“It’s carbon and monoxide
The ole Detroit perfume”—Paul Simon
It so happens that on May 21, 1955, 67 years before this is being written, Chuck Berry recorded “Maybellene” at Chess Studios. Willie Dixon played bass. Among the songs that Dixon wrote that you probably know from covers are:
• “I Ain’t Superstitious”
• “You Shook Me”
• “Back Door Man”
• “I Can’t Quit You Baby”
• “Hoochie Coochie Man”
• “Little Red Rooster”
• “I Just Want to Make Love to You”
Just think of the importance of those songs for many bands. Odds are Dixon, no matter how much he may have thought of them, couldn’t have imagined that impact.
“Maybellene” was based on “Ida Red,” a song released by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in 1939, a song that is considered to be of “unknown origin,” just as the character Ida Red is unknown.
Fiddlin’ Powers & Family released a recording of the song in 1924 and Dykes Magic City Trio did in 1927, which I point out only because they don’t name groups like they used to.
Back to “Maybellene.”
During the early ‘50s Berry, who was living in St. Louis at the time, worked at two car assembly plants. Back then there were St. Louis Truck Assembly, which was operated by General Motors, and St. Louis Assembly, run by Ford.
Although the song is ostensibly about the protagonist chasing a girl who had cheated on him (“Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true?”), it is primarily about a race between vehicles: “I saw Maybellene in a Coupe DeVille/A Cadillac a-rollin’ on the open road/Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford.”
Detroit Iron vs. Detroit Iron.