Roll Over Beethoven

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.


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