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2017 News July 16, 2019   

October 18, 1926  -  March 18, 2017

David Browne - Rolling Stone  www.rollingstone.com
November 15, 2016

Chuck Berry Chuck Berry, Rock & Roll Innovator, Dead at 90

Chuck Berry, whose rollicking songs, springy guitar riffs and onstage duck walk defined rock & roll during its early years and for decades to come, died on Saturday.  The St. Charles County Police Department confirmed the news on Facebook.  Berry was 90 years old.

"St. Charles County police responded to a medical emergency on Buckner Road at approximately 12:40 p.m. today (Saturday, March 18)," the police department wrote on Facebook.  "Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered lifesaving techniques.  Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1:26 p.m."

"We are deeply saddened to announce that Chuck Berry - beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather - passed away at his home today at the age of 90", the family said in a statement.  "Though his health had deteriorated recently, he spent his last days at home surrounded by the love of his family and friends.  The Berry family asks that you respect their privacy during this difficult time."

While the exact cause of death is currently unknown, Berry's son, Charles Jr., recently told Rolling Stone that he had suffered a bout of pneumonia.  "Now what I can say is he's a 90-year-old man", he said.  "And like most 90-year-old men, he has good days and he has bad days.  In the not too distant past, he had a bout with pneumonia.  He's recovering, but it's a much slower process for him to recover."

Tributes to the musician from admirers came immediately.  "The Rolling Stones are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Chuck Berry", the band wrote in a statement.  "He was a true pioneer of rock & roll and a massive influence on us.  Chuck was not only a brilliant guitarist, singer and performer, but most importantly, he was a master craftsman as a songwriter.  His songs will live forever."

"Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock & roll writer who ever lived," Bruce Springsteen wrote on Twitter, while Brian Wilson wrote, "I am so sad to hear about Chuck Berry passing - a big inspiration!  He will be missed by everyone who loves Rock & Roll.  Love & Mercy." Kiss' Paul Stanley called Berry "a cornerstone of all that is, was and will be Rock and Roll", with Lenny Kravitz noting that "none of us would have been here without you."

"Chuck Berry sadly passed away over the weekend", Paul McCartney said in a statement.  "He was one of rock & roll's greatest poets.  He will be missed but remembered by everyone who ever loved rock & roll."

"It started with Chuck Berry", Rod Stewart said in a statement.  "The first album I ever bought was Chuck's 'Live at the Tivoli' and I was never the same.  He was more than a legend; he was a founding father.  You can hear his influence in every rock & roll band from my generation on.  I've been performing his 'Sweet Little Rock & Roller' since 1974 and tonight, when my band and I perform it at Caesars Palace's Colosseum, it'll be for Chuck Berry - your sound lives on."

Starting with his first hit, 1955's "Maybellene", Berry penned a collection of songs that, in both groove and teen-life mindset, became essential parts of the rock canon:  "Roll Over, Beethoven", "Rock & Roll Music", and especially "Johnny B. Goode" were witty, zesty odes to the then-new art form - songs so key to the music that they had to be mastered by every fledgling guitarist or band who followed Berry.  As teenagers, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger first bonded over their love of Berry's music, and over the last five decades Berry's songs have been covered by an astounding array of artists:  from the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Doors and the Grateful Dead to James Taylor, Peter Tosh, Judas Priest, Dwight Yoakam, Phish, and Sex Pistols.  As Richards said when inducting Berry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, "I've stolen every lick he ever played."

By fusing blues and country, Berry also invented a signature guitar style - like "ringing a bell", as he put it in "Johnny G. Goode" - that was imitated by bands from the Stones and the Beach Boys to punk rockers.  His lyrics - largely about sex, cars, music and trouble - introduced an entirely new vocabulary into popular music in the Fifties.  In his songs, Berry captured America's newfound post-war prosperity - a world, as he sang in "Back in the U.S.A.", where "hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day." ''I made records for people who would buy them", Berry once said.  "No color, no ethnic, no political - I don't want that, never did.''

Yet Berry, in his role as rock & roll pioneer, also dealt with racism and bigotry, particularly when he was accused in 1961 of violating the Mann Act (transporting a woman or girl across state lines for purposes of prostitution).  Berry claimed he had met Janice Norine Escalanti, a 14-year-old Native American, during a show in Texas and hired her to work at his St. Louis club, Club Bandstand.  Imprisoned after a second trial (the first conviction was overturned due to the judge repeatedly using the word "nigra"), Berry, who pleaded not guilty, wound up serving nearly two years in prison and emerged a noticeably changed, bitter man.  In recent years, he had mellowed somewhat, thanks in part to receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 1986 and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Born in St. Louis on October 18th, 1926, Charles Edward Anderson Berry learned to play blues guitar as a teenager and first performed at his high school talent show.  Music was his first love, but not necessarily his first career choice.  The son of a carpenter, Berry worked on a General Motors assembly line and studied to be a hairdresser.  With pianist Johnnie Johnson (a regular part of his band for years to come), Berry formed a band in 1952.  After meeting blues legend Muddy Waters, Berry was introduced to Chess Records founder Leonard Chess in 1955.  Berry brought along a song based on the country tune "Ida Red".  With a new title and lyrics - and an immediately grabby, grinding opening guitar lick - the song was transformed into "Maybellene".  On a return trip, Berry brought his recording of the song and was immediately signed to the label.  "[Chess] couldn't believe that a country tune (he called it a 'hillbilly song') could be written and sung by a black guy", Berry later wrote in his 1987 memoir Chuck Berry:  The Autobiography.

"Maybellene" hit Number Five in 1955 and established Berry's career and sound. By the end of the 1950s, he had logged seven more top 40 hits: "Roll Over Beethoven" (Number 29), "School Day" (Number Three), "Rock & Roll Music" (Number Eight), "Sweet Little Sixteen" (Number Two), "Johnny B. Goode" (Number Eight), "Carol" (Number 28) and "Back in the U.S.A." (Number 37). Although he was already in his early thirties by the time he scored those hits, Berry was unabashed about why he wrote for a younger audience. "Whatever would sell was what I thought I should concentrate on," he wrote in his memoir, "so from 'Maybellene' on, I mainly improvised my lyrics toward the young adult and some even for the teeny boppers, as they called the tots then."

Each song was defined by the Berry trademarks:  that blend of propulsive beat, rueful charm, and ringing guitar.  "The beautiful thing about Chuck Berry's playing was it had such an effortless swing", Keith Richards wrote in his memoir, Life.  "None of this sweating and grinding away or grimacing, just pure, effortless swing like a lion."  During a 1956 concert, Berry was so self-conscious about only having brought one suit that he invented a new stage move "to hide the wrinkles", as he told RS in 1969.  That move, the duck walk, also became part of the rock & roll lexicon.

Intentionally or not, Berry also set the template for the rock & roll bad boy beyond his Mann Act conviction.  Early in his life, Berry spent three years in reform school for an armed robbery attempt.  In 1979, he was indicted for tax evasion and filing false income tax returns and spent three months in jail.  (At his sentencing, he burst into tears.)  In 1990, he was sued by several women who claimed Berry had videotaped them in the ladies' room in his restaurant in St. Louis.  (Berry reached an out-of-court settlement.)

When he was released from a Missouri prison in October 1963 after his Mann Act conviction, Berry was embittered, but he also saw his footprint all over a new generation of bands.  The Beach Boys had released their first single, the Berry-influenced "Surfin' Safari", while a new band from England, the Rolling Stones, released Berry's "Come On" as their first single in 1963.  At first, Berry picked up where he left off, writing fine new songs like "You Never Can Tell" and "No Particular Place to Go" that held onto his devil-may-care attitude.

In 1966, Berry left Chess, his longtime home, for another label, Mercury, but the result was a series of sub-par albums and weak re-recordings of his hits.  (One notable exception:  a jam with the Steve Miller Band captured on the 1967 album, Live at the Fillmore Auditorium).  In 1969, he returned to Chess - and returned to form - on harder-edged songs like "Tulane", a drug-dealer romp that showed his newfound relevance.  In 1972, he scored his first and only Number One pop hit with the novelty song, "My Ding-a-Ling".  His last album of original songs, Rock It, was released in 1979.

Berry was a notoriously tough and irascible character offstage.  On tour, he long traveled alone, using backup bands hired by the promoters.  He demanded payment in advance, a specific kind of amplifier and a limousine (with no driver) for his shows.  In 1986, Richards assembled an all-star backup band (including Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, and sax player Bobby Keys) to play behind Berry in the documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll.  Even then, Berry intimidated Richards onstage and off and only showed up on the first day of filming after he demanded an extra cash payment of $25,000.  Despite those difficulties, the 1987 movie, directed by Taylor Hackford, became one of rock's most acclaimed concert films.

In 2012, while visiting Cleveland to accept the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's American Music Masters Award, the then-86-year-old musician told Rolling Stone that he was slowing down with age.  "I am hearing very little", he said.  "I'm wondering about my future.  That's news!

"Well, I'll give you a little piece of poetry", he added, when asked to expand.  "Give you a song?  I can't do that.  My singing days have passed.  My voice is gone.  My throat is worn.  And my lungs are going fast.  I think that explains it."

Up until 2014, Berry continued to perform at clubs and casinos.  Once a month, he played at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar in St. Louis, where his October 2014 show marked his 209th consecutive show at the venue, according to Riverfront Times.

Berry lived in St. Louis but often spent time at Berry Park, a 155-acre property in nearby Wentzville, Missouri.  (As he told Rolling Stone in 2010, he even still mowed the lawn there.)  Asked by RS in 1969 about rock's role, Berry said, "Like any music, it brings you together, because if two people like the same music, they can be standing beside each other shaking and they wind up dancing, and that's a matter of communication ... so I say it's a means of communication, more so than other music, to the kids."

He is survived by his wife Themetta "Toddy" Suggs, whom he married in 1948, and four children.

July 1, 1935  -  March 16, 2017

Randy Lewis - L.A. Times  www.latimes.com
March 17, 2017

James Cotton Blues harmonica player James Cotton, Mr. Superharp, dies at 81

Mississippi blues harp player James Cotton was certainly considered lucky for the break he got joining Muddy Waters' band in the late 1950s, taking over a spot previously held by such venerated harmonica whizzes as Little Walter and Junior Wells.

But it wasn't a one-way street.  Cotton is credited with the suggestion that Waters add a particular song to his repertoire, one that soon became Waters' musical calling card:  "Got My Mojo Working".

That may well be part of the reason that Waters was always ready to share the spotlight with other musicians with him on a bandstand.

"When one of my band members goes over big, I really like it", Waters told author James Rooney in his book "Bossmen".  "A lot of people ain't like that.  They don't want to give their band members a break.  I let them all try.  They feel good behind that, you know.  Everybody wants to be a star.  So I give 'em a chance."

That's precisely what happened for Cotton, who'd grown up tutored directly by no less a blues titan as Sonny Boy Williamson II.  After leaving Waters' band in the 1960s, Cotton launched a solo career that took him out on his own for decades, up until shortly before he died Thursday of pneumonia at 81 in a hospital in Austin, Texas.

During his life, Cotton released more than 30 albums and received a Grammy Award for best traditional blues album of 1996 for his "Deep In the Blues" album.

He also collected multiple awards from blues organizations and was inducted into Memphis' Blues Hall of Fame in 2006.

It was in Memphis where Cotton received an early break from visionary Sun Studio founder Sam Phillips, who was ardent about recording black musicians from the region.

Phillips famously recorded Howlin' Wolf (with whom Cotton also apprenticed as a teen), B.B. King, Ike Turner and other African American blues and R&B musicians before discovering and bringing to the world Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and other seminal rock 'n' roll and country stars.

Phillips released two singles from Cotton, "Straighten Up Baby" in 1953 and "Cotton Crop Blues" the following year.

Cotton was still a teenager working as a regular on the Memphis music scene when Waters came to town in 1954 without Wells along, and hired Cotton to take over the harmonica spot in his band.

"He came to this little beer joint where me and this guitar player were [performing] on a Saturday evening", Cotton told The Times in 1990.  "He said, 'I'm Muddy Waters', and he said he wanted to give me a job."

Initially, Cotton was suspicious.  He had heard Waters' music on record and on the radio but had never seen the fabled Chicago blues man in person.  That changed when he went to check out the club where Waters was booked to perform.

"I saw the posters with his picture on 'em", Cotton said.  "I thought, 'Maybe this is the right cat.' I never dreamed I'd be going to Chicago or playing with Muddy Waters.  But I played in Memphis [with Waters] that Saturday night, and that Sunday morning we were off to Chicago."

Upon returning to Chicago with Cotton now in the fold, executives at Chess Records insisted that Waters continue using Little Walter on his recordings.  It is Walter who is heard on Waters' 1958 recording of "Got My Mojo Working" after Cotton brought it to his attention.  But Cotton got the spotlight on the subsequent live version recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960.

He confessed it wasn't easy following in Little Walter's footsteps.

"Little Walter Jacobs was in Chicago, one of the greatest harmonica players that ever lived", he said.  "There was a whole lot of pressure on me.  I had to learn how to play harmonica all over again.  It made a musician out of me."

After a dozen years playing with Waters, Cotton ventured out on his own, a move that allowed him to express his own musical vision.

"I respected [Waters] so much, but there were other things that I wanted to play, and I would never mistreat him with his music", Cotton said.  "If it was rock 'n' roll, he didn't want to touch it.  But I felt that if I can play an instrument, I should play whatever I want."

James Henry Cotton was born July 1, 1935, in Tunica, Miss., and picked up the nickname "Mr. Superharp", becoming famous for a highly energized performance style that incorporated much of the energy and performance dynamics from rock 'n' roll.

After forming his own James Cotton Band in 1966, he was soon touring with blues-influenced rock acts such as Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Santana and Steve Miller as well as fellow blues players including B.B. King and Freddie King.

Two of the James Cotton Band's albums broke into Billboard's 200 Albums chart, a relative rarity for blues musicians:  1967's "The James Cotton Blues Band" and 1975's "100% Cotton".

He received an all-star salute in 2010 at Lincoln Center in New York at a performance that featured Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Taj Mahal, Shemekia Copeland and others.

He was honored in 2015 by the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal as the recipient of the festival's B.B. King Award, recognizing his seven decades in music.

Throughout his life Cotton remained open to other forms of music, including rap, although he said it wasn't a style he'd want to attempt.

"I listen to everything", he said.  "I can't do [rap], but I listen to it.  They make a lot of money doing it, God bless 'em.  Even if I tried it, it would come out like the blues."

He also noted that his constant companion through everything has been his harmonica.

"Twenty-four hours a day, every day, you'll catch me with a harmonica", he said.  "I sleep with 'em in the bed with me.  The highway is my home, and my Dodge van is my bed, and the blues is my companion.  I'm going to do it till I die."

Cotton is survived by his wife, Jacklyn Hairston Cotton, daughters Teresa Hampton and Marshall Ann Cotton and son James Patrick Cotton, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


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