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American Road Trip Vol. 7

Last time on our American Toad Trip, we were pausing for a beer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, before planning to cross into Kentucky en route to Ohio. Soon after, we were detained in another Tennessee town to testify at a murder trial. Oh dear”¦

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Knoxville, Tennessee

louvin-brothersWe were about a mile outside Knoxville when we chanced upon a grisly scene: a young man repeatedly beating a young, blonde woman with a rock, then dragging her away. Being responsible tourists, we immediately reported the act of violence to the local sheriff. Turns out the man”s name was Willy, and the young woman was his girlfriend, whose lifeless body he threw in the river. Turns out that Willy was a popular guy around town; apparently his many friends tried their best to raise bail for him. We were pleased they didn”t succeed, because we had seen what Willy dun” to the poor girl. The trial heard that the girl had hopes of marrying Willy, probably the reason why he killed her. We are on our way to cross the Appalachian mountains now, leaving Willy behind to waste his life away down in his dirty old jail.
The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl (1956).mp3


emryarthurHaving been waylaid in Knoxville, we quickly cross Kentucky, a state that has lent its name to many song titles, yet I cannot think of any song about a city from the state. Not even about Lexington. So we won”t even stop for Colonel Sanders” artery-hardening fried battery chickens, and quickly we bid farewell to ol” Kentucky. The song here was originally recorded in 1913 as Farewell Song by Dick Burnett, who had adapted it from a folk song. The version featured here, from 1928, seems to be the first recording under the present title.
Emry Arthur ““ I”m The Man Of Constant Sorrow (1928).mp3

Cincinnati, Ohio

porter_wagonerYes, as soon as we arrive on the outskirts of Ohio”s third-biggest (with a population if 330,000) and its most famous metropole (it was the USA”s first major inland city), we tune the radio to hear the dulcet tones of Dr Johnny Fever “” and we can do so because, since our road trip is entirely notional, we can traverse time and reality. If we had a time machine, we might even travel back to 1977 to observe a council meeting chaired by the city”s mayor at the time “” Jerry Springer.

Just before arriving in Cincinatti, we crossed the Ohio river, as once did many a slave seeking freedom. Being located on the border of slavery-state Kentucky, Cincinnati was the first stop for many escaping slaves. With the changing demographics and proximity to the South before the American Civil War, the city experienced much racial tension, and conflict between those for and against slavery.

The most famous song about the river which gives the state its name must be The Banks Of The Ohio, which is a variation on the theme explored in Knoxville Girl (itself adapted from an Irish murder ballad called Wexford Girl). Its oddest version is probably that which became a hit for Olivia Newton-John, a singer so wholesome that she is not an automatic murder suspect. Instead we shall go with the heavily rhinestoned Porter Wagoner (I think Johnny Cash has far too many murder raps on his sheet already).
Steve Carlisle – WKRP In Cincinnati (full version, 1978).mp3
Porter Wagoner – The Banks Of The Ohio (1969).mp3


In case anyone really wants to know why I am dispensing with pics of the cities I am visiting, it is because I am getting too many hits via Google image searches. It does boost my stats, but artificially so. I doubt many people who arrive here for a graphic of Tuscaloosa stick around to read the rest of the blog.

  1. May 26th, 2009 at 02:57 | #1

    Grandpa Jones of Hee Haw fame had some success years ago with a sing called “Eight More Miles to Louisville”.

    Also, “Big Bad Bill is Sweet William Now”, done by Ry Cooder (Jazz) and Van Halen (Diver Down), mentions Louisville in its opening line.

    Learn something new every day, huh!

  2. May 26th, 2009 at 04:04 | #2

    I’d love to get my hands on an mp3 of Van Halen’s version of Big Bad Bill.

    Hurrah, you’re in Ohio! ‘Bout time you got here. I’ll have some coffee waiting for you up in Columbus.

  3. May 26th, 2009 at 09:43 | #3

    WKRP in Cincinnati!! What a great track.

    I always liked it, although the TV show has completely faded: can’t remember a single character…

    Those murder ballads creep me out, though. I always hated the Nick Cave album of that name, too.

  4. An avid reader
    May 29th, 2009 at 19:36 | #4

    Some specific Kentucky songs:
    The Everly Brothers wrote a song about Bowling Green (Neko Case covered it recently)
    and it’s not in the title, but John Prine’s “Paradise” refrences Muhlenberg county.

  5. Jack Johnson the boxer not Jack Johnson the surfer
    July 3rd, 2009 at 17:09 | #5

    Lots of songs about Harlan.

  1. June 15th, 2009 at 00:56 | #1