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Something being built for speed has its advantages, namely that there’s an easily judged measuring stick to see if you’ve improved upon the formula. Faster, more powerful, more exciting if you want throw something subjective into the mix, all indicate that the prototype has been improved upon since its inception.

But music is another story altogether, for while rock ‘n’ roll was built for speed – in a matter of speaking anyway – it wasn’t all about simply getting off the line quick and burning rubber, leaving musical competitors in the dust. You needed to provide better handling to navigate the curves, a smoother ride to make the trip less harrowing and proper steering to make sure you ended up where you intended on going.

Though forsaking much of that still might get you from Point A to Point B much faster, sometimes when you Hit The Road it’s better to sit back in comfort, take it easy and enjoy the ride.


Grab Your Pack
If you want a record that storms along at a rapid pace with plenty of diverse showcases for various instrumental hot-shots, then this is most definitely for you. It’s an aggressive throw-down record, the kind celebrated in rock circles for displaying an uninhibited attitude, raucous sound and sneering vocals.

The track is chock full of individual highlights with the stuttering piano intro leading into a more flamboyant run on the treble keys while the rhythm section sounds gregariously disjointed behind Littlefield. Churning horns quickly join in, rising and falling around Willie’s vocals as he gets up to speed. Throughout it all the action is steady without losing control thanks to a really well judged arrangement featuring solid contributions on sax (likely Buddy Floyd or Maxwell Davis) and Littlefield himself pounding away on the keys.

The standout moments though belong to whoever is handling the guitar solo that gets the spotlight in the first break, (again, no session info, but possibly Jesse Ervin or even Chuck Norris), delivering a forceful attack that sounds more than harsh enough to put unsuspecting listeners on edge, yet retains a jagged melodic sensibility that keeps even the most timid ears from shying away completely.

It’s important to remember that as of this point in rock’s trajectory the guitar was still facing an uphill climb to be fully integrated into the music as a reliable primary attribute but clearly having as many electrifying solos as possible, preferably concise and focused and fitting for the rest of the song, was going to help its cause. This one sure doesn’t hurt it at any rate. But that being said this record came out in 1950 which means the saxophone still sits atop the instrumental perch and its role on Hit The Road proves that it wasn’t about to give up that throne voluntarily.

The second break finds the sax in the driver’s seat and taking its time to get fully revved up. Like a jungle cat stretching after a nap it’s in no rush to go on the attack, so it yawns and lets out a few dull roars before working the kinks out of its back to head out on the prowl.

Once in the right frame of mind though it’s as ferocious as ever, letting rip with some long strangled notes, its tone reverberating through the air like a warning to anyone inclined to get a little too close that maybe they’d better keep back.

Each of the instruments can be heard going along with the reigning beast of the recording scene, chiming in with a fill here and a clattering assent there, all creating a tumolt of sound before Littlefield tries getting them all back under control as he closes out the record, easing back on the vocal intensity while the musicians downshift so they don’t go crashing into the gate pulling back in to the studio.


Don’t Want You No More
If that all sounds like your cup of tea then maybe you should stop reading here and let the musical impressions remain the dominant thought on your mind when it comes to this record, for while that backing track and the interplay between instruments is pretty impressive, the same can’t be said for the vocal side of the equation where Willie’s voice and the shoddy lyrics can’t help but drag this back down a bit.

Truthfully, it’s almost misleading to call the contents of Hit The Road lyrics, in that they tell a coherent story, but more like random expressions or vague impressions.

The plot, such as it is, finds Littlefield’s dismissing his girlfriend whom he accuses of not ever really loving him. He’s not quite angry, but rather kind of smug about it, which leads you to the conclusion that he’s actually hurt over this, which of course makes perfect sense. A broken relationship often leads to critical self-doubt, reviewing your own actions to find an explanation for the actions of whomever you were with, so that even if they were the one who ultimately pushed things past the breaking point, there’s usually some shared blame along the way.

Had Littlefield examined this with just a touch more finesse he could’ve had something special. It doesn’t require an overhauled concept, just one or two lines early on to provide an example of how this affair of the heart wound up broken. If he wants he doesn’t even have to accept blame, the focus can remain on her, but merely saying she didn’t love him comes across as a bitter – and quite possibly fabricated – excuse to save face.

It also fails to let the listener become involved emotionally as they would’ve been able to had Willie come up with some reasonable scenarios that the audience, male and female alike, can relate to. Lying about where you were when you were out until 5 AM, or lifting money from the other’s wallet, it doesn’t have to be convoluted or anything, just something specific to explain his attitude. From there let him toss her in the street, at least we’ll be able to take sides then.

But more troubling than the lack of any case he makes against her is the way in which he delivers the shoddy information he does give us, his wheezy vocals somehow sounding more distracting when he’s using such short lines, almost like he’s got emphysema and ran out of breath. You focus on it more than you’d like and any time spent listening to the weaker aspects of this single means you’re paying less attention to everything that works.

You Know Doggone Well…
Now all that being said, none of these “problems” are making this unlistenable by any means, but there’s never a good reason NOT to want to have a tighter story and more vocal punch when you play a record. Because they skimp in those areas this goes from being an invigorating song to one whose relative shortcomings occupy almost as much room as its strengths.

Almost. But not quite.

Depending on how you look at it Hit The Road is a really good minor effort or a slightly subpar major one. The result’s the same though, a record that sounds best when the party’s in full swing and your attention is bound to wander anyway, and considering that rock ‘n’ roll excels in creating such wild listening experiences then this fits right in.

But while I’ll be generous and say it’s slightly above average I still find myself wondering what someone else would’ve sounded like behind the wheel of this one.

In that sense this is not the record Littlefield will be remembered for, but racing ahead at this clip it sure as hell isn’t dull enough to be forgotten either.


(Visit the Artist page of Little Willie Littlefield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)