Howdy, road music lovers! We’re overdue for an installment of our favorite road anthem, and this week it’s Natalie Cole’s turn. Given that her dad, Nat ‘King’ Cole, made this tune a big hit only a few weeks after Bobby Troup and his first wife Cynthia wrote it while driving down said route on the way to L.A. (Cynthia suggested the title), it seems only appropriate to feature the lovely Ms. Natalie right before the July 4th holiday. Nat and his King Cole Trio were playing in L.A. at the time (yes, now you know how he got his nickname); before that, he and the trio spent a while making music in Chicago, a city to which Nat and his family had moved when he was four years old and to which he often returned.
Many of you know that Ms. Cole first recorded the song in 1991 on Unforgettable… with Love, a tribute album to her dad. The musicians among you will recognize the tune’s structure as a variation of the classic 12-bar blues, even though the original recording and many subsequent ones are played as jazz (which, let’s face it, has always had a foundation of blues in it). But what you may not know is that her uncle Ike Cole, another Chicago jazz musician, played piano on that album, which went seven times platinum and won the 1992 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Her uncle Freddy Cole (Nat had three brothers), the much younger and underappreciated brother, is well known hereabouts for singing and playing jazz and bluesy torch songs and is still at it at age 83 (at this writing, anyway). The Cole brothers grew up in that hothouse of great music, the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, where Louis Armstrong also lived and played when he was in town during the Roaring Twenties.
Natalie, on the other hand, was born in L.A. and grew up in that city’s fashionable Hancock Park neighborhood just south of Hollywood. Her mother, Maria Hawkins Ellington, sang with both Duke Ellington’s and Count Basie’s big bands before settling down with Nat. They were married until he died.
Here’s a terrific version of that 1991 Natalie Cole recording with the lyrics included, so that there’s no debating the words (uh-huh, we mean you, Mick Jagger and all you Stones copycats). BTW, if you want a karaoke version of this rendition so that you can sing along, you can find one here on YouTube. Enjoy, y’all!
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