Road Trips with Jason Crane: Tucson Songs

Would you believe I’m in Tucson again? My van’s transmission started acting up when I was in the Southeast, so I decided to head back this way because if I’m going to be stuck somewhere, I’d rather be where I know people. As I type this, I’m in the Ironwood Forest National Monument, camping for free on some Bureau of Land Management land.

All of which put me in mind of songs that mention Tucson. Here are a few of my favorites.

“Get Back” by The Beatles

Paul McCartney had a long relationship with Tucson. If you chat with people who’ve lived here for a long time, you’ll hear many variations of the “I was at the pharmacy and he was in line behind me” story. He mentions our town in the lyrics to “Get Back,” which went through many revisions before reaching the version we now know and love. In fact, the song started out as a pro-immigrant protest song.

“Jack Straw” by The Grateful Dead

Robert Hunter is most known for collaborating with Jerry Garcia on songs for the Dead, but he co-wrote this song with Bob Weir. If you’re going to write a song about outlaws traveling through the desert, you’re probably going to get to Tucson at some point, and this song certainly does. Hunter is well known for his outlaw songs, and Weir is known for loving cowboy songs, whether originals or covers.

“Willin'” by Little Feat

This is another traveling song in the tradition of “I’ve Been Everywhere” (sung by Johnny Cash). Many of those songs string together towns to prove their point, so Tucson makes an appearance here. The song got an extra dose of Tucson cred later in its life, though, when our own Linda Rondstadt recorded a version of it.

“The Ballad of Boot Hill” by Johnny Cash

Speaking of The Man In Black, let’s wrap up this list with a classic gunfight song. Actually, before I go on let me mention the Marty Robbins album Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs, which doesn’t mention Tucson but does contain 45 minutes of gunfights, horse rides, doomed love and more, including the classics “El Paso” and “Cool Water.” It’s a must-hear. Back to Mr. Cash, though, and a song about the gunfight at the OK Corral. Yes, that took place in Tombstone, but the song does mention Tucson by name, so I’m counting it.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. What are some of your favorite Tucson songs? Let me know at jason@thedrivetucson.com.