Chuck Berry- St. Louis to Liverpool (1964)
Updated: May 9
Chuck Berry - St. Louis To Liverpool
Released November 1964
Recorded December 1957- August 1964
Nobody was more important to the development of Rock and Roll's sounds and traditions than Chuck Berry. He was perhaps the most fantastic guitarist, singer, songwriter, and entertainer in his prime. Berry grew up in St. Louis in a middle-class family. His father was a contractor and a deacon. His mother was a school principal. As a youth, Berry began playing guitar. While in high school, he was arrested for armed robbery for stealing a car and threatening the driver at gunpoint. It would not be his only legal issue. At reformatory school, he formed a singing group. At age 21, Berry was released. He married, fathered a child, and was a janitor at an auto assembly plant. He then trained as a beautician at a cosmetology school.
In the early 1950s, Berry began working as a musician at local clubs where he showcased borrowed licks and moves from blued legend T-Bone Walker (Check Him Out!). In 1954, Chuck Berry began to record as a solo artist for the small Ballad label. In 1955 he moved to Chicago, where he came to the attention of bluesman Muddy Waters, who introduced him to Leonard Chess of Chess Records. He soon recorded "Maybellene" for the label, which sold over a million copies. In 1956, he recorded the rock anthem "Roll Over Beethoven" and dozens of other hits like "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," and "Johnny B. Goode." Chuck Berry was now a major star and was the only blues man to fully break into white markets. He also began to appear in films and was showcased in Rock Rock Rock (1956), Jazz on a Summer's Day (1958), Go, Johnny, Go! (1959).
St. Louis to Liverpool
After a half-decade of incredible success, Berry's life and popularity came to a significant halt when he was arrested for having sexual relations and transporting a 14-year-old white girl across state lines. For the crime, Berry spent a year and a half in prison. He was released in 1963 and immediately returned to recording and releasing hits. By this time, British groups like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Animals, and The Kinks recorded many of his songs and began having tremendous success. In response to his music's success with other artists, Berry began touring the U.K. and released his comeback album St. Louis to Liverpool.
Following the Release
Despite being able to retain a lucrative touring schedule, the studio hits began drying up for Berry in the late 1960s. Prison and being constantly ripped off disenfranchise Berry from the music business. Seemingly uninterested in anything more than making money, Berry toured regularly and mostly used local pickup backup bands, who, more often than not, were not up to Berry's level. He did this to avoid paying a working band's travel costs and higher wages. Naturally, the music suffered.
After recording for Mercury Records from 1966-1969, Berry returned to Chess Records in 1970, and in 1972, he released his first hit in years, a naughty novelty tune, "My Ding-a-Ling," his only number-one single. It would be his last hit. By the end of the 70s, Berry stopped recording, and his performances became even more uneven and often disappointing. Bruce Springsteen and others, who once backed Berry, said the guitarist did not provide a setlist or even talk to the band before or after performances.
Later Life and Career
In 1979, Berry faced legal troubles again when he pleaded guilty to tax evasion, which led to four-month in prison and 1000 hours of community service. In the 80s, Berry continued playing a series of one-nighters, schlepping his guitar nationwide. In 1986, Berry turned 60 years old, and things were looking up. During the year, he was featured in the documentary film Hail! Hail! Rock' n' Roll and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. The positivity was short-lived when in 1987, he was charged with sexual assault. Then in 1990, Berry was sued for secretly filming women in the bathroom at a restaurant he owned. He settled the matters outside of court and was forced to pay over a million dollars. Things worsened when Berry was arrested for marijuana possession and child abuse charges (which were dropped). Then came the disturbing videos of Berry being involved with some truly disgusting acts with women. In 2017, Chuck Berry, the architect of Rock and Roll, died.
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1- "Little Marie" is a strong opener and an instant reminder to British imitators that Berry, the originator, is back and better at playing Chuck Berry tunes than a bunch of young white dudes reinterpreting his songs. "Little Marie" was released as a single, reaching only #54 on the charts.
Track 2- "Our Little Rendezvous" is a high-flying blues. First, we met Marie, and now with this tune, we meet Suzie. The tune is short and sweet. Take notice of guitarist Matt "Guitar" Murphy and longtime collaborators Willie Dixon on bass and pianist Johnnie Johnson.
Track 3- "No Particular Place To Go" Is the ultimate song to cruise to. It was issued as a single in 1964 and is a reinterpretation of an earlier hit, "School Days." Berry would do this often, he was a bit of a one-trick pony, but he did that trick well. The song tells the story of a guy who rides with a girlfriend, cuddles in the car, and decides to take a walk, probably to find a place to hook up, but the seatbelt is stuck. The narrator gets no play and drives the girl home. The tune reached #10 on the charts, a much-needed hit for the legend. Great tune with some signature Berry solo guitar phrases. (*+)
Track 4- "You Two" shows versatility regarding harmony, feel, and lyrics. It is a jazzy feel-good tune in which the narrator plans to throw a country cookout. Pianist Paul Williams plays a fine solo. The track is reminiscent of Nat King Cole's music. A great tune that was never issued as a single. So in the words of Berry, "Let's roast some weiners, toast the buns, drink some rounds, and listen to some jazzy sounds." Let's hang out and enjoy the tune (+)
Track 5- "Promised Land" is set to the melody of the American folk classic "Wabash Cannonball," It was Berry's first single after being released from incarceration after violating the Mann Act. The song was written in prison and listed several American cities as the narrator travels from Norfolk, Virginia, to the "promised land" of Los Angeles, California. Berry wrote the song with the help of an atlas he borrowed from the prison library. It's a solid track and deserved a higher chart position, as it only reached #41. Elvis Presley recorded the tune in 1974. (*+)
Track 6- "You Never Can Tell" is called "C'est La Vie." The tune was created when Berry was in prison. Take notice of the signature piano lick by longtime collaborator Johnie Johnson and the well-written background horn lines. The song tells the story of the wedding and life of a married teen couple. The tune served as the B side to "No Particular Place To Go." "You Never Can Tell" was popularized in the classic 1994 film Pulp Fiction. Sometimes even B sides chart well, and this one reached #14. I guess "you never can tell." (*+)
Track 1- "Go Bobby Soxer" A Bobby Soxer is a young female pop music fan and a term that was often used in the 1940s. The song is basically "Johnny B. Goode," with some sloppily played drum fills and a more prominent piano. Berry's choice to sing about a young female fan after his legal ordeal was probably not the smartest decision.
Track 2- "The Things That I Used To Do" is one of two songs not written by Berry on the album. The tune was written by blues legend Guitar Slim, who had a hit with the song in 1953. The slow blues is an apology song stating, "The things that I used to do, lord, I won't do no more." It may be Berry's way of admitting guilt; There is some excellent guitar playing on this one. The mix could be better balanced.
Track 3- "Liverpool Drive" is the first of two instrumental tracks, and it is pretty awesome. It is a fast blues shuffle that showcases Berry's skills as a guitarist, which were remarkable for their time. When it came to rock guitar playing in 1964, nobody was stronger than Berry. (+).
Track 4- "Night Beat" is another instrumental. The song is played at a slow tempo with the drummer Odie Payne providing a solid backbeat until the beat gets turned around at 2:00. It's amazing how they left in the apparent mistake and were still able to recover.
Track 5- "Merry Christmas Baby" was written by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore. It's a slow soulful blues with a Christmas theme. The track was released as a single, charting at only #71. Take notice of the "White Christmas" quoted during the guitar solo. Special praise should be given to Pianist Johnnie Johnson on this one, as he solos basically throughout the track. Once again, it sounds like drummer Odie Payne's beat gets a little goofy at around 2:50, but it seems to matter little since bass legend Willie Dixon is solid as a rock (*)
Track 6- "Brenda Lee" joins the cast of female characters featured on the album. The song has a jump-blues vibe and tells the story of Brenda Lee's high school years. Lee was a famous American singer with 47 hit songs throughout the 1960s; only Elvis, The Beatles, and Ray Charles had more. Someone should have advised Berry to choose themes that didn't concern teen girls.
The album was critical in reintroducing Berry to the public after being incarcerated. Instead of hearing the Beatles, Stones, and other British invader players' offering lesser interpretations of Chuck Berry songs, we get the authentic thing with From St. Louis to Liverpool! Surprisingly the album charted at only #124, mainly because it had two top 15 hits. Even more remarkable is that it was Chuck Berry's highest-charting album to this point. This is pretty wild when you can consider that Berry was arguably the most significant creator of Rock and Roll.