Honoring Route 66 “Troupers”
With special thanks to HAGERTY’s Tara Hurlin who, with her recent article on rock ‘n’ roll car songs (January 4 – 10) and the 233 comments readers sent in, unwittingly became the spark plug that ignited this piece.
Fate has a way of making the strangest of things happen in our lives. At times, we’re left gazing at the sky, dumbfounded, wondering what invisible lightning bolt just zapped us when, as the old phrase goes, planets line up—suddenly, unexpectedly, powerfully. This is one such story, of the most revered road on the continent, of American automobiles at their best, and of the brilliant artists whose remarkable music, both now and then, brings it all together in timeless fashion.
Back in September 2013, I was invited to judge at the inaugural edition of the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance, north of Toronto—a born-in-Canada international event which has taken its place among the classiest such carfests in North America. During that gorgeous fall weekend near the shores of Ontario’s spectacular Georgian Bay, participants were offered an extra treat by Cobble Beach Chairman and Founder Rob McLeese: the magical musical talents of world-renowned jazz/pop singer, composer and pianist Carol Welsman, just in for the occasion from her recording studio in sunny LA. To the dinner audience’s delight, Welsman and her band interpreted a medley of pop, jazz and blues drawn from her impressive repertoire. Yet, throughout her nightly performance under the ornate big top, one melody seemed to get folks notably perked up: Carol’s delectable rendition of Nat King Cole’s hit: (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66—lightly jazzed up and, as she’d say, “coated with honey”.
The next day at breakfast, we learned that Carol’s life-long commitment to her art stemmed from deep family roots, starting with her grandfather Frank Welsman, founder of Toronto’s Symphony Orchestra as its first conductor in the early 1900s. Also, that every single member of her immediate family—mom, dad and siblings—had a major connection with music as singers, musicians or composers. And, equally interesting under the circumstances, that her late father George had been a serious collector of vintage automobiles, both European and American—a passion she keenly shares.
During the following months, Carol and I stayed in touch amidst her various concerts and international tours. Then, one day, out of the proverbial blue, an idea flared up. Weeks of assiduous research and creative work followed. With many a dot gradually connecting, big decisions were made, compounding into an ambitious project: that of reuniting the automobile and the fab music that, for so many decades, had extolled its boundless charms. Americana at its best! All to be packaged under the title CARMA—Carol’s 12th career album—aimed at breathing new life into some of the hottest car songs ever released.
With planets continuing to align we realized that 2016 marks the convergence of two close-knit anniversaries: the 90th of Route 66, arguably the most feasted of all highways; and the 70th of the very tune that made it all the more mythical: Get Your Kicks on Route 66, written by Bobby Troup with help from wife Cynthia. Interestingly, the creative process that generated Route 66’s music and lyrics actually began while the couple was traveling in a car—their ‘41 Buick convertible nicknamed “Daddy” after another Bobby hit that same year. On a cold February morning in 1946, exactly seventy years ago, the two left Lancaster, Penn., en route to Los Angeles where the young man nurtured high hopes of furthering an already successful songwriting career.
Numerous versions of (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 have been produced since Nat King Cole made it shine in 1946, more than for any other such song—a testament to its staying power, both in the US and worldwide. So it seemed only fitting that Carol’s first-of-a-kind CARMA compilation paying tribute to American musical legends and the car stories they chanted, would open with her own signature homage to the artist-and-wife duo from Pennsylvania and their travelog tune.
Bobby and Cynthia’s daughter Ronne Troup sheds new light on the iconic ballad with this touching revelation: “Route 66 is not just a song to me, not just the stuff of nostalgia and the automobile, or America’s migration to the west. It is the song that bought the house where I grew up, the song that tells the story of my parents. I grew up with it humming around in my head, listening to my dad play it on the piano, listening to it—even to this day—on the radio, and hearing the story of how it was written. It seems so obvious now that it was destined to be part of our popular culture, but it wasn’t in 1946 when my dad wrote it. It was a leap of faith, a good luck charm that seemed to come along for the ride. And what a ride!”
Extensive research and tuning in to prep Carol Welsman’s CARMA album yielded a cornucopia of melodious findings, literally encompassing every musical genre invented in the US—way beyond rock ‘n’ roll itself, as is often believed—from country classics, to rhythm and blues, doo wop, swing and plenty more. All the while featuring assorted car makes and models, with a marked predilection for certain favorites; plus an array of automotive experiences such as road trips, racing, speed meets, engines revving up or just plain cruisin’ around. In total, no fewer than 150 auto-based songs exist from the post-World War II years to modern days: some exceedingly popular, others barely known, with peaks and valleys along the way, dominated, not surprisingly, by the fifties and sixties heyday.
So now you, HAGERTY’s readers, get to pick the tune, or tunes, you’d like to hear on this upcoming CARMA album. No holds barred! And to get you started, here’s a quick demo of five samples prepared by Carol for your listening pleasure, including her own original interpretation of Route 66. And remember: your input matters!
In addition to its entertainment, if not historic value, CARMA is intended to break new ground as a full-fledged educational program. How so? By providing unique learning opportunities for music students in schools, colleges and universities across the US and Canada, thanks to a series of professional master classes directed by Welsman that will include discussions on the history and importance of the American automobile itself—a novel teaching approach, therefore, with built-in multiple purposes. And again, a first such knowledge initiative, chock-full of fun to boot.
As they planned motoring west toward greener pastures and bluer skies on that frosty February morning in 1946, the Troups embarked upon a life-transforming journey, one fraught with unknowns. During ten adventurous days along the Mother Road to L.A., the dynamic duo travelled their way, taking the highway that’s the best. While our “Troupers” extraordinaire traversed the land in search of a better life, little could they imagine their music crossing evermore the frontiers of time. For a legacy that has brought joy to millions over seven decades, they deserve more than two thousand miles…. of thanks! Bobby and Cynthia: this one’s for you.