By Emmanuel Legrand
Chuck Berry, who died on March 18, 2017 at the age of 90, had not released new material since 1979's 'Rock It,' but Dualtone Records President Paul Roper has confidence that 'Chuck,' his last recording, due out June 16, will come as a reminder that the late rock icon's was "one of the founding fathers of not just rock and roll but of contemporary music."
Roper says the album sounds like “vintage Berry," with party songs, rockers, love songs. “He had the songs,” he added. “He recorded some parts in his home studio. The recordings needed some work and we did our best to get a proper mix."
'Big Boys,' a teaser for the album, was released digitally on March 21 by Nashville-based Dualtone, in agreement with Berry's family. Chuck, which is dedicated to Berry's wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry, is comprised of ten new songs, eight of which were written by Berry. Plans for the release were well underway before the death of Berry, Roper said, and Berry's death did not alter the plans, except speeding up the release of 'Big Boys.'
“Working to prepare the release of this record in recent months and in fact over the last several years brought him a great sense of joy and satisfaction,” the Berry family said in a statement posted on Facebook. “While our hearts are very heavy at this time, we know that he had no greater wish than to see this album released to the world, and we know of no better way to celebrate and remember his 90 years of life than through his music.”
Berry has been recording and producing the songs in various studios around St. Louis, Missouri, between 1994 and 2014. The recordings involved his regular backing group at the Blueberry Hill, the St Louis venue where he's held a monthly residency until 2014. Musicians on the album include his children Charles Berry Jr. (guitar) and Ingrid Berry (vocals, harmonica), plus Jimmy Marsala (Berry’s bassist for forty years), Robert Lohr (piano), and Keith Robinson (drums). The album also includes guest performances from Gary Clark Jr., Tom Morello and Nathaniel Rateliff.
Roper explains that Nashville-based Dualtone was approached by Berry's lawyer, Gary Pierson, in 2015. "We had a decent reputation for working with artist at the tail of their careers, like June Carter Cash and Guy Clark, and treat with respect and dignity. We have that reputation for doing good work," explained Roper. Eventually, after shopping the album, Pierson and the Berry family settled with Dualtone.
“We knew from the get go that we wanted to be involved with this project and with an artist who is a piece of art and cultural history,” said Roper. “It was also important to tell the narrative of the album and include the family on these recordings."
The album features three generations of Berrys: Charles Junior and Ingrid, son and daughter of Chuck Berry, who often performed with their father, play on the album, and so is twenty-year-old son of Charles Junior, Charles Berry III, on 'Lady B. Goode.' “We knew he dabbled with guitar,”said Roper, “and thought it would be great to have three generations of Berrys, so we took him to Nashville and after a few rehearsals he was getting more comfortable, and when we recorded, he just did it! All those in the studio jumped. We all understood the gravity of this moment – he was playing with his dad on his grand father's record. It was a big moment to deliver on that scale.”
Roper said working on this project was "career-defining moment" but he only had one regret: throughout the process, he only dealt with Pierson and one of Berry's daughter, Melody Exes Berry-Eskridge. "I never got a chance to meet him," said Roper.
Chuck's track List:
You Go To My Head
3/4 Time (Enchiladas)
Lady B. Goode
She Still Loves You
Eyes of Man
'Big Boys' can be streamed on YouTube: https://youtu.be/d8Zoh-apWRE