The Over-rewarded Vs. The Under-appreciated Pt.3 (Elvis vs. Chuck Berry)

Elvis Presley vs. Chuck Berry

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Up front let’s stipulate the phrase “Over-rewarded” does not mean I consider an artist “Under-talented”. However, being a ‘spread-the-wealth’ social progressive, I do think it’s possible for scruffy yobs who sing and play guitar to achieve levels of wealth and celebrity that are obscene. For every band or artist that breaks the platinum ceiling, there are equally deserving bands left in the dust as a result of poor management, poor luck and poor judgement. Here a few comparison studies. And, for all of you true believing fans out there who imbue your favorite artists with pope-like infallibility; let the trouser loading begin!

Elvis Presley: 


Elvis was a gifted singer and song stylist. However, the more famous he got, the tighter and heavier the yoke became. This was all courtesy of Presley’s manager Colonial Parker; an obese, bullshit slinging, money-grubbing asshole who ruined Presley’s career while simultaneously making him the biggest star on the planet. Presley initially established his brand with a rough and ready Sun Studio sound, and an animal sexuality never before seen by the American entertainment industry. Parker and the Amerikan media conspired to neuter both. Parker vetoed the idea of a world tour, and drastically drew down Presley’s live appearances. Presley obediently dished out a steady string of Gospel records, Christmas collections and MOR crapola. Presley further sealed his pact with the devil by agreeing to a long-term film deal that insured his cultural irrelevance with an endless procession of celluloid turd-bombs like “Girls,Girls,Girls”, “Fun In Acapulco” and “Kissin’ Cousins”. Presley was anointed king of Rock and Roll, but was a true rocker only for the briefest of times. Presley was a nice guy and should have been an artist. But, chose to bend over and take it like a man from an industry who couldn’t comprehend him and a government who felt it necessary to housebreak him via the draft. A king in name only; not fit to wear the crown….sadly.

Chuck Berry:


If Elvis is the provisional King of Rock And Roll;  then Chuck Berry is the monarch in exile. Presley’s 1956 stunner “Heartbreak Hotel” is generally considered ground zero in Rock and Roll history. However, Rock and Roll’s meter was running a good year before that with the 1955 Berry single “Maybelline”. Berry took country, blues and electric guitar and created a hybrid music that could only be described as ….well, eh …yeah…, that’s right, Rock And Roll.  Berry dressed and spoke like royalty as well. He fused every-man poetry with music long before Dylan caught the bug. His erudite lyrics were light years beyond anything else at the time and extolled the virtues of girls, cars and ‘rocking and rolling’; a thinly veiled euphemism for the most primal of all human pursuits.  Berry was the original road warrior who landed himself him federal prison for transporting a teenage girl across state lines. Berry invented a style of guitar playing that has served as the slab foundation for all rock-based guitarists ranging from Keith Richards to Eric Clapton , Johnny Winter, Rory Gallagher and beyond. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones early records are strewn with Berry covers. Berry invented the stage moves as well; the duck walk being the most famous and imitated. Obviously Jimi Hendrix took detailed notes on Berry’s stagecraft. Long live the King….


The Stones, Guns & Roses, Zep, The Who. Great BANDS right? What makes a great Rock And Roll band anyway? It ain’t that hard to figure. A great rhythm section is the slab foundation. Then you need the brick and mortar. That comes down to a charismatic lead singer and a gunslinger guitarist; and in epic bands, they they’re usually joined at the hip and have a special musical, telepathic and (sometimes) quasi-homoerotic bond. Disagree? Allow me to submit the following for your consideration….

Mick Jaggar and Keith Richard (The Stones);

Mick n’ Keef have been playing, writing and fighting in the same band for 50 years now. A dysfunctional marriage without the sex. Every song they produce is community property (Jaggar/Richard). They fight over money and who is whose best friend. Mick pulled a pout during the ‘Exile’ sessions when Keef started spending too much time with stud-muffin country rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Keef pissed and moaned when Mick left him at home to make his first solo album with Jeff Beck. Together they are a money spinning machine that transcends Mick’s inability to sing and the band’s fabled inconsistency. They are the prototype.

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

One of the hallmarks of the epic tag-team is that the band cannot exist without either partner. You could have Zep again with a deputy drummer. However, without Page or Plante it’s ‘no deal’. Like the Stones, the Zep songwriting is a co-op. On stage, they only have eyes for each other. As solo artists, Plante has survived well and Page has managed to stay gainfully employed. However, they will never escape the Zep legacy and will be dogged by reunion inquiries until they die.

Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend (The Who):

Even in his youth, Pete Townsend and his prominent proboscis were hard on the eyes. However, his musical genius was indisputable. Roger Daltry was the perfect hood ornament for the high-octane vehicle that was The Who. Daltry was not a writer (a good thing), yet was such a passionate and protective advocate of the brand that he engaged in fistfights with Townsend over the direction of the band  (a good thing). Golden-god Daltry was a perfect foil and muse for Townsend. So much so, that when it came time to cast an actor for the movie version of the rock opera Tommy, Daltry was the only possible choice.

David Bowie and Mick Ronson (The Spiders From Mars):

Yes, I know, I know…..Bowie has been a successful solo artist for decades after his estrangement from the late Mick Ronson. However,Bowie established his brand after Ronson came on board, not before.  Moreover, Bowie went mega in the role of Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy had a band. The band was The Spiders From Mars. Onstage, Ronson was Ziggy’s onstage foil and object of unrequited man-lust. In the studio, classically trained Ronson was indispensable as musical director, string arranger, guitarist and piano man. The grand trilogy of Bowie albums (Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane) bear Ronson’s indelible stamp. The drop-off in the quality of Bowie’s productions (post-Ronson) was within acceptable parameters, but still noticeable to discerning rock music fans.

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (Aerosmith):

At least a few of the above musicians can claim some solo success outside their main-squeeze partnerships. Not so for Tyler and Perry. Solo efforts by both have been laughable and catastrophic. A union cut from the same homoerotic/dysfunctional cloth as Mick and Keef. Steve and Joe always end up back together in sickness and in health, for the career salvaging make-up album and tour. Their personal, studio and onstage chemistry is undeniable; and to hear Steven Tyler talk about it, kinda weird…..