Saturday, July 30, 2016
The first I'd ever heard of this album was in passing within the liner notes of the Steve Miller Band compilation, The Best Of, 1968-1973. I'd never heard of an album featuring Chuck Berry being backed up by the Steve Miller Band...what could that have sounded like?
This was recorded during Chuck's tenure on Mercury Records during the '60s, which was prolific, but didn't turn out any memorable hits, aside from a Greatest Hits album, with the classics newly recorded. I'd never seen it in any of the used-album shops, and I didn't have much of a title to go by, so I kept it in mind in case I did any looking, but eventually forgot about it.
In July of 1996, at Camelot Music, I was looking through the cassettes, and--sure enough--there was a reissue of the album on something called Rebound Records, which was a short-lived budget-line reissue label distributed by PolyGram.
I got it home, put it on, and was amazed at the recording quality. Then again, it was recorded by Wally Heider, and with him involved, it was bound to be good. The band backing up Chuck at this point was still a straight-ahead blues band, and although they sounded a little stiff and nervous backing up a legend, original bassist Lonnie Turner holds it all together throughout the performance. Steve himself plays the harmonica on a few of the songs, and sings a duet with Chuck on the choruses of "It Hurts Me Too".
Closing the second side of the tape were renditions of "Reelin' And Rockin'" and "My Ding-A-Ling". The latter was a hit for Chuck five years later from the legendary London Sessions album, but I wondered why it wasn't a hit back then. Well, a while later, I got my hands on an original copy of the album, and those songs were not on there. In fact, the reissue I had was a re-release of the 1988 CD reissue, where the album was remixed, and included about six unreleased tracks.
Playing the original album was a bit of a revelation, though. It has a share of mostly 12-bar blues instrumentals, which are well-played, but nothing that really stood out. Maybe those two songs should have been on the album, and maybe it would have livened it up a little. Also, I noticed Bill Graham's introduction of "The Steve Miller Blues Band" (as they were known at the time) was scissored out at the end. Maybe it was because they had already scored their deal with Capitol by that time; indeed, they are credited on the album as simply "The Miller Band".
There was one reissue of the album during the early '70s, part of a double-album set, and part of a cash-in to get fans of the Steve Miller Band to pick up on what they'd missed the first time around (you'll notice that the band's full name is on the cover!). Typical move by Mercury at the time.
Those hoping to hear some great interaction or trading of guitar licks between Steve and Chuck are bound to be disappointed, but as long as your expectations aren't too high, it's rather enjoyable, and a great snapshot of the Steve Miller Band in their early days.