Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Goode and Bad

The blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n roll. Standing expectantly with the forceps may have been Ike Turner, and on hand with the hot water and towels was Little Richard, but there, straight outta the womb came a duck walkin’, smart talkin’ Chuck Berry, sly grin on the side of his mouth and holding a cherry red Gibson with a hand span as wide as the Mississippi.

chuckwalk

He sang of motorvatin’ in shark-finned Cadillacs, of Coolerators and TV dinners, of a life so technicolour and otherworldly and sci-fi that he couldn’t fail to capture the imagination of anyone with half a feel for the beat. It’s no wonder that future legends like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton embraced him so keenly. Young Keith was still playing with rats on Blitzed-out bomb sites in a post-War Britain living in severely austere times, and here was Chuck, singing quite literally about the promised land.

chuck berry gogo

Chuck BerryBye Bye Johnny

I’ve always loved Chuck’s Bye Bye Johnny, a follow-up in sorts to Johnny B. Goode, a story song where the protagonist leaves home in search of fame and fortune. First time I heard it though was on Status Quo’s epic triple box set ‘From the Makers Of‘. For years I assumed it was a denim-clad Quo original. With it’s 3 chord chugga-chugga boogie and heads down, no-nonsense approach it could well have been a mid 70’s Quo classic.

Status QuoBye Bye Johnny

Back in the early 80s, (September ’83), around the time I’d have been headbanging myself into stupidity with a tennis racquet and Status Quo blaring in the background,  Chuck and a pick-up band played my hometown of Irvine. I never went. Why? Because I was a daft wee boy who was in denial about music from the past. If my parents liked it, I didn’t. It was as simple as that.

chuck irvineFound on t’internet

The promoter of the concert, Willie Freckleton, booked all the bands that came through the town, from Chuck and The Clash to Oasis and Bjork. In later years he told me the story of how Chuck wouldn’t play until he’d been given his fee in a brown paper bag stuffed with good ol’ fashioned American dollars. For a man who’d been ripped off from the moment he’d picked up a guitar, this was probably a smart move, albeit a little cold. After the main set, where Chuck had of course wowed the audience with his 3 minute symphonies and wide-legged stage antics, he left to frenzied applause.

That was great, Chuck!” cheered Willie to his idol from the side of the stage. “Are you going back on? Give the audience a wee bit more, eh?

Sho thing, man,” drawled Chuck, hand out-stretched. “Fo’ anotha’ thousan’ dolla’s…

The Irvine audience never got an encore.

chuck berry

Chuck BerrySweet Little Rock ‘n Roller

You can’t write a piece about him without pointing out the fact that Chuck Berry is, by all accounts, an appalling human being.

Not just for the money-in-the-bag story (that’s so routine in Chuck’s world now, it’s almost as much a signature move as the Johnny B. Goode riff) or the dubious lyrics that reference young girls and carnal acts dressed up in all manner of metaphors.

There is the 3 year jail sentence for transporting a 14 year-old across State lines for ‘prostitution’ and immoral purposes’. You can’t dress that up in metaphor, Chuck. Or maybe you did?

More recently, there is the story of him having a hidden camera in the female toilets in his restaurant. Charges were only dropped after he agreed to pay financial compensation to the 200+ victims who came forward.

Flawed genius? Perhaps. Or just not a nice man.

chuck mug

Broadcaster Andy Kershaw does a really terrific stand-up routine, based around his autobiography ‘No Off Switch‘ – it’s a brilliant read, and part of his show is based around his distaste for Berry as a person alongside the unbridled joy of listening to Promised Land.

If you want to travel across America, don’t do Route 66. That’s the accepted route, but believe me, unless you’re into farming and grain containment, you won’t find a more boring road in the whole of America. If you want to find out about the real America; the grit, the dirt, the soul of the country, take Uncle Chuck’s advice and follow the lyrics of Promised Land.”

Kershaw then impressively reels off the lyrics. Breathless poetry about a land that captured the imaginations of all those post-War wannabe guitar players. It’s a beautiful thing….

Chuck BerryPromised Land

I’ve always had a soft spot for the late 70’s Elvis version.

Listen closely and you can hear his lard ass a-wobblin’ out the seams of that ridiculous white jump suit as he breathlessly tries to keep up with the rest of the band. Heck, you can practically see the sweat flying over the top of the gold aviators as The King staves off the heart attack for a few more weeks. Essential listening, of course.

Elvis PresleyPromised Land

 

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

I like it, I like it, I la la la like it.

Watching Glastonbury from the comfort of my armchair, one band stuck out like a sore thumb. But a good sore thumb. A really good sore thumb. Springsteen? Hmmm. Sure, he’s got the knack of making a hundred thousand people feel like he’s serenading them on a one-to-one basis in the dressing room of King Tuts. Neil Young? Hmmm, yeah, but he does go on a wee bit too long. Just a tiny bit, but a wee bit nonetheless. Long may you run and all that, but c’mon Neil. Blur? Punkpoppogoagogo. Damon All Bran shadow boxing and jogging on the spot. Graham Coxon rolling around on the floor whilst soloing. Yeah, it’s all very 1992. I liked them a lot. But nope. The band that really did it for me were Status Quo. Yep. You read that right first time. Status Quo.

If only for their opening 5 minute salvo, I’d have been delighted to stand in a crowded field full of B.O. and pollen. Had I been there, my fingers would’ve been firmly in my belt loops and I’d’ve been heabanging away like some of those hopelessly embarrasing bald-on-top, long at the back tour t-shirt-wearing accountants-by-day oldies. Status Quo’s opening song sounded so good, I thought it was 1973 again. There’s a slow build up of feedback that Kevin Shield’s would’ve been proud of. Parfitt’s fingers are barred and poised to start chugging out the F-Shape at the 13th fret. As he finds the rhythm and locks the groove, Rossi fades himself in with that instantly recognisable counter riff on his green Tele. The rest of the band get on with the no-nonsense heads-down boogie and we’re off. Come on Sweet Caroline! Take my hand, together we can rock and roll! As that other rock ‘n roller who clearly stole Parfitt n’ Rossi’s patented denim-with-white-trainers look might say, Sen. Say. Shee. Oh. Nal. Aye Liam. You’ve been out rocked and out rolled by a couple of old men in waistcoats and bad hair.

quo

Of course, twas not always thus. Sure, they’ve mostly always had bad hair and often had a penchant for sporting the garishly coloured waistcoat, but back in the 60s, Status Quo were fresh from the Butlins holiday camp circuit and had a ‘The’ at the start of their name. If you’ve ever seen Spinal Tap (and of course you have) The Status Quo were a psychedelic beat combo in much the same vein as that film’s The Thamesmen. Paisley shirts? Check! Wah-wah? Oh yes! Multi-coloured guitars? Absolutely man!

status quo thamesmen

The Status Quo                        The Thamesmen

The Status Quo are amazing. They’re probably best known for Pictures of Matchstick Men, covered by many including most recently Kasabian for a Radio 2 session with Dermot O’Leary. Christ. I hate that band. They’d love to be Primal Scream, wouldn’t they? Anyway, back to The Status Quo. Not ‘The Quo’. That means ‘In The Army Now’ and best-forgotten collaborations with Manchester United. The Status Quo. Ice In The Sun. Another slice of 60s psychedelia. A coupla years later and they’d be slaves to the boogie. Here‘s their version of The Doors ‘Roadhouse Blues’. Guilty as charged, m’lud. For years I never knew this was a cover. When I was 10 I got ‘From the Makers Of…‘ a triple LP Status Quo Box Set from Santa. It’s still in my collection, as is  ‘Picturesque Matchstickabale Memories From The Status Quo’. If you only buy one Status Quo album this year, etc etc….You’ll not find it in Tesco but it’s worth seeking out.

status quo matchstick