Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Those crazy cats, The Fulminators, are back with their first new music for 18 months - a cover of Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie"

Okay, you deserve a treat after that, so here's the sublime original (check out the miming "backing musicians" - including Dave Brubeck on piano, and Alan Freed on drums):

It may not sound like it, but I sweated blood over my version.  I did a cover of Sir Chucklesworth Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" (same structure, similar tune - well, basically another version of "Little Queenie") three years' ago, and, while the guitar solos were good, the rest of it sounded pretty anemic, with little of the rhythmic propulsion of the original (it's available here, in the unlikely event you want to listen to it). Anyway, I was mucking around with that old recording at the weekend, and wondering whether I should just scrap it and start again - and then realised that, if I was going to start from scratch, I might as well do "Little Queenie" instead: same difference.

The problem with trying to capture anything like the feel of a rock 'n' roll original - especially one as great as this - is that there's no way of getting anywhere even roughly in the same vicinity as a tight-knit band of superb musicians at the height of their powers playing live in the studio: you get none of their musical or rhythmic interplay, so it's hard to get any sort of natural groove going. Well, I've done my best. As far as I can tell (and I'm no expert) drummer Jasper Thomas plays slightly behind the beat, and that helps give the whole thing a feeling of relaxed, almost sloppy, precision. I've tried to mimic that - but it defeated me. As for those lovely, lolloping drum rolls Thomas plays at the end of each verse, I haven't yet figured out how to achieve those using a MIDI keyboard.

The pianist Johnnie Jonson toodles around quietly in the background - and yet seems to have an effect on the overall swing of the thing out of all proportion to his audible contribution. The bass (Willie Dixon, according to the sleeve notes on Chuck Berry's Golden Decade Vol.2) is also buried deep in the mix - and yet, again, it has an effect unrelated to its volume.

And, of course, there's Berry's guitar and the most influential rhythm riff in rock 'n' roll history. There's a second guitar on this track (probably Berry himself - no other player is listed) which frees Berry up to do some more wheedly bits during the main part of the song, and to solo at the end over his basic riff.

Whatever, it's all ridiculously magical. My version isn't magical - but I've tried not to disgrace the original, and I'm quite pleased with the result.

There have been many great cover versions of Berry songs (I wrote about them here) but "Little Queenie" has produced two of the very best - here they are:

"Little Queenie" reached the giddy heights of No. 80 in the US charts, and didn't chart in the UK.


  1. 59932 Spector P, San Isidro State Penitentiary12 March 2015 at 21:22

    Only way you can get drum rolls to sound like the real thang on MIDI is to vary the volume and presence so it don't sound like a machine gun going off in the direction of a random former model you just invited back to your place for a nightcap.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Phil - I'll try it out this weekend (I mean the drum rolls, rather than gunning down a former model). You will no doubt have noticed that I've gone "Back to Mono" with my version of "Little Queenie" - everything is dead-dentre. Fattens up the sound a treat.

      The problem I have with the drum rolls (or, to be more accurate, series of triplets unless my ear is playing tr icks) on the Chuck Berry original is that I have no idea what type of drums they're being played on - toms, ending on the snare? I shall keep investigating.

      Have they let you keep your collection of tastefully understated wigs?

  2. Phil's wigs are being worn by a 300lb inmate-what a bitch.
    Mr.Gronmark's version is true to the original especially in the intro and outro.Charting at #80-a great shame.

  3. ...and Phil's new "special friend" looks extremely fetching in them, I hear.

    I keep returning to Chuck Berry's stuff not because I think I can replicate it (as if), but because his records are so bizarrely more than the sum of their parts - it's just hard to figure out why they sound so fabulous. Nothing to do with happy accidents, because he managed it again and again over many years until snazzy new studio techniques and advances in technology destroyed tne glorious noise he and his band used to make - he wrote some great songs in the late '60s - e.g. Dear Dad and Tulane - but they only sounded good when other people covered them.

    Odd to think that the only reason records like these (and Bo Diddley's) loomed so large in our childhood wasn't because they'd all been big hits, but because English bands popularised them.