Shamrock Tour® - Jackson, Tennessee

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, Richard Rothermel

In 1925, the Grand Ole Opry began riding the crackle of amplitude modulation (AM radio) into the foothills around Nashville. Not far west, in Memphis, the blues had long before cast its spell across the Mississippi Delta. But in the early 1950s, where the periphery of Appalachia finally merges with the fertile plains of Old Man River, the seeds of rock and roll were taking root.

It's a subtle transition from low mountains to river plain. The undulations passing beneath the wheels of the FJR1300 become smoother, the arcs of the already easy curves loosen even more, and the rivers and streams lose their ripple, proceeding in a more melancholy progression. Gliding west along these lonely back roads near Jackson, Tennessee, it's easy to slip back to pop music's golden era…

Easy to remember how, when the volume was cranked up to surmount the noise of the wind rushing through the open window, the imperfect timbre of the car's AM radio would distort the dash-mounted speaker. And as the Nashville signal of twang-laden vocals and fiddles faded, a spin of the dial initiated a tenuous contact with the bluesy, slide-guitar strains beaming from downtown Memphis. Although neither playlist was received with perfect clarity, the "little too far, not quite near" proximity always provided a tempting taste of both.

For today's ride, the mind, the road, and maybe a lingering DJ or two all conspire to spin a few of the tunes that once blared in the local juke joints and roadhouses - a hot-rockin' amalgamation of hillbilly music and blues that set all the shoes (blue suede and otherwise) a-tappin' and kept the beer flowing all night long. It became known as Rockabilly, and its master was Jackson's favorite son, the legendary Carl Perkins.

One For the Money

After taking full, and I do mean full, advantage of our host's complimentary continental breakfast, I attempt the transition from rockabilly rover to responsible writer. But it seems that the catchy chord progression of "Honey Don't" has taken firm hold of my subconscious. I motor east on historic Route 70 with the radio still playing… "Everything about you is so doggone sweet. You got that sand all over your feet."

As I bear right on Route 424, the rocking continues, but this time the FJR sets the tempo. A narrow meter of tarmac has us swaying in unison beneath shady hardwoods and dancing past small farms. The hint of coolness in the morning air is gone, and the day promises to be hotter than a honky-tonk dance floor. Traveling in Tennessee in August isn't so bad. You just have to keep on movin'.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2009 back issue.