Road Music

Easy Riders, Rolling Stones: On the Road in America, from Delta Blues to 70s Rock
John Scanlan
September 2015 (UK) / October 2015 (North America).


Easy Riders, Rolling Stones travels back into the history of American popular music of the twentieth century to explore the emergence of ‘road music’. This music – blues, R’n’B, and rock music – was crystallized at important points of transition, and made by artists and performers who were also, in various ways, seekers after freedom. Whether journeying across the country, breaking free from real or imaginary confines, or in the throes of self-invention, they made their experience not only a subject in countless songs about travel and movement, but the basis for a new kind of culture.

From the Mississippi Delta – land of Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and others – and out through the iconic routes and highways that carried the blues into new encounters, American music and the life of movement it so often represented, identified ‘the road’ as the key to an existence that was uncompromising. It was an idea that would echo through the century, driving pioneers such as Sam Phillips (who recorded Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and others) and James Brown into new musical terrain. It became an inspiration for artists like Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, who drew similar encouragement from a Beat movement that was no less obsessed with the possibilities of travel.

But this affinity for the road that is essentially American culminates in the rock culture and exploits of English bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. In America, they may have been foreigners, but they also found their spiritual home – the home of blues and rock’n’roll – and glimpsed the possibility of a new kind of existence, on the road.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JOHN SCANLAN writes on cultural history and aesthetics. He has worked as a lecturer and researcher at the Universities of Bristol, St Andrews, Glasgow and Manchester Metropolitan University. His other books include Memory: Encounters with the Strange and the Familiar (Reaktion, 2013), On Garbage (Reaktion, 2004), and also in the Reverb series, Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock’n’Roll (Reaktion 2012). He is Reverb Series editor.

 

REVIEW QUOTES

“The road has long been one of the most evocative cultural motifs in popular music. In Easy Riders, Rolling Stones John Scanlan provides a fascinating account of the emerging relationship between music and movement, from its origins in the pre-war Mississippi Delta to its deafening denouement in the rock shows of the 1970s.” – Matthew Gandy, Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography, University of Cambridge

“In Easy Riders, Rolling Stones, John Scanlan takes readers on a illuminating journey into the heart of the American imagination – to the place where ‘the road’ intersects with some of greatest blues and rock music produced in the twentieth century. It’s a trip well worth taking, especially when your tour guide is as knowledgeable and brilliant as Scanlan.” – Greg Renoff, author of Van Halen Rising 

“Beginning with early blues artist Charley Patton, [Easy Riders] explains how a mythology can quickly build up around itinerant musicians who never stay in one place too long . . . a fascinating read for anyone who’s ever wanted to head out on the highway.” – Classic Rock magazine

“The many facets of ‘the road’ are delineated in John Scanlan’s absorbing new book, from the Faustian pacts made by the old bluesmen at the crossroads, to the importance of the road to the aura of excess that grew up around bands such as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. When we talk about the road, of course, we mean the great highways of America – not the M6 – and Scanlan suggests that for both generations, the road provided a space that allowed music ‘to become a vehicle for journeys that would inform the kind of experience that leads to self-discovery.'” – Choice magazine, ‘Paperback Book of the Month’

‘John Scanlan’s fascinating study explores the theme of being on the road in 20th-century American popular music, from the itinerant blues guitarists of the Mississippi Delta travelling Highway 61 in the 1920s, to the mostly English, blues-inspired rock groups of the 1960s and 70s, such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin . . . A wonderfully evocative musical odyssey.’ – The Guardian

‘John Scanlan delivers a beautifully rich and finely researched account of how America’s endless highway has influenced and manifested itself in key artists’ work . . . Scanlan draws from known documentation but displays an innate feel for his subject as he throws up insightful theories about the more direct times before social media, when artists could be covered at close range by chroniclers of the time . . . It’s rare to find a tome which makes you ponder then punch the air in agreement but this highly recommended work is as much an endangered species as its subjects.’ – Record Collector

‘Despite the vast nature of his subject matter, Scanlan manages a concise, well-structured and presented picture of the music’s evolution, placing it within a social and cultural context that owes as much to history as those with a reverence for the past and its preservation. Touching on the heavy hitters and lesser known performers in equal measure, Scanlan paints a holistic picture that serves as a sampler platter of sorts for a variety of artists, offering an inroad to those who may seem somewhat inaccessible. With his clear, sharp prose and decidedly British and openly reverential take on his subject matter, he presents a well-argued thesis and exploration of some seventy-five years of popular music rooted in the American South and eventually filtered through a British lens and back into a relevant form years after its initial appearance. No easy task, but one Scanlan manages with aplomb . . . Easy Riders, Rolling Stones proves a fascinating look at a bygone era from an outside perspective.’  – PopMatters