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Jimmy Thackery Takes The Wheel Of A Classic

Jimmy Thackery is a musical hitchhiker: He jumps on Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" and takes off without a second look. The bluesman uses his stinging, ringing guitar to set the pace for a cross-country journey that begins on a bus in Southwest Virginia. He's headed to California, like so many musical travelers before him, but, true to blues tradition, there's motor trouble. So what can Thackery do but stop singing for a minute or so and churn out a driving guitar solo? He is, after all, stuck in Birmingham.

With his warm-hearted growl, Thackery lays out the rest of his trip: a train to New Orleans, a sojourn in Houston where some nice people buy him a silk suit, a flight to L.A. Then he picks up a phone: "Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin' / and the poor boy's on the line." The song doesn't reveal the purpose of the phone call. But Thackery's exuberant version makes it clear that "Promised Land" exists to celebrate the great American road trip. The irony for Chuck Berry, of course, is that he wrote "Promised Land" while doing time for transporting an underage girl across state lines — a side of interstate travel the song helpfully leaves out.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.