So I was out in L.A. over the weekend, and drove back across the desert in the wee hours of the morning, coming out of Barstow about an hour before the sun came up and heading toward Needles on the 40. And as you may know, what is along the 40 between Barstow and Needles is 130-some miles of dusty nothing. Though you will pass Daggett (pop. 200), Newberry Springs (about 3,000 widely dispersed and largely invisible people), and Ludlow (population unknown, but pretty much a couple of gas stations, a motel that could star in its own film noir, and a Dairy Queen, with truck drivers standing in line).
The solitude and long straight stretches of highway tempt drivers to excess, and you see all kinds of vehicles — compacts and pickups and SUVs and sports cars — zipping along at 90 or 100 or more, dodging around each other and the overnight truckers. And mostly they get away with it; traffic is sparse and the CHP seldom seen. But still, there are a lot of little white memorial crosses along that stretch of the 40, marking the spots where somebody blew a tire, or misjudged a subtle curve and rolled, or just drove too damn fast and spun out into the night. Some of the impromptu memorials also mark where a soberer driver was taken out by one of these desert racers, maybe a drunk or a meth head, and some of the little crosses and piles of stones are quite a surprising distance from the highway.
So as I made my way home to Laughlin, in the red rock mountains near the Colorado River, I remembered that we’re still seeing red around here. So here we go:
That’s “Red River Rock,” from Johnny & The Hurricanes. It’s from 1960, and it sounds it — this is a goofy little instrumental that piles up rockabilly chords, a soupy sax, and a hapless little guitar solo over a one-finger electric piano that’s there to play the melody and remind the listener that that came from this:
“Red River Valley” link, by the super-smooth Marty Robbins, cowboying up the customary lyrics just a bit. The traditional song dates back to the late 19th century or so, and just about any American teenager who heard “Red River Rock” would have learned and sung “Red River Valley” at home or in school. The raucous rock ‘n’ roll version apparently had quite an impact on those teens — “Red River Rock” hit number 5 on the charts.
And Johnny & The Hurricanes have absolutely nothing to do with this:
Ray Davies’ tale does sing about the ex-frontman of “Johnny & The Hurricanes,” but his hero is named Johnny Thunder (the real one went by Johnny Paris), and he’s an old rock ‘n’ roller who finds time has passed him by. The song is from 1973′s Preservation Act I and yes, that intro and some other odd moments are pure Who emulation, brazen even by Ray Davies’ standards.
“One of the Survivors” is one of only two good tracks from the whole disastrous Preservation project. The other one, also from Act 1, is “Sweet Lady Genevieve.” (Some would make a case for “Sitting in the Midday Sun,” but, well, nah.) Alas, the preachy Preservation Act 2 double album has no good tracks at all.
No connection at all, but one does make you think of the other, and the Kinks song is pretty great, so I thought I’d bring it up.