Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tobacco Road, The Nashville Teens (1964)

Tobacco Road, a country tune written and originally recorded to little acclaim by John D. Loudermilk, was one of my absolute favorite British Invasion imports. As adapted with an R&B sound by the Nashville Teens (who were neither from Nashville nor teens), it was a harmonic convergence of throbbing drums, outrageous piano, dueling guitars and exuberant singers who clearly relished the opportunity they'd been given to breath life into this song.

Tobacco Road was produced by Mickie Most, who also guided the budding careers of the Animals, Herman's Hermits, Donovan and Lulu, and had a knack for finding good songs and good bands to record them. He certainly found both in Tobacco Road and in the Teens, whom he discovered serving as Bo Diddley's backup band. The boogie-woogie stylings of keyboard player John Hawken, who later went on to form Renaissance with Keith Relf of the Yardbirds, alone is worth the price of admission.

The song has since been covered by performers in virtually every musical genre, but this is the gold standard as far as I'm concerned. So many British Invasion songs were complex, clearly had been bred of multiple musical influences, and were really sophisticated for the times. Like The Zombies' She's Not There, it was an incredibly exotic song to hear on the radio in 1964, and still has staying power today.


JustJ said...

I've heard this song a few times somewhere, but I can't tell you when or where. I appreciate a less polished sound in music, one where the instruments sound like they were made by and are being played by a person rather than by a machine. I think that's why I like this song. You can hear the raw sound in the instruments.

Wade said...

Hey, this is the guy I was getting Jim Lauderdale mixed up with. You already knew that, but I didn't know you'd written about this song. What songs have you not written about yet? No matter who I think of, there's a tag for that person there in your archive.

Gary Stewart is where I first heard the song. (Check out Gary Stewart if you haven't. He has the most painfully pure honky-tonk voice ever.) Steve Young (writer of "Seven Bridges Road") also covered it.