Please Let Me Off This Bus

Chuck Berry (1926-2017) was a black pioneer of rock’n roll and he is often called the father of rock and roll.  Black musicians were often targeted for beatings, had their earnings confiscated, and were arrested and imprisoned, typically for sex, drugs and tax violations.  Berry didn’t take up the guitar until he was thirteen years old and in Junior High School.  Before he was able to graduate from High School, Berry was arrested and convicted of robbing a bakery, a clothing store and a barbershop, and also armed carjacking.  He was sent to a reformatory in Algoa Missouri, where he was held for three years from 1944 to 1947.  Berry gained his release on good behavior on October 18, 1947, which was his 21st birthday.  A year later, he was married to Themetta ‘Toddy’ Suggs and they had four children together, and he swore that he was forever cured of heading down the wrong path again.

Berry established his reputation during the four-year period from 1956 to 1959, not only turning out such classic hits as ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Maybellene’, ‘Johnny B. Goode’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and ‘Carol’, but he also established the very template that nearly every rock and roll guitarist after him would follow.  On December 23, 1959, Chuck Berry was arrested in St. Louis, Missouri, on charges relating to his transportation of a 14-year-old waitress and prostitute across state lines for allegedly “immoral purposes”.  Chuck Berry was sentenced to three years in prison in January 1962 at the Indiana Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana for offenses under the Mann Act, for this transgression.

Berry met 14-year-old Janice Norine Escalanti in a bar in Juarez, Mexico and he offered her a job in his St. Louis nightclub. Three weeks after, their relationship soured, and she was fired from Berry’s nightclub.  Berry brought her to a bus station, and he gave her money for a ticket home.  Instead of going home, she went to the St. Louis police, and told them that that Berry repeatedly had sex with her while they were on the road, in the back of his Cadillac and Berry was arrested two days later.  The Mann Act is the common name for a piece of federal legislation originally known as the United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910.  Though intended as a tool for cracking down on organized prostitution, the vague language of the Mann Act regarding the transportation of women for “immoral purposes” rendered its provisions broadly unenforceable.  It has been selectively applied in various high-profile cases over time, most famously in Berry’s and in that of the heavyweight boxing great Jack Johnson.

Berry claimed the girl told him she was 21.  Berry’s defense was not found credible by the all-male, all-white jury at his first trial, and he was convicted on March 11, 1960, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.  Although he would have his conviction vacated and a new trial ordered by a Federal Appeals Court in October 1960 due to disparaging racial comments made by the judge in his original trial, Berry would be convicted again on retrial in March 1961 and serve the better part of the next two years in prison.  Berry wound up serving 20 months behind bars, and during this time he wrote several songs.

While Chuck was behind bars, the Rolling Stones recorded their first single, which was his song ‘Come On’ and the Beatles covered his ‘Roll Over Beethoven’.  In 1964, Chuck Berry recorded ‘Nadine (Is It You?)’ on his The Great Twenty-Eight album and the song charted #27 in the UK and it went to #23 in the US.  While Berry was in jail he penned this song along with other classic numbers such as ‘You Never Can Tell’, ‘Promised Land’ and ‘No Particular Place to Go’.  Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records founder Leonard was his road manager when he came out of prison and they were desperate because he was their biggest star.  He came right from jail, looking raggedy, so they got him some new clothes and went into the studio and recorded ‘Nadine’.

Berry said that he took the top hits of his past and reshaped them, getting ‘Nadine’ from his debut, 1955 hit ‘Maybellene’. This song tells the story of a man catching sight of an elusive woman and spending the rest of the song chasing Nadine and trying to catch up with her.  He glimpses her while riding a bus, hops off and races after her as she is riding in a coffee-colored Cadillac.  He encounters difficulty catching up to Nadine, and he keeps pursuing her, while only getting momentary or partial views of her and questioning if it is really her.  He sees her “getting in a yellow cab heading up town” then he hops into a taxi telling the driver “to catch that yellow cab”.  He says that she moved “around like a wave of summer breeze”, and he tells his cabbie to “Go, driver, go go, catch ‘er for me please”.

In 1985, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.  In 1986, he became the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s first inductee.  The scientist Carl Sagan championed the inclusion of Berry’s 1958 hit ‘Johnny B. Goode’ on the so-called Golden Record, an archive of human life launched by NASA into interstellar space with the Voyager probes in 1977.  Chuck Berry died on March 18, 2017 at the age of 90 in his home near St. Louis.

As I got on a city bus and found a vacant seat,
I thought I saw my future bride walking up the street,
I shouted to the driver hey conductor, you must slow down
I think I see her please let me off this bus

Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh, Nadine
Honey, is that you?
Seems like every time I see you
Darling you got something else to do

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walkin’ toward a coffee colored Cadillac
I was pushin’ through the crowd to get to where she’s at
And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat

Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh, Nadine
Honey, where are you?
Seems like every time I catch up with you
You are up to something new

Downtown searching for ‘er, looking all around
Saw her getting in a yellow cab heading up town
I caught a loaded taxi, paid up everybody’s tab
Flipped a twenty dollar bill, told him ‘catch that yellow cab

Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh, Nadine
Honey, is that you?
Seems like every time I catch up with you
You are up to something new

She move around like a wave of summer breeze,
Go, driver, go go, catch ‘er for me please
Moving through the traffic like a mounted cavalier
Leaning out the taxi window trying to make her hear

Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh, Nadine
Honey, is that you?
Seems like every time I see you
Darling are up to something new

9 thoughts on “Please Let Me Off This Bus

  1. I’ve read that after the Mann Act that he never was the same again. I can see why…I thought of him as a rock poet…He is probably the most ripped off rock artist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Prison has a way of changing people and his time behind bars made him more untrusting than he was before he went to prison. Plus the getting ripped off by others did not help his attitude, but he survived and lived a long life and he was idolized by many of the greatest musicians too many to name.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Untrusting was the word I was looking for…

        In “Hail Hail Rock and Roll?” He drove Keith Richards up the wall. It was the best I’ve heard Chuck sound though…live.

        Liked by 1 person

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