For those of you who may not know, I have a series (or at least a tag and a page) about road songs. The road songs are often posted as videos, sometimes with lyrics or links to lyrics, usually without much fanfare. Occasionally, I attach a story, or weave the road song into a story or blog post in some way. You might wonder, though, looking through my list, what exactly qualifies a song as a road song?
Road songs began back in the mid-1980s, when a colleague of mine in the Denver office of Former Mining Company made a tape or two containing a bunch of road songs. That year — it would have had to have been 1988 — I was traveling to other districts, going from project to project, visiting other geologists' properties and projects in a kind of geologist-exchange program. It was educational for me, and the idea was to foster communication and exchange of ideas between districts, and also to foster camaraderie. The districts I'm speaking of here aren't mining districts, which are fairly small geographically, but rather districts making up the company. FORMINCO(Former Mining Company), like many other mining companies including the earlier and now totally defunct Northern Exploration Company (NEC), was organized into districts that were tightly to loosely based on geographic territories. At FORMINCO, we had four districts defined by state lines. The offices of two districts were in Reno, offices of the other two were in Denver.
So one day, I'm in the passenger seat of some other geo's truck, being driven from place to place through thick trees and over rutted and roily dirt roads somewhere in central Idaho, in search of particularly fascinating outcrops — any outcrops would do, given the number of trees and lack of visibility — and JS, the geo-type whose projects I was visiting, pulled two of his newly made road tapes out of the glove box. The tapes, filled with road songs, were meant to be played while on the road, any road. Brainstorming while we listened, all the while watching for outcrops, we came up with a million more road songs, and a rather loose definition.
A road song must contain a word pertaining to roads — road, highway, freeway, byway, street, interstate — or it can instead contain words pertaining to cars, trucks, semis, and railroads or railway cars. Travel songs without mentioning the roads or railroads or the vehicles don't count, and airplane or boat songs are generally out. Exceptions to these rules may exist, but I can't think of any.
The broad definition leaves a lot of room for inclusion, which is why a song like Pancho and Lefty — mostly not about roads or travel, but mentioning "the road" in the opening lines — can be considered a road song, and a classic one at that, because it initially refers to the life of living on the road.
After being inspired by the two JS tapes, I went home and immediately began making 90-minute tapes of my own. I think I made three. I no longer have these tapes, but I sent copies to JS way back when, and he eventually put them on a media more permanent than casette tapes. Then, sometime last year, while talking about old stories at some geological meeting, he mentioned that he still had the songs as originally taped, and he cut me a CD and sent it in the mail. The CD has two of my original three tapes, two or three of his, one or two of someone else's, and several audio cuts from movies that relate to roads, travel, gold, discovery, or the west in general.
And that's the way road songs began: way back when, on a back road in central Idaho, on a mining property I barely remember and would never be able to find again.
Photo: Old Highway 50 (formerly S.R. 2, now S.R. 722) in Smith Creek Valley, looking due east toward the Shoshone Range, with Bunker Hill of the Toiyabe Range in the background (MSRMaps location).