Road Trips with Jason Crane: Route 66

Welcome to the first edition of Road Trips with Jason Crane. I was a Drive DJ until recently, when I moved into a 1999 Dodge Caravan to travel the country. In this series I’ll be writing about the music and musicians we feature on The Drive. This first edition will tie into both the station and my travels, because we’ll be taking a look at that most famous of highways: Route 66.

If you know the song (my favorite version of which was sung by Drive artist Nat “King” Cole), then you’ll know that it describes an east-west route across the country. Much of Route 66 is gone or relabeled these days, but there are still several places where you can travel along it, even if the towns you pass through look different now that major highways have taken away a lot of their visitors.

During my trip, I hit Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Joplin, and St. Louis. (The song does mention AZ and NM, but I didn’t go through Flagstaff or Gallup. It also talks about IL, through which I passed, but I didn’t go to Chicago.) Let’s see if we can find some musical connections to each of those places.

J.D. Souther is from Amarillo, Texas. You hear him on The Drive singing “You’re Only Lonely” and also in a duet with James Taylor on “Her Town Too.” He wrote a bunch of hits for The Eagles, including “New Kid In Town,” “Best Of My Love,” and “Heartache Tonight.” He even has a Tucson connection, because he and Linda Ronstadt were an item for a while and he wrote several songs for her, including “Faithless Love.”

Oklahoma City is a big place, so it’s no surprise that quite a few notable musicians have come out of it. If you’re a jazzhead, both Don Cherry and Charlie Christian hail from OKC. On The Drive, you’ve heard music by Oklahoma City natives Vince Gill, formerly of Pure Prairie League (“Amie” and “Let Me Love You Tonight”) and Neil Schon, guitarist in Journey. You might also know Barry McGuire (“Eve Of Destruction”) and Mason Williams (“Classical Gas”). Oh, and we play the theme from The Rockford Files, starring James Garner, who’s from Oklahoma.

Let’s head up the road to Joplin, Missouri. Of the towns I passed through that are mentioned in “Route 66,” this is the one I knew the least about. I’ve driven through it a few times while crossing the country, but I had never really looked into its history. Joplin is fairly small; in the heyday of Drive music it had fewer than 40,000 people, and has about 50,000 now. One of America’s greatest poets, Langston Hughes, was from Joplin. You might also know Robert Cummings, star of The Bob Cummings Show and an actor in several Hitchcock films. Frankie Lane and Toni Fisher both had hits with songs written by Joplin native Wayne Shanklin.

We wrap up this musical tour of Route 66 with a stop in St. Louis. I’ve heard that people from St. Louis dislike the “loo-ee” pronunciation of their city, so it must be a drag for them that one of its most famous mentions is in “Route 66,” which pronounces it that way. There are so many notable folks from St. Louis! Yogi Berra springs instantly to mind, as does the great Tina Turner. St. Louis was also the birthplace of Fontella Bass (“Rescue Me”); Shirley Brown (“Woman To Woman”); Billy Davis Jr. of The 5th Dimension; Jonathan Edwards of The Spinners; Ernie Isley and Ronald Isley of The Isley Brothers; James Pankow of the band Chicago; Ann Peebles (“I Can’t Stand The Rain”); David Sanborn (sax solos on songs by The Eagles, Pure Prairie League, Carly Simon, Jame Taylor, Stevie Wonder, and many more); and so many others. You could also put together one heck of a jazz band, blues band, or baseball team made up of the greats from St. Louis.

In the future weekly editions of Road Trips, I’ll be taking a look at more songs and artists we feature here on The Drive. I’ll also be traveling and telling you about the Drive-related history of the places I visit. Get some snacks, buckle up, and join me for the ride!

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Top photo: Inside my van. I named him Lenny after comedian Lenny Bruce, who’s one of my heroes. Bottom photo: Lenny in front of a replica arch in Vandalia, IL. Thanks to Alexis Van Billiard for the drawing of my van, and Bill Vancil for the rest of the logo.