Thursday, April 6, 2017

A00696 - Chuck Berry, Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer


Chuck Berry's Rock ’n’ Roll Legacy

Jon Pareles, a music critic for The New York Times, reflects on the pioneering music and attitude of the rock legend Chuck Berry.
 By Carrie Halperin on Publish DateMarch 18, 2017. Photo by Donal F. Holway/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »
Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday at his home near Wentzville, Mo. He was 90.
The St. Charles County Police Department confirmed his death on its Facebook page. The department said that it responded to a medical emergency at the home, about 45 miles west of St. Louis, and that lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.
While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who 

Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday at his home near Wentzville, Mo. He was 90.
The St. Charles County Police Department confirmed his death on its Facebook page. The department said that it responded to a medical emergency at the home, about 45 miles west of St. Louis, and that lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.
While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.
His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment.
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In “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “You Can’t Catch Me” and other songs, Mr. Berry invented rock as a music of teenage wishes fulfilled and good times (even with cops in pursuit). In “Promised Land,” “Too Much Monkey Business” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” he celebrated and satirized America’s opportunities and class tensions. His rock ’n’ roll was a music of joyful lusts, laughed-off tensions and gleefully shattered icons.
Mr. Berry was already well past his teens when he wrote mid-1950s manifestoes like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “School Day.” Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis, he grew up in a segregated, middle-class neighborhood there, soaking up gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues, along with some country music.
He spent three years in reform school after a spree of car thefts and armed robbery. He received a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology and worked for a time as a beautician; he married Themetta Suggs in 1948 and started a family. She survives him, as do four children: Ingrid Berry, Melody Eskridge, Aloha Isa Leigh Berry and Charles Berry Jr.
By the early 1950s, he was playing guitar and singing blues, pop standards and an occasional country tune with local combos. Shortly after joining Sir John’s Trio, led by the pianist Johnnie Johnson, he reshaped the group’s music and took it over.
From the Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker, Mr. Berry picked up a technique of bending two strings at once that he would rough up and turn into a rock ’n’ roll talisman, the Chuck Berry lick, which would in turn be emulated by the Rolling Stones and countless others. He also recognized the popularity of country music and added some hillbilly twang to his guitar lines. Mr. Berry’s hybrid music, along with his charisma and showmanship, drew white as well as black listeners to the Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis.
In 1955, Mr. Berry ventured to Chicago and asked one of his idols, the bluesman Muddy Waters, about making records. Waters directed him to the label he recorded for, Chess Records, where one of the owners, Leonard Chess, heard potential in Mr. Berry’s song “Ida Red.”
A variant of an old country song by the same name, “Ida Red” had a 2/4 backbeat with a hillbilly oompah, while Mr. Berry’s lyrics sketched a car chase, the narrator “motorvatin’” after an elusive girl. Mr. Chess renamed the song “Maybellene,” and in a long session on May 21, 1955, Mr. Chess and the bassist Willie Dixon got the band to punch up the rhythm.
Slide Show

Chuck Berry Dies at 90

CreditFred R. Conrad/The New York Times
“The big beat, cars and young love,” Mr. Chess outlined. “It was a trend, and we jumped on it.”
The music was bright and clear, a hard-swinging amalgam of country and blues. More than 60 years later, it still sounds reckless and audacious.
Mr. Berry articulated every word, with precise diction and no noticeable accent, leading some listeners and concert promoters, used to a different kind of rhythm-and-blues singer, to initially think that he was white. Teenagers didn’t care; they heard a rocker who was ready to take on the world.
The song was sent to the disc jockey Alan Freed. Mr. Freed and another man, Russ Fratto, were added to the credits as songwriters and got a share of the publishing royalties. Played regularly on Mr. Freed’s show and others, “Maybellene” reached No. 5 on the Billboard pop chart and was a No. 1 R&B hit.
In Mr. Berry’s groundbreaking early songs, his guitar twangs his famous two-stringed lick. It also punches like a horn section and sasses back at his own voice. The drummer eagerly socks the backbeat, and the pianist — usually either Mr. Johnson or Lafayette Leake — hurls fistfuls of tinkling anarchy all around him.
From 1955 to 1958, Mr. Berry knocked out classic after classic. Although he was in his late 20s and early 30s, he came up with high school chronicles and plugs for the newfangled music called rock ’n’ roll.
No matter how calculated songs like “School Day” or “Rock and Roll Music” may have been, they reached the Top 10, caught the early rock ’n’ roll spirit and detailed its mythology. “Johnny B. Goode,” a Top 10 hit in 1958, told the archetypal story of a rocker who could “play the guitar just like ringin’ a bell.”
Mr. Berry toured with rock revues and performed in three movies with Mr. Freed: “Rock, Rock, Rock,” “Mr. Rock and Roll” and “Go, Johnny, Go.” On film and in concert, he dazzled audiences with his duck walk, a guitar-thrusting strut that involved kicking one leg forward and hopping on the other.
Through the 1950s, Mr. Berry had pop hits with his songs about rock ’n’ roll and R&B hits with less teenage-oriented material. He spun surreal tall tales that Bob Dylan and John Lennon would learn from, like “Thirty Days” and “Jo Jo Gunne.” In “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” from 1956, he offered a barely veiled racial pride. His pithiness and humor rarely failed him.
In 1957, Mr. Berry bought 30 acres in Wentzville, where he built a short-lived amusement park, Berry Park, and a restaurant, the Southern Air. In 1958, he opened Club Bandstand in the theater district of St. Louis.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Berry’s songs inspired both California rock and the British Invasion. The Beach Boys reworked his “Sweet Little Sixteen” into “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (Mr. Berry sued them and won a songwriting credit.) The Rolling Stones released a string of Berry songs, including their first single, “Come On,” and the Beatles remade “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music.”
But by the time his music started reaching a new audience, Mr. Berry was in jail.
He had been arrested in 1959 and charged with transporting a teenage girl — who briefly worked as a hatcheck girl at Club Bandstand — across state lines for immoral purposes. He was tried twice and found guilty both times; the first verdict was overturned because of racist remarks by the judge. When he emerged from 20 months in prison in 1964, his wife had left him (they later reconciled) and his songwriting spark had diminished.
He had not totally lost his touch, though, as demonstrated by the handful of hits he had in 1964 and 1965, notably “Nadine,” “No Particular Place to Go,” “You Never Can Tell” and “Promised Land.” He appeared in the celebrated all-star 1964 concert film “The TAMI Show,” along with James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys and the Supremes.
While he toured steadily through the 1960s, headlining or sharing bills with bands that grew up on his songs, his recording career stalled after he moved from Chess to Mercury Records in 1966. He remade some of his old hits and tried to reach the new hippie audience, recording “Live at the Fillmore Auditorium” with the Steve Miller Band, billed as the Steve Miller Blues Band at the time. When he returned to Chess in 1970, he recorded new songs, like “Tulane” and “Have Mercy Judge,” that flashed his old wit but failed to reach the Top 40.
In 1972, Mr. Berry had the biggest hit of his career with “My Ding-a-Ling,” a double-entendre novelty song that was included on the album “The London Chuck Berry Sessions” (even though he recorded the song not in London but at a concert in Coventry, England). The New Orleans songwriter Dave Bartholomew wrote and recorded it in 1952; Mr. Berry recorded a similar song, “My Tambourine,” in 1968, and is credited on recordings as the sole songwriter of the 1972 “My Ding-a-Ling.”
It was a million-seller and Mr. Berry’s first and only No. 1 pop single. It was also his last hit. His 1973 follow-up album, “Bio,” was poorly received; “Rockit,” released by Atlantic in 1979, did not sell. But he stayed active: He appeared as himself in a 1979 movie about 1950s rock, “American Hot Wax,” and he continued to tour constantly.
In July 1979, he performed for President Jimmy Carter at the White House. Three days later, he was sentenced to 120 days in federal prison and four years’ probation for income tax evasion.
He had further legal troubles in 1990 when the police raided his home and found 62 grams of marijuana and videotapes from a camera in the women’s room of his restaurant. In a plea bargain, he agreed to a misdemeanor count of marijuana possession, with a suspended jail sentence and two years’ probation.
By the 1980s, Mr. Berry was recognized as a rock pioneer. He never won a Grammy Award in his prime, but the Recording Academy gave him a lifetime achievement award in 1984. He was in the first group of musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Around his 60th birthday that year, he allowed the director Taylor Hackford to film him at his home in Wentzville for the documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll,” which also included performances by Mr. Berry with a band led by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and special guests. “Chuck Berry: The Autobiography” was published in 1988.
Mr. Berry continued performing well into his 80s. He usually played with local pickup bands, as he had done for most of his career, but sometimes he played with fellow rock stars. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Cleveland in 1995, Mr. Berry performed at an inaugural concert, backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
In 2012, he headlined a Cleveland concert in his honor with a genre-spanning bill that included Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. and Merle Haggard. Although he told reporters before the show, “My singing days have passed,” he performed “Johnny B. Goode” and “Reelin’ and Rockin’” and joined the other musicians for the closing number, “Rock and Roll Music.”
From 1996 to 2014, Mr. Berry performed once a month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant in St. Louis where he appeared regularly until Oct. 24.
He made a surprising announcement on his 90th birthday, Oct. 18, 2016: He was planning to release his first studio album in almost 40 years. The album, called simply “Chuck” and scheduled for release in June, was to consist primarily of new compositions.
And Mr. Berry’s music has remained on tour extraterrestrially. “Johnny B. Goode” is on golden records within the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977 and awaiting discovery.

Chuck Berry, Fiery and
Flinty Rock ’n’ Roll Innovator

With songs like “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Johnny B.
Goode,” Mr. Berry, who died on Saturday, created a sound
and style that made him the genre’s first true superstar.

Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” wasn’t the first rock ’n’ roll song, but it was the best and brashest of the genre’s early advertisements. Released in 1956, it opens with a nimble, bendy guitar riff — a prelude to the one that would be perfected a year later, on “Johnny B. Goode” — that serves as an intrusion and an enticement. Then Mr. Berry describes the fever, “the rockin’ pneumonia,” that was soon to grip the country.
“My heart beatin’ rhythm/And my soul keep-a singin’ the blues,” he sang. “Roll over Beethoven/And tell Tchaikovsky the news.”
Chuck Berry - "Roll Over Beethoven" live Video by Rabih Amhaz
Plenty of artists would go on to cover “Roll Over Beethoven” — the Beatles streamlined and sweetened it; Electric Light Orchestra distended it into an overlong, pompous shuffle with a snatch of the Fifth Symphony; Paul Shaffer and his band made a sleek version as the theme to the 1992 film “Beethoven,” about a St. Bernard with the composer’s name.
But those covers lacked the panache, the transgressive potential, the unexpected twists and turns of the Chuck Berry originals.
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Mr. Berry, who died on Saturday at his home near St. Louis, was the first true rock ’n’ roll superstar. When in his late 20s he emerged from St. Louis onto the national scene, the genre wasn’t yet codified. In its infancy, rock was hybrid music, and Mr. Berry was its most vivid and imaginative alchemist.
From the mid-1950s through the end of that decade, he concocted a yowling blend of hopped-up blues, country and then-emergent rhythm & blues that ended up as the template for what became widely accepted as rock ’n’ roll (though the term predated his rise).

Chuck Berry's Rock ’n’ Roll Legacy

Jon Pareles, a music critic for The New York Times, reflects on the pioneering music and attitude of the rock legend Chuck Berry.
 By Carrie Halperin on Publish DateMarch 18, 2017.Photo by Donal F. Holway/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »
He gave it virtuoso playing via guitar work that drew on country and the blues. He made it a songwriting genre with wry, detailed lyrics that helped shape the idea of American freedom via stories of teenage abandon or open-road adventure. He embodied the music by giving it physical language, from his signature duck walk to his coiffure, which was equal parts structure and flair. (He also was a beautician, having studied hairdressing and cosmetology when he was still playing in small bands in St. Louis in the early 1950s.) And in performance, he sold the music hard, with eyes bulging, hips swaying and a sly smile that indicated he knew just how much he was pushing the envelope.
That archetype of rock ’n’ roll swagger would define the next couple of decades of global pop music. Without his twitchy, gloriously accessible songs, there would have been no Rolling Stones, no Beatles, no Bob Dylan — at least not as we know them now.
While Elvis Presley, flaunting his sexuality, was making himself into the original teen-idol pop star, Mr. Berry was being policed, both figuratively and literally. On songs like “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” he sang, in judiciously coded language, about pushing back against segregation. In his autobiography, he wrote that he changed a phrase in “Johnny B. Goode” from “little colored boy” to “little country boy” because he “thought it would seem biased to white fans.” Instead, he coded a tale of racial achievement in terms he felt would be more broadly palatable.
Chuck Berry - "Johnny B. Goode" (Live 1958) Video by pigcityrecords
But Mr. Berry was still a successful black man in a pre-civil rights world, and as such, he was a target. He was prosecuted twice under the Mann Act, for bringing a minor across state lines for immoral purpose. The first time he was convicted, but the conviction was overturned on appeal because of racial remarks made by the judge. The second time, he was convicted again, and he served more than a year and a half in federal prison. His career never quite recovered. White artists had been studying him, and were building up a version of rock ’n’ roll that no longer required Mr. Berry, nor his blackness.
Chuck Berry, shown in 2008, provided rock ’n’ roll with swagger, guitar chops and meticulous songwriting.CreditDesiree Martin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
So if, for the remainder of his very long career, he was a bit flinty, could you blame him? The tug of war between what he was expected to provide and what he hoped to receive was constant. He was obstinate about his influence. He demanded to be paid up front for performances. He often toured with just his guitar, hiring local bands, not speaking to them and expecting them to know his music well enough to back him. (The results were spotty.)
Even when he was being celebrated, Mr. Berry grated. On the occasion of his 60th birthday, Keith Richards convened an all-star band to perform a pair of tribute concerts with him. They were filmed for a documentary, “Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll,” which began as a glowing commemoration of Mr. Berry’s talent and reach and ended up a document of his intransigence. His guitar playing and singing were electric, and so was his quarreling.
Mr. Berry seemed inclined to believe that rock ’n’ roll belonged to him and no one else. In that documentary, Jerry Lee Lewis said that the first time the two met, they fought over who was the true king of the genre.
And Mr. Berry had a particularly fraught push-and-pull friction with the white artists who benefited the most from the style he innovated. In the documentary, Mr. Richards is his leading antagonist. And many years later, Mr. Richards told a story about being backstage at one of Mr. Berry’s shows and laying eyes on Mr. Berry’s guitar, sitting in an open case. Enthralled, he began to play it, but when Mr. Berry caught him in the act, Mr. Richards recalled, he punched him dead in the face.
Chuck Berry performing in 1986 in St. Louis. CreditJames A. Finley/Associated Press
John Lennon said, “If you tried to give rock ’n’ roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’” Bob Dylan once called the musician, who died Saturday at 90, “the Shakespeare of rock ’n’ roll.” His songs staked out the territory, in both sonics and lyrics, for a new art form, and in the decade from 1955 to 1965, he created a body of work filled with dozens of perfectly crafted masterpieces. The 15 songs below are just some of Mr. Berry’s greatest compositions and recordings.

“Maybellene” (1955)

Mr. Berry’s first single sounded like nothing that came before, and the key ingredients are all in place — revved-up guitar, clever language (“as I was motorvatin’ over the hill”), girls and cars. Based on “Ida Red,” a 1938 Western Swing hit for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, the new title and beefed-up rhythm section were the ideas of producer and co-owner of the Chess Records label, Leonard Chess.

“Too Much Monkey Business” (1956)

No one before Mr. Berry thought to write a pop song about the headaches of paying bills or losing your change in a pay phone. In his 1987 autobiography, he wrote that the lyrics were “meant to describe most of the kinds of hassles a person encounters in everyday life.” The chugging, rapid-fire vocal delivery would inspire Mr. Dylan’s breakthrough word salad “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and when Mr. Berry won the first PEN New England Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award in 2012, Mr. Dylan sent a congratulatory note saying, “That’s what too much monkey business will get ya.”

“Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (1956)

Mr. Berry said that this song — a sly and daring commentary on race relations — was written after an episode he witnessed outside a concert he was playing in California. (A Hispanic man was being handcuffed by the police when a woman ran up, screaming to let him go.) In typically masterful manner, Mr. Berry was able to draw effortlessly on the worlds of art (the Venus de Milo) and baseball to convey the wide-ranging allure of “brown-eyed” — barely encoded to mean “nonwhite” — men.
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“Roll Over Beethoven” (1956)

A declaration of musical independence for a new generation, “Beethoven” was initially aimed at Mr. Berry’s younger sister, who monopolized the family piano practicing classical music. The rest, he said, came “out of my sometimes unbelievably imaginative mind.” Famous covers of the song include versions by the Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Electric Light Orchestra. Leonard Cohen once compared the song to Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp,” adding that “if Beethoven hadn’t rolled over, there’d be no room for any of us.”

“Havana Moon” (1956)

The Latin rhythm was based on Nat King Cole’s “Calypso Blues,” while the setting was picked up from Mr. Berry’s exposure to New York City’s Cuban population while he was performing at the Paramount in Brooklyn and at the Apollo Theater. But the exotic feel was matched to a universal narrative, straight out of an O. Henry story.

“School Day” (1957)

By 1957, rock ’n’ roll’s teenage takeover was complete, and Mr. Berry responded with a song that directly targeted these new consumers — set in the focal point of their daily life, regardless of race or class. He wrote that the stop-and-start rhythm was meant to reflect the “jumps and changes” he experienced in high school, compared with the one room/one teacher structure of elementary school. The final verse gave Mr. Berry’s genre its greatest rallying cry (and became the title of his 1988 concert film): “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ roll!”

“Rock and Roll Music” (1957)

The music itself was Mr. Berry’s greatest subject, and greatest muse. Laying out the merits of rock ’n’ roll against modern jazz, tango and symphonies, the popping rumba rhythm proved its own argument — “It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it.” The Beatles recorded a raucous version, and the Beach Boys had a Top 10 hit of this song that Mr. Berry intended to “hit the spot without question” and “define every aspect of [rock’s] being.”

“Johnny B. Goode” (1958)

If rock ’n’ roll has a national anthem, this would be it. The stinging introduction (pinched from the jump-blues star, and Mr. Berry’s greatest influence, Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman”) set a standard that every rock guitarist still chases. The story, a semi-autobiographical rags-to-riches tale, is a classic articulation of the American Dream, though Mr. Berry was savvy enough to change the original lyric about a “colored boy” to “country boy” for a shot at radio play. The song has been covered countless times, with a memorable appearance in the movie “Back to the Future,” but its reach may go much further — Mr. Berry’s recording was one of four American songs included on the gold discs shot into the cosmos in 1977 on the Voyager I and II spacecraft.
Marty McFly performing “Johnny B. Goode” in the 1985 movie “Back to the Future.” Video by Movieclips

“Carol” (1958)

This is one of the few songs recorded by both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. A simple story about a boy who needs to learn to dance to hold on to his girl, the description of the club they go to is so vivid you can practically smell it (“A little cutie takes your hat and you can thank her, ma’am/Every time you make the scene you find the joint is jammed”). The syncopated string bending of the intro led to an unforgettable argument between Mr. Berry and Keith Richards in the “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll” documentary.

“Memphis” (1959)

Mr. Berry’s most tender and arguably most literary lyric had its roots in Muddy Waters’s classic blues “Long Distance Call.” He worked for more than a month on the words, though other than some of his wife’s relatives, he claimed to have no specific connection to Memphis itself. The song is a one-sided conversation between the narrator and a telephone operator, expressing that he misses a girl named Marie, and that they are being kept apart by Marie’s mother. The final verse reveals that Marie is, in fact, the narrator’s 6-year-old daughter and that her mother left their home and took Marie with her; in a remarkable phrase, he recalls the girl’s cheeks covered in “hurry-home drops.”

“Back in the USA” (1959)

A dream vision of ’50s America, unmarred by racial tension, that was reportedly inspired by Mr. Berry’s return to the United States after a brief tour of Australia. Once again, he found poetry in the everyday details of middle-class life (“Looking hard for a drive-in, searching for a corner cafe/Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day”). Linda Ronstadt had a hit with a 1978 cover, and the title was spoofed by the Beatles for “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

“Let It Rock” (1960)

Less than two minutes long, with no chorus (and no actual use of the title phrase), “Let It Rock” is one of Mr. Berry’s most hard-charging songs, with one of his more cryptic lyrics. Rather than assuming a teenage perspective, the song is delivered by a railroad worker in Alabama trying to “get some money to buy some brand-new shoes.” At the end of the workday, the laborers are playing dice on the tracks when the foreman warns them that a train is approaching and they have to scramble to safety. The Grateful Dead, Motörhead and Bob Seger were among those who later cut the song, but it was the Rolling Stones who gave this one its finest reading.

“Come On” (1961)

A hard-luck story of a guy who’s watched everything go wrong since he broke up with his girlfriend, “Come On” is full of seemingly throwaway lines that tell full stories. While he’s trying to persuade her to come back (and Mr. Berry’s own sister Martha provides a slightly dissonant background vocal), he wishes somebody would wreck the car that he can’t afford; every time the phone rings, it’s “some stupid jerk trying to reach another number.” A toned-down cover by the Rolling Stones was the band’s debut single.

“Nadine” (1964)

The first single released after Mr. Berry served a 20-month prison term for violation of the Mann Act, “Nadine” was practically a sequel to his debut recording, “Maybellene.” But while the story of pursuing a girl through the bustle of the city (not in a car this time, but on a bus, in a taxi and on foot) told the same tale, the language and imagery had grown even more complex. Mr. Berry describes himself “campaign shoutin’ like a Southern diplomat” and “moving through the traffic like a mounted cavalier.” This writing would prove a huge influence on the crop of songwriters who were concurrently discovering the Beatles. Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to the song’s famous line “I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back/Started walking toward a coffee-colored Cadillac” — “I’ve never seen a coffee-colored Cadillac,” he said, “but I know exactly what one looks like.”

“Promised Land” (1964)

The story of a poor boy who “straddles a Greyhound” out of Norfolk, Va., with California on his mind. At full sprint (no time to stop for a chorus), he makes it from coast to coast by bus, train and airplane, though things “turned into a struggle” in some of the Southern cities where the Freedom Riders had recently faced violence and resistance.
Mr. Berry wrote the song while behind bars — despite, as he wryly noted, the difficulty of getting his hands on an atlas: “The penal institutions then were not so generous as to offer a map of any kind, for fear of providing the route for an escape.” That fact made his lighthearted rendering of the road trip — with its resilient love for a country whose justice system had so recently made him suffer — all the more incredible.

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