KINGMAN – Bobby Troupe put Kingman on the music map in 1946 with his lyrics from “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” and now another songwriter mentions the city in a song about fleeing the Dust Bowl.
Grant Maloy Smith, a recording artist from Nashville, Tennessee, is releasing his album, “Dust Bowl: American Stories,” on Suburban Cowboy Records Thursday.
Each of the 13 tracks tells a story about the massive dust storms in the 1930s that devastated the Southern Plains, destroying crops and killing livestock. The songs are written from the perspective of farmers, ranchers and Native Americans.
An estimated 2 million people were forced to leave their homes. Many of them packed their belongings and headed west along Route 66 in search of work. Their plight was chronicled in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, “Grapes of Wrath.”
“We broke down in Kingman, so we walked to Bakersfield. Don’t you know the Mother Road?” Smith writes in his song, “I Come from America.”
“My main goal in writing the album was to capture the hardy nature of those people who endured so much, set against the backdrop of this real-life drama,” the songwriter said. “These storms happened over and over, for years. People were sickened from breathing pounds of dirt each year. Pneumonia and other respiratory ailments were common.”
Smith said he first visited Kingman in 2008 or 2009 when he tested engines for Honeywell at the airport, as well as working at Harley Davidson Proving Grounds in Yucca.
“I was a bit too young to remember TV shows like ‘Route 66,’ but I knew about them and the mystique of that fabled highway my whole life,” he told the Daily Miner. “So I stayed at the Best Western right on Route 66 at least twice, and enjoyed touching a little part of that history.”
Smith was driving from Phoenix to Kingman in 2011 when his publicist informed him that his album was going to be on the Grammy ballot, so that drive will always be etched in his mind.
He called upon those Kingman experiences when he began researching for his Dust Bowl album in 2013, and he reread “Grapes of Wrath” to gain a deeper understanding of the Mother Road character.
Last year, when he was nearly done with all the writing for “Dust Bowl,” Smith drove through Kingman and stopped for lunch.
“I found a place where I could get a window seat and watch the cars going by,” Smith said. “I imagined what it might have looked like 80 years ago when the poor, hopeful migrants puttered past, their trucks groaning under the weight of everything they owned, and radiator caps sizzling and spitting in the scorching sun.
“My imagination was in stark contrast with some of the modern air conditioned sedans gliding by. But I remembered that Steinbeck often noted the fancy cars of the ‘haves’ and contrasted them with the broken down wrecks that our heroes were just hoping would make it one more day,” he said.
Inspired by Woodie
“I come from America” is the first song from the album to be released to country and Americana radio stations.
In reviewing the album, Americana music magazine No Depression called the song “one of the best, recent pro-American songs … in a long time.”
Smith said he was inspired by Woodie Guthrie’s classic ballad, “This Land is Your Land.”
“Like Woodie’s song, ‘I Come from America’ is both a cheerful anthem and has a second layer of meaning,” he said. “In my case, I focused on the dark side of how hundreds of thousands of Dust Bowl migrants were treated when they ended up in places like Bakersfield, because there are echoes today of how we regard illegal immigrants from other counties.
“The irony is that in the 1930s, these migrants were not foreigners, but Americans from the Great Plains,” Smith said.
For more on Grant Maloy Smith and his music, go to www.Grant-Maloy-Smith.com.