01: Johnnie Allan – Promised Land

Posted: January 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Johnnie Allan cut this swamp pop cover of Chuck Berry’s finest song in 1974, and damn near bettered it. (Alas, he misses out a whole verse and fluffs the words near the end. Quite an omission when it’s the song of a linear journey!) But what lifts this version into greatness is its drive, and the belching accordian break from cajun musician, Belton Richard.

Remarkably, it was recorded as an afterthought at the end of a routine session at Floyd Soileau’s studio, out the back of his electrical shop in Ville Platte, rural Louisiana. When I first visited Floyd, he brought the quarter inch master tape of this track out of his safe and let me touch it. Johnnie Allan was a local headmaster and part-time singer. I met him when a bunch of pals and I followed the route of the song for a holiday in 1987. (The full story of that musical road trip is in the book).

Chuck Berry wrote Promised Land in 1964. Although the greatest road song ever written – the story of “the poor boy” leaving his home (and poverty) in Norfolk, Virginia, on the east coast of the USA, and making his way across the then segregated south to California, the promised land – Berry never made the trip himself. He wrote it using a road atlas. Hit it!

  1. Glyn Roberts says:

    Oh yes! When that accordion blasts in I am blown away every time I hear it. (There’s a similar moment in the Charles Mann version of ‘Walk of Life’)

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