Chuck Berry, One of the Architects of Rock 'n' Roll, died Saturday, March 18, 2017
CHUCK BERRY (1926 - 2017)
Chuck Berry, the singer-songwriter and guitarist who was one of the architects of rock 'n' roll, died Saturday, March 18, 2017. He was 90.
Berry was found unresponsive on Saturday afternoon in St. Charles County, Missouri.
While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius. He was the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.
Born Oct. 18, 1926, Berry wrote and performed some of the great classics of the early rock 'n' roll era – "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen" and many more. In 1953, he began performing with Johnnie Johnson, who would become Berry's frequent collaborator. Berry got a kick out of experimenting with combining the blues he regularly played with the country music he heard white audiences requesting. The combination caught on, and more and more people began attending his concerts. He caught the attention of famed blues man Muddy Waters, who sent him to audition for Chess Records. Founder Leonard Chess liked what he heard, recorded and released "Maybellene," and a legend was born.
Berry churned out hits throughout the 1950s, and in the early 1960s, was back on the charts with hot singles including "No Particular Place To Go," "Nadine" and "You Never Can Tell." He topped the R&B chart over and over, and while he frequently had songs in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. He was only one of his singles ever saw the No. 1 spot there – the novelty song "My Ding-a-Ling." He continued to play and tour well into his 80s.
Berry's influence is seen all over rock 'n' roll, and his music is widely considered some of the greatest rock music recorded. He was the very first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His "Johnny B. Goode" ranked No 1 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time." This song is just one of many of his songs to find a place on such lists. John Lennon notably said of Berry, "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'"
Around his 60th birthday, he allowed the director Taylor Hackford to film him at his home in Wentzville for the documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll,” which also included performances by Mr. Berry with a band led by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and special guests. “Chuck Berry: The Autobiography” was published in 1988.
Mr. Berry continued performing well into his 80s. He usually played with local pickup bands, as he had done for most of his career, but sometimes he played with fellow rock stars. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Cleveland in 1995, Mr. Berry performed at an inaugural concert, backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
From 1996 to 2014, Mr. Berry performed once a month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant in St. Louis where he appeared regularly until Oct. 24.
He made a surprising announcement on his 90th birthday, Oct. 18, 2016: He was planning to release his first studio album in almost 40 years. The album, called simply “Chuck” and scheduled for release in June, was to consist primarily of new compositions.
Berry is survived by his wife, Thelma Suggs, and his children, Ingrid Berry Clay, Chuck Berry Jr., Aloha Isa Lei Berry and Melody Exes Berry.
James Henry Cotton Passes at 81
James Henry Cotton (July 1, 1935 – March 16, 2017) was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, who performed and recorded with many great blues artists of his time and with his own band. He played drums early in his career but is famous for his harmonica playing.
Cotton began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howlin' Wolf's band in the early 1950s. He made his first recordings in Memphis for Sun Records, under the direction of Sam Phillips. In 1955, he was recruited by Muddy Waters to come to Chicago and join his band. Cotton became Water’s bandleader and stayed with the group until 1965. In 1965 he formed the Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet, with Otis Spann on piano, to record between gigs with Waters's band. He eventually left Waters to form his own full-time touring group. His first full album, on Verve Records, was produced by guitarist Mike Bloomfield and vocalist and songwriter Nick Gravenites, who later were members of the band Electric Flag.
Born in Tunica, Mississippi, Cotton became interested in music when he first heard Sonny Boy Williamson II on the radio. He left home with his uncle and moved to West Helena, Arkansas, finding Williamson there. For many years Cotton claimed that he told Williamson that he was an orphan and that Williamson took him in and raised him. This was a story he admitted in recent years was false. However, Williamson did mentor Cotton during his early years. Williamson left the South to live with his estranged wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, leaving his band in Cotton's hands.
Cotton played drums early in his career but is famous for his harmonica playing. He began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howlin' Wolf's band in the early 1950s. He made his first recordings as a solo artist for Sun Records in Memphis in 1953. In 1954, he recorded an electric blues single "Cotton Crop Blues", which featured a heavily distorted power chord–driven electric guitar solo by Pat Hare. Cotton began working with the Muddy Waters Band around 1955 performing songs such as "Got My Mojo Working" and "She's Nineteen Years Old." However, he did not play on the original recordings. Little Walter, Waters's long-time harmonica player, played for most of Waters's recording sessions in the 1950s. Cotton's first recording session with Waters took place in June 1957, and he alternated with Little Walter on Waters's recording sessions until the end of the decade.
After leaving Waters's band in 1966, Cotton toured with Janis Joplin while pursuing a solo career. He formed the James Cotton Blues Band in 1967. The band mainly performed its own arrangements of popular blues and R&B from the 1950s and 1960s. Cotton's band included a horn section, like that of Bobby Bland's. After Bland's death, his son told news media that Bland had recently discovered that Cotton was his half-brother.
In the 1970s, Cotton recorded several albums for Buddah Records. He played harmonica on Waters's Grammy Award–winning 1977 album Hard Again. In the 1980s he recorded for Alligator Records in Chicago; he rejoined the Alligator roster in 2010. The James Cotton Blues Band received a Grammy nomination in 1984 for Live from Chicago: Mr. Superharp Himself!, on Alligator, and a second for his 1987 album Take Me Back, on Blind Pig Records. He was awarded a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album for Deep in the Blues in 1996
In 2006, Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame by the Blues Foundation in Memphis. He has won or shared ten Blues Music Awards.
Cotton battled throat cancer in the mid-1990s, but he continued to tour, using singers or his backing band members as vocalists. On March 10, 2008, Cotton and Ben Harper performed at the induction of Little Walter into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, playing "Juke" and "My Babe" together.
Cotton's studio album Giant, released by Alligator Records in late September 2010, was nominated for a Grammy Award. His album Cotton Mouth Man, also on Alligator, released on May 7, 2013, was also a Grammy nominee. In 2014, Cotton won a Blues Music Award for Traditional Male Blues Artist and was also nominated in the category Best Instrumentalist – Harmonica.
Cotton's touring band includes guitarist and vocalist Tom Holland, vocalist Darrell Nulisch, bassist Noel Neal (brother of Kenny Neal) and drummer Jerry Porter.
Cotton died at a medical center in Austin, Texas from pneumonia on March 16, 2017 at 81.
Cotton has worked with many prominent artists, including:
William "Billy Boy" Arnold
Quicksilver Messenger Service
Willie "Big Eyes" Smith
Blues Foundation Will Welcome the 38th Class of Blues Hall of Fame May 10, 2017
The Blues Foundation will welcome the 38th class of Blues Hall of Fame inductees in a ceremony on May 10, 2017. This year’s 14 honorees represent all five of the Hall of Fame’s categories: Performers, Non-Performing Individuals, Classics of Blues Literature, Classics of Blues Recording (Song) and Classics of Blues Recording (Album).
The six performers chosen for induction include two distinctive vocalists, Mavis Staples and Latimore; two legendary guitarists, Magic Slim and Johnny Copeland along with longtime Howlin’ Wolf sidemen guitarist Willie Johnson; and piano-man Henry Gray. They will join the more than 125 performers who already are Hall of Fame members. The year’s non-performer selection is Living Blues magazine co-founder and radio show host Amy van Singel, who passed away in Sept. 2016.
The Classic of Blues Literature pick is the rightfully recognized Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy’s 1941 memorable autobiography. John Lee Hooker was among the Hall’s first inductees in 1980 and now his 1966 Chess album Real Folk Blues will enter the Hall of Fame in the Classic of Blues Recording Album category. The quintet of Classic of Blues Recording songs includes Bo Diddley’s signature tune “Bo Diddley,” Tommy Tucker’s much covered classic “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” the Albert King hit “I’ll Play the Blues For You,” Son House’s “Preachin’ the Blues” and “I Ain’t Superstitious,” which features 2017 inductee Henry Gray playing on Howlin’ Wolf’s well-known 1961 recording.
The Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony takes place Wednesday, May 10 at Memphis’ Halloran Centre for the Performing Arts and Education. Tickets for this open-to-the-public ceremony are $100 per seat and can be purchased online at blues.org or by calling The Blues Foundation Offices at (901) 527-2583.
More festivities occur the following day, May 11, with the Blues Music Awards. Celebrating the past year’s best in blues recordings and performances. This event will be held at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Individual tickets and tables may be purchased for $150 per seat at the same link as above.
ABOUT THE INDUCTEES:
Henry Gray played piano in the Howlin’ Wolf band and other Chicago blues groups before returning to his native Louisiana in 1968. Gray has rarely been in the spotlight, but built an impressive resume entertaining audiences around the world with his blues-drenched piano pounding. Gray, born in 1925, is still performing regularly six decades after his first recording sessions in Chicago.
Willie Johnson (1923-1995) recorded only a few songs on his own. However, as a sideman his storming barrage of distortion and incendiary guitar licks in the 1950s, especially on the early records of Howlin’ Wolf, earned him a lasting reputation in the annals of electric guitar playing. Mentored by Wolf in their Mississippi days, Johnson played in Wolf’s band in the South and in Chicago, and recorded for Sun Records in 1955.
Mavis Staples, one of America’s premier singers of gospel and soul music, has recently expanded her musical mastery with her performances in more blues-based settings. The blues is nothing new to the Staples family, as Mavis’ father and founder of the Staple Singers, Roebuck “Pop” Staples, was a devotee of Delta blues master Charley Patton back in Mississippi. Mavis, born in Chicago in 1939, remains on her lifelong mission to inspire and uplift her listeners no matter what musical genre she employs.
Johnny Copeland (1937-1997) was one of a throng of blazing guitar slingers emerging from Houston, Texas, and one of the city’s most powerful singers. Establishing himself with a series of blues and soul singles beginning in 1958, he attained national prominence in the 1980s recording blues albums for Rounder Records. His daughter Shemekia has followed in his footsteps by winning multiple Blues Music Awards.
Magic Slim led one of the most relentless, hard-driving bands in Chicago blues history for several decades until his death in 2013. Born Morris Holt in Mississippi in 1937, he earned his nickname from his friend and fellow blues guitar ace Magic Sam. Slim was also known for possessing perhaps the largest repertoire of any blues artist, always able to pick up another song from the radio or the jukebox. This talent enabled him to record more than 30 albums and garner dozens of Blues Music Awards nominations. His son Shawn “Lil Slim” Holt is ably carrying on the family blues tradition.
Latimore, the abbreviated stage name of singer, keyboardist and songwriter Benny Lattimore, has cut a dashing figure on the Southern soul circuit. His reputation emerged as he began touring in the 1970s producing of hits as “Stormy Monday” and his best-known original, “Let’s Straighten It Out.” Latimore was born in Tennessee in 1939 but has called Florida home since the 1960s. He is now a distinguished and still spirited love philosopher and elder statesman of the scene.
INDIVIDUALS: BUSINESS, PRODUCTION, MEDIA, or ACADEMIC
Amy van Singel, known to blues radio audiences as “Atomic Mama,” was a cofounder of Living Blues magazine in Chicago in 1970. She and her former husband Jim O'Neal published the magazine from their home in Chicago until they transferred the publication to the University of Mississippi in 1983. Her radio career began at Northwestern University and included stints at stations in Chicago, Mississippi, Memphis, Alaska and Maine. Amy died at her home in Maine on Sept. 19, 2016, at the age at 66.
CLASSICS OF BLUES LITERATURE
Father of the Blues by W.C. Handy is a monumental composition that is indispensable to the study of American musical history. Published in 1941, the book traces Handy’s background as a trained orchestra leader, his discovery of the blues and the struggles he endured to become a successful music publisher. It is often cited as a primary resource on the earliest years of blues history. No book is more deserving of designation as a Classic of Blues Literature.
CLASSICS OF BLUES RECORDING: ALBUM
The 1966 John Lee Hooker album Real Folk Blues is the latest of several Chess Records’ Real Folk Blues albums to be elected to the Blues Hall of Fame. The Hooker album was newly recorded in May of 1966 in Chicago. Hooker was his inimitable and spontaneous self, reworking some of his older songs and improvising new ones, accompanied by his Detroit guitarist Eddie Burns and Chicago sidemen Lafayette Leake and S.P. Leary.
CLASSICS OF BLUES RECORDING: SINGLE
“Bo Diddley” was not only the 1955 hit record that made Ellas McDaniel famous — it also gave him his professional name. The famed “Bo Diddley beat,” an energized update of the old “Hambone” rhythm, rocked the world, and Bo continued to create classics for Checker Records in Chicago with his innovative blend of blues and rock ’n’ roll.
“Hi-Heel Sneakers” by Tommy Tucker was the last blues record from the mighty Chess Records catalogue to hit No. 1 on the charts. Recorded in New York in 1963, the single on Chess’ Checker subsidiary label topped the Cash Box magazine R&B charts in 1964.
“I Ain’t Superstitious,” an ominous Willie Dixon composition recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961, is best known to rock audiences through the Jeff Beck Group’s 1968 cover version featuring Rod Stewart on vocals. On the original session for Chess Records in Chicago, Wolf’s band included Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, Sam Lay and 2017 Blues Hall of Fame inductee Henry Gray.
“I’ll Play the Blues for You,” recorded by Albert King in Memphis for the Stax label in 1971, was written by Jerry Beach, a longtime fixture on the Shreveport, Louisiana, music scene who died in 2016. In Beach’s lyrics, the blues becomes a source of soothing and comfort. King’s 45 spent eight weeks on Billboard magazine’s Best Selling Soul Singles chart in 1972
“Preachin’ the Blues,” a two-part single by Son House on the Paramount label from 1930, is a prime example not only of House’s intensity as a Delta blues singer and guitarist but also of his lifelong inner conflict between the lure of the blues life and devotion to the church. House, who did preach in church at times, also sang of the hypocrisy he saw in religion with lyrics such as “I’m gonna be a Baptist preacher and I sure won’t have to work.”