I certainly hope by now you’ve heard the song “Drive” from Joe Bonamassa’s latest amazing studio album, Blues of Desperation. It’s soulful. It’s sultry. It’s sexy. If you haven’t heard it yet, go here and hear now. It conjures up for me a whole host of other incredible songs about driving on those lonely roads of life, when your best companion has four wheels (or more or maybe less) instead of legs. So here are some of what I think are some of the all-time best road and driving songs in music history, especially in rock and blues (and blues-rock):
Sonny Boy Williamson II & The Yardbirds – Pontiac Blues: In 1963, famous vocalist and harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson II toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival Tour. During the course of the tour, he attended a Yardbirds concert, and was able to recruit them to serve as his backing band for some shows. (The Animals were another band recruited for some gigs.) The song itself, written by Williamson II, recounts the story of the things that his baby likes. As they turn out to be, it’s lots of lovin’ and the couple’s straight-eight Pontiac. Go figure! The piece is a fun, dance-able uptempo blues groove in the standard 12 bar blues format. Too bad Mr. Eric Clapton wasn’t given a chance to let loose on his Gibson…
Canned Heat – On the Road Again: “On the Road Again” was one of the first songs that blues-rockers Canned Heat recorded as part of their demos at RCA Studios in 1967. The song incorporated elements from similar earlier songs including “On the Road Again” by blues musician Floyd Jones, which was actually a re-make of an earlier song he cut called “Dark Road”. Both of these versions were based on an earlier tune from Delta Blues musician Tommy Johnson called “Big Road Blues”. The song was a hit for Canned Heat, reaching #16 on the U.S. singles charts and #8 in the U.K. Of note, the lead vocals are performed by second guitarist and harmonica player Alan Wilson in an effective, understated falsetto voice.
Tom Waits – Ol’ 55: This gorgeously melodic tune is the opening number on Waits’ debut album, Closing Time. The song narrates as the singer goes on an early morning highway in his ‘Ol 55. He’s in a joyous, almost euphoric mood, and it seems that he has probably just left the house of his lover where things had been particularly pleasant. But alas, it was 6:00 in the morning and he had to be on his way, so off he goes. No problem though, “The sun’s coming up and I’m riding with lady luck” he sings. Although the song was only a minor hit for the young Tom Waits, The Eagles heard the song and liked it enough to cover it themselves. Waits is not in love with their version of the tune, as he has said he’s, “not that particularly crazy about (their) rendition of it … I thought their version was a little antiseptic.”
The Rolling Stones – (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66: This catchy rhythm and blues standard was originally composed by American songwriter Bobby Troup in 1946. It was first recorded by Nat King Cole that year and became a hit for him, appearing on both the Billboard R&B and pop charts. But I happen to be partial to the swingin’ upbeat rocker version by the early Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger deftly handles the vocals with Brian Jones taking a short, sweet solo on the electric guitar. Although the song was the leadoff tune on the British release of The Rolling Stones, it was pushed back to track #2 on the American release, titled England’s Newest Hitmakers, to make room for the band’s version of “Not Fade Away” as the American leadoff track.
Joe Bonamassa – Driving Towards the Daylight: Dipping into the ambiguous territory of country blues-rock, “Driving Towards the Daylight” is one of Joe Bonamassa’s most immediate and arresting tunes. Co-written with veteran songwriter Danny Kortchmar, “Driving Towards the Daylight” is a piano infused ballad about being lost on the highway of life in the wake of troubles (usually a lovers quarrel), something I am sure we can all relate to sometimes. The experience you can have of simply driving when you feel like you have nowhere else to turn can be an amazing escape. The evocative imagery of this song of the singer cruising towards the shining sun makes this a contemporary classic in my book.