Motorcycle Highway Songs - Baggers Magazine
Let’s all celebrate that the winter doldrums are (nearly) over and we can once again peel off those layers of extra padding and expose ourselves to the two best things about riding motorcycles: the sun and a warm breeze. With the smell of 20w-50 wafting up from our engines, all we need now is an open highway and some warm weather tuneage—a little background music to make the miles even more fun. Where else but on a bike can we unleash ourselves from our cages and experience the personal relaxation that comes from…loud noise? Our brethren in cars may look at us funny when we come roaring by, stymied by the fact one can derive so much pleasure from so much cacophony. If they don’t ride motorcycles, they just don’t get it. What’s noise to some is pure enjoyment to others. To which we say, in borrowing a phrase from the band Slade, c’mon feel the noise…
The Big To-Do
A transplanted southerner, I can relate to the baggage that comes with being from the South. Maybe it’s a generational thing. It’s certainly not about politics or any particular social or cultural belief. It’s about the fact that there are certain stereotypes and historical crimes that are hard to dismiss. No matter. Once one gets past the Johnny Reb thing, there are several qualities that unite southerners everywhere, one of which is that we know how to party hearty.
If this were the ’70s, southern born-and-bred Drive-By Truckers (DBT) might be just another Lynyrd Skynrd, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (with whom they’ve toured), or Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Imagine “Southern Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” No doubt, DBT are a product of the South. But they are also a contradiction, refusing to be just another clichéd southern rock band. While their music ought to be sold in roadside tourist stands, DBT have a lot more depth, the themes are well thought out with ambitious song construction. Since their 1998 debut album, Gangstabilly, they underwent a slight personnel adjustment and even switched labels a few times, all for the better. Their 1999 masterpiece Southern Rock Opera, was part history thesis and part advancing the cause of Southern rock as a separate genre.
The Big To-Do, released in 2010 sets out to dispel their “Southern rock” label. It uses the circus (a la Bruce Springsteen) as a metaphor for portraying everyday life and characters in the modern world. It certainly works as motorcycle music, given DBT’s frequent references to the road and their full-throttle three-guitar attack mode. The lyrics will resonate for those given to personal introspection (while riding, don’t we all?). Needless to say, the songwriting, a collaborative effort led mainly by the band’s Patterson Hood, is light years beyond most of the crap that passes as country and rock these days. DBT have been called the best of “alt-country,” but that’s a slight—they are actually one of the best bands out there period.
Their latest album, Go-Go Boots may be less fussy (in a good way), with more of an emphasis on acoustic instrumentation. Shonna Tucker in particular lends even more of a presence and some of the same themes from previous albums are given a reprise. To really get a sense of this band, it’s important to spend some time on the road with their music. In solitude, it all makes even more sense. If they come to a town near you, get on your bike and ride fast to see them.
Diamonds in the Dirt
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Diamonds in the Dirt is Joanne Taylor Shaw’s second album, but already she has eclipsed many of her contemporaries. There’s something about white girls slinging on an electric guitar and singing the blues. Few have ever actually pulled it off, with the notable exceptions being Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. But hell, Ms. Shaw hails from England, which is a long way from Gus’ Fried Chicken in Memphis. No matter, this woman cooks with grease like it’s nobody’s business. One almost suspects that somewhere along the way, she was kidnapped for a few years by blues veterans and forced to play the blues.
Producer Jim Gaines (Jonny Lang, Luther Allison, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana) does an A+ job of letting her guitar blaze away—I mean, the girl can play! All she needs is some better songs to work with, but don’t let that keep you from taking this lady, er CD, for a ride. Dial up the volume a bit and you’ll want to play air guitar along with her – which we definitely wouldn’t recommend on a bike. We’re anxiously awaiting her next album, because we know there are a few great ones comin’.
Mean Old Man
Jerry Lee Lewis
If Jerry Lee Lewis were the leader of a MC, the truth is probably that he’d be riding a rat rod of a bobber as opposed to a bagger. It would be time to lock up the women and children whenever he rode into town, as is what probably happened when the man and the myth were one and the same. Jerry Lee Lewis makes no apologies for his Southern heritage. But rather than just dabble in the redneck side of things, Jerry stretched out and embraced all manner of music—so long as it screams with emotion. He can go from country to rock to blues to gospel in a manner of seconds. And his recorded legacy ought to be enough to earn him his own chunk of Mt. Rushmore, where he’d be chiseled next to Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis, and Chuck Berry (think about that the next time you’re in Sturgis!).
His latest album, the aptly-entitled Mean Old Man is like a birthday party where all your crazy friends show up to jam. In this case, we get the 74-year old Jerry Lee Lewis going stronger than ever and sharing the spotlight with a few other artists you may have heard of. Like Kid Rock and Slash on “Rockin’ My Life Away.” And Eric Clapton and James Burton on “You Can Have Her.” Or the Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” with Mick himself. Better yet, there’s Keith Richards on “Sweet Virgina,” and “Bad Moon Rising” with none other than John Fogerty. Lest we forget other tracks feature guests like Ron Wood, Merle Haggard, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Shelby Lynne, and others I don’t have the space to get into here. Suffice to say, this CD is the mother of all jam sessions. About the only thing that’s wrong is that the 10 tracks are over just when the party is getting started.
Albert King With Stevie Ray Vaughan
Along with the other two “Kings” (B.B. and Freddie), Albert King’s influence on rock has been widespread yet subtle. Many kids emulating their favorite guitar player these days probably don’t even know they are following along in the fretwork of Albert King. A product of Arkansas, by way of Mississippi, King’s route to fame followed the familiar trail of other bluesmen. But instead of going to Chicago, he went to Gary, Indiana, and next, St. Louis, where he played in local bands. He eventually ended up in Memphis where he recorded for Stax and achieved his largest measure of success. His “Born Under A Bad Sign,” became a blues classic, even before Clapton and Cream covered it.
This album is culled from sessions done in 1983 when Albert King was booked to do a show with Stevie Ray Vaughan. Stevie was still a local legend and had yet to gain national recognition at the time, although the buzz around Austin was certainly deafening. Albert has already been one of Stevie’s longtime influences. The two had met briefly before but this would be the first extended session, which was actually a taping for the In Session TV show (around the same time, David Bowie’s “Lets Dance” featuring Mr. Vaughan was making its way up the charts).
To hear these guys jam is like watching master bike builders work side by side on the same project. There’s a lot of back and forth “Oh, yeah, take this,” and “OK, how ’bout this,” banter, but the recorded result is a real treat for fans of guitar shootouts. “Call It Stormy Monday,” and “Pride and Joy,” are the obvious showstoppers, plus there’s also smokin’ versions of “Match Box Blues,” and “Ask Me No Questions.” For at-home viewing when the ride is over, the package includes a bonus DVD that also contains killer performances of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and “Pride and Joy.” Add beer and mix well.