500 Miles

It’s about a 260 miles one way to San Jose to see my brother and on a good day it takes about five hours with stops for coffee and restrooms.  My car gets good milage and has one of those fancy instant MPG gages built into the dashboard display.  It also shows you about how many miles you can go on the gas in your tank.  Normally I fill up the car the night before so I can make an early start.  It’s not very accurate but it’s there to look at.  Most times after a fill up it reads 460 miles.  

Last month after I filled up the tank the miles to go meter read, 500 miles.  Which of course put the song, “500 miles Away From Home” in my head.

“Five hundred miles, five hundred miles …”. Here’s a link to Peter, Paul and Mary singing it:

500 Miles Away From Home

The song has been kind of stuck in my mind ever since.  Like many songs, I couldn’t remember all the lyrics so naturally I found it on YouTube and played it a few times.  While I grew up in the 60’s when the song was written and I’m sure I heard it then, my biggest memory of it is from the 90’s when I bought a few Kingston Trio CDs.  Actually I prefer the Peter, Paul and Mary version. 

The song is a lament about a person who is dead broke and feels they can’t go home.  It is also a traveling song with a haunting melody and the kind of melancholy that you can get on a long solo car journey.  The lyrics just push the singer farther and farther from home as in the lines, “Lord I’m one, Lord I’m two, Lord I’m three, Lord I’m four / Lord I’m five hundred miles from my home”

Many artists have recorded it.  Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul and Mary are some of the more well know artists.  The song was written by the folk singer Hedy West around 1962 and is her most famous song.

It’s the kind of song that gets stuck in your head.

I found it curious that my car gauge said 500 miles left and that the round trip to San Jose is just over 500 miles (more like 540 miles if you include the miles I drive in the city when I get there).   Coincidence, maybe, but after the trip I thought I’d do a little more research on it.

Naturally this led me to another 60’s song, “Early Morning Rain.” Written by Gordon Lightfoot in ’66 it’s another kind of lament song and was recorded by a number of artists.  Here’s one of my favorite versions again by Peter, Paul and Mary:

Early Morning Rain

I’m going to blame Spotify for reminding me of this song.  I was working in my shop and put Spotify on to listen to some music while I worked.  In the search I put in 500 miles and I got the Peter, Paul and Mary version and then right after Spotify started playing “In the early morning rain … “  I have to say that Spotify gets some interesting ideas when I comes to what to play because right after “Early Morning Rain,” Spotify started playing Marty Robins songs starting with “El Paso.”  Not sure how it got from folk to western, but it did.

I did listen to the Gordon Lightfoot version – it’s okay, but it’s much better with the harmonies of Peter, Paul and Mary.  It’s one of those songs that has a nice melody, is easy to listen to, and one can like – until you actually listen to the lyrics.

Basically the song is about a guy who got so drunk the night before that he’s lying on the grass near an airport and only has a dollar left after being with an unknown number of women.  He can’t afford a plane ticket so he talks about jumping on a freight train.  This song does have a really great line that I wish I would have written when describing where the singer is by saying, “And, I’m stuck here in the grass where the pavement never grows.”  I guess I’ve never been that drunk.

Naturally these two songs got me thinking about Roger Miller’s classic, “King Of The Road,” that strange song about a hobo riding the rails.  I remember the song from junior high school and I still get annoyed by it.  Here’s a link so we both can be annoyed:

King of the Road

Yeah, it was a big hit and tons of people liked it and lots of artists recorded it.

But I had to play it on the violin as part of the Junior High School Band’s Christmas concert.  Yes, it was played at a Christmas concert and yes, I played violin in the school band, not orchestra, the band, right next to the trumpets and sax player (we only had one sax player).

Turns out our music teacher just loved the tune and we did it as an instrumental to avoid explaining why 12 year olds were singing songs about hobos.  Also we were a small music class and didn’t have enough musicians to form an orchestra.  There was this strange distribution of instruments as well in our class something like, 4 violins, 3 trumpets, two drummers, a cello, sax, two flutes, couple of trombone players and for reasons I never understood, a viola … it was an odd mix with about thirty of us all together.

Our music teacher learned music during the big band era and was forever trying to get us to play that.  Well, he did his best and told us the best we could for the Christmas show was to form us up as a band as we had more brass than strings, and do some our parents would like.  “King of the Road,” was picked because he liked it and he said our parents would have heard it.  If you note in Roger Miller version, there is no brass, violins or other wind instruments, but our fearless teacher found an instrumental arrangement of the song that included brass and winds.  We violin players got the flute parts to play, the cello player got the chance to switch to a bass violin and I don’t remember what the viola player did.

Well, that’s not completely true, I do know that the girl who played the viola transferred to another school that had a real orchestra.  Likely she went on to play for the New York Philharmonic or something.

Me, I quit the violin the next year and focused on shop classes until high school.

Which was for the best – turns out I’m better on the table saw than sawing on a violin.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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37 Responses to 500 Miles

  1. Debra says:

    I love the songs you’ve mentioned here, and I get very nostalgic when I think of some of my earliest encounters. I spent a lot of time with an aunt who played Baez and Peter Paul & Mary and Kingston Trio. She also liked the New Christy Minstrels, and some of these songs can come back to me and play on a loop in my head. I can remember the lyrics when there are things I did yesterday I’d have trouble recalling! I really love the storytelling and great lyrics in some of Gordon Lightfoot’s music. I have in recent years purchased a dozen (maybe more) of his albums in vinyl. I enjoy my “old music” in vinyl, but I do find Spotify a wonderful way to enjoy music, as well. Thanks for such a great sharing of memories. It put a definitely smile on my face!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave says:

    I think my memories start in the early 70s because I had to bring up both YouTube videos to be reminded of the PP&M songs. But then I pulled up their discography and, oh my. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer”, and the controversial “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, just to name a few. Also, “Paul” is a dead ringer for Nicolas Cage’s brother. Finally, I think middle school music teachers conspired to keep “King of the Road” alive well after its time. I remember playing that jazzy tune on the piano back then, without any regard for what the song was about.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The jukebox in my brain dials up those old songs at the drop of a hat. But now, thanks to you, I have an earworm of 500 Miles stuck in my head — probably for the rest of the day. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Franknbean says:

    You managed to draw me into another one Andrew. I grew up in the same small town as you except it was in Kansas. I lived for music classes in school from Jr High, H S, and one year in a small college.
    Now I’m simply a good, not great, bluegrass style flat picking guitarist with a lean toward folk music. Jamming every week in a local Colorado brewery with a circle of like minded musicians. Every Tuesday evening for two hours for the price of a pint of adult beverage. Best $7 therapy session money can buy. I’m a legend in my own mind. :- )

    I think I’ve left a similar comment like this before. But my ego likes to tell my story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great post for a stroll down memory lane. I loved Peter, Paul, and Mary and saw them in concert. Early Morning Rain is a favorite, and I also love the line: “And, I’m stuck here in the grass where the pavement never grows” along with your humor. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There are some songs I haven’t heard in a long time! And now they’re stuck in my head, too. I’d say “Thanks for the blast from the past”, but I’m not sure I’m entirely grateful for the earworms. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave Foyle says:

    Thank you for your interesting musical post!

    I loved the King of the Road part! Right, interesting choice for a Junior High Middle school orchestra.

    Okay…. Reminds me about a joke – something about a musician staying in a rundown hotel – it was a Vile Inn (violin)! Groan.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. All amazing songs…but I do prefer Lightfoot’s version 😉 He was born a few hours outside of Toronto.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good that you pursued shop class — it explains why your shed is looking so good! Spotify takes care of the music. A win/win!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This post (and all its comments) was a fun read & great trip down memory lane!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My high school band of about 60 players included 11 French horns. Why? Because the director found French horns in the bottom of the band closets. Yes, I became a French horn player because of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We had to buy (or rent) our own instruments which really made the “band” more interesting. There some school instruments – mostly the larger ones or ones you couldn’t carry to and from school on band days.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Music is incredible. I never really trust anyone who doesn’t like music. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, so most of my real-time awareness of music was from the late 60s onward. What a ride! 🙂

    It is funny how I still listen to songs today with as much joy and pleasure as I did when they came out. Some are even more pleasurable because our minds tend to filter our memories and (most of the time) we remember the good things – only amplified. There are days when I just like to hear my favorites from my youth and I still can’t help but think that it was the best time for music ever.

    I enjoy many types of music from Pink Floyd to Mozart and lots in between. There are a couple of genres that I am not particularly fond of, but I won’t mention them here so I won’t cause a brawl. To each his own. 🙂

    I loved this post. Thanks, Andrew. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Gabriel... says:

    …how about these two: Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick with “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”, and ‘The Proclaimers’ with “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. HI Andrew, some great song memories here. I laughed at your comment about sawing on a violin. Michael tried to learn the violin and we were very glad when he changed to piano. Now he plays the drums.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. SusanR says:

    Great memories. Good times. These were among my favorite artists back then. (Of course my memories go back to ’50s music … )

    Liked by 3 people

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