#182 – No Particular Place To Go by Chuck Berry
– Musicologists, historians and even guys like me can sit around for hours debating the origins of rock ‘n’ roll. Robert Johnson, Delta Blues, rockabilly and obscure riffs from obscure regions can all fall into the mix if you dig deep enough. But for our purposes and particularly mine in an effort to avoid debate, it all started with Chuck Berry.
I recently read an article naming the most influential rock songs by Rock Hall members (only) that listed Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode as numero uno. There had been earlier rock ‘n’ roll songs by the time he recorded it in 1958, but Berry came up with a sound that had more influence on 1960’s rockers than anything else. It was a three-chord masterpiece copied by everyone from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones and beyond.
I’ve mentioned before about getting into the roots of rock ‘n’ roll through the back door. The first Chuck Berry song I remember hearing was during the first wave of U.S. Beatlemania in 1964 when they covered Roll Over Beethoven with George Harrison singing AND playing a wicked lead guitar break that still stands as one of my favorites. But it was only the tip of a very large musical iceberg I was yet to discover.
Another clue came later that same year when Johnny Rivers had a hit with Memphis Tennessee. My older cousin pointed out to me that his favorite duo, Jan and Dean, had released the same song a year earlier on their album, Surf City and Other Swingin’ Cities. When I questioned him about the composer of these songs, listed as “Berry” under the titles, he informed me it was Jan Berry (from Jan and Dean).
Oh well, what can you expect. I was about ten and he was only a year and a half older. What we didn’t know we would make up.
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Somewhere along the way I saw the real Chuck Berry on a television show like Hullabaloo or Shindig, so I wasn’t completely clueless. But it wasn’t until the era I consider to be a Rock ‘n Roll Revival that started with Elvis’ Comeback TV special in 1968 and the sudden popularity of Sha-Na-Na (who performed at Woodstock in 1969) that I started exploring the iceberg of originators. Instead of cover versions, I wanted the real deal and the first LP I purchased with this new frame of mind was a collection of Chuck Berry’s greatest hits.
To say I became a dedicated fan is an understatement. And to make sure Chuck Berry knew it, I had the chance to tell him a few years later. Well, sort of…
No Particular Place To Go joined this Dream Song list on August 2nd. It’s interesting (to me anyway) that of all the Chuck Berry songs I love, this is one I haven’t heard covered by the next wave of rockers. The only reason I can come up with is that Berry didn’t release the song until May 1964 when we were already in the midst of The British Invasion. It appeared later that year on the album St. Louis to Liverpool, which was already paying tribute to the mop tops that were putting Chuck back on the map. But by this time the newer bands were already playing his classics or borrowing his earlier riffs and turning them in to classics of their own.
The main sources of inspiration for this newer wave of rockers included the three mentioned earlier (Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven and Memphis Tennessee). Along with School Days, these are usually The Berry Fab Four found most often on my digital playlists. And on what I consider to be the best live album ever recorded, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out by The Rolling Stones, the band kicked up the originator’s influence a notch by ripping through versions of Carol and Little Queenie that I’m positive have contributed to any hearing loss I might have thanks to cranking up the volume at the sound of the first notes.
And just for the fun of it, here’s a related question for dedicated Classic Rockers. Where would Keith Richards be without Chuck Berry? No answer needed – even he knows.
Of course I own a copy of No Particular Place To Go. And thanks to mixing up my digital playlists every week or two, I had just heard it. So this one has a place to go, which is into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.
The opportunity for me to tell Mr. Berry I was a dedicated fan happened in the spring of 1972. My musical tastes at the time were spread pretty wide, but three chord rock ‘n’ roll masterpieces still touched my soul more than anything else. I was full into the originators, along with The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and others that were exploding off the turntable of my portable stereo during my freshman year in college. Hanging on my dorm walls were larger than life posters of John Lennon and Elvis and my inner conscious wondered why I was studying for classes I could care less about (and still don’t) instead of playing three chord masterpieces on an electric guitar in a band is beyond my looking back comprehension.
I walked into the local record store to check out new releases and saw a stack of flyers on the counter advertising Chuck Berry’s upcoming concert at a university within hitchhiking distance from us. I flipped out. I told a guy working at the store what a huge fan I was and he handed me the entire stack. He asked me to tape them up around our school. I said sure and immediately went back to my dorm room and turned the stack into Chuck Berry wallpaper surrounding my posters of Elvis and Lennon.
One of my best friends went to the neighboring school and I convinced him in to buy tickets for myself and the six or seven other guys in my dorm that I had converted into Berry fans. Since we were all college freshmen with no cars, on the morning of the concert we hitchhiked in shifts of two or three with plans to meet up at the arena.
We all arrived around noon, making us the first in line for general (festival) seating. Eventually there was a long line behind us and when the doors opened around 6 pm we raced ahead of everyone and claimed the floor space directly front and center of the stage.
A local group came out and played a set – I remember a high-energy cover version of Sympathy For The Devil – then became the backing band for Chuck Berry. In case you’re not up on Berry’s way of touring, he traveled alone in his Cadillac (or whatever he was driving). He’d tell the concert booker in advance to find backup musicians and have them learn the songs on his Greatest Hits album. He’d show up, they’d play on stage together for the first (and only) time, then Chuck would collect his money and drive off to the next gig.
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All of us in the packed arena were on our feet when Chuck walked on stage and started playing one classic after another. Near the end of his set he looked at the front row where we were standing and motioned for some of us to come up on stage to dance. I turned to a girl I had never seen before or since and said, “Let’s go!”
My college pals did the same and while Chuck and his back-up band played we jumped, danced and sang along only a few feet away from him. When he finished, I seem to remember the girls going back into the audience. The guys? We had a chance to be close to Chuck Berry and we took it.
Before introducing the next song he said something to us, though I can’t remember what. It might have been about having a good time, so I took it as a cue. I put my arm over his shoulder and told him he was the greatest.
Seriously. I’m not making that up.
He appeared to be in a good mood, which according to his reputation could be an unpredictable state, and I’m positive he thanked me. He launched into another song – we jumped around on stage – and that was it. He shouted goodnight, waved and left. We continued cheering from the stage as the crowd roared its approval.
As the audience was leaving I looked down from the stage and saw a guy I had gone to high school with making his way to the front. He shouted hello, reached up and we shook hands. He told me how cool it was that I had been on stage with Chuck Berry. He might even have told me we did a good show (together with Chuck?) but on second thought, I might just be making that part of the story up. Similar to being a ten-year-old kid, long ago memories have a way of doing that.
On a final note, No Particular Place To Go has another special meaning for me.
During the late 1980’s while living in New York City, I had a cat named Kokomo. We were pals and I still miss her. Later with my wife and two sons we had two cats and a dog, but Kokomo was my only pet before becoming a family man.
Almost everyone that visited my apartment and met Kokomo assumed I had named her after the 1988 Beach Boys hit that was in the soundtrack for the 1988 movie Cocktail starring Tom Cruise. Nope… sorry to disappoint, but as a Classic Rocker I go much deeper than that. All the way back to lyrics by Chuck Berry:
“No particular place to go, so we parked way out by the Kokomo.“
Both the originator and my feline pal are gone, but not forgotten. Keep rockin’!!
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To watch Chuck Berry perform No Particular Place To Go – live – with Keith Richards as part of his back up band, check out this video…
To purchase The Best of Chuck Berry with No Particular Place To Go visit Amazon.com
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