Tuesday, May 17, 2011

‘This land is my land’

Photo by Bob Martin
“This land is my land, this land is your land … from California to the New York Island.” Woody Guthrie wrote it; Peter, Paul and Mary recorded my favorite rendition.

Early on in a long trucking career I could see right off that one of the perks in the business was the nontaxable bonus of simply enjoying the scenery as I traveled all over this country. I never got tired of the view.

In all the miles I have driven and places I have seen, I couldn’t help thinking about the songs written about places that I was passing by. I guess part of that comes from being a lifetime fan of folk music, classic country and bluegrass music.

For example, there is a sign for Crowley’s Ridge on I-40 in Arkansas that always reminds me of a line in the song, “Arkansas” by the Osborne Brothers. Then there’s “Kentucky,” the state song of Kentucky – also by the Osbornes.

The list is endless. There’s a few Texas songs, Red Steagall’s “Under the X in Texas” or Marty Robbins’ “Streets of Laredo” and “El Paso.” I can’t drive through Amarillo without “Amarillo by Morning” getting stuck in my head for a while. And remember Ernest Tubb’s “Waltz across Texas” and “Cowtown” songs?

The trucking songs are many. Dick Curless’ “Tombstone Every Mile,” which is about driving the Hainesville Road way up in Maine. It’s just a “ribbon of ice” … he got that right.

I related to Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” except I came back and went again and again. Then there’s Lester Flatt’s “Backin’ to Birmingham” and Dave Dudley’s “Six Days on the Road.” The first few words of “Six Days” are “I pulled out of Pittsburgh.” I can dig it. (Not my favorite city …)

In Florida on I-75 there’s a little sign on a bridge that says Suwannee River, complete with a couple bars and notes.

A number of other mountain passes are mentioned in song, like The Grapevine, Donner Summit, Jacob’s Ladder and the Feather River Canyon. Don’t forget “Black Mountain Rag.” Sometimes I wonder why someone hasn’t been inspired to write a song about the view from that rest area at the top of Cabbage, a mountain pass just east of Pendleton, OR.

My all-time personal favorite experience of song and looking out the windshield came in Montana, the Big Sky Country. You have to see Montana to understand the Big Sky thing. I can’t describe it.

Anyway, one morning, clear blue big sky and I’m rolling along I-90 somewhere around Billings, I think, where you cross the Yellowstone River. At the time my friend Eddie Kilroy was doing a country/Texas honky tonk music radio show on XM from Willie’s Place at Carl’s Corner, TX. I called him and asked him to play Red Steagall’s “Yellowstone Valley.” He did and it gave me duck bumps.  

I can’t leave out the mountain and desert sunrises and sunsets. They are, in a word, spectacular. And they seem to last forever. I usually started my day driving an hour or so before sunrise and I’ve seen a bunch of them. Can’t think of any songs about western sunrises and sunsets, but they do often remind me of a story I’ve heard several times over the years on country music radio. The story goes that Willie Nelson and Roger Miller were driving west in West Texas, admiring the beautiful sunset and Miller said, “Just think what God could do if he had money.”

I am waiting on those lyrics to come out in a song.