Chuck Berry Miscellany

Brian Wilson put new lyrics to Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” for the Beach Boys’ monster hit, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Berry sued and got songwriting credit… and royalties.

Chuck Berry put new lyrics to “Wabash Cannonball,” for his hit, “Promised Land.” No copyright disputes, as the old folk song was in the public domain.

Longtime pianist sideman and collaborator Johnnie Johnson sued Chuck Berry in 2000 claiming co-composing credit for dozens of songs. The suit went nowhere because too much time had passed since the songs were written.

Chuck Berry: The Autobiography is slightly less self-serving than many, and is no great literary feat. But it’s an interesting read and gives some insight to a complicated personality.

Chuck Berry toured regularly without a band. The promoter was responsible for hiring musicians to accompany him. Berry figured it was not a problem because everyone knew his songs. When Berry turned sixty, Keith Richards decided an appropriate birthday gift would be a decent backup band. The movie “Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll” chronicles this and the head butting between Berry and Richards.

Lenten Travel and Dining Tip

Breitbach’s 2009

Breitbach’s Country Dining claims to be Iowa’s oldest dining establishment, in business since 1852. (Breitbach’s, unlike Breitbart, won’t give you indigestion.) As you travel the Great River Road, you’ll find Breitbach’s in Iowa, high above the Mississippi River, about halfway between Guttenberg and Dubuque.

Breitbach’s until 2007

Jacob Breitbach, who worked for the founding owner, purchased the business in 1862. It has been owned and operated by the family since then. The building itself is relatively new. The original structure burned in 2007. The restaurant has hosted luminaries such as Jesse James, George (Norm from “Cheers”) Wendt, Madonna and Brooke Shields.

Why report on this now? They are featuring a Friday-night seafood buffet during Lent. If you have a desire for deep-fried fresh catfish, here’s your place. They also promise their soup du jour will be meatless until Easter.

Ken Kesey Hasn’t Left Us; He’s Just Dead

Ken Kesey wrote the Great American Novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, published in 1964. Well, okay, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was pretty good, too. Twain was certainly more prolific. Kesey’s published works other than his first, and more famous novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, include the novel Sailor’s Song, the historical novel Last Go Round, set in the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up, plus assorted miscellany, some collected in Kesey’s Garage Sale. (Paul Newman’s first directorial effort was the film adaptation of Sometimes a Great Notion.)

Kesey is also famous – or infamous – for the Acid Tests of the 1960s, bringing LSD and the Grateful Dead to notoriety. Kesey was the ringleader of the Merry Band of Pranksters – “Too young to be a beatnik and too old to be a hippy” – and the instigator of their road trip, in the psychedelically-painted bus “Further,” to the New York World’s Fair. Tom Wolfe chronicled the excursion in his classic of “new journalism,” The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Ken Kesey eventually had enough of the lifestyle and came to the realization that Pranksters was another name for moochers. He took his bus back home to his farm near Eugene and spent a relatively quiet rest of his life. He died in 2001.

Further – also known as “Furthur,” after decades of deterioration on Kesey’s farm, has been restored. A feature-length film of the Merry Pranksters adventures, “Magic Trip,” has been released and is available on DVD.


Ken Kesey was a champion wrestler at the University of Oregon. His son Jed was also. On the way to a match in 1984, the team’s bus, previously used to transport chickens and lacking seat belts, slid off an icy road. Jed was kept on life support for two days until his parents, Ken and Faye, gave permission to shut it off. Twenty-year-old Jed Kesey had previously signed an organ-donor authorization. Twelve of his organs went to others. The Keseys sued the National College Athletics Association and settled for $70,000. They used the money to buy a new bus for the U of O wrestling team. Read Ken Kesey’s letter about his son.


Travel Tip: What Your GPS Doesn’t Know

Highway 99 traverses the Pacific Coast from the Canadian border, at Blaine Washington, to Mexico, at Calexico California. Upon completion of Interstate 5 in 1972, 99 lost its designation as a “U.S.” highway. Much of it is now labeled State Route 99 in California, Oregon Route 99 – splits into 99E and 99W from Junction City, near Eugene, to Portland – and SR-99 in Washington. (It continues as Highway 99 in British Columbia.)

With decertification came loss of identifying signage. There never really was any definitive identifier informing a motorist when crossing the unofficial border between northern and southern California. As you travel the highway, keep an eye out for the pine tree and palm tree adjacent to each other in the median between northbound and southbound lanes. It’s a few miles north of Fresno, at about milepost 150. The fir represents the northern sector of the state; the palm tells you are in southern California. Your GPS won’t tell you this.

If you feel the urge to travel historic 99, you’ll want That Ribbon of Highway guidebooks.