Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"Stranded in Downtown Birmingham"

Who invented rock and roll, you ask? Well, there are various candidates with passionate advocates, and Chuck Berry is certainly one of them. His musical career extended from the early 1950's until just before his death in 2017. He had many hits over the years, but three of them have been enshrined among the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's list of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll": "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene" and "Rock and Roll Music." The two Voyager spacecrafts, launched in 1977 and now deep in space beyond our solar system, carry a "Golden Record" of many sounds of human culture. Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" was the only rock and roll song selected.  

I've written a number of posts on this blog about songs related to Alabama [and more are in the pipeline!], including one about some of the songs related to Birmingham"The Promised Land" by Berry would fit that group.

The song first appeared on Berry's 1964 album St. Louis to Liverpool. He used the melody to the folk song "Wabash Cannonball" to go with his lyrics, which you can read below. The singer is headed from Virginia to California when the Greyhound bus breaks down in Birmingham. Luckily he catches a "midnight flyer" train to New Orleans and continues his journey. 

The song has been recorded by numerous other artists, including Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead, Johnny Rivers, the Band, Meatloaf, Harry Dean Stanton, James Taylor and Jerry Lee Lewis. A version in French by the great Johnny Hallyday was released in 1975. 

Many versions can be found on YouTube

The Promised Land

written by Chuck Berry

I left my home in Norfolk Virginia                   
California on my mind                             
I straddled that Greyhound and                                              
Rode him into Raleigh and on across Caroline 

We had motor trouble it turned into a struggle
Half way across Alabam                                          
And that 'Hound broke down and left us all stranded 
In downtown Birmingham

Right away I bought me a through train ticket 
Riding across Mississippi clean                                          
And I was on that midnight flyer out of Birmingham      
Smoking into New Orleans

Somebody help me get out of Louisiana 
Just help me get to Houston town 
There are people there who care a little about me
And they won't let a poor boy down 

Sure as you're born they bought me a silk suit 
They put luggage in my hands 
And I woke up high over Albuquerque 
On a jet to the promised land

We stopped at Charlotte we by passed Rock Hill 
We never was a minute late
We was ninety miles out of Atlanta by sundown
Rolling out of Georgia state 

Working on a T-bone steak 
I had a party flying over to the golden state 
When the pilot told us that in thirteen minutes 
He would get us to the terminal gate 

Swing Low Chariot come down easy 
Taxi to the terminal door
Cut your engines and cool you wings 
And let me make it to the telephone 

Los Angeles give me Norfolk Virginia 
Tidewater 4-10-0-9 
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land 
Calling and the boy's on the line

The Birmingham Greyhound station, built in 1950, as it appeared in 2010

Source: BhamWiki


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