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.

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’!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Christmas Alphabet : C for Chuck Berry ( Run Rudolph Run) & The Chieftains with Rickie Lee Jones

It’s that time of year again.

And, as loyal readers will know The Immortal Jukebox has a tradition of marking Christmas Tide with special Posts.

Songs of celebration and reflection from many genres and from artists famous and obscure.

This year for all our delight it’s a ‘Christmas Alphabet’ to follow up on the ‘Christmas Cornucopia’ and ‘Christmas Cracker’ series from 2016 and 2015 (if you haven’t read those yet start as soon as you’ve finished this!)

From today you can look forward to a Post every other day.

So, let’s start with C for the great Chuck Berry who died this year.

Now, as we all Chuck was a multi MVP, All Star and indeed a by acclamation inductee Hall of Fame Songwriter.

But that’s not all!

Chuck, when he put his diamond sharp mind to it was also a gifted and sensitive interpreter of other writers’ songs.

In the first flourish of his epochal years recording for Chess Records Chuck laid down two superb Christmas singles showcasing his skills as a guitarist and singer.

Let’s get our blood pumping and senses tingling with Chuck’s definitive take on Johnny Marks’ ‘Run Rudolph Run’

I like to clear a mighty big dancing space before I put this one on and I’d advise you to do the same if you don’t want your Christmas decorations to come crashing down around you!

Yup! Yup! Yup!

Chuck cracks the whip and boy don’t those reindeer speed like a Saber Jet through the firmament!

Johnny Marks was a Christmas Song specialist and I think we can allow that he had really got the hang of it when you consider that in addition to Run Run Rudolph he also wrote, ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’, ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ and, ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’.

What Chuck and the storied Chess Studio team brought to Run Run Rudolph was an irresistible brio that grips from the get go and doesn’t let up till the son of a gun hits the run off groove.

Just so you know you’re in good company going wild to Run Run Rudolph it was this song that Keith Richard chose to record for his first solo single in 1978 (and a lovely, extra loud, extra louche, job he made of it too).

Keith, surely, was the Boy Child who wanted a Rock ‘n’ Roll Record Guitar!

Chuck, being the fond of a greenback, canny operator that he was, took the arrangement they came up with here wholesale for his own, ‘Little Queenie’ when there would be no question about whose bank account the songwriting royalties would roll into!

Chuck has a powerful case for being the inventor of Rock ‘n’ Roll songwriting and Guitar style.

Yet, neither of these gifts came out of nowhere.

Chuck loved, understood and could integrate into his own sound The Blues, Swinging Jazz, Country Music and the Latin rhythms coming from South of the Rio Grande and from Cuba and the Islands.

So, when in 1947 he heard Charles Brown singing, ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ his ears must have pricked up as he thought, ‘Now that’s one I could do to show off my after midnight singing and guitar style’.

And so it proved.

You can settle back in your armchair for this one and maybe unstopper the Brandy Bottle.

Well, don’t that go down smoothly.

Chuck’s perfectly weighted vocal and hush don’t wake the baby guitar is perfectly complemented by Johnnie Johnson’s lyrical and lush piano.

One to listen to thrice before you move on!

Now a wonderful Transatlantic partnership between two maverick talents.

First, Ireland’s most successful cultural crusaders along with the manufacturers of Guinness – The Chieftains.

Joined here by the bohemian brilliance of Rickie Lee Jones.

The space they afford each other allows each to shine.

Rickie embodies the weary world and the thrill of hope even as The Chieftains evoke the bright shining stars and the glorious new Morn.

Together they make something really special and moving out of, ‘O Holy Night’

Chuck Berry RIP : Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Chuck Berry has died. May he rest in peace.

 

I will write an extensive tribute later.

He was a Founding Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

He was a Rock ‘n’ Roll Prophet and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Poet.

He was a writer with the immediate understanding of a top class journalist, the widescreen vision of an historian and the timing of a comedian on the stage.

He is one of the greatest chroniclers of American Life.

Hail, Hail, Hail Chuck Berry!

Here he is with a special favourite of mine, ‘School Days’

‘Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study’ em hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

Ring ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open you books
Gee but the teacher don’t know
How mean she looks

Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat

Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

The lyric above is the best teaching aide anyone could ever have if they wanted an example of great Rock ‘n’Roll Songwriting.

Consider the rhythmic flow of the words and music.

Consider the sociological acuity of the observations.

‘The guy behind you won’t leave you alone‘. Don’t you just know that guy!

‘Gee but the teacher don’t know How mean she looks’. 

Teachers never do, never do!

‘Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in
Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot’

Now that’s writing! A whole generation and way of life captured perfectly.

‘With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been
Wantin’ to dance
Feelin’ the music from head to toe
‘Round and ’round and ’round you go’

All day long you been wantin’ to dance. All day long!

Rock ‘n’ Roll swept The World because it did make you feel the music from head to toe and because what in the world could possible beat the feeling of makin’ romance with the one you love!

Round and round and round you go!

Chuck Berry set The World spinning and some of us are spinning still!

‘Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

And that Baby is Rock ‘n’ Roll!

With his thrilling guitar, his poetic words and his sleek charisma Chuck did indeed deliver us from the days of old.

Thank you Chuck for the feeling – body and soul.

 

Dave Edmunds, Geraint Watkins & Johnnie Allan : Promised Land

‘The American lives … for his goals, for the future. Life for him is always becoming .. ‘ (Albert Einstein)

‘ To be an American is to imagine a destiny rather than to inherit one; since we have always been, in so far as we are Americans at all, inhabitants of myth rather than history.’ (Leslie Fielder)

‘Well she was an American Girl raised on promises – she couldn’t help thinking there was a little more to life somewhere else’ (Tom Petty)

Americans are always on the move. The road, the river and the very sky above all offer up territory to be travelled through in search of a new life – a fuller, truer life than the life you just happened to be born in.

American lives, at least in the imagination, can always be started again, reborn and remade in a new place in the new world. And, what else but the Promised Land would a bible drenched culture call this fabled home away from home?

Songs about moving on, moving away, moving up and moving forward are a constant theme within the tradition of American song. Many American songwriters like Bruce Springsten and John Fogerty are virtual voyageurs and cartographers of the American spirit sending back enticing reports from the road detailing the wonders and discoveries to be found somewhere beyond the narrow confines of a childhood home’s city limits.

No songwriter in popular music has excelled Chuck Berry in converying a sense of physical and imaginative movement in the very fabric of his compositions.

A Chuck Berry song usually leaps into life like a Coupe de Ville accelerating powerfully, smoothly and thrillingly away from a stop light onto a beckoning open road.

Chuck will take one glance at his rear view mirror but his heart, his mind and his imagination are engaged with the seemingly unlimited promises of the highway over the hill.

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One aspect of his songwriting genius is the way he rhythmicallly marries his words and his melodies so that the songs glide and flow carrying the listeners attention all the while.

A Chuck Berry song always tells a story, often in the great American tradition a tall story, that instantly grabs your attention even as you fasten your seatbelt for the exciting ride ahead. His songs are filed with acute journalistic observations of American life and culture expressed with an artists airy zest and élan.

They are almost immediately memorable and musicians know that played with attack they offer guaranteed approval from any audience, anywhere.

If you don’t love Chuck Berry’s songs you ain’t no rock ‘n’ roller!

Promised Land, one of his last great songs, was written during his unfortunate prison experience in the early 1960s. It seems he needed to borrow an atlas from the prison library to plot the, ‘Poor Boy ‘s’ epic journey across a continent in search of freedom and a better life (a life no doubt mirrored in Chuck’s imagination as the doors clanged shut each prison evening).

The artful use of the atlas is clearly reflected in the mellifluous use of the place names sprinkled throughout the song. The song gleams with life giving detail; the (Grey)hound stranding them in Birminghmam, the Poor Boy sitting pretty above Alberquerque in his Houston bought silk suit, the thirteen minutes waiting time before the jet would arrive at the terminal gate.

We feel we could take over the call back to Tidewater 41009 and tell the folks back home all about Poor Boy’s adventures.

I’ve chosen Johnny Allen’s 1971 deliriously driving Swamp Pop take on the song to play here because it’s a magnificent version and because I love the sound of the accordion (played here by Cajun hero Belton Richard) in overdrive.

This is a version of the song that makes me feel three floors drunk even when I’ve been drinking water all day!

I also feel sure, at least for the duration of the song, that my dancing would surely burn up the hardwood floor of any South Louisiana Honky Tonk lucky enough to have me visiting.

As a special treat I’ m also sharing a storming live version from The Dave Edmunds Band featuring the cream of British Rock n Roll musicians including Andy Fairweather Low and the magnificent Geraint Watkins on accordion.

Geraint, the Celtic Cajun, had been in Johnnie Allen’s band when he toured Britain in the early 1980s and here he brings a wonderful woozy swagger to the song that makes me want to hit replay every time I hear it.

I wonder whether California, the Poor Boy’s Promised Land, really did turn out to be flowing with milk and honey.

For wherever you go you travel with the baggage of your own history. You can change your name and your Zipcode with ease but changing yourself?

But that’s a story and a song theme for another day on the Jukebox.

Today let’s just turn up the dial and revel in the journey …. ‘Left my home in Norfolk Virginia …

Notes:

Johnnie Allen:

Johnnie was christened John Allen Guillot in Rayne Louisiana in 1938. He was a Cajun farm boy with Spanish and French genes and a distinguished musical heritage in that a great uncle was the great accordionist and pioneer recording artist Joseph Falcon (check out his wonderful, ‘Allons a Lafayette’ to transport yourself back to the late 1920s).

He was gigging from his earliest teenage years and proving himself to be an affecting singer. With his band the Krazy Kats from the late 1950s he proved a master of the delicious musical confection called, Swamp Pop’ which built on the Cajun base with seasonings of rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, country and rhythm and blues music. His, ‘Lonely Days and Lonely Nights’ from 1958 is a staple of South Louisiana culture. Throughout the 1960s he pursued his music career while developing a distinguished career in education.

He combines his love and expertise in music and education as the author of two excellent books on Cajun culture, ‘Memories: A Pictorial History of South Louisiana Music’ and, ‘Born To Be A Loser’ a fascinating portrait of the troubled life of the singer and songwriter Jimmy Donley. Johnnie has proved to be a marvellous advocate for his native culture. There is an excellent compilation of his recording history entitled, ‘Promised Land’ on the British Ace label.

Floyd Soileau:

Floyd Soileau is one of the regional independent producers whose musical and commercial awareness were crucial to the rich development of American musical life in the post second world war period. Operating out of Ville Platte as a DJ and record shop owner he had a keen eye for talent and soon his Swallow and Jin labels were producing outstanding traditional French language Cajun records as well as Swamp Pop sides.

Take the time to listen to complications of these labels and you’ll enjoy a hugely enjoyable eduction in Louisiana’s musical culture featuring a roster of legendary talent.

Promised Land – The history of a hit:

Promised Land, Chuck Berry’s song from 1964, was recorded by Johnnie Allen in 1971 and was a regional favourite. In 1974 the ever alert British DJ and author Charlie Gillett issued it in the UK on his Oval label as the lead single on his magnificent compilation of South Louisiana music, ‘Another Saturday Night’ (now available on the Ace label).

Amazingly some 8000 sides were sold enough to approach the outskirts of the singles charts. In 1980 it was reissued through the punk/pub rock label Stiff and again sold well.

1982 saw it issued again as a single and as part of the compilation. Johnnie Allen toured Britain and showed himself to be a winning and dynamic performer. Finally it was included on a catch all Virgin collection called, ‘Country Legends” in 2006. It has now been awarded a gold disc for achieving sales of over a million copies as a single and as part of collections.

Geraint Watkins:

Geraint is a musician I seem to have been watching ever since I discovered the joys of live music in the early 1970s. He is a hugely talented singer, accordionist and keyboard player good enough to play with Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and Nick Lowe.

His solo work is filed with deeply felt and beautifully played songs. In particular look out for the incandescent, ‘Only A Rose’ from his superlative CD, ‘In A Bad Mood’.

For all his distinguished service with the music world’s top table artists a part of me will always remember with most affection his time with bar band maestros The Balham Alligators who dispensed crazy Cajun delights week after week in a London music pub I used to frequent, ‘The Hare And Hounds’.

Frequently both the band and audience were very well ‘refreshed’ and evenings phased in a blur of delirious delight. I will never forget and always treasure the sight of Geraint, dressed in shorts and unmatched socks with a sleeping dog at his feet, launching into his own brilliant, ‘Marie Marie’ with the audience roaring him along.

This post is dedicated to the memory of the late Charlie Gillett.

He was a pioneering popular music historian, a gifted writer and a marvellous radio broadcaster. He was generous in sharing his deep though lightly worn knowledge and he was a ceaseless advocate for the best music whether it was from Tennessee or Timbuktu.

He is the Patron Saint of The Immortal Jukebox and the best teacher and mentor I’ve ever known.