"I left my home in Norfolk Virginia,
California on my mind.
Straddled that Greyhound, rode him past Raleigh,
On across Caroline.
Stopped in Charlotte and bypassed Rock Hill,
And we never was a minute late.
We was ninety miles out of Atlanta by sundown,
Rollin' 'cross the Georgia state.
We had motor trouble it turned into a struggle,
Half way 'cross Alabam,
And that 'hound broke down and left us all stranded
In downtown Birmingham.
Straight off, I bought me a through train ticket,
Ridin' cross Mississippi clean
And I was on that midnight flier out of Birmingham
Smoking into New Orleans.
Somebody help me get out of Louisiana
Just help me get to Houston town.
There's people there who care a little 'bout me
And they won't let the poor boy down.
Sure as you're born, they bought me a silk suit,
Put luggage in my hands,
And I woke up high over Albuquerque
On a jet to the promised land.
Workin' on a T-bone steak a la carte
Flying over to the Golden State,
The pilot told me in thirteen minutes
We'd be headin' in the terminal gate.
Swing low sweet chariot, come down easy
Taxi to the terminal zone,
Cut your engines, cool your wings,
And let me make it to the telephone.
Los Angeles give me Norfolk Virginia,
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin'
And the poor boy's on the line."
Just read these words in your head and you'll know why no less a poet than Leonard Cohen said, "We are all as footnotes to Chuck Berry"
To paraphrase another great man of letters, Joe Strummer, "No Beatles, No Stones without Chuck Berry"
No "Jumping Jack Flash" without The Rolling Stones first recording Chuck's "Come On" and "Carol"
No "Come Together" without "You Can't Catch Me"...
No "Subterranean Homesick Blues" without "Too Much Monkey Business" and, for whatever it's worth, I wouldn't have known where to start with a song like "Pump It Up" without either of them.
That's the way it goes.
You learn from the best.
Chuck put the electric guitar right at the center of rock and roll, when rhythm and blues was all about horns, piano, bass and drums. He had a lyrical flow that few to this day can match. His words drove the songs harder than any rhythm section.
I'm proud to have shaken his hand when he was honoured, along with Leonard Cohen by the writer's organization PEN New England with an award for his Lyrical Excellence.
I got to lend Chuck my Gibson Super 400 so he could play a verse of "Johnny B. Goode" in lieu of an acceptance speech.
It was one of those moments when you don't even mind how goofy you look.
There's more I could say but I could never say it as well as my friend Peter Guralnick, who wrote the best article about Chuck Berry that I've ever read.
So put on your copy of "After School Session" or "St. Louis To Liverpool" or a collection of 45rpms like "Chuck Berry's Golden Decade"...
Volume One or Volume Two...
On Chess Records...