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Rockin’ Down the Highway the Cars and People that Made Rock and Roll by Paul Grushkin

Rockin’ Down the Highway the Cars and People that Made Rock and Roll by Paul Grushkin
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Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz


Rockin’ Down the Highway is a hardbound book suitable for music and car lovers and written by Paul Grushkin. The book measures 11 inches wide and 12 inches in height and contains 240 pages on high quality, heavy bond, waxed paper. Normally I take the time and break down all the photographs, posters, drawings and miscellaneous visual objects to let the reader know exactly what to expect. But it was obvious that this was going to take all day to do that. Grushkin has crafted a visibly stunning reference work on the music, mostly American, that was influenced by the car culture. This is a lushly rich book full of interesting posters, film shots, music records, disks, labels, magazine covers, drawings, ticket stubs, black and while and color photographs. Grushkin wrote The Art of Rock, then followed it up with The Art of Modern Rock.

He then wrote The Grateful Dead: The Official Book of the Deadheads and Treasures of the Hard Rock Café. Grushkin has been around the music world for a long time and was an archivist and historian. He owns his own line of apparel called Phantom Clothing. His latest book merges the car culture and the songs and music that went hand in hand with young people and fast cars. The dust cover jacket is impressive and adds a great deal to the book. Rockin’ down the highway in a ‘50’s red convertible and holding a red and white guitar as the open road beckons is a masterful use of visual description to use on the cover. Take very good care of the dust cover jacket because it is impressive. Rockin’ Down the Highway was published by Voyageur Press in 2006, located in St Paul, Minnesota. The ISBN# is 13-978-0-7603-2292-5 and can be ordered through any bookstore or contact Autobooks/Aerobooks at 818-845-0707.

This is a massive and thorough book with excellent text and story development. Yet it is the visual objects that Grushkin uses liberally in the book that draws the eye and keeps your attention riveted to the book. It doesn’t take long before you are dreaming about the past and reliving all those exciting days from the 1940’s up through the present day. Music, as Grushkin so readily shows us, is an integral part of our lives and the music in Rockin’ Down the Highway was truly inspired by the car culture. The price of the book is a very reasonable $40 and in a hardbound edition too. Mike Ness writes the Foreword and Grushkin sets the tone with an introduction. The book is broken down into eight substantial chapters. There is a credits and acknowledgments page that is very informative as to where the author obtained much of his material. Ending the book is a comprehensive and complete three-page index. The photographs are superb, ranging from black and white to color, with off-tones that are exquisite. Every style of music, except classical is represented and posters and artwork run the gamut from pinstripers to punk. Each of the eight chapters chronicles the development of music and the car culture down through the decades to the present day. The cars are hot, the music is nostalgic, the women are alluring and the men are masters of their domain, the way we always thought our youthful culture looked like. There are photos of the local diner where the young guys and gals are hanging out. The wild roadster barreling down the street with kids standing up and whooping. Photos of Elvis just before he made it big with girlfriends Yvonne Lime and June Juanico. It was an age of innocence and promise.

Rockin’ Down the Highway also portrays a darker side with an edge. A car and music culture that also contained danger and death, speed and mayhem. A world willing to push the envelope and take risks that often proved fatal. This was a world where drug usage and alcohol addictions were combined with speed to create a lethal outcome. Street racing became an outlaw culture. Gradually organized drag racing made an impact and raised the standards of respectability. The artwork of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth fills up several pages and points out the rising strength of the youthful counterculture in music and in the resistance to the Viet Nam conflict. The Beachboys, Annette and Fabian rivet the nation with the Southern California sun and sea culture. There is Detroit and Motown and the music that would influence much of our language and culture and evolve into R&B and Rap. Country, Western, Soul and balladeers would leave their mark. Billy F. Gibbons and ZZ Top left a lasting impression with his music and his Cadzilla; a sleek, low and stylish Cadillac designed by Larry Erickson. Probably one of the best lyrics is from “Big Red Rocket of Love,” and it goes like this…”I got a red car with blue tail lights, shiny red seats with lining in white, Leopard Skin dash with a louvered hood, she goes ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-when she's running good. Let's go ride into the mountains above, She's low, my big red rocket of love."  Grushkin has written a book that all hot rodders and car fans can appreciate. It’s a book that shows how we lived and loved, our virtues and vices. It brings back those memories that made us what we are.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].