Custom-recorded car tapes: cruise with your own set of tunes

July 06, 1993|By Hartford Courant

Just as crucial to a pleasurable summer road trip as proper packing and a tuned-up auto is the perfect car tape.

Rather than rely on radio in unknown expanses of the country, or commercial tapes of albums with a couple good songs and a lot of same-sounding filler, music lovers have for years used home tape decks to concoct their own perfect song selection.

And a good tape will last several trips and be an interesting loan to friends (who will not necessarily follow your every musical turn of the road with the same enthusiasm).

And for musicians, on the road for business or pleasure, it seems essential to have reliable music.

"When I'm cruising, I like to hear a lot of different things," says Southside Johnny Lyon. "I'd be more than happy to hear any kind of R&B from the '50s or '60s, or '40s. Any Duke Ellington. But also things like Lucinda Williams."

"Driving by yourself and listening to the radio is a great thrill," says Mr. Lyon who lives in Stamford, Conn. "But I want to hear what I want to hear when I want to hear it. And I'll be going through the radio and they won't be playing it. They're not playing any Elmore James when I want to hear Elmore James. So I have to be able to hit that Elmore James button."

Well, he doesn't really have an Elmore James button, but he sure does have an Elmore James tape among the pile of uncased Maxells covering the rear floor mats of his black Toyota Celica.

There's no one favorite car tape for him, however. But even with one-artist collections, "I make my own tapes, because people always put things on records that they shouldn't."

Bassist Michael Anthony of Van Halen says, "I always make up a few tapes like that to take out on the road or if I'm vacationing."

"One," he says. "starts out with Living Colour's 'Cult of Personality,' goes right into Scorpions' 'Rhythm of Love,' then 'Love Bites' by those Def Leppard guys, and right into 'Rock Candy' from the guy singing with us now (Sammy Hagar). Then into 'N.S.U.' by Cream," he says with a laugh, at the band's B-side to the band's first single, "I Feel Free" in 1967. "I go all the way back. Here's one -- 'Love Walks In,' by us!"

Not all Mr. Anthony's tapes are as hard rocking. "It's like whatever you're like the day you put the thing together. I have a tape of all quiet songs, too."

The latest thing he's listening to, he says, has more to do with the coming Van Halen tour. "Vince Neil. He's opening for us, so I want to get familiar with that."

Some artists rely on others for compilation tapes.

"There's a couple of people who make tapes for me I really enjoy," says Rosanne Cash. "I found a tape Hank DeVito made for me in 1978 that I really enjoyed. It's the wildest stuff. From Scandal to Moon Martin. Do you remember Moon Martin? I can't remember what else was on it. Some old rock 'n' roll stuff."

The last tape she made herself, she says, was a long time ago. "It had 'Landslide' on it," she says, referring to the 1975 Fleetwood Mac song.

Other artists prefer to listen to commercial albums from start to finish rather than making their own tapes.

"Janet Jackson's 'Rhythm Nation' album is one of the few that every time I listen to it, I can listen to it from top to bottom," says Carl Martin of the R&B singing quartet Shai.

Otherwise, he listens to new work by producers from LA and Babyface to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. "I want to take what's happening in R&B and hip-hop right now."

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