Hello again, fellow road music lovers! This being the end of the week of Route 66’s 89th birthday, we thought we’d treat you to something special: a rendition of Nelson Riddle’s classic “Route 66 Theme” sung with lyrics. To our knowledge, there is only one vocalist who ever recorded Riddle’s theme: the late Teri Thornton. It was the title track to her third solo album, Teri Thornton Sings Open Highway. And courtesy of our audio clip below, you get to hear it! (Sorry, there is no music video for this track.) It has that just-right rhythm for road music, with Riddle’s swinging, sophisticated style – the epitome of 1960s cool.
One unabashed admirer remarked that Teri Thornton was probably one of the best-kept secrets of her time. I heartily agree. While in her prime, Thornton was no less than Ella Fitzgerald’s favorite female vocalist (that’s what Ella told Down Beat magazine) – and that’s really saying something. Famed saxophonist Cannonball Adderley called her “the greatest voice since Ella Fitzgerald.” Trumpeter Clark Terry worked with Teri on several projects early in her career. Even better, the liner notes for this original vinyl LP album, her third and the only one for Columbia Records, were written by another jazz great and fellow Columbia artist – Tony Bennett. Here’s what he had to say: “Teri sings with life, feeling, intensity, intelligence, and taste. She’s the first singer in years who doesn’t have any gimmicks, any tricks. Instead, she’s endowed with perfect pitch, a three-octave range, solid training, and years of invaluable experience. All this has made her create here a great album.”
With that intro, she sounds almost like Sarah Vaughan, doesn’t she? But Thornton’s life and career, which began decades later in the history of jazz than “Sassy” Vaughan’s did, took a vastly different turn.