PERFORMER: CHUCK BERRY
SONGWRITER: CHUCK BERRY
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1958
SONG TITLE: HONKY TONK WOMEN
PERFORMER: THE ROLLING STONES
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1969
SONG TITLE: HONKY TONK MAN
PERFORMER: JOHNNY HORTON
SONGWRITER: JOHNNY HORTON-TILLMAN FRANKS-HOWARD HAUSEY
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
COMMENTS: Basic recipe: blues shuffle plus hedonistic abandon and you get rock and roll. Among others developing the territory in the mid 50s were Chuck Berry and Johnny Horton.
Johnny Horton came into this most obviously through the lineage of Hank Williams. Hank beefed up the early blues stylings of Jimmie Rodgers with harder rhythms and quicker tempos. Johnny Horton turned it fully electric. In terms of being a barrom dance song for the old jukebox, "Honky Tonk Man" has it over anything by Hank. Let that thought marinate for a dozen years, add Charlie Watts, and you get "Honky Tonk Women" [and Exile on Main Street]- another quantum leap in country dance music technology.
Uncle Chuck came into this through the Louis Jordan side. To somewhat massively oversimplify it, Berry's basic style could be thought of as souped up, debauched Jordan. The harmless mild comic discontent of, say, the "GI Jive" became the amped up leachery of "Sweet Little Sixteen." Chuck's song, by the way, should qualify as the most wickedly sinful of all of these - particularly considering that Berry was already 30 something when he wrote this lingering, lovingly detailed appreciation of an underage girl/upcoming groupie.
Ten years of hard living later, the burgeoning 16 year old slut of the Berry classic has become Mick Jagger's honky tonk woman. She's way past the coy flirtations of a supposedly innocent schoolgirl. She's now simply a "gin soaked barroom queen in Memphis."
Berry commonly and rightly gets credit for being a basic influence on the style and sound of the Rolling Stones. Less than proper credit usually is given to the importance of country blues. "Honky Tonk Women" is Exhibit A for this influence. Besides the musical style, start with the title. He's heading for a white working class honky tonk, not a trendy London discotechque.
The root difference between the emotional impact of "Honky Tonk Women" and "Honky Tonk Man" and indeed between rock and roll and country comes from the sense of consequences. After a good reckless binge, Johnny knows he's going to run out of money, and sucking up to the old lady still sitting back home. Likewise, even in the moment as Hank was "Settin' the Woods on Fire" he knew that "tomorrow morning I'll be right back plowing." You could also run that forward through Steve Earle's "Week of Living Dangerously" with the wife at home to help get him back on track. All through these songs runs a basic presumption that the party can't go on forever.
The Rolling Stones have not in forty damned years conceded that point. Horton sang "I'm a honky tonk man, and I can't seem to stop." It would never occur to Mick and Keef to want to. They didn't come up as white trash during the depression, or seriously face the possibility of fighting in a war. [Can you imagine Jagger or Richards at a draft induction? Sweet, sweet comedy.]
Nope, the Stones were rich boomers who correctly presumed that the world was their oyster. They could do whatever they liked without negative consequence. Free love and free dope- woo hoo! This turned out to be correct financially: Mick would never be reduced to saying "when the money's all gone, I'm on the telephone saying 'Hey, hey mama, can your daddy come home?'" Even Keith has managed to escape any severe consequences for his legendary chemical indulgences.
They did not, however, count on the emotional ramifications of their indulgences. But even these simply became fodder for later masterworks like the "Memory Motel" and "Wild Horses."
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