Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

Geographical Goodies from the Old Curiosity Shop record racks 

When your father was a postal clerk, and you’re a transportation enthusiast, you can come up with an eclectic assortment of songs with a geographical angle.  We have old-timey blues, show tunes, songs from the Big Band era, records we heard on the Dr Demento show, country & western, and lots more.

Singing the ZIP Code book

I’ve Been Everywhere is a Hank Snow song that’s been covered numerous times, including versions by Johnny Cash and a video by Kacey Musgrave that must have Ernest Tubb turning over in his grave.

Night Train was originally recorded as an instrumental by Jimmy Forrest and his orchestra around 1952, and has probably been used to back a burlesque dancer more than once.  The vocal version by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, starts in Miami and works its way up the east coast to New York City.

(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 was written by Bobby Troup, and has been recorded by numerous artists and bands.  Over the years, I’ve traveled on several stretches of The Mother Road and have been to both ends.  To really get technical, I’ve been to the east end in Chicago, and both the original western end at 7th & Broadway in downtown LA (once a major streetcar crossing) and the post-1936 end in Santa Monica at Lincoln and Olympic.

City of New Orleans by Steve Goodman, also by Arlo Guthrie.  The line “This train’s got the disappearing railroad blues” is fortunately inaccurate-- Amtrak still runs it between New Orleans and Chicago.  Pat and I rode it back in 1989 as part of a package tour for square dancers.

The Promised Land by Chuck Berry.  Our intrepid traveler goes from Virginia to California by bus, train and plane.

States of Mind

California Here I Come by Al Jolson (and others) from the stage musical Bombo starring Al Jolson in the 1920s.

My California was written and recorded by Blues artist Lightnin’ Hopkins on the Aladdin label.  Among other things, he celebrates the fact that what you do in L.A. stays in L.A. I found a copy in a bargain bin in San Luis Obispo back in 1958

California Girls is one of the sunny songs of the Beach Boys.  At the dedication of the Beach Boys Historical Marker in Hawthorne on 20 May 2005, the ceremony included a choral group from a local high school performing this hit song.  The singers were of diverse ancestry, but they were all California Girls.

California Girls are seen in a different light by Gretchen Wilson.  There’s a video on Youtube with Ms. Wilson visiting the Golden State and digging the local scene.  Some viewers were not amused, and thought the video reinforced stereotypes of the state, but I thought it was just good fun and I’m a native of California, and specifically the San Gabriel Valley.

California Saga is an Al Jardine composition recorded by the Beach Boys, that I first heard when Mr. Jardine sat in with Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band at an afternoon concert in lakeside park  in Cameron Park, near Folsom CA.  This song is pure poetry, and I even came up with some new lines-- “Have you ever been to San Gabriel, where Pat and Bob hang out?  They are major fans of Ms. Evie Sands, of that there is no doubt.”  Back in 2005, it came to mind when we were wrapping up a visit to New England.  We made it back to Boston through a “nor’easter” (wind and rain storm) and as our Amtrak train pulled out of South Station, my mental jukebox cued up, “On my way to Sunny Cal-i-for-ni-ay….”

T for Texas (Blue Yodel #1) by Jimmy Rodgers.  The Singing Brakeman recorded this in 1927, the first of about a dozen Blue Yodels.  He’s considered to be one of the founding fathers of today’s country and western music.  One of his later Blue Yodels, No. 9, also known as Standing on the Corner, features Louis Armstrong on the trumpet and Lillian Hardin Armstrong on the piano.  Whoever put this session together deserves the eternal gratitude of all who love American music.  The corner mentioned, “Beale and Main” is in Memphis, and I have stood there in homage.  For a segue that you’d probably find only at the Old Curiosity Shop, we could play Take It Easy by the Eagles.  We’ve also done a bit of “Standing on a Corner in Winslow Arizona”.

Blue Yodel #9 mentions the corner of Beale & Main, not far from where this photo was taken during my pilgrimage to Memphis, Tenn.  The last original streetcar lines in Memphis were replaced by electric trolley buses in 1947.  This is part of the streetcar revival, the Main St. line that opened in 1993.

Deep in the Heart of Texas (several versions) was popular during World War II, but had to be removed from defense-plant sound system playlists because the workers would stop and “clap along” with the song.  When Alaska was admitted to the US as a state in 1959, Texas became #2 in area, but nobody tried to write “Deep in the Heart of Alaska.”  Dr. Demento did have a parody titled Deep in the Heart of Jersey, with the line, “The air in June ain’t like perfume, deep in the heart of Jersey.”  This took me back to my days working on the railroad, where one assignment called for going to the yard near Vernon CA, on a hot, muggy day in June, when the atmosphere was a bit on the funky side with the many heavy industries all contributing their special scents.

Tennessee Waltz by Lacey J. Dalton.  The big hit version was by Patti Page, but Ms. Dalton’s take is a lot truer to the country roots.  As the Hillbilly Soul Surfers would say, “It don’t mean a dang if it ain’t got that twang!”

Take Me Home, Country Roads (WV) by John Denver.  There’s another song, “Passin’ Through” that covers my experiences in West Virginia.  First time was on the Dog Tired Tour in July 1977, when I was riding the Greyhound from Pittsburgh to Columbus OH.  The bus was full, and my seat was near the back, so when we stopped in Wheeling, I didn’t have a chance to get off for a “set foot” moment.  It wasn’t until we did our first cross-country Lazy Daze trip in 2007 that we stopped for fuel in the Mountain State, and this was on the return segment.

Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd.  A Southern rock classic, sounds best when played at full volume on a pickup truck stereo or a dive bar jukebox.  The other big hit for this band was Free Bird, which some bands will cover, but only if the person requesting it makes a sizeable contribution to the tip jar.

Missouri Waltz (various artists).  I may still have a 78 RPM copy of this from my parents’ collection.  The song dates back to 1914, and in 1949, became the official state song of Missouri.  It used to be connected with Harry Truman, a Missouri native, when he was President, by Mr. Truman himself could “take it or leave it.”

Back Home Again in Indiana (various artists) also goes back over 100 years, having been published in 1917.  It’s not the state song, but is a traditional part of the Indianapolis 500 auto race, being played as part of the pre-race ceremonies.

Ohio  by Crosby Stills Nash and Young is much more solemn than most of the songs in this collection.  It commemorates the killing of four student protestors at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.  Changes in National Guard crowd response tactics were made in response to this tragedy, and were reflection in the handling of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.

Pennsylvania Polka.  One of the earliest recordings was by the Andrews Sisters during World War II, and it should come as no surprise that Lawrence Welk and his orchestra recorded it.  A bit of trivia, the credit line lists Zeke Manners, whom I knew as the host of a local music show on one of the Los Angeles TV stations.

Arkansas Traveler is a traditional country tune that gives the fiddle players a workout.  Rosin on the bow and away we go!

My Old Kentucky Home  was written by Stephen Foster and has been performed by dozens, if not hundreds of artists over the last 150 years.  But the nearest Mr. Foster ever got to Kentucky was going by the state on a river boat trip to New Orleans, living in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.  A bit of transportation history: In 1884, the Southern Pacific Co. was incorporated in the Commonwealth of Kentucky under a special law that gave the new corporation very broad powers to engage in different businesses.  Although SP never had any tracks in Kentucky, they maintain a business office there until the corporate structure changed early in the 20th Century. The workers assigned to this off-line facility sometimes called it SP’s “Old Kentucky Home.”

Blue Moon of Kentucky written and first recorded by Bill Monroe in 1946, it was covered by Elvis Presley as the “B” side of his first commercial recording.  Elvis and his combo “jacked up” the song, making it one of the first “Rockabilly” records, and drawing criticism from Mr. Monroe, whose original was much more sedate.  We presume that he cooled down a bit when the royalty checks came in.

Georgia on My Mind was written by Hoagy Carmichael in 1930, and revived by Ray Charles (who was originally from Georgia) in 1960.

Sunflower from the Sunflower State by Russ Morgan and his orchestra.  We’ll dedicate this song to Ruth, my sister-in-law who calls Kansas her home state.

Blue Hawaii by Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley.  First recorded by Bing Crosby in 1937 (I probably still have the blue label Decca record that was one of my mother’s favorites) and revived in 1961 as the title track of one of Elvis Presley’s adventures in Hollywood.  It dates back to the days when Hawaii was a far off land, reached by a several days journey on a steamship.  Part of our weekly radio listening was “Hawaii Calls,” which was broadcast from the Moana Hotel on the beach near Honolulu.  Neither Pat nor I have been to Hawaii, although our daughters have, and I once had relatives living on the Big Island.  One of the more obscure record labels that I dealt with in my music store days (1957-58) was Forty-Ninth State Hawaiian Records, featuring local talent from the Islands.  I sometimes wonder what the owners of the label thought when Alaska was admitted as a state before their home was.  I’ve commented before on the annual Elvis Birthday Bash, with numerous artists paying tribute to The King.  One group that shows up to cover the Blue Hawaii period is the Honey Lulus, shown here in their 2017 appearance:

North to Alaska by Johnny Horton.  But we have been to the actual 49th State, taking an ocean cruise from Vancouver to Seward, and checking this box on our life lists. I took a ride on the White Pass & Yukon narrow gauge railway, and we both rode the Alaska RR from Denali to Anchorage.  This photo shows Glacier Bay, which reminds me of what one politician opposed to the US buying Alaska from the Russian Empire back in 1867 called the proposed acquisition: “Seward’s Icebox.” 

Why Oh Why Did I Ever Leave Wyoming by various artists.  Written in the 1930s by comedian Morey Amsterdam, I haven’t heard this one for years, but songs about Wyoming are rather scarce, and I have been across the Cowboy State a few times, in 1971, coming back from the Goin’ to Chicago Tour, 1977, on the Dog Tired Tour and 1981 on the No Scene Twice Seen Tour.

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