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March 2011 From The Back 40

Posted in Features on March 1, 2011
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Do you like country music? If you don't, maybe you should become a fan because country music is about the only genre of mainstream music that routinely references wheeling. And that, transfer case-loving friends, is a good thing.

Yep, it's important thoughts like this that walk up and poke me in the frontal lobe as I sit at my desk in the Illinois-based Four Wheeler Midwest Bureau. There's some pretty deep thinking going on in this corn and bean field-surrounded office, that's for sure.

The list of country artists referencing four-wheel drive rigs, pickup trucks and/or wheeling is almost endless. The short list: Toby Keith's "Big Ol' Truck," Brad Paisley's "Mud On The Tires," Joe Diffie's "Pick Up Man," Shenandoah's "Next To You, Next To Me," Rhett Atkins' "That Ain't My Truck," Jason Aldean's "Hicktown," Hank Williams Jr.'s "Country Boy Can Survive," Montgomery Gentry's "While The World Goes Down The Drain," and Alan Jackson's "Drive."

Oh yeah, and let's not forget country music videos, where trucks and 4x4s have been used as the prop du jour many times. Remember Gretchen Wilson mud-wheeling the lifted fullsize Chevy on "Redneck Woman?" How 'bout Easton Corbin doing chores with his fullsize Chevy on "A Little More Country Than That." Who can forget Jessica Andrews jumping into a pink Wrangler YJ in "Good Time?" And of course, there was Alan Jackson's "Summertime Blues," which featured a slew of 4x4s rompin' around in the mud.

Great stuff, but if someone put a chrome-moly axleshaft to my head and asked me to choose the best wheeling song of all time, I wouldn't hesitate to give the award to "Black Bear Road" by C.W. McCall. This is really a no-brainer because the song is specifically about one of the most scenic, awe-inspiring and downright fun four-wheel-drive roads in the world, so by default it should be considered the quintessential classic wheeling tune. Now some of you younger folks may not have a clue what the heck and who the heck I'm talkin' about, so here's the 411.

C.W. McCall, whose real name is Bill Fries, was the gent who recorded the mega hit "Convoy" back in the mid-'70s. You know that one, right? Of course you do. The song was the catalyst for a movie of the same name that starred Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, and Ernest Borgnine. This film came out shortly after "Smokey and the Bandit," in case you're needing a timeline. The song "Convoy" was actually a track on the Black Bear Road album, which you guessed it, featured the song "Black Bear Road." For the record, "Black Bear Road" wasn't the only song that McCall has recorded that references four-wheel drive. He recorded others, including "Four Wheel Drive" and "Four Wheel Cowboy," both of which are worth a listen. And if you're not familiar with the real Black Bear Road, outside of Telluride, Colorado, you need to get familiar with it because this trail will leave you speechless. The vast majority of Black Bear is just a typical high mountain jaunt with shelf trails and such, but the real fun starts near the end above Ingram Falls as the rocky trail nosedives toward Telluride. It's not uncommon to see your life flash before your eyes at this point. We've even seen jaded off-highway journalists get white-knuckled on their first Black Bear descent.

In his song "Black Bear Road," McCall relates about driving a rental Jeep, loaded with four passengers and a dog, past a "You don't have to be crazy to drive this road, but it helps" sign at the entrance of Black Bear. This plunges him headlong into an ongoing situation that includes a trashed front fender, damaged oil pan, spilled Kool-Aid, puking dog, an asthma attack, deep mud, and yellow snow. The story culminates with the unoccupied Jeep rolling off the edge of a cliff. The story is told in the wry, baritone style of McCall, which enhances the story like a good dry rub on a rack of meaty ribs.

Somewhere there may be an artist in the process of writing another song about four-wheeling. A ballad about running the Rubicon, perhaps? One thing is for sure, it's probably going to be a country song.

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