Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Doobie Brothers -- "Neal's Fandango" (1975)

Buying The Doobie Brothers' Stampede album in my final months of high school represented a sort of coming of age for me musically. It was the first time I had bought a full length 33 1/3 vinyl album without having heard one hit.

I already owned The Captain and Me, and God knows every kid who ever picked up a guitar in my neighborhood, including me, could play the riff to "China Grove." I felt like had to be ahead of the curve, before embarking into the unknown far away from home at college. This was going to be my my record collection that I was going to be packing up and taking with me, so it may as well contain the latest and greatest.

I guess I identified with this western-themed Stampede cover, heading to my own personal new frontiers. I had already heard the opening "Sweet Maxine" on FM radio, with its Billy Payne barrel house piano opening and roaring guitars. But it was the second cut, the fast-driving "Neal's Fandango" with its double drum propulsion, and steam engine chords that have stuck with me through the years.

Guitarist/singer Pat Simmons stuffed a ton of words into this three-minute song about being inspired by "beat" author Neal Cassady, and the thinly disguised druggie road trips that formed Jack Kerouc's On The Road novel. Rock stars like writing their road songs and this was Simmons' 100 mph wind-in-your-hair country-inflected literary take, complete with giddyap pedal steel and electric guitar solos.

I had to listen to the lyrics many, many times to get every word down, as Simmons really packed'em in in the second verse.

Well, a travelin' man's affliction makes it hard to settle down,
But I'm stuck here in the flatlands while my heart is homeward bound.

Goin' back, I'm too tired to roam, Loma Prieta my mountain home
On the hills above Santa Cruz, to the place where I spent my youth.

Well it was Neal Cassady that started me to travelin'
All the stories that were told, I believed them every one.
And it's a windin' road I'm on you understand,
And no time to worry 'bout tomorrow when you're followin' the sun.

Papa don't you worry now and mama don't you cry
Sweet woman don't forsake me, I'll be comin' by and by

Goin' back, I'm too tired to roam, Loma Prieta my mountain home
On the hills above Santa Cruz, to the place where I spent my youth.

Stampede has special meaning for me too, as this was the last album the Doobie Brothers would record in their original rocking incarnation before hiring Michael McDonald and adding lots of R&B & soul to their style, taking them to even greater commercial heights and a very different direction.

Below are two videos of the band performing the song live from different eras. The first is from February 1975, before the album was even released, when they were a full blown long-haired and mustachioed rhythm section attack with the unmistakable Jeff "Skunk" Baxter right there in the front with Simmons and fellow lead singer/songwriter Tom Johnston (they also play "Road Angel," from the earlier What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits album). Then there's the very gray and longer-haired Patrick Simmons with the 2004 incarnation of the band at Wolf Trap, now all polished, still cooking, but the audience is all polo-shirted baby boomers!


Anonymous said...

Still love the Doobies - and never wearing a polo to a concert!!!

John K. said...

Hi Drew,

Nice post. I have a music blog, too, and "Neal's Fandango" has a special place in my heart, since my folks lived on Loma Prieta Ave. when I was born.