More Miles Than Money: Journeys Through American Music is a book I researched and wrote between 2006-2008. In many ways I’d been waiting my entire life to write More Miles. Growing up in Mt Roskill – a working class suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, where there were no music venues, cinemas, pubs, nothing but churches and rugby fields – I took refuge in Mark Twain and Jack Kerouac’s adventures while AM radio (modelled on US radio) spun hits by Freddy Fender, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, Little Feat et al. I dreamed of escaping Auckland’s suburbs to ride Route 66 and Highway 61, ears and eyes open. Eventually I got to live my dream and More Miles is the story of those travels.
I didn’t know it back then but Kiwi radio was often playing music akin to that which Charlie Gillett played on his Honky Tonk radio show in London. Discovering Charlie’s book The Sound Of The City sent me scouring through secondhand bookstores in search of old copies of Cream, Creem and Let It Rock, where the writings of Charlie and other likeminded journalists appeared. I’d go so far as to say that a feature Charlie wrote on the great New Orleans producer-arranger Harold Battiste (Cream #5, Sept 1971) was what initially inspired me to want to search out the largely unsung heroes of American music.
At the same time as reading Charlie Gillett I was buying US imports on a variety of labels, with Arhoolie being my favourite. Mexican culture fascinated me, especially that which arose from the borderlands, the Tex-Mex/Tejano music. (Blame this on my dad taking me to see Sam Peckinpah’s westerns.) Discovering a bin full of Arhoolie Records in a downtown record shop introduced me to a treasure trove of magical Mexican American music and reading about Arhoolie founder Chris Strachwitz’s efforts to record the finest American vernacular music provided even more inspiration. Later on, Canyon Records would open my ears to how Native American culture celebrated its survival. Around the same time an uncle who loved jazz gave me Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” album – he found it too funky for his tastes. Talk about life-changing records: to this day Curtis remains my favourite US soul singer.
I dedicated More Miles Than Money to Charlie, Chris and the indomitable spirit of Curtis Mayfield. Tragically, Charlie died earlier this year. He, like Curtis, lives on as an indomitable spirit and continues to inspire me. This compilation is, again, dedicated to Charlie, Chris and Curtis: the three Cs who helped me hear America.
More Miles Than Money reflects on an America that made the mightiest music of the 20th Century. This compilation aims then to salute those who inspired me to ride US highways and document those I encountered as I wandered through honky-tonks, juke joints and barrios. Enjoy!
By Garth Cartwright