Georgie Duchart assailed me in the halls of SMC.It was 1956.
“Have you heard that song about Beethoven” he asked, referring to Chuck Berry’s fantastic Roll Over Beethoven (and tell Tchaikovsky the News).In those days hipsters were all listening to George Lorenz (the Hound) broadcasting from Buffalo. CFRB and CKEY were now dead zones for teens.
I‘m gonna write a little letter,
Gonna mail it to my local DJ.
Yeah an’ it’s a jumpin’ little record
I want my jockey to play.
Roll Over Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today.
Berry nailed the changing mood. Rock and roll was supplanting Patti Page and the old big band singers. Sinatra was searching for hits Irving Berlin was done at the age of 60.
You know, my temperature’s risin’
The jukebox’s blowin’ a fuse.
My heart’s beatin’ rhythm
And my soul keeps a-singin’ the blues.
Berry was 30 before he hit it big but he quickly appealed to our teenage lives
They’re really rockin Boston
In Pittsburgh, P. A.
Deep in the heart of Texas
And ’round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
Way down in New Orleans
All the Cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen
The news was: the music was rapidly changing and Chuck was the first great folk poet of rock and roll, a bat-shit crazy brilliant exponent of the jump blues. All the cats in those years were influenced by Louis Jordan the bridge from the small combo blues to rock and roll. My friend Georgie was probably listening to WKBW found at the end of the dial around 1540.And that’s where you found the blacks who produced the music: on the very margins not of the dial but society.
All this came home to me on a “Beethoven Day” as i drove to Hamilton listening to all those Chuck Berry songs full blast on the CD player.You talk about Road songs and Bruce Springsteen, the lure of feeling free in your car. Chuck Berry was there firsthand here I was belting it all out.
Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You studyin’ 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 lunch room’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 your books
Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
And then to the EROICA that same night, Ludwig Von’s great symphony at the beautiful Koerner Hall.
Imagine that : Beethoven bookends.
How did we get from Beethoven to Chuck Berry? An amazing migration. European music, classical, waltzes, quadrilles) poured into port cities like New Orleans, migrated up the Mississippi to Chicago and Detroit accompanied by looking for work. They left the cotton fields of Mississippi and Georgia. They brought their African field hollers, heavy on rhythm ( “the beat”) and they met The electric guitar pioneered by Les Paul.
And Ludwig met CHUCK BERRY.