Wednesday, December 18, 2013

# 11 Fresh Berries

     One of the benefits of becoming famous or at least well known for your work as a musician is that you get to play with the people who inspired you to learn how to play in the first place. Successful musicians are similar to other successful professionals in that they are attracted to each other.

    By the time Butterfield releases his first album, he has already shared the stage with many of established blues men in Chicago. In addition, he has engaged in regular face time with harmonica masters like Little Walter, Jr. Wells, and James Cotton. These alliances with masters of their craft will serve as a template for the rest of his career.

    So, when the opportunity to play on a Chuck Berry record arrives, I am sure both Butterfield and Bloomfield are keen to participate in the project. Berry started his successful career in 1955 with his first of many hit songs, Maybellene. Then he records a string of hits for Chess, and in the process becomes an important contributor to the relatively new music called Rock 'n' Roll. However, his career peaks within three years, and his success begins to level out. (He is still working today so it has been a long leveling process!)

   But, Berry's catalogue is only a small part of his legacy. I imagine, in the fifties, thousands of adolescent boys sit in their rooms, leaning off the side of their bed, one ear cocked toward the speaker of a mono record player, trying to learn how to play guitar just like the great Chuck Berry. He is considered by millions to be The King of Rock 'n' Roll. He doesn't invent it, but he is an important pioneer of almost everything about the music.

   Fortunately, when his career really does start to wane in the early sixties, many of these young adolescent devotees are now older, still emulating his sound, and preaching to anyone willing to listen, the virtues of Chuck Berry. Most of the rock guitarist: Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, to name only a few, will help to revive public interest in his music.

   There has always been speculation among critics that Berry didn't write the music to many of his songs because so many of them are in flat keys. These critics are always quick to point to Berry's piano player Johnnie Johnson as the real composer of the memorable tunes, but none of that academic musing can take away from his guitar style, his voice, or his famous stage antics. In short, Chuck Berry's contributions to mainstream Rock 'n' Roll during the 1950s reemerges in a 1960s generation.

   In spite of his fertile relationship with the great blues label, Chess Records, in 1965 the marriage comes to an end. In September of that year he records a final set of tracks for Chess before moving over to Mercury Records. His last album is Fresh Berries, a last attempt at regaining his lost audience. While it is an exit recording for Berry, it is also an opportunity for Butterfield and Bloomfield to play with one of the greats.

   There isn't much information available on how Bloomfield and Butterfield were hired, they probably would have done the the sessions for free, so I will need make some assumptions.

   According to Berry's autobiography, the sessions for Fresh Berries are done Tel Mar Recording Studios in Chicago, on the 1st and 2nd of September 1965.  However, Butterfield and Bloomfield make their contributions on September 3rd. This leads me to believe that they did not actually play in the same room with Berry, but rather came into the studio, and recorded their parts after Berry had left the studio.

   The other notable point is that at the time of release, neither Butterfield or Bloomfield are given public credit for doing the sessions.This could be that by this time both are signed to Elektra Records and Grossman's Management company, which would create legal problems for the two.Whether either one are paid for the sessions is probably lost information by now. For me, there is a comedic element to the obvious neglect of recognition of their participation. Both Bloomfield and Butterfield have such distinctive sounds on their respective instruments, I can't imagine anyone being fooled by the lack of written recognition.

   So, the album is released by Chess Records in the United Kingdom in November of 1965 and
in the United States in April of 1966. Berry wouldn't record again for Chess until the release of
Back Home in 1970.

The tracks of interest for Butterfield and Bloomfield fans are:  It Wasn't Me, Ain't That
Just Like a Woman, Sad Day and Forgive Me.

Guitar: Chuck Berry
Bass: Chuck Bernhard
Harmonica: Paul Butterfield
Guitar: Mike Bloomfield
Johnnie Johnson: piano
Jaspar Thomas: drums.

Many thanks to Greg Wilson in Canada for the great video with all the Bloomfield/Butterfield tracks embedded!



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