Chuck Berry wrote a handful of the most famous hits in rock & roll history. But have you ever heard the disco version of "Havana Moon" he put out in 1979? German label Bear Family has set out to honor every twist and weird turn in Berry's career with a new 16-CD, 21-hour box set, Chuck Berry: The Complete Studio Recordings . . . Plus!, which compiles everything he recorded – from his first session, in 1954, to his obscure final LP, 1979's home-recorded Rockit. The set explores all of his lesser-known musical incarnations: big-band frontman, country crooner, psychedelic journeyman.
You can hear a demo of him working out the melody and riff to "Sweet Little Sixteen," and a jam with Bo Diddley on 1964's "Bo's Beat." It also has five discs of live material, a 250-page book with a foreword by Paul McCartney, and artwork from nearly every 45 Berry released around the world. Bear Family founder Richard Weize used a network of hardcore collectors for the project. "Universal [Records] did three Chuck Berry sets recently, but ours is 10 times better," he says.
Along with all that is a second book, containing never-seen pictures taken by Berry's cousin, professional photographer Harry Davis, including images from Berry's formative residency at St. Louis' Cosmopolitan Club from 1954 to '55. "I couldn't believe my eyes," says Weize. Berry, 88, still performs regularly in St. Louis, but don't expect new music from him. "Give you a song? I can't do that," Berry says. "My voice is gone. My throat is worn. And my lungs are going fast."