John Hiatt, Charlie Sexton : Tennessee Plates

The ‘All Hail The King’ Series (1)

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Summer of 1988 and I was going 90 miles an hour down a dead end street.

So, I walked one block from my office to the Tourist Centre for Greece and asked them to recommend an Island without an airport and with as little tourist infrastructure as possible to ensure the three week holiday I had just awarded myself would be as peaceful as possible.

The next day I was on my way with no suitcase in the hold.

Just a carry on bag with the minimum changes of clothes, one book (Virgil’s The Aeneid) and one music tape (John Hiatt’s Slow Turning).

I loved every song on Slow Turning but the song I played the most and the one that accompanied me to the beach and kept the throttle on my hired moped wide open was Tennessee Plates – probably the most oblique and powerful tribute song to Elvis Presley ever composed.

The marriage of words, rhythm and wit are worthy of Chuck Berry (and when it comes to Rock ‘n’ Roll song writing there is no higher praise).

Woke up in a hotel and I didn’t know what to do
I turned the T-V on and wrote a letter to you
The news was talkin’ ’bout a dragnet up on the interstate
Said they were lookin’ for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates
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Since I left California baby, things have gotten worse
Seems the land of opportunity for me is just a curse
Tell that judge in Bakersfield that my trial will have to wait
Down here they’re lookin’ for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates
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It was somewhere in Nevada, it was cold outside
She was shiverin’ in the dark, so I offered her a ride
Three bank jobs later, four cars hot wired
We crossed the Mississippi like an oil slick fire
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If they’d known what we was up to they wouldn’t ‘a let us in
When we landed in Memphis like original sin
Up Elvis Presley Boulevard to the Graceland gates
See we were lookin’ for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates
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Well, there must have been a dozen of them parked in that garage
And there wasn’t one Lincoln and there wasn’t one Dodge
And there wasn’t one Japanese model or make
Just pretty, pretty Cadillacs with Tennessee plates
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She saw him singing once when she was seventeen
And ever since that day she’s been living in between
I was never king of nothin’ but this wild weekend
Anyway he wouldn’t care, hell he gave them to his friends
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Well this ain’t no hotel I’m writin’ you from
It’s the Tennessee prison up at Brushy Mountain
Where yours sincerely’s doin’ five to eight
Stampin’ out my time makin’ Tennessee plates
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Ok – let’s press the pedal to the metal and drive!

A complete movie with; a love story, criminality, cultural commentary, eyeballs out playing from the band (especially Sonny Landreth on guitar) and a twist at the end – all in under three minutes.

What more could you possibly want!

Hard to pick out favourite lines when every verse gleams with brilliance.

Still :

Three bank jobs later, four cars hot wired
We crossed the Mississippi like an oil slick fire
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has a thrilling propulsive power that takes some beating.
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Mind you :
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If they’d known what we was up to they wouldn’t ‘a let us in
When we landed in Memphis like original sin
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matches it all the way.
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And :
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Well, there must have been a dozen of them parked in that garage
And there wasn’t one Lincoln and there wasn’t one Dodge
And there wasn’t one Japanese model or make
Just pretty, pretty Cadillacs with Tennessee plates
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is both emotionally apposite and laugh out loud funny.
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While :
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She saw him singing once when she was seventeen
And ever since that day she’s been living in between
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is as good a summary of the Elvis’ impact on our lives as anything ever written.
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John Hiatt has been writing superb songs for decades and all those, ‘in the know’ from Ry Cooder to Bonnie Raitt to Bob Dylan are in no doubt about the magnitude of his abilities.
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John’s bank balance got a welcome boost when, ‘Tennessee Plates’ was featured in an iconic film of the 1980s, ‘Thelma and Louise’.

There is a great additional pleasure in that the film version was by Charlie Sexton later to be famed as the stellar guitarist in Bob Dylan’s touring band.

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Let her rip Charlie – let her rip!

 

A song with such wild fire power is always going to attract cover versions.

The one that I’ve chosen to present today introduces Samantha Fish to The Jukebox.

She sure can burn it up!

I am going to leave you with John burning down the barn with The Goners – listening to this we are all Kings and Queens of The Wild Weekend!

Now, when I make my pilgrimage to Graceland as I drive down Elvis Presley Boulevard let me assure you that I won’t be driving a Lincoln or a Dodge or heaven forbid any Japanese model make.

No. No. No.

I will be driving a Cadillac (Hell he gave ’em to this friends!) and blasting out in tribute to The King will be Tennesse Plates.

All Hail The King!

56 thoughts on “John Hiatt, Charlie Sexton : Tennessee Plates

  1. Peggy went to an Elvis concerting in the early 70s and describes it as crazy and fun. She walked out an Elvis fan. I pushed for Love Me Tender when I was president of my eighth grade class in 1957. The music teacher substituted Laura Lee. Elvis was still too controversial. I visited Elvis’s birth place in Tupelo, I wasn’t driving a Cadillac, however, Thom. I was riding my bicycle as part of my 10,000 mile journey around North America. Shortly after that I hid out in a brick outhouse to avoid a tornado. I am sure Elvis could have made one hell of a song out of that. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

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