Courtesy of Ron Warnick at the Route 66 News blog, we’ve just learned that jazz guitarist George Benson has a new album out called Inspiration, honoring the late great pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole. This does, of course, include our favorite Bobby Troup song, which Cole made a hit in 1946 (shortly after Troup wrote and recorded it himself, in fact). You can find a YouTube video of it here and can buy it at Amazon here. Remarkably, Benson’s voice is reminiscent of Cole’s smooth warmth and is amiably suited to this.
The story behind the song, which you may or may not know, is this: Troup, a pianist and budding songwriter, had been in the service during WW II, as had many young men of that era. He enlisted after graduating as a Phi Beta Kappa from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, so you know he was no dummy. A few of the tunes he wrote during the early 1940s were recorded by popular big bands of the era, including those led by Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.
After the war ended, Troup and his first wife, Cynthia Hare, headed west in his car to make their fortunes (despite his economics degree, Troup would become an actor as well as a musician). Of course, they drove down on U.S. Route 66 because it was the way to go to L.A. And while driving, he began to compose bits of the song. It was his wife Cynthia who actually suggested the title and refrain, “Get your kicks on Route 66.” By the time they reached the West Coast, the song was finished. Troup published the tune almost as soon as they arrived in Los Angeles, and thus began his career in Hollywood. He would later meet his second wife, Julie London, there; they wed in 1959 and stayed married for the next 40 years until his death in 1999.
Once Nat Cole recorded the tune later in 1946, the song became a big hit on the pop music charts, and many jazz artists recorded it. In fact, Nat’s daughter Natalie does a very fine version of it. Somehow over the years, however, it also became an R&B standard, probably dating back to when Louis Jordan’s band recorded it with vocalist Dorothy Smith on the album Rock Doc! This led a lot of blues and R&B artists like Ray Charles to record the tune, as well as a lot of blues-loving rock ‘n’ roll artists such as Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Brian Setzer, and Depeche Mode, among others. There are Western swing/country versions out there, too, by Cow Bop and Asleep At The Wheel, for example. Even those teeny-boppers The Cheetah Girls have done a take. Seriously.
Route 66 Magazine keeps a running tab of the number of recording artists who have covered the song, and the total has topped 300, to date. A search on the All Music Guide produces no less than 8,487 results! My faves, naturally, are the versions you can swing and Lindy to, but there’s enough variety out there to please just about everyone (you will also discover if you listen to the myriad versions that, like many hit songs, there are also a lot of really awful takes of this tune; but I’ll spare you those).
Just because I like jazz and blues and don’t really need an excuse to do this but have one now, yours truly will provide a link about once a week to yet a different iteration of this song or other tunes appropriate to the route, such as Nelson Riddle’s hit theme song from the TV series Route 66 – all for your cruising and listening pleasure. (After all, I pretty much do the same thing when I deejay swing dances here in Chicagoland.) Swing out, y’all! And do let us know which versions you like.
Until next time,
your own DJ SweetMarie