Well the preacher and the teacher
Lord, they're a caution
They are the talk of the town
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China Grove road sign
No other decade besides the '70s could have given us the Doobie Brothers. Hey, they were named after the slang word for "joint"! And their music style is good ol' American rock 'n' roll, with no pretensions or fancy aspirations. Just solid, sunny songs, each of them designed to play comfortably from either stage or radio speaker. The Doobie Brothers are so cool, they sweat
So how would you feel if it was 1973 and you were living in a very tiny town in the middle of Bexar County, Texas, in a place so unknown and obscure that it has to be counted as part of the San Antonio Metropolitan Statistical Area, and then one day, from out of nowhere, these rock gods simply descended from Heaven and gave your little town one of the most awesome anthems ever to rock out to? There just might be shrines to the Doobie Brothers in every home there to this day.
The total land area of China Grove, according to the US Census Bureau, is just a gnat's eyelash over four square miles. The population is about 1,200, distributed into about 400 households, representing a little over 350 families. At that kind of size factor, you can imagine the whole town just getting together for dinner once a week, with perhaps a few hands of Texas Hold'em afterwards.
China Grove at sunrise
So many false rumors surround "China Grove" that it's worth a paragraph to swat them down. We went right to the source on this one and asked Doobie's lead singer Tom Johnston, who wrote the song, why he wrote about this sleepy little town. He told us:
"In 1972 we were touring in Winnebagos, and we were driving into San Antonio. And there is a China Grove, Texas, right outside of San Antonio. I must have seen the sign and forgotten about it. And when I came up with the term 'China Grove,' I thought I was just making it up because of the words being about this crazy sheriff with a Samurai Sword."
The various Eastern metaphors ("looking to the East" and the Samurai swords), are a kind of play with ideas; fictionalizing the town into a Texas version of "little China." No, there is no connection in the lyrics with drugs, especially not with the kind of heroin known as "China white." And also, it is impossible to grow plates, teacups, and saucers on trees in a grove.
And before anybody pounces on it, yes, we know that samurai are actually Japanese, not Chinese, and that there are also China Groves in Louisiana, Mississippi, and North and South Carolina.
China Grove has taken on a life of its own, escaping the '70s to become one of the definitive rock songs. It has been adopted for the theme songs to TV shows, parodied on The Simpsons
and King of the Hill
, and is a selectable song in various versions of Nintendo's Guitar Hero
And of course, it plays every year in the town of China Grove, at the Annual China Grove Potluck Supper And Line Dance. Just kidding. But seriously, how would you even know?
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