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Chuck Berry: 10 Country Music Covers

From Marty Robbins to Emmylou Harris, country artists have a long history of interpreting the rock pioneer’s songs

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry's iconic rock & roll songs were frequently covered by country artists.

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Although Chuck Berry is regarded as an architect of rock & roll, there’s no denying that country music had a profound and lasting influence on his artistry. Berry, who died Saturday at 90 years old, was an innovative guitarist and extraordinarily gifted lyricist whose earliest influences ran the gamut from Western swing to Cajun music.

Berry created one of the most impressive bodies of work in the history of rock & roll, but could have done none of it without the swing, blues and hillbilly tunes he grew up listening to in St. Louis. One of Berry‘s most celebrated hits, “Maybellene,” originated as a tune called “Ida Red,” popularized in the late Thirties by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. In the 1978 book Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Age of Rhythm & Blues, by Arnold Shaw, blues artist Jimmy Witherspoon is quoted as saying, “Chuck Berry is a country singer. People put everybody in categories, black, white, this. Now, if Chuck Berry was white… he would be the top country star in the world.” That claim can certainly be backed up by the vast number of country acts who have paid homage to Berry by covering his songs, putting a country – and in some cases bluegrass – spin on some of his most highly regarded tunes. Here are 10 of the best, including one of Berry‘s own takes on a Hank Williams classic.

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“Thirty Days (To Come Back Home),” Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours

As influenced as Berry was by country groups from Oklahoma, Texas and beyond, the feeling was obviously mutual. In 1955, as the advent of rock & roll threatened to cut into country music’s profits, that didn’t seem to matter to Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, who cut this hot-stepping version of Berry’s “Thirty Days (To Come Back Home),” earning a Top 10 hit. Perhaps the most “country” song ever penned by Berry, he wrote the tune as a tribute to the influence of Hank Williams. Forty years later, country group the Tractors also recorded it.

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“Back in the U.S.A.,” Jim & Jesse

In 1965, bluegrass brother act Jim & Jesse (McReynolds) and their band, the Virginia Boys, devoted an entire LP to Berry covers, cleverly titled Berry Pickin’ in the Country. What could have been a hokey novelty record, however, is instead a skillful, thoroughly entertaining collection of harmony-laden versions of 10 Berry gems, including “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Reelin’ and Rockin'” and “Back in the U.S.A.,” which would be a huge pop hit and minor country hit a dozen years later for Linda Ronstadt. 

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“Promised Land,” Freddy Weller

As the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” was to Berry‘s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” so Berry‘s “Promised Land” was to “Wabash Cannonball.” Actually, the latter was an American folk classic, and a quintessential train song, popularized by the Carter Family and Roy Acuff, but with new lyrics (penned while he was in prison), Berry transformed it into the uplifting story of a poor boy’s spiritual cross-country journey. Elvis Presley would do perhaps the definitive cover version of it, but in 1971, “Promised Land” was a country smash for Freddy Weller, reaching Number Three. James Taylor and Billy ‘Crash” Craddock are among others who have put their stamp on the song.

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“Memphis, Tennessee,” Toby Keith

Memphis, Tennessee,” with its sad tale of a long-distance call between a young daughter and her estranged dad, was one of the Berry songs Buck Owens and His Buckaroos cut during Owens’ reign as a country king in the Sixties. Joined by master guitarist Don Rich, Owens’ version got a chugging workout. Among others who have recorded the tune were the Statler Brothers, Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, and Bobby Bare. One of the most recent versions is Toby Keith’s live rendition on the deluxe version of his Clancy’s Tavern LP.

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“Let It Roll,” Mel McDaniel

“Let It Rock” (or, in this case, “Let It Roll”) is Berry’s churning and burning dream-while-you-toil tale that takes a wicked turn when an unexpected train poses a threat to several day-laborers on the railroad. But it’s pretty tough to care about that drama, when you’re focused on Berry’s relentless guitar, roaring with all the fury of that oncoming locomotive. For his 1985 single, country star Mel McDaniel and band got onboard the train and rode this cover all the way into the Top Ten.

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“Bordeaux in My Pirough,” Chuck Berry

In 1971, Berry recorded an album called San Francisco Dues, and included this peppy tune, “Bordeaux in My Pirough,” which is obviously heavily influenced by the Hank Williams’ hit “Jambalaya,” which he also cut. Even more so than “You Never Can Tell,” it is his most Cajun-injected tune, and along with “You Are My Sunshine” and “Here Today (and Gone Tomorrow),” which was recorded by the Louvin Brothers in 1958, confirms the rock icon’s love for pure country music.

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