by Seamus Gallivan

Dick Clark says that "music is the soundtrack of our lives." Itís really one of the most ridiculously obvious one-liners Iíve ever heard, but I think what heís getting at is how a specific tune can take someone back to a particular time and place when they heard it, and how oneís mindset influences their taste. These are central themes to this first installment of "Tunes from the Road," the best of beats blasted during my recent journey south.

 Iíve never been one who could sit still for long. Not in terms of my remote control generationís collective short attention span, but of my inability to stay in one town for more than a few months without becoming a restless fool, consumed by the call of the open road.

That call comes constantly from Florida, where the Atlantic Coast holds my motherís birthplace and rebel roots in Vero Beach, and the Gulf Coast holds my former home and one of my favorite places in the world in the Tampa Bay area. As any avid baseball fan knows, Spring Training in March is the best time to head down to the Sunshine State, and adding the opportunity to cover the Jony James Blues Bandís week-and-a-half-long Florida leg of their most recent tour for the Buffalo News made this trip a no-brainer.

My goal was to catch up with them during their first Florida gig at the Blue Note in Jupiter on Thursday February 19th, a tall order considering that at 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon I was loading 2,600 copies of the Beast into my car to be slung around town. It was basically then that my cannonball run began. I fulfilled my duties at breakneck speed, packed the car, and as the clock struck midnight I was on the 190 onramp to the tune of the Grateful Deadís Shakedown Street, making one last progress check on the impressive new outfield renovations at Dunn Tire Park as I bade a temporary farewell to the Buff.

My ability to drive through the night is the stuff of legend amongst my friends, who never seem to tire of recalling how theyíve fallen asleep while I bopped to a blaring beat, and woke up several hours and states later to the same scene. But after a long, busy day that went well into the night, I knew I didnít have it in me, and know better than to push on with heavy eyes. Knowing time was of the essence, I enlisted the help of a powerful combo - ginseng and Jimi Hendrix. I chugged some green tea, cranked Band of Gypsys - in my opinion, Hendrixí best recorded performance - and made sure to hit the cruise control, as the raw, visceral power of that album can make a lead-footer out of any driver.

I knew it would be a good idea to make it past Pittsburgh and avoid the morning rush, and Jimi, Buddy Miles, and Billy Cox were telling me that "with the power of soul, anything is possible," but Iíve seen more mangled deer on Pennsylvania highways than in any other state, and the Quaker State Deer Collision Club is one I donít intend on joining, so I pulled off in Wexford for a fill-up and some shut-eye.

Not particularly enjoying the brake-tappiní tour of greater-Pittsburghís rush hour, I reached for some more entertaining stop-start action in the form of Medeski, Martin, and Woodís ShackMan, a slick, funked-out masterpiece that is absolutely impossible to sit still during. I did my own Billy Martin by using anything in front of me as a percussion instrument in his short-attention span-style, and tapped my way into West Virginia.

Unless youíre into gospel or static, your radio wonít do you much good in the Mountaineer State. I was hoping to pick up a country station, but when I hit "seek" it didnít stop for nearly a half-hour, finally settling on some schmuck whose first words to me were, "Ah know the Lowerd ainít too happy with Mail Gibson rot nayow." Speaking of seeing the light, a little piece of advice - if you have to drive through West Virginia, plan to do it during the day. Itís so dark and desolate at night that itís not much fun at all. Not that thereís much to look at in the daylight, but at least everythingís open.

I gave up on the dial and went with B.B. Kingís Lucille Talks Back, a brilliant compilation that features ten classics spanning a decade and a half of the Kingís amazing and continuing career, opening with a haunting yet funky take on Al Jacksonís "Breaking Up Somebodyís Home" from 1974, and rounding out with a stomping live version of "I Like to Live the Love" with Bobby "Blue" Bland from 1990. How this album is only four bucks at Media Play is beyond me.

From B.B.ís funky blues to Neil Youngís rockiní blues, I breezed through the mountains of Virginiaís western tip into North Carolina to Youngís recently re-released On the Beach, an underrated gem from 1974 that I bought on the basis of its featuring the Bandís bassist Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm - without a doubt one of the all-time greatest rhythm sections. Young puts them to good use on the Bob Dylan-like smart-ass protest song "Revolution Blues," which also features David Crosby. Though none of the albumís eight tracks were hits, itís still a classic that anyone with an ear for rock-n-roll can dig.

Cruising carefully in South Carolina, where a few years back a trooper stopped me for going nine miles over the speed limit, telling me that heíd once pulled over eight cars at once (my egging the story on with lines like, "wow, thatís amazing!" and "howíd you do it?!" surely earned me a scot-free warning), I celebrated my crossing into the South by rolling down the windows and blasting the "Southern Fried Blues" of James Petersonís Wrong Bed! The former owner of Buffaloís legendary blues club the Governorís Inn is still goiní strong, equal parts raunch ("Keep on Pumpiní") and soul ("Four Little Boys") and an all-out entertainer to the core. I spent some great time with James at his shows around Tampa Bay and his home in St. Petersburg, putting together both a story on him for the Buffalo News, and plans for a Governorís Inn reunion here this summer.

Crossing the St. Maryís River into Florida to kick off the home stretch, I culled two selections from my Lizzard Ball Green Party Chinese Auction winnings in Lonesome, Oníry and Mean: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings and Van Morrisonís 2002 release Down the Road. While the former is a hit and miss collection that doesnít quite do justice to the man (though Norah Jonesí take on "Wurlitzer Prize" could melt the coldest of souls), the latter shows that Van the Man is still on top of his game, pushing his Celtic Soul sound even further with equal parts Belfast and New Orleans. The title track is a perfect road trip anthem, and the album is a knockout throughout, highlighted by "Talk is Cheap," again reminiscent of Dylanís blues with snappy prophecies and off-beat instrumentation, and the most moving ballad Iíve heard in a while in "The Beauty of the Days Gone By." Now, Iím not one who dabbles much in cosmic matters, but I was reveling in thankfulness for having these discs when Morrison sang during "Man Has to Struggle," "Man has to create karma thatís the way that it is." Heavy stuff, you know, so I gave big cosmic ups to New World Records and the local Greens for the tunes.

If I wasnít so hard up for time, Iíd have gotten off the 95 at St. Augustine and cruised down the coast from the top of A1A, a recommended endeavor for anyone. But with the Jony James Band likely just taking the stage in Jupiter, I had to press on, settling for Jimmy Buffettís 1974 classic A1A, his first post-Nashville album. Iíve taken a lot of heat from many circles for my devotion to Buffett, but only from close-minded folks who refuse to realize that heís so much more than cheeseburgers and margaritas, and further, simply canít relate to or donít appreciate the carefree beach mentality. No artist thatís graced my ears has ever captured that mentality like Buffett, and the middle finger he gave to Nashville when he booked south for the Keys, effectively served with the albumís honky-tonk opener "Making Music for Money," is a move that anyone whoís stood on a Florida beach and marveled at the horizon to the tune of "A Pirate Looks at Forty" is thankful for. Sure, the man has a penchant for campy lyrics, and this album has a few, but beachfolk are all about cheap laughs anyway, so itís all good.

I made it to the Blue Note as the second set was kicking off, Buffalo to Jupiter coming in at 23 hours - pretty solid for a solo mission. Call it one more notch in the belt of this here three-quarter Yank, a seasoned road warrior who, just like my man Buffett, has "got a Caribbean soul I can barely control."

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© 2004 The Beast