Rhythm of the Road

by bj max

There seems to be some sort of WI-FI connection between my brain and my right hand, and music seems to be the catalyst for this phenomenon. A good example of this experience happened the other day as I was riding down this quaint little country two lane enjoying the sights and smells of summer and the velvet vocals of Bobby Vinton via my new MP3 Player. As soon as Bobby finished there was a five second pause then BAM, like a sledge hammer to the side of my head Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs Foggy Mountain Breakdown exploded in my ear. My right hand slowly begins creeping towards me, opening the throttle. I focus on my wrist, trying to will it to do my bidding but to no avail. I beat on it with my fist, trying to tame the errant paw but like Dr. Strangelove, I am no longer in control of my extremities and, try as I may to throttle back, I continue to accelerate. I’m now on a runaway motorcycle taking curves at speeds beyond my skills and I know I can’t maintain control much longer. Lester and Earl ramp up their picking and my wrist locks with the throttle wide open, powering me towards oblivion. A hairpin curve looms just ahead. There’s no way I can make it so I close my eyes, say a sad little prayer and prepare for the end.

All this is an exaggeration of course, but music does have a strange effect on my right hand and there does seem to be a grain of truth in the ridiculous scenario above. For example, I’ll be lolly-gagging along at fifty-five or sixty, just taking it easy. Then John Fogerty’s “Looking Out My Back Door” cranks up and the next thing you know, I’m flying down the highway at eighty miles an hour and I don’t even know how I got there. Weird but wonderful.

I love music. Just about everything with the exception of Rap, Hard Rock, New Country and anything you can’t tap your foot to. But I listen to everything else. From Glenn Miller and Elton John to Elvis and Carl Perkins, whom I consider to be the Father of Rock and Roll.

When we bought our motorcycle, an optional thousand dollar, six disc CD changer was offered. There was also an Anti-Lock brake option for the same price. I couldn’t afford both, so the choice for me was a no-brainer. I took the anti lock brakes. While pushing the CD player the salesman conveniently forgot to mention an audio cable tucked away in the owner’s packet, something I wouldn’t discover until three years later. The tiny cable was a plug and play hookup for an MP3 player. All I had to do was remove the fairing pocket, plug it in, connect an MP3 player and go.

At the time, I had an XM radio bolted to my handlebar that I swapped back and forth from the bike to my eighteen wheeler. At first I loved the XM but, like cable TV, the programming was repetitive. After a year or two, I could almost tell you what song was coming up next. They played the same cart over and over and by the time I stumbled across MP3 technology, I was sick of XM radio. One ride with the MP3 player and I tossed the XM unit into the mounting pile of outdated gadgets that fill my attic.

Always on the lookout for a story line, the above mentioned MP3 prompted this piece, a list of my favorite road songs. Yeah, I know. There have been many a magazine article written over the years that listed a particular writer’s top ten and most of us could care less. Music is, after all, a personal thing and you’re probably not going to agree with my list either, but bear with me for a few minutes and I’ll try not to bore you.

Number five on my list is Jerry Lee Lewis banging out “It’ll be me”. This is one from Sun records and takes me back to my adolescent years when I inadvertently discovered one afternoon that girls were more fun than frogs. This revelation and the Killer’s pumping piano changed my life forever. “It’ll be Me” has that early Rock-A-Billy beat that mirrors the thrum of a Pan Head Harley. As the Killer would say, it gets my motor running.

Number four is Bill Haley’s masterpiece, “Rocket 88”, written as a tribute to the pleasures of the mighty Oldsmobile Rocket 88. Performed by Jackie Breston and the Delta Cats, this tune is hailed by many to be the very first Rock n’ Roll song. You can almost feel that big Olds rumbling down an old dusty delta road to the rolling beat of that rocking melody. Rocket 88 marks a turning point in music and started a revolution. It’s a great road song and will perk up any boring highway.

Number three on my list is the great Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go”. Riding around in my Dad’s Buick on a Saturday night with no particular place to go was what the fifties were all about. Every now and then Dad would check the mileage on me, an effort to keep me honest. It was fourteen miles to the county seat round trip and Dad found it hard to believe that I could log over a hundred miles and never got more than ten miles from home. I had been cruising, of course, and having been raised when horses reigned supreme, poor ‘ol Dad just didn’t get it. Number two, Dire Straights’ “Sultans of Swing” written by Mark Knopfler. Now if you like a rockin’ beat, this is your tune. I love this song. Not the words so much as they are pretty simple, but the beat and the guitar get my blood to pumpin’. And this is about as close to Rock as I’ll probably ever get.

At the top of my list, could it be anything else, Del McCoury’s bluegrass arrangement of Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952”. I saw Del and his boys do this tune live at the Southaven Civic Center a few years back and I can only describe their performance as jaw dropping. McCoury took an English pop hit and turned it into a bluegrass standard. I’d rather hear Del McCoury sing Vincent Black Lightning than just about anything. It’s the best road song ever written, in my opinion.

So, that’s my pick. I know, I know. I can already hear the motorcycle purist. We don’t need no stinkin’ tape decks and sissy MP3 players. The rhythm of the road is enough. Hey, to each his own, Bro. But go back for a minute when you were a kid with your first car. It was a blast to drive all by itself, wasn’t it? Of course it was. But I bet you had a radio in it, didn’t ya’? And it wouldn’t have been the same without it, anymore than Star Wars would have been the same without the John Williams score. Yes, a motorcycle is a ball all by itself but with music, unless you’re tone deaf, the thrill is intensified to new levels. Try it. You’ll see,

M.M.M.

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