Five Points in Durham, North Carolina
Durham, North Carolina, is a major US city with a population of over 200,000. Home to Duke University, the famous Bull Durham Tobacco Company, and Brightleaf Square, the area is most famous for being the heart of the tobacco industry in the United States. However, like any single-resource economy, life in this area isn't always easy for a young boy growing up, particularly during the Great Depression. Your choices tend to be narrowed, with much pressure from your relatives to follow in the family tradition.
Tobacco is perhaps the most famous native American crop in the world. When Europeans arrived in the New World, it was one of the first exports. The early history of America is shaped in part by the world's favorite smokeable crop. Within time, the US states of Georgia and the Carolinas had claim to the title of "Tobacco Road." So it stands to reason that such an American song about such an American crop should be sung by two guys from Weybridge, Surrey, England.
? Yes, in spite of the name "The Nashville Teens," this band was actually part of the British Invasion of the 1960s. Arriving in the wake of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, The Nashville Teens rode into town, they sung to Americans about America while sounding like they were born and bred Americans, then vanished forever - true one-hit wonders by every sense of the word.
Now, how would these Brits know what life along Tobacco Road
was even like? Well, they didn't. The song is actually written by one John D. Loudermilk, who was born March 31, 1934, in Durham, North Carolina. Loudermilk himself is a very acclaimed songwriter, having penned the lyrics for such acts as the Everly Brothers, Chet Atkins, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Johnny Cash. So he wrote "Tobacco Road" for The Nashville Teens, as well.
It's all starting to feel like it was a bit engineered, isn't it? Nevertheless, the bluesy, folksy tone of the song, assisted by a simple arrangement of piano and bass drum along with a duet vocal lead, creates the atmosphere of North Carolina as well as any Tar Heel could. Put the tobacco crops together with the pine trees and their production of tar, pitch, and turpentine (hence the "Tar Heel" nickname) and the textile mills that grew and faded alongside the agriculture, and you can almost inhale the essence of Durham. Sweet smoke from pipes, cigars, and cigarettes, together with rich pine forests.
The song makes a really sour state of affairs out of being from the area, which sounds like a blues-type theme but begins to be offensive when you realize that it's a couple of Brits singing about one of the original thirteen colonies, and how they'd like to blow it up with dynamite. Try getting away with that today.
Tobacco Road Songfacts
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