Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chuck Berry's Early Influence

In 1955, Chuck Berry had his first smash hit, "Maybellene". It still resonates today as one of the great, early rockers. And it certainly made its mark at the time, too. Not only was it a smash with the record buying public but also influenced any number of musicians. Case in point, (Big) John Greer and Brownie McGhee, who both recorded numbers using "Maybellene" as a blueprint. In fact, both songs are downright knock-offs.

Sax man and vocalist, John Greer began his recording career in 1949 with Lucky Millinder's band. Within a year, he was recording for RCA Victor under his own name. By 1955, he was recording for the Groove label and, a year later, for King. His records are a fine example of rockin' r&b and, indeed, early rock and roll. And there may be none finer than his late 1955 release, "Come Back Maybelline".

The song IS the Chuck Berry classic, with altered lyrics. It features Greer's strong, at a shout vocal and crackerjack instrumentation. Especially fine is the great, ringing guitar break. All the while the pounding drums lay down a big dance beat.

Rev-Ola recently released a collection of John Greer's early (1949-55) material, titled I'm The Fat Man. It begins with his work with Lucky Millinder and wraps up with today's record. It's an excellent CD and a pretty fine way to trace the evolution of rhythm and blues through the early 1950's, as it became rock and roll.

Blues guitarist and vocalist Brownie McGhee also copped Chuck's "Maybellene" for his own "Anna-Mae". McGhee is probably best known for his plethora of recordings with harmonica man, Sonny Terry. Here, McGhee is credited solely, including as songwriter of today's track. But it'll take you about two seconds to identify the inspiration.

"Anna-Mae" includes some really outstanding guitar work. The rest of the instrumentation is more blues based than the John Greer song above. The drums are much more in the background but the song is up-tempo and rockin', nonetheless. And, of course, McGhee's vocal is a winner. He's a bit more subdued than Greer but that's no knock against him.

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