Sunday, June 11, 2017

Learnin' geography from the Rubber Duck

Who all remembers the song Convoy by C.W. McCall? (Clicking that link will take you to a YouTube video of him performing the song on the TV show Hee Haw.) I was ten when it was released in 1975, and from what I remember it was right in the middle of the CB radio craze. Convoy was my first exposure to the artist C.W. McCall, a stage name, by the way, for Bill Fries. Since he performed under this stage name, and internet searches are based on "C.W. McCall," I'll refer to him throughout this blog by his stage name. This song was so popular it even inspired a movie by the same name. Before I get into the actual topic of this blog, I do want to comment on yet another occurrence of that mystical number we fans of Sai King seem to find everywhere. Anyone remember what the "common" channel was for CB radio users was? That's right....19

Bill Fries, a.k.a. C.W. McCall
photo from Google image search

I never gave much thought to the actual lyrics of C.W.'s songs other than the general message the song presented. At the time, it was just background music to be enjoyed. As I got older, though, and especially with the introduction of Google, I paid more attention to the lyrics. First off, I could Google the song lyrics to find out exactly what he was saying. Sometimes lyrics are hard to distinguish, and by actually seeing them on the screen yield so much more than what I thought. I've always loved geography, and once I started to actually pay attention to his song lyrics, I wanted to learn more about these unique locations he sang about. From these explorations, I found several song titles I've never heard of. Yes, his most popular works were familiar to me, but some titles I'll mention below are a bit more obscure but no less entertaining.

I'm going to write about some specific songs, and include links to both a YouTube video of the song as well as the lyrics to that song. Hearing the lyrics is one thing. Actually seeing them is another, and was typically more helpful when I sought more information.

Many of his songs feature locations in Colorado, as well as the mid-west, such as Iowa. I mention Iowa specifically because there are at least FOUR songs that feature specific places in that state. I think I learned more about Iowa geography from C.W. than I ever did in school. The only thing I associated with Iowa before delving into C.W.'s works was Ottumwa, hometown of the fictional Radar O'Reilly

Let's start off with Lewis and Clark, from his Black Bear Road album. This song tells of the adventures of two law enforcement officers, Fairweather Lewis and Willard Clark of Pottawattamie County as they are on patrol. Where is Pottawattamie County? In Iowa, of course! One line of lyrics mentions Council Bluffs, which happens to be the county seat of Pottawattamie County. I can't decide if these two (deputies??) are really efficient law enforcement officers or just happen to be in the right place at the right time. I'd love to hear what y'all think...efficient or lucky?

I wonder if Lewis & Clark work here?
photo from Google image search

While we are hanging out in Iowa, we'll head over to Sloan, on the western border. This song refers to a dog named after the township he found him in. Check out the lyrics, and you'll see this poor dog gets lost and eventually found, about 58 miles away in Mondamin. Just head south on I-29 from Sloan, and you'll find Mondamin.

A good name for a town or a dog...
photo from Google image search

For C.W.'s next song, Four Wheel Drive, I definitely needed help with the lyrics. He mentions the Nishnabotna River, which is a tributary of the Missouri River. Wikipedia says the Nishnabotna flows through southwestern Iowa (imagine that), northwestern Missouri and southeastern Nebraska (M-O-O-N, that spells Nebraska! Yeah, I know, click here if you can't figure it out.). I determined, just based on that, this song was set in Iowa. Since he also mentions the town of Persia, it has to be Iowa, right?

I wonder how well it flows.
photo from Google image search

After I finally figured out the whole Nishnabotna thing, I discovered another song of C.W.'s called....wait for it!.....Nishnabotna! I don't know why I was surprised to find it, but I was. Apparently, C.W. was singing specifically about the West Nishnabotna, again placing it in Iowa. Check out Wikipedia's entry, and it even refers to this song. The lyrics describe how shallow the river is, as does the Four Wheel Drive song. Maybe the shallow river will help with the toad hunting, which seems to be the point of the Nishnabotna song.

Is this the "big iron bridge" from the song?
photo from Google image search

We've been all over Iowa, so let's head over to Colorado and see what we can learn. Perhaps it's all a matter of relevance, but it seems to me that his geographic references in Iowa are much more obscure than the ones from Colorado. It could be that I since I lived in Colorado for a few years, I'm much more familiar with the state, and therefore have a better grasp of its geography compared to Iowa's. 

I'll start with one of my favorite songs: Green River. This is the story of some whitewater rafters navigating the rapids through Lodore Canyon in NW Colorado near the Utah borderIt's very easy to visualize going through this canyon, water splashing into my boat, as I listen to this song. His lyrics paint an epic tale of these hardy souls as they make their way downriver. 

Lodore Canyon
photo from Google image search

He also released another song about another canyon in Colorado. This song, Glenwood Canyon, isn't about rafting but about preserving the natural beauty of the land. His lyrics express concern about what could happen if people don't pay attention to the environment. One can travel the length of Glenwood Canyon along I-70. It's a beautiful drive, and when I lived in Colorado for a few years, we'd drive this route to Glenwood Springs frequently. We even went rafting on the Colorado River which flows through Glenwood Canyon in 2010. That was a blast and made us want to go rafting in Lodore Canyon even more.

Glenwood Canyon (that's us in the boat)
photo courtesy of the rafting company we used

On that same trip in 2010, we visited Mesa Verde National Park in the SW corner of Colorado. After our rafting fun, Cindy and I continued west on I-70 to Grand Junction to meet my best friend for dinner. By the Andy, you need to come down here to Texas and visit US, now. Just sayin'... The next day we went south on US 50 then on US 550 through Durango. US 550 is one of the most scenic routes I've even been on. Nicknamed the "Million Dollar Highway," US 550 winds its way south to Montrose, CO. This stretch of road is the setting for Riverside Slide. The song tells the story of a snowplow driver who wrecks his snowplow on 550 in the middle of a blizzard. Just drive this road, and you can fully appreciate how treacherous it could be in winter. One of my sisters said the first time she was on this road, she had to lay on the floorboard so she couldn't see out and let someone else drive.

Red Mountain Pass
photo from Google image search

This route, which generally parallels the Animas River, also happens to have a narrow gauge railroad running its length from Silverton to Durango. A famous train shares its name with a popular C.W. McCall song guessed it: The Silverton. The lyrics nicely describe this trip, and what it must look like. To this day, it's a very popular ride, and should you choose to do it, make sure you plan accordingly and make reservations well in advance. We didn't get a chance to ride the Silverton on this trip, but that just gives us an excuse to go back again.

Silverton train
photo from Google image search

As if US 550 and Red Mountain Pass wasn't scary enough, you could always rent a jeep and give the Black Bear Road a try (NOT recommended for the faint of heart).  Seriously, y'all, unless you have a LOT of experience in a four wheel drive vehicle, this isn't for you. Pay attention to the lyrics, and you'll see why this road is best enjoyed vicariously through a YouTube video. That link, by the way, will take you to an actual trip down Black Bear Road filmed from a jeep. I don't know what's more entertaining: the scenery or the conversation of the driver and his wife. 

This sign should tell you something
photo from Google image search

This video here shows what can too easily happen on the same road. NOTE: Both of these videos, especially the second one, contain language that may not be suitable for children. Hey Sissie, I bet this makes US 550 look tame by comparison now, huh?

Black Bear Road
photo from Google image search

Similar to Red Mountain Pass is Wolf Creek Pass, on the Continental Divide along US 160 north of Pagosa Springs. C.W. sings about two truckers carrying a load of chickens and what happens when things don't go quite the way they are supposed to. The lyrics are amusing and personally, if I were Earl I'd get awful tired of having a back seat driver.

Wolf Creek Pass
photo from Google image search

We've been up and down several passes now, exploring the mountain roads of Colorado. Let's head deep into the mountains, to Lost Lake. This is one of the places mentioned in Aurora Borealis. Listening to the lyrics, you'll hear of the natural beauty of camping in the mountains, and if you are lucky, getting to see the northern lights. Of all the items on my own bucket list, seeing the northern lights, with my own eyes, ranks near the top. 

Lost Lake
photo from Google image search

There are two different versions of this song that I'm aware of. The link I provided is one version, but I can't find the other version online that I have. It comes from the American Storyteller album released in 1990. There are subtle differences in this version compared to what I linked to. Mainly, some of the locations are different. Either version still tells a good story, though, and makes my desire to see the northern lights even more pressing.

Aurora borealis
photo from Google image search

I hope you've enjoyed this brief geography lesson, courtesy of C.W. McCall. I'd love to take a road trip to Iowa now, and dip my toes in the West Nishnabotna, and have my photo taken with a Sheriff's deputy from Pottawattamie County just for the fun of it. Maybe even drive into Sloan and take a picture of the city limits sign. 

I'd like to add that I try to use as many of my own photos as possible when I write my blogs. This blog, though, required me to use Google to find a suitable image of what I wanted. If anyone reading this blog happens to own any of these photos, please let me know, and I'll give full credit for them. 

Mr. Fries, if I'm lucky enough to have you see this blog, please know how much your music means to me. I've enjoyed it ever since I was a young lad, and you've inspired me to learn more about this great nation. We listened to your music on our road trip to Colorado, and it enhanced our experience beyond measure.

I'd love to see comments from anyone who's had a similar experience with learning something from music. Please feel free to elaborate in the comments section below.

Coming up next, I'll write about one of my favorite games, Dead of Winter

Until next time....

carpe cerevisi