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Chuck Berry: Rockin' at the Hops

Album Notes

Personnel includes: Chuck Berry (vocals, electric guitar), L.C. Davis (tenor saxophone), Matt Murphy (electric guitar), Johnnie Johnson (piano), Willie Dixon (acoustic bass), Fred Below, Eddie Hardy (drums).

Reorded in Chicago, Illinois between July 1959-April 1960. Includes original album liner notes, and new notes by Bob Schnieders.

The two classic cuts that bookend this album should be enough to attract the uninitiated -- Berry at his best wrote danceable little "vest-pocket" screenplays dealing with teen life, of which "Bye Bye Johnny" and "Let It Rock" were two of his best; but because they've been so heavily anthologized, those two cuts don't have the pulling power here that they would have had 40-some years back. So get this record for everything else that's on it -- Rockin' at the Hops not only has no filler, but it's chock full of records that show off a bluesy side of Berry's output that was never fully appreciated at the time. His version of Big Maceo's "Worried Life Blues" shows how good a bluesman Berry might've been had he been more the Muddy Waters-type player and singer that Chess had been looking for; "Down the Road a Piece," a song written by Don Raye (of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" fame), is a lost Berry single that could've rated right up there with "Roll Over Beethoven," except that its roadhouse ambience and story line were more mature than a lot of kids might've embraced in 1959; and Walter Brown's "Confessin' the Blues" and "Driftin' Blues" fit into the same category, Berry the adult bluesman rather than the teen-oriented teaser. "Childhood Sweetheart" is a sequel to "Wee Wee Hours," Berry's very first blues side, lifting a fragment or two from Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" for its guitar break. "Too Pooped to Pop" and "Betty Jean," by contrast, are a pair of enjoyably upbeat rock & roll numbers, each featuring uncharacteristic elements, a sax solo on the former, and a male chorus on the latter; in between them is "Mad Lad," an instrumental that presents Berry drifting into what would later be defined as a surf guitar mode -- a quicker tempo would have done it (and does anyone want to bet that a young Carl Wilson didn't wear out a copy or two listening to this track?). ~ Bruce Eder


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