Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bobby Bare -- "Detroit City" (1963)

By day I make the cars
By night I make the bars

Between 1940 and 1970, about five million African-Americans left the small towns and rural areas of the American South and moved north and west -- most of them to large cities like Detroit, where the thriving American auto industry offered jobs at wages that were very attractive to farm workers and domestics.

Detroit automobile assembly line
But African-Americans weren't the only southerners who moved north in search of a better way of life -- plenty of rural whites moved north and west as well.

The Danny Dill-Mel Tillis song about one such immigrant, "Detroit City," was a big hit for country singer Bobby Bare.  Bare's record won the Grammy for "Best Country & Western Recording" in 1963.  (A recording of the song released earlier in 1963 by Billy Grammar -- he titled his version "I Wanna Go Home" -- was also a hit, and Tom Jones's 1967 cover made the UK top ten.)

The singer of "Detroit City" hopped on a freight train to get to Detroit.  The home folks think he's a big deal there, but he's desperately homesick.  After dreaming one night about the cotton fields back home and his "mother, dear old poppa, sister and brother" and "the girl who's been waitin' for so long," he decides to hop a southbound freight and rejoin his loved ones.  

Here's "Detroit City" -- note the key change before the second verse:

Click below if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. I mentioned earlier the radio station I listened to while delivering the LA Times in the mid-1960s, and how their early-AM programming consisted of five to ten pre-recorded shows that I heard so often that I could almost predict what would come up next. I'm reasonably sure "Detroit City" was part of their playlist. "By day I make the cars/By night I make the bars" is one of the all-time winners of the "lyrics that really resonate" awards. Not quite Noel Coward or Cole Porter, but memorable after 45 years. Another song of that era that I remember is "Right or Left at Oak St." by Roy Clark. I call it a "Suburban and Western" tune, because the lyrics are the lament of a working man: His wife is a nag, his kids are brats, and everyone he knows seems to be doing better than he is, financially and emotionally. To borrow a line from the Punk era of 10 or 15 years later, "Life Sucks Then You Die" sums up his lot in life. Every morning, he gets into his old beat up car and drives to work. When he gets to Oak Street, he has a choice: One way to his workplace for another eight hours of soul-deadening toil, the other to an Interstate on-ramp and ???. We don't know. If this were a real person, he probably would have keeled over long ago--when a rut gets deep enough, it turns into a grave. He was probably smart enough to never find out. First of all, going on a road trip in a car that was normally used for errands and commutes is not a good idea. A few hours of steady highway speed might be more than the weary old engine could take. Then there's the problem of lodging; even at Motel 6 rates, unless you have friends and/or relatives who will let you crash at their abodes, travel isn't cheap. Also, unless you have an easily marketable skill, finding another job could make your present employment the much safer choice. The other other option is illustrated in Johnny Cash's "Understand Your Man", in which the protagonist does hit the road. There's even a plug for a charitable group I admire and support: "You can give my other suit to the Salvation Army/and anything else I leave behind. I don't want nothin' to slow down my travelin'/while I'm untanglin' my mind...."
    Getting back to the original theme of homesickness, one of the songs that shows up on Adam Marsland's 70s Shows is "Midnight Train to Georgia".