February 2007



Holy Ghost!

Before you even read this mess, go to Chuck Berry's web site and download one of the high resolution photos for your computer's background... yes, that's better than the those old family pictures you've been meaning to update...

This year in celebration of Black History Month we'll touch on the subject of black music that appears in white music, either because the white artist ripped off the black dude, or it was a tribute, or a subconscious memory that resulted in copyright infringement. As long as there's been radio, there've been parents yelling "turn off those pernicious African wailings" (or you can imagine your own references to black artists), and there's been white singers trying to cash in as a safe alternative. There's probably a liberal arts college that teaches an entire course on this stuff. We're not experts here (we're just lowly engineers for Chrissakes), but below are just a few examples that we've noticed. And we're not even gonna mention Elvis.

This is the time of year when we're all reminded of "the day the music died", Don McLean's 1971 musical tribute to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), who died in an in-fated Beechcraft ride on February 3, 1959. Dion DiMucci of The Belmonts fame lived because he was too cheap to buy the $36 ticket that was offered to him, a man after our own hearts. The full meaning of McLean's lyrics are the subject of much debate, but he presents The Bopper, Valens and Holly as the father, son and holy ghost of rock and roll. No question that Buddy Holly had and would continue to have a legendary career, but it's far more accurate say that Fats Domino, Little Richard and Check Berry might have been the trinity of early rock. In spite of the Hurricane Katrina scare and unlike those unfortunate plane passengers of 1959, this trio is still around and kickin! Maybe it's the Gary U. S. Bonds Effect. Do the twist and you'll never grow old!

Pat Boone's Ain't That a Shame

One of the original poachers of black entertainment, Pat's shameless rendition of Fats Domino's Ain't That a Shame scored a monster hit. Pat also charted with Little Richard's hits Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally. It's doubtful that this "Christian" singer understood the lyrics of the latter, which is an ode to a transsexual relative, Uncle John, who's about to get finked out to to his wife, Aunt Mary, for his bizarre behavior:

Gonna tell Aunt Mary 'bout Uncle John,
he claims he has the misery but he has a lotta fun...

Well, long tall Sally she's built for speed,
she got everything that Uncle John needs...

Well, I saw Uncle John with bald-headed Sally.
He saw Aunt Mary comin' and he ducked back in the alley.

Having been previously ripped off on the song Tutti Frutti, Little Richard was encouraged to sing Long Tall Sally fast enough so that Pat Boone wouldn't be able to cover it, but Pat did it anyway. He also cut renditions of Big Joe Turner's fantastic Chains of Love, and Ivory Joe Hunter's I Almost Lost My Mind. Pat took some great music and turned it into Muzak.

Jerry Lee Lewis, High School Confidential

The line from High School Confidential says what Jerry Lee thought about R&B:

Come on little baby let me give a piece good news
Jerry Lee is going to rock away all his blues
My hearts beatin' rhythm and my soul is singin' the blues

This song stalled as news of Lewis's marriage to his second cousin spread. As JLL tells the story, everyone remembers she was 13 when they married, but no one remembers her birthday was the very next day!

Beach Boys Surfin' USA

Almost every guitar riff you hear on a Beach Boys recording was robbed from Berry. They gave him credit as co-writer of Surfin USA only after he sued them, which is clearly his song Sweet Little Sixteen with some new lyrics. Berry was in jail for his infamous violation of the Mann Act when Surfin' USA came out. Here's two verses, see if you can guess whose song is whose, then practice them both so you can irritate your kids by singing the opposite lyrics when you hear one on the radio!

If everybody had an ocean
across the U. S. A.
Then everybody'd be surfin'
Like Californ-i-a
You'd seem em wearing their baggies,
Huarachi sandals too.
A bushy bushy blonde hairdo
Surfin U. S. A

They're really rockin Boston
In Pittsburgh, P. A.
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
Way down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet little sixteen

The Beatles Come Together

The Beatles once stole from the Shakespeare of Rock and Roll, and lost a lawsuit. Here's the lyrics compared:

John Lennon's lyrics to Come Together:

Here come old flat-top he come grooving up slowly
He got Joo-Joo eyeball he one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
Got to be a joker he just do what he please

Chuck Berry's original lyrics from You Can't Catch Me:

Here come a flat-top, he was movin' up with me
Then come wavin' goodbye a little' old souped-up jitney
I put my foot in my tank and I began to roll
Moanin' siren, 'twas a state patrol
So I let out my wings and then I blew my horn
Bye bye New Jersey, I'd be come and gone

Perhaps just a little resemblance, but Morris Levy, a chisler who owned the rights to Berry's work, filed a lawsuit against Lennon which paid off in Lennon re-recording some other songs for Levy. Berry was ripped off twice here!

John Lennon once said "if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." Roger that!

Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones

Let's first point out that the phrase "Rolling Stone" was first popularized in an ancient Muddy Waters song:

Well, my mother told my father,
just before hmmm, I was born,
"I got a boy child's comin,
He's gonna be, he's gonna be a rollin stone,
Sure 'nough, he's a rollin stone

The Stones covered tons of Berry's work and almost always included (and credited) one of his songs on each of their albums in the sixties, no doubt as a good luck charm.

An example is Berry's Carol on their debut album, it's a great rendition. For homework, you need to buy or rent the DVD Hail Hail Rock and Roll, a movie produced about Berry in the 70s. In it there's a scene where he is explaining the wa-wa sound in the chorus of Carol to Keith Richards, with plenty of eye-rolling from both characters. This is solid gold, and it's so special it's one of only half-dozen CDs and DVDs that you can buy at your local Starbucks on your way to work today.

Other Berry tunes that the Stones cut include Bye Bye Johnny, Around and Around, Come On, Talking Bout You, You Can't Catch Me, and Little Queenie. Chuck kept track of who covered his songs, the long list can be found on his web site.

The Who

Early Who efforts were clearly imitations of Black R&B music. How do we know this? Because their most famous wall poster says so. Long before they recorded My Generation, they were performing R&B hits. Check them out in the movie The Kids are Alright, available on DVD at Amazon!

Led Zeppelin Nobody's Fault but Mine

Led Zeppelin took blues in many original directions. Their song Nobody's Fault But Mine was first cut by Blind Willie Johnson, an itinerant Texas preacher who recorded for Columbia around 1930, back when the Mills Brothers were just teenagers. The 1927 song was originally about Willie fretting about not reading his Bible (how could this be his fault, he was blind?), Led Zepp made it into a song about doing drugs and other pleasures of the flesh. No credit was given to Willie on the 1976 album that Nobody's Fault appeared on. Other artists have praised Johnson's influence, Eric Clapton was a big fan of his slide guitar skills. Willie died from pneumonia that set in from sleeping on a wet mattress after the roof burned off of his house. So much for fame and fortune.

George Thorogood and the Destroyers

Diddley Daddy

Thorogood made a career out of singing Chuck Berry covers and using the Bo Diddley beat. It seems to have worked out! GT&D used Bo in a music video, the two of them play pool during Bad to the Bone. But as Bo once said, "I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob..."

While we're on the subject, read about how Bo Diddley's appearance on Ed Sullivan got him banned for life!


Billy Idol, Wine Spoodee-o-dee

Is there a whiter rocker than Billy Idol? Probably not. But when you listen to his version of LA Woman (by Jim Morrison) on the album Charmed Life, you can clearly hear him mouthing the words "drinkin' wine spoodee-o-dee", which ain't part of the original song. Wine Spoodee-o-dee was a signature song of Sticks McGhee, dating back to 1949. How did Sticks get his name? Not from being thin. It was from the sticks he used to push his brother's wagon with as a kid. His brother was crippled from polio.

Let's borrow a little from another web site on the origin of spoo-dee-o-dee:

"Spodee (among other spellings) is a Pacific Northwest party drink, a mixture of alcohol and fruit, frequently made in a trash can and left to marinate a day or two before the party. The origin of the word is unknown, but it seems likely to come from the classic R&B song "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" by Sticks McGhee, which in 1949, was the first big hit record for Atlantic Records." Another reference to spo-dee-o-dee describes it as a nonsense word that Sticks used because it fit in with an expletive with the same number of syllables.


Why would Billy Idol make this reference? Probably just a proven way to use the F-word and get away with it. Billie Freakin' Idol!

Johnny Rivers

The singer best known for the opening music to the TV show Secret Agent Man, River's best cuts were all previously recorded by black artists, but they are just great covers pure and simple. Midnight Special (originally recorded by Leadbelly), Lawdy Miss Clawdy (Lloyd Price), Memphis and Maybelline (Chuck Berry), Tracks of my Tears and Baby I need Your Lovin, (Smokey Robinson). Rivers still plays concerts, even though he is old enough to collect Social Security and then some. Check him out, you won't be disappointed.

That's all for now!


Check out the Unknown Editor's amazing archives when you are looking for a way to screw off for a couple of hours or more!