Top Ten Driving Songs of East Texas

July 6, 2009 | Insights

By Bob Latham

Imagine you are driving the roads of East Texas, near Marshall, Tyler, Texarkana, Lufkin, Beaumont and/or places in between. Imagine you have just finished your trial or hearing or, more miraculously, you are on the way to your trial or hearing and are so well prepared that you have a chance to enjoy some music. What would be geographically appropriate for your playlist? To get you started, I have assembled a playlist of the Top Ten Driving Songs of East Texas.

East Texas has a rich musical tradition both in the artists it has spawned as well as the songs it has inspired. Don Henley of the Eagles and T-Bone Walker are from Linden, which not surprisingly is the site of the annual T-Bone Walker Blues Festival. Scott Joplin is from Texarkana, but ragtime music may not be exactly what you want on your iPod.

East Texas produces such varied genres, from blues to electric blues to country to rock, that I purposely created a list that was not homogeneous. The list had to reflect the eclectic mix of music that comes out of this part of the country. To make the list, a song has to have some East Texas connection, whether it was recorded in East Texas, sung by an artist from East Texas, or somehow evokes images of East Texas. Here goes:

  1. “Frosty” by Albert Collins. Collins was from Leona and one of the masters of Texas blues. His influence can certainly be heard in the music of the artist that is number one on this list. And here’s a little known fact: when Collins recorded “Frosty,” the artists who are #6 and #2 on this list happened to be in the studio. He’s certainly a good lead off hitter for the list.
  2. “Bar-B-Q” by ZZ Top. ZZ Top’s first two albums were recorded at Robin Hood Studios in Tyler. “Bar-B-Q” from their second album, Rio Grande Mud, is an amped up boogie with a decidedly Texas title. Runner up from Rio Grande Mud: “Just Got Paid.”
  3. “Back Roads” by Brandon Rhyder. Country artist Rhyder is from Carthage and a graduate of UT Tyler.
  4. “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves. “Gentleman Jim” Reeves was from Galloway and a memorial to him is on Highway 79 just south of Carthage, not far from the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage in which Reeves in enshrined. It is worth a stop on your drive.
  5. “Hustled Down in Texas” by Johnny Winter. I needed to have one entry by either Johnny or his brother Edgar, both from Beaumont. “Hustled Down in Texas” barely gets the nod over Edgar’s “Free Ride” or Johnny’s own cover of Slippin’ and Slidin’” (co-written by non other than Albert Collins).
  6. “A Public Execution” by Mouse & the Traps. I couldn’t resist putting Mouse on the list. This garage band from Tyler also recorded in their hometown’s Robin Hood Studios and channeled Bob Dylan expertly on this recording.
  7. “East Texas Red” by James Talley. This Woody Guthrie song has been covered by several artists, but James Talley’s is probably the best.
  8. “Memories of East Texas” by Michelle Shocked. The first alternate by Shocked, who went to high school in Gilmer, would be “Gladewater,” referring to the town in East Texas by the same name. Incidentally, Gladewater is where Johnny Cash wrote “Walk the Line” which would have been a worthy addition to this list, and could have even topped the list, but for the fact that Cash is generally associated with other parts of the country. Plus, if you are staying at the Holiday Inn in Tyler on Karaoke Night, you are likely to hear “Walk the Line” – sung with varying degrees of proficiency – multiple times, so you may not want it on your playlist as well.
  9. “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin. A number of songs by Port Arthur’s Joplin were contenders for the list, but this legendary Kris Kristofferson song is the best for purposes of driving.
  10. “Texas Flood” by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Okay, SRV was not technically from East Texas, but so what? He was close enough (Dallas) and all of Texas claims him. And, there was no greater practitioner of Texas electric blues. Any number of SRV performances could have made the list, but I selected this one for a day when there is threatening weather on your drive. If you don’t want to be that thematic, you can put on “Pride and Joy.”

What have I missed?  Please feel free to offer your suggestions as well as take issue with any selection on this list. I can tell you my first and second runners-up were “All the Rage in Paris” by The Derailers (about the town in East Texas, not the city in France) and “Coahuila” by the Old 97’s, which was the first Old 97’s song on which Ken Bethea from Tyler sang lead vocals. Some notable songs that failed to make the cut in order to make room for more contemporary selections are “Chantilly Lace” by The Big Bopper (of Beaumont), “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, raised in Rusk, “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)” by Beaumont-raised Tex Ritter, and “The Last Kiss” by Lufkin’s own J. Frank Wilson which, given the subject matter, would have been an ill-considered selection for a driving playlist.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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Robert P. Latham
Partner, Dallas