Music | Motorcycle Highway Songs - Baggers Magazine
Easy Listening Fireplace Music
Lest readers think we've all suddenly gone soft, you won't find any reviews of the Lawrence Welk Basement Tapes this month. But sometimes even those who ride all year in every type of weather have to eventually get off the bike, kick off the boots, and relax. Here in SoCal, we may not be able to relate to those of you who own snow blowers-or even snow itself-yet we also occasionally put the kickstand down and relax in front of a fireplace. Ever notice that fireplaces go great with music? Of course you need that good old-fashioned thing we used to call the stereo. Yeah, those little dinky iPod things are great for travelling, but sometimes a man needs a matched set of speakers with real woofers, tweeters, and so forth. And with a properly aged Scotch in hand, a nice crackling fireplace, and comfy chair, listening to music is almost as good as that nice deserted twisty stretch of road on a spring day. So here are a few musical offerings to set the mood...
Buddy Guy is a survivor, the current reigning king of the blues, whose concert appearances still pack 'em in. Like nearly every other blues legend, Buddy's career began in the Delta but he eventually migrated to Chicago, where he hung with a "Who's Who" list of blues greats (it should come as no surprise that his hero is Muddy Waters).
His latest album, Living Proof, opens with "74 Years Young," a tune that could be Buddy's autobiography thus far. In fact, every song has an autobiographical theme of life on the road as a bluesman. Yet there's still plenty of room for the listeners to relate to their own road experiences, which is how it is with most blues and country songs. Buddy's guitar playing hasn't diminished in the slightest. He can still rip up the blues louder and faster, or carpet bomb with Hendrix-like solos better than anyone else playing blues, or rock for that matter. Guest appearances by B.B. King and Santana are neat surprises as well. It all goes to prove that Buddy has been getting better with every passing year and every new release, to which we can only say, keep 'em coming!
Sinners & Saints
Raul Malo was the leader of the Mavericks, one of the first-and best-alternative country bands, back when the genre was growing. The band's 1994 album What a Crying Shame became a hit and sent them into country superstardom for a short period. Throughout it all, Malo provided most of their songs and cited as his influences, among others, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Not bad. The sound on the Mavericks' latter albums began to evolve as the band moved away from strict country to incorporate other rhythms. The Latin infusions reflected Malo's Cuban heritage. He soon began releasing solo projects, one of which was a version of Springsteen's "Downbound Train," which ranks up there as one of the best Springsteen covers ever.
Fast forward to 2010. Saints & Sinners is Malo's seventh solo album. Begun at his home studio in Nashville, it was completed in Austin with the help of Augie Meyers (Sir Douglas Quintet, Texas Tornados), Shawn Sam (Sir Douglas' son), Michael Guerra, the Trishas (who lent background vocals), and other friends. From the opening notes of the title track, you're confronted with the south-of-the-border influences from Guerra's exceptional accordion playing-you'll swear you never knew an accordion could sound this good! Malo's guitar work on this track is described as one part "surf twang" and one part "Flamenco melodicism." Whatever, it sounds great and sets the mood perfectly for what follows. The real prize is his version of Rodney Crowell's classic "'Till I Gain Control Again":
"Out on the road that lies before me now
There are some turns where I will spin
Darlin' I only hope, only hope
That you will hold me now
Until I gain control again..."
It's enough to melt the steely resolve of any tough-guy biker, as is his original "Staying Here," another love song of sorts. This, my friends, is ultimate fireplace music with lots of Tex Mex on the side. There are songs that will make you dance ("San Antonio Baby") and songs that will make you think ("Living for Today"). And his rendition of "Sombras" is an instant classic.
There are not many artists who exhibit the level of diverse talent as Raul Malo; certainly very few working in modern cookie-cutter pop music. And it's a damn shame radio hasn't grown up enough to embrace music like this. No matter, that's why you're reading this (I hope). It doesn't matter if you're a saint or a sinner; go buy the CD (especially so you can get the lyrics). It goes great with tequila.
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
Stevie Ray Vaughan
There have been many blues pretenders who've come and gone, but Stevie Ray Vaughan was the real deal. Calling Stevie a guitarist is like calling a tricked-out custom bagger a motorcycle-it doesn't do justice. With wide-ranging musical influences, from Albert King to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie paid his dues on the Texas bar circuit and was eventually "discovered" by both David Bowie (he played on David's Let's Dance album) and Jackson Browne (who offered him the use of a studio). Having played with many of his heroes, from Buddy Guy to Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray single-handedly launched a blues resurgence and would go on to win awards up the wazoo. This double CD set, released in 2002, is noteworthy for the fact it compiles his best studio works on one CD and some of his best live performances on the other, including "Texas Food," "Cold Shot," "Couldn't Stand the Weather," "The Things (That) I Used to Do," and his masterful cover of Jimmy Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (A Slight Return)."
A little more than 20 years ago, Stevie perished in a tragic helicopter crash after playing a gig that had Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and his brother, Jimmy Vaughan, jamming together with him. Stevie was quoted as saying in one of his last interviews: "You never can tell what kinda turns a gig's gonna take, but I try to play the best that I possibly can every night. And besides, I would hate to get caught playing my last gig not trying, you know what I mean? If it was the last one, it sure would be a drag if I didn't try." There's a lesson in there somewhere.
Flashback | Album of the Month
Howlin' Wolf Moanin' in the Moonlight
Howlin' Wolf Chess
In a perfect afterlife, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf are all in heaven, the only dudes up there who wear black and ride big bad-ass bikes. God, known to have a sense of humor (and who probably likes a nip of Scotch every now and then), occasionally sends them down to hell to play a little whoop ass on the devil. Of course God doesn't like guns, so they carry big black baseball bats to keep residents of hell, such as Hitler and Atilla the Hun, on their toes. The leader of this celestial biker gang is Howlin' Wolf.
Chester Arthur Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin' Wolf, was named after Chester Arthur, the 23rd president of the U.S. Large in size and voice, he learned the blues from the great delta bluesman Charlie Patton. At the famous West Memphis, Arkansas, radio station KWEM, Wolf would eventually unleash his own sonic jihad upon an unsuspecting public. Discovered by Sam Phillips, Wolf eventually found himself in Chicago in 1953, thanks to the vagaries of recording contracts back then. He had a new band (featuring the great Hubert Sumlin) and a new deal with Chess Records.
This album is basically a compilation of his first two albums for Chess, which rank as some of the best music ever committed to tape, vinyl, CD, files, etc. (Note: There's tons of Howlin' Wolf recordings out there, much of it from dubious sources. Spending money on these is like buying bike parts made in China, so buyer beware. Get the Chess stuff first-it's all great!). Wolf's vocals are menacingly gruff, full of tortured heartbreak and pain; the epitome of what a blues singer should sound like. He stomps his way through songs that could make grown men lock up their women, small children, and pets. Yes, you can listen to his music without drinking, but hard liquor-or loud motorcycles-makes it truly enjoyable. Naturally everyone from the Stones (who featured him on their first U.S. tour), Cream, the Yardbirds, and countless other rock icons have covered his songs. "Wang Dang Doodle," "Spoonful," "Smokestack Lightnin'," "How Many More Years," and others, many of which were collaborations with the legendary Willie Dixon, are national treasures. Let's see Justin Bieber top that.
If it's too cold to ride, go find yourself a fireplace, a chair, and some libation. Plop this CD into the player and prepare to be entertained. Listen and repeat. You'll eventually find yourself singing along and howlin' at the moon.