In the mid-1980s I was looking for songs in the wide area of overlap between blues and country, and Ray Charles’ terrific version of this Hank Snow hit made it an obvious choice. In that period I was touring across country twice a year, with most of the gigs in bars around Montana and the Idaho panhandle. The patrons in those rooms ranged from blues fans to country listeners to folks who were just down for a drink in their local bar, and I was trying to find material that suited their tastes and also fitted with the rest of my repertoire and guitar style. If I hit the right balance, they’d even get up and dance, which never happened in the folk clubs back east.
I don’t remember whether I heard Ray’s version before or after Hank Snow’s, but it was definitely my main influence, though I also listened to Snow’s a bunch. I had only one Hank Snow album, a greatest hits set I bought after reading Peter Guralnick’s chapter about him in Lost Highway. He and Guralnick didn’t hit it off in person, but Peter clearly admired his musicianship and I checked out every artist in that book. In Snow’s case the exploration ended with that one album, but I liked his guitar playing and learned several songs off it. I still do “I’ve Been Everywhere” and though I don’t remember all the words to “Rumba Boogie,” can never forget the verse that goes:
When Madame Lazonga was teaching the conga
In her little cabana in old Havana
We were doing the charleston and balling the jack
And that old black bottom till they started the jitterbug rag…
That’s about all I have to say about this song, except that when I was working it up for this video I started playing the banjo roll from Sam McGee’s “Railroad Blues” for the final V-chord section, and then added McGee’s full “train coming into Nashville” break . And I need to credit Steve James here, because I worked out a version of that guitar part from McGee’s record, but when Steve and I did a split bill at Johnny D’s in Somerville, Mass, I played it for him in the green room and he straightened me out. He’d actually spent time with Sam McGee, and showed me a couple of cute tricks, like the way McGee played the bass on the E section of that break — instead of alternating between the 6th string and the 5th (actually, the 5th and 4th together), he played the 6th for the first beat, then stayed on the 5th for the next three: 6-5-5-5, 6-5-5-5. I hadn’t noticed that, and it’s a great sound.
As for the rest, it’s just basic acoustic fingerstyle honky-tonk and a lot of fun to play.