Songwriter: Lane Tietgen
Mark Bittner: vocal, acoustic rhythm guitar
Loralee Christensen: vocals
Bruce Kaphan: pedal steel, lap steel
Bruce Gordon: keyboards
Paul Olguin: bass
John Hanes: drums
I first heard “Highway” in 1972 on an album by Finnigan and Wood called Crazed Hipsters. I was 20 then, and since age 18 I’d been piecing together from various works of art what I took to be the semi-secret, archetypal journey of the true artist. As I understood it, every true artist inevitably reached a point of total disillusionment, at which point the right thing to do was to take off down the road or to the streets and give oneself over completely to fate. The theory went that at the moment of the artist’s deepest despair, the muse appeared, opening the door to true wisdom and creativity. “Highway” seemed to confirm all of it. When, at age 21, I reached my own moment of extreme disillusionment, I did as instructed, abandoning everything and taking off down the road. Years later, while working on Street Song, I decided I wanted to quote the lyrics to “Highway” and set about tracking down the songwriter, Lane Tietgen, who, it turned out, lived just up the road in Sonoma. He gave me his permission.
When I was trying to decide which songs to record for Street Songs, “Highway” was an obvious choice. But it was another song that had never been part of my repertoire. When I contacted Lane to get his approval to record it, he kindly offered to teach me his version. The Finnigan and Wood version is a rocker from beginning to end. Lane’s starts out slow and then becomes a rocker. As I created my own arrangement, I worked mostly from Lane’s version, but used some aspects of Finnigan and Wood’s.
I recorded my acoustic guitar against a click track, and then Paul Olguin and John Hanes added bass and drums, again, playing together live. In my head, I heard an organ on the slow section and electric piano on the fast, both of which Bruce Gordon played. Bruce Kaphan is known for being one of the most accomplished pedal steel guitar players in the world, and I knew I’d want to use his ability at some point. He added a pedal steel on the slow section and then switched to lap steel on the fast section. Finally, we recorded Loralee Christensen on vocals.
“Highway” is one of my favorites on Street Songs. It’s probably the most competent of this rusty singer’s vocals. Loralee killed it—effortlessly. I love Bruce Gordon’s electric piano on the fast section, where he comes of sounding like an extremely sophisticated rhythm guitar player. John Hanes’ drumming is perfect all the way through, and Bruce Kaphan’s lap steel excites me—the only real rock and roll moment on the entire set. I particularly love the interplay that Bruce Kaphan created with the previously recorded drumming. And Paul Olguin, as always, holds it all together.
In the midst of the sessions for Street Songs, I got the news that Lane Tietgen was dying of cancer. We worked hard to get a finished version to him before he passed, and we did, save for Loralee’s vocal. I was told that he liked it, that it made him think about his legacy. Lane was one of the few singer-songwriters from the singer-songwriter era who never strayed from the spirit of what that was supposed to be. He was never a big star, but he was better than most of the big stars. He did it out of love, not for fame or money. Street Songs is dedicated to him.