the Beatles led British invasion the Everlys were reigning rock ‘n’ roll royalty enjoying massive chart success and the esteem of their fellow artists.

They were also enormously influential – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies and The Beach Boys all freely acknowledged their admiration and desire to emulate the wonder of the brothers’ harmony singing.

Of the two brothers Phil was by all accounts the more outgoing, sensible and grounded of the two.  Though the younger brother it seemed that he was the one looking out for the more mercurial and vulnerable Don.

Don, whose voice seems able to cleave your ribs and pull your heart apart generally took the lead part while Phil intently, watchfully, with a brother’s love and care, held everything together with poignant poised harmony.

Together they made a sound that has rarely been matched for longevity of emotional impact.

Phil had some notable successes as a solo artist including recording the excellent, ‘Star Spangled Springer’ album (1973) which contains the wonderful tracks, ‘The Air That I Breathe’ and ‘Snowflake Bombadier’.

He also worked fruitfully on the soundtracks of the Clint Eastwood  movies, ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ and, ‘Any Which Way You Can’.

Genuine though these successes were they are minor in comparison to the luminous body of work he created with his elder brother.  They were great country singers, great rock ‘n’ roll singers and great pop singers.

Their body of work is sure to provide emotional sustenance and solace long into the forseeable future.  For people will always fall in and out of love and always carry the scars of past hurts even as they embrace new hope.

There will always be an Everly Brothers song to turn to.