October 18: Chuck Berry

Chuck_BerryIt’s very difficult for me to talk about Chuck Berry ’cause I’ve lifted every lick he ever played — this is the gentleman who started it all!” -Keith Richards

Ladies and gentlemen, today we celebrate the birthday of the father of rock and roll. Yes, it’s Chuck Berry’s 88th birthday. In the early 1950s, Berry played country riffs over a base of rhythm and blues that would form the basis for early rock and roll.

Berry got his start playing with blues pianist Johnnie Johnson’s trio. The band toured around the South and primarily performed blues. However, they’d occasionally throw in a few country covers. As Berry later wrote:

Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of our black audience began whispering ‘who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?’ After they laughed at me a few times they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it.

After a few years on tour, Berry auditioned for Leonard Chess’ Chess Records. Although Chess was impressed with Berry’s blues numbers, he was particularly interested in Berry’s revved up take on the traditional American folk song “Ida Red”, When Berry signed to Chess Records, the first thing he recorded was a reworking of “Ida Red” he called “Maybellene”.

“Maybellene” was a smash hit, and soon Berry began setting the gold standard for rock and roll. He was one of rock’s first singer-songwriters, composing clever and iconoclastic songs like “Roll Over Beethoven” and “No Particular Place To Go” that featured pioneering guitar work. Not to mention that Berry helped shaped the look of rock and roll performances with his patented duck walk, which probably inspired Mick Jagger’s famous “rooster strut.” Although it’s been over 40 years since Berry’s last hit song, he still regularly performs every month at the St. Louis, Missouri area restaurant Blueberry Hill, regularly packing them in.

In 2010, Rolling Stone named Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” the “Greatest Guitar Song Of All Time.” The song famously tells the tale of a little country boy with dreams of musical stardom, “who never ever learned to read or write so well/But he could play the guitar like ringing a bell.” So, in the spirit of those lyrics today we’re going to mix a Country Boy Blues. It’s a very sweet blue drink that has a taste of lemonade mixed with berries. I’d advise against having more than one of these in one night; not because it’s highly alcoholic,  but because I’m almost afraid it might give you Type 2 Diabetes.

Country Boy Blues

  • 1 ounce Blue Raspberry Vodka
  • 1 ounce Black Cherry Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Blue Curacao
  • 1 1/2 ounce sweet sour mix

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: Mr. Clutch and the NBA’s first West Coast team.

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