Chuck Berry wanted to be a bluesman, but it was the backbeat of Western swing that made him a rock & roller. So it’s appropriate that Blackberry Smoke paid tribute to the legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist, who passed away March 18th at the age of 90, with a little help from the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir.
The Atlanta Southern-rockers teamed up with Weir at his TRI Studios in California in 2013 for a recording session they released just last month on DVD as Blackberry Smoke With Bob Weir: An Evening at TRI. One of the gems from the film was a cover of “Promised Land,” a late-period classic of Berry’s that was released in 1964 – the year after he’d been released from prison for violation of the Mann Act. Ten years later, Elvis Presley would record perhaps the definitive version of the song.
Shortly after Berry’s death, Blackberry Smoke posted their version with Weir online. Here, they slow things down from Berry’s, nearly doubling the run time, but songs like this are in their DNA – there’d be no “Truckin'” without travelogues like “Promised Land.” There’d be no Berry without country music, either. His first single, “Maybellene,” was a reimagining of a Bob Wills classic, and country artists would return the favor many times over the years.
Blackberry Smoke are currently on tour in Europe. In October, they released their latest album Like an Arrow. Weir, meanwhile, who has covered “Promised Land” in the past with Ratdog, released his solo album Blue Mountain in September.