US Road Trip History


This page dates from December 2004, prior to the eventual road trips detailed in Travelog and Epilog.


Background

This really isn't my style, but in order to understand the later choices I've made regarding what car to buy and where to go and what to see in the US it's probably necessary to provide some history. As the automotive side of things is better covered elsewhere, this page is more music-based. Since this trip is about the US I'm completely ignoring all non-US music - Pink Floyd, Mott The Hoople, AC/DC, The Clash, The Jam, The Housemartins, Suede etc. - even when there may have been some US influence. My website, my rules.

Of course there are some current bands I'd love to see whilst driving around, such as The Black Keys, The Kings Of Leon and The White Stripes. But, realistically, I don't expect to (to be honest, it's probably easier to see any of those more popular bands in the UK than in the US anyway). What I'm much more interested in seeing is what the quality of the average bar bands is like. The acts that never seem to leave the US, though, may be worth tracking-down. Bob Seger and John Cougar Mellencamp will be old men by now but, let's face it, I'm not Peter Pan. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

Biography

When I was 8 years old we left Somerset for America. More specifically, for a suburb north of Detroit. The original plan my parents had was to stay in Michigan for 6 months, but this was soon extended to 2 years and eventually 4 years. We left the US at the end of 1976 Bicentennial celebrations to return to England in time for the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

Every summer holiday - 6 weeks off school at the time - we hooked-up the Starcraft tent trailer to the back of the car and went traveling around the US and Canada. The tow car was originally an Oldsmobile Toronado, later swapped for an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon. The former was a 7-litre front-wheel drive monster with black vinyl seats. Not a good choice inside when the weather was hot but in the winter snow my Dad would use it to go round the neighbourhood and pull other (rear-wheel drive) cars out of ditches. The Custom Cruiser was a bit more sensible except that it was the size of a flat and had enough fake wood on the side to hide Big Ben. It was also the first car I ever drove - well, steered - so I'll always remember it fondly.

Back in the UK and a few years later a real interest in music was developing. In truth, it had probably started back in Michigan listening to CKLW and WDRQ. 60's UK rhythm and blues was the music of choice - The Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, John Mayall, Them, The Animals etc. Of course, most of this music looked back to the US for its inspiration. Later on my friend Julian (who was equally into the same sort of music) and I would go to the Nag's Head pub in High Wycombe to see the Nashville Teens - of Tobacco Road fame - or to Friars in Aylesbury to see Nine Below Zero or Dr Feelgood. We made a pact that one day we'd go to the US and travel Route 66, visiting all the places we'd heard about through the music.

If you grew up in Michigan in the 70's you couldn't avoid Bob Seger. Why would you want to, especially when the other big-name 'local' band were Kiss? And if, a few years later, you start buying his albums and then discover Tom Petty and John Cougar Mellencamp, well then all the better. The music press at the time dismissed this 'mid-west' or 'heartland' rock music. They were wrong, and it still sounds great. To my ears, anyway.

Later musical choices would add to the white-boy blues and rock the new wave of country-punk / americana / alt.country / whatever-you-want-to call-it that arrived during the 80's during my (brief) stay in Manchester at the university there and survived subsequent moves to London and Bristol. Think Jason & The Scorchers, The Long Ryders, Green On Red, Lyle Lovett, The Sadies, Chuck Prophet and you won't be far wrong.

Of course, the more you get into music (of any sort) the more you look back to the people who influenced the bands that you like. It's a great, often confusing journey, with many blind alleys and just as many new directions to head off in. My own journey has taken me back to people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Charlie Rich, Dusty Springfield, Guy Clark, The Judds and Dolly Parton. The best thing about it is that it's a journey that's far from over as I discovered this evening listening, for the first time, to an 50's rock singer called Wanda Jackson. Beware of anyone not into music in one form or another as they are, in one way or another, probably dead.

Ok, enough about music. 20+ years later from that Route 66 dream and I've lost contact with Julian, as these things happen, and am about to end a 13-year run working for a UK bank as an installer of - and later managing a team installing - the Bank's software at business customers' premises. So I'm quite comfortable with driving long distances every day, which could prove useful for a future foreign trip. When voluntary redundancy came up I was keen to go, and if anyone asked what I would do when I left I'd say that I wanted to buy a campervan and tour Europe. This never happened as it eventually occurred to me that I don't really like camping, and the prospect of cheery chats with friendly English, Dutch or German campers every night around the barbeque just scared - and still scares - me absolutely shitless. Just imagine if they're all line-dancers as well. Jesus.

Two years later and with redundancy on the cards again (I must be some sort of lucky charm) it seems like a good time to head off. This time, however, the focus is the US and that long-forgotten Route 66 dream.

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