Time to hit the road, jump into the Cadillac, scoot down the highway. I guess we’re all feeling like that after the last year we’ve had. We’ve got itchy feet, we need a change of scene, to get outa town, maybe leave on a jet plane. There’s plenty of travel in the blues and we’ve selected twelve songs to help you fly the coop or hightail it out of here.
Robert Johnson was the typical early ramblin’ bluesman, reflected in a number of his songs, like Walkin’ Blues:
Woke up this mornin’, feelin’ round for my shoes
But you know ’bout ‘at I, got these old walkin’ blues
Check out this great version of Johnson’s song, by Keb’ Mo’ and others in Play for Change video:
Big Bill Broonzy, is ready to go too – he’s “gonna leave here running, ‘cos walkin’s much too slow!”
Big Maybelle – Mabel Louise Smith – (so called because of her loud “but yet well-toned voice) had her own version of Key to the Highway – Ramblin’ Blues, released in 1958. She’s just tired of her man’s low-down, dirty ways.
Talking about highways, Howlin’ Wolf’s heading out on Highway 49, looking for his baby. Hope he’s not driving though, with that “jug o’wine.”
Watch out, Wolfman, Sonny Boy Williamson’s bound for Highway 49 too. But he’s got a straight-eight Pontiac, the company’s most powerful car in 1951, capable of 252 bhp.
Sometimes moving on was because of something more sinister. The Jim Crow south, with its sundown towns, its intolerance and its lynching, kept bluesmen on the move. Charlie Patton’s Down the Dirt Road Blues has that sense of threat. And check out Adam Gussow’s book, Seems Like Murder Here, which explores this theme in some depth.
“Every day seem like murder here, I’m gonna leave tomorrow.”
Ma Rainey’s headed to San Antonio – we’re not sure why, but she sure is down in the dumps about something.
Talking about having a serious case of the blues, Canned Heat, with Alan Wilson’s plaintive, Skip-James-inspired falsetto, complains that he “ain’t got no woman…had no place to go…my dear mother left me when I was quite young.”
Nothing for it then, but the lonesome highway.
But let’s not get too depressed – here’s the wonderful Bonnie Raitt with the more upbeat The Road’s My Middle Name, with Kim Wilson on harmonica from her 1989 album Nick of Time.
And, if everybody’s leaving town, “baby, why don’t we go too?” That was Skip James’s logic. Hard to argue with.
Bob Dylan, that most under-rated of blues artists, is “looking for the sunny side of love,” and is “gonna walk down that dirt road” until he finds it. Sadly Bob hasn’t allowed the song on YouTube, but here’s a cool version by the Alpinistos
Well, we’re on the road, we’ve hit the highway; what are we gonna do but “put all our troubles away and drive”?
Take it away Joe…