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Check It Out: Chuck Berry’s “Turn on the House Lights”

“Check It Out” is a new and frequent feature pointing to good music found on the Internet.

Chuck Berry was a hit machine who was one of the architects of rock and roll. He’s known mostly by songs short enough to be played on AM radio. It’s interesting to hear him play without the time constraints.

Here is “Turn on the House Lights.” It’s great. What is especially interesting to a non musician is the clarity of the interplay between Berry and the other players. The team that recorded and mixed the cut did a fine job.

Berry is totally in control and at the same time gracious in featuring each of the musicians. It’s unclear to me whether he actually is stringing together bits of his shorter songs or if it just sounds that way because Chuck Berry is playing Chuck Berry music. A guitarist will be able to answer that question easily.

Click here or on the image for the ablum “Have Mercy.” It’s both encyclopedic and limited. There are about 70 songs — familiar Berry tunes, covers and little known songs. It only covers the Chess years, which ended in 1974. Here is the album at iTunes.
I heard this on one of the many good New York area radio stations. Unfortunately, I can’t give proper credit because I forget which it was. The host said that at the end of concerts Berry would ask for the house lights to be turned up and a jam would follow. Hence the name, which “The Collector’s Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry” says is sometimes simplified to “House Lights.” This is not a live recording, so it no doubt is an effort to replicate what the band did in concert.

The site, which is run by Dietmar Rudolph, has a tremendous amount of information on all things Chuck. It says that this cut was on the Chess Records album “Have Mercy,” a compilation of Berry’s recordings for the label. Berry was associated Chess from 1955 to 1974. Dietmar was kind enough to tell me that the song also is available on the 1979 album “Rock It,” which was released by ATCO/Atlantic.

In addition to Berry, the players are Ernie Hayes on piano, Wilbur Bascomb on bass and Earl Williams on drums.

TDMB has covered Chuck Berry here, here and here.

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Also of Interest

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.