Posts Tagged ‘Moondog Matinee’

The Band simply stole this song from Chuck Berry, who recorded it in Memphis but had never lived there. Vocalist Levon Helm’s nearby roots give his take on “Back to Memphis,” completed for but not originally included on the Band’s 1973 covers album Moondog Matinee, this sense of yearning that Berry simply was equipped to muster.

The song originally grew out of a lightning-fast three-day session in 1967 that saw Chuck Berry working with local legends like Andrew Love at Memphis’ Royal Studios in service of a debut album for Mercury. Only, in a suddenly psychedelic age, “Back in Memphis” ended up as the opening cut on a largely forgotten album.

That is, until the Band revived it, several years later. Helm sings with a raw desire to return to the Mississippi Delta’s endlessly unique, endlessly unkempt environs, while Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson jostle back and forth within the song’s rambling groove. As the only American in a group that became a worldwide phenomenon from an initial home base of Canada, Helm frames this outsider’s tale with just the right touch of pathos. Where Chuck Berry tended to wink, Levon Helm finds something darker.