Copyright  Alice Starmore
Been here and gone so

What to kick the trip off with was a question I pondered deeply. On The Road Again by Canned Heat seemed an obvious choice, as did Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild, but maybe they were a little too obvious. Yellowbrick Road by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band was a very strong contender: a suitable bag of tricks and candy sticks. The winner turned out to be a song from a little-known group called The Insect Trust – a band that came and went at a time way, way back in hippie daze, and took their name from a line in The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. I have to credit him for inspiring Steely Dan and The Insect Trust. Devotees of the latter are rather thin on the ground – I have met only one other person who has heard of them – but some of the songs on the first Trust album are eccentric masterpieces. To begin my compilation I chose a song called Been Here And Gone So Soon, and what a good call it turned out to be, for it became the signature tune to the entire trip. It is a song about life and death rather than a journey, but somehow it stands as a road song par excellence, with mellow but well-paced guitars, the beautiful, strong folk-soul voice of Nancy Jeffries, and as icing on the cake, the most euphoric burst of fiddle ever recorded. I cruise-controlled through the bland Georgia landscape with the song ringing in my ears. On my tape I segued it into Special Rider Blues from the same album and that too was a joy. It begins with a deliberately tinny, scratched sound, emulating an old, worn 78. I had never really connected with that introduction before, and always found it superfluous. Now it made complete sense. Despite the signs and trappings of a modern Georgia freeway, it conjured up the clapboard shacks of a bygone age, with good ol’ boys pickin’ on the front porch and women in print frocks and bare legs whose eyes spoke of hard experience, both past and still to come. ‘There’s some men down the way, callin’ after me.’ Then the recording bursts out into a full-on, loping road rhythm, spurred by the relaxed urgency of Nancy Jeffries’ voice. Then a slide section and some off-the-wall horns before a rousing finale that makes you cheer and want to play the whole thing again. And again. Which I did. And that is how I marched through Georgia, keeping those blues from hangin’ round my door.

(NB: Those who want to find the first Insect Trust album will have to search hard. I have so far looked in vain for a CD edition, but I still have my LP from back in the day. Fortunately it is made of the harder, thicker type of vinyl that seems to outlast the thinner, whippier kind, so it should have a few years of listening still left in it.)

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