Promised Land

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Raw, Real and Raucous Chuck

Like Jack Kerouac, Chuck Berry was in love with the road and scenes of America. Back in The U.S.A., No Particular Place To Go, Maybelline. And he celebrated the breadth of his homeland even while in jail, as he was when he borrowed the warden's atlas and wrote Promised Land. Chuck was on the journey, on the road, still movin, whether the man chained him down or not.

In this clip, fresh out of a year-and-a-half in the joint (for drivin across a state line with a babe) he’s havin fun and playing. I dunno what this band is, but it's funny how he’s still goin’ acoustic bass in ‘65, and that sure ain’t Johnnie Johnson on piano.

This is so classic raw live! The way it should be. Especially Chuck. And in SUCH contrast to mid-60s American Bandstand television. Yer gonna love the big old cameras rollin’ into the shots, the microphone the size of a hoagie, and when it drops down the stand mid-song! Live TV, baby. circa 1965.

And speaking of raw, this was smack in the middle of the Civil Rights revolution ripping apart America like the Civil War had done exactly a century earlier. And just like the original freedom songs, these lyrics contained coded messages — name-checking Birmingham as “it turned into a struggle half-way across Alabam',” where the Klan had just bombed a church killing four little girls, or “we bypassed Rock Hill” the site of the first lunch-counter sit-in that saw people Chuck’s color go to jail for sitting on the wrong stool.

In some of the shots (starting 2 minutes onward) you can see his freakish five-fret fingers on the neck, and it reminded me when I met him — this guy has the biggest hands I’ve ever seen … like the wrong size had been put on his body in some Marty Feldman mistake. He shook my hand and it was like he was grabbing a pen.

For anybody who thought the inventor of the guitar riff died with the 50s, here he is writing new classics in the mid-1960s when his acolytes were still learning Johnny B. Goode. And yeah, the clip cuts off right at the end, but it’s after the final climactic verse, so you get the whole "song."

It’s such a shame that Kerouac never picked up on how modern music was embracing the songs of the road he sang.

This one’s for you, Jack. R.I.P. 1922–1969


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Retrieved from Wikipedia:
Promised Land on Wikipedia
"Promised Land"
Single by Chuck Berry
from the album St. Louis to Liverpool
GenreRock and roll
LabelChess Records
Writer(s)Chuck Berry
Producer(s)Leonard Chess, Philip Chess

"Promised Land" is a song lyric written by Chuck Berry to the melody of "Wabash Cannonball", an American folk song. The song was first recorded in this version by Chuck Berry in 1964 for his album St. Louis to Liverpool. Released in December, 1964, it was Berry's first single issued following his prison term for a Mann Act conviction.

In the lyrics, the singer (who refers to himself as "the poor boy") tells of his journey from Norfolk, Virginia, to the "Promised Land", Los Angeles, California, mentioning various cities of the American Southeast that he encounters along his journey. It has subsequently been recorded by numerous other artists.


  • 1 Background
  • 2 Other versions
  • 3 References
  • 4 External links


Berry wrote the song while in prison, and borrowed an atlas from the prison library to plot the itinerary. Describing himself as a "poor boy," he boards a Greyhound bus in Norfolk, Virginia. that passes Raleigh, N.C., stops in Charlotte, North Carolina, and bypasses Rock Hill, South Carolina. The bus rolls out of Atlanta but breaks down, leaving him stranded in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. He then takes a train "across Mississippi clean" to New Orleans. From there, he goes to Houston, where "the people there who care a bit about me" buy him a silk suit, luggage and a plane ticket to Los Angeles. Upon landing in Los Angeles, he calls Norfolk, Virginia ("Tidewater four, ten-oh-nine") to tell the folks back home he made it to the "promised land." The lyric: "Swing low sweet chariot, come down easy/Taxi to the terminal zone" is related to the ancient lyric: "Swing low sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me Home" since both refer to a common destination, "The Promised Land," which, for a free Berry, is California, not heaven.

Other versions

There are numerous other versions of this song:

  • In 1964 Johnny Rivers released his live album In Action including this song.
  • The Grateful Dead performed the song live 425 times from July 1971 through the band's last show in 1995;[1] live performances appear on nearly 50 of the band's live albums,[2] including the 1976 United Artists released live album Steal Your Face as well as several of the band's Dick's Picks releases.
  • In 1971 Johnnie Allan released a Cajun version in the US. It was released in 1974 in the UK.
  • In 1971 Dave Edmunds included it on his album Rockpile, released also as a single in 1972, it reached number 5 in the Australian charts.
  • In 1972 Freddy Weller released a version on an album of the same name. It was a Top 5 country hit.
  • In 1972 the band Juicy Lucy recorded a version on their album Pieces.
  • In 1973 the Canadian-American rock group The Band recorded "Promised Land" for their sixth studio LP, Moondog Matinee.
  • In December 1973, Elvis Presley recorded a powerful, driving version. Presley's version of "Promised Land" was released as a single on September 27, 1974. It peaked at number 14 on the Billboard charts and 9 on the UK Singles Chart in the fall of 1974.[3] It was included on his 1975 album Promised Land. The Presley version was used in the soundtrack of the 1997 motion picture Men in Black.
  • In 1974 James Taylor recorded a version on his album Walking Man.
  • In 1977 it was recorded by country singer Billy "Crash" Craddock on his album Live!.
  • In 1983 Meat Loaf recorded the song for his Midnight at the Lost and Found album.
  • In 1984 The Black Sorrows recorded a version for their debut studio album, Sonola.
  • In 2007 Geno Delafose released a zydeco version on his album Le Cowboy Creole.
  • In 2009 W.A.S.P. recorded a version of this song on the album Babylon.[4]
  • In 2014 Harry Dean Stanton released a version on the soundtrack album for the documentary film about him, Partly Fiction. [5]
  • In 2014 Jerry Lee Lewis released a version of this song on his album Rock & Roll Time


  1. ^ "The SetList Program - Grateful Dead Setlists, Listener Experiences, and Statistics". Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Grateful Dead Family Discography - The Promised Land". Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  3. ^ 2nd to None (Media notes). Elvis Presley. Columbia Records. 2003. 
  4. ^ "Covered Berries". Official Chuck Berry Website. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  5. ^ "Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction on LP". Retrieved 1 September 2014. 

External links

  • Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics

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