Written by Lauren Harris. 3 November 2015.
“Long Hot Summer Day” by Turnpike Troubadours is a song about a man who has to work long hard hours on the Illinois river while his lady waits for him at home. It is a typical anthem of a blue collar worker. Although this song was released by Turnpike in 2010, it was originally written by John Hartford in 1976. Hartford was a a folk, country and bluegrass composer, as well as an expert fiddler who spent most of his life in St. Louis Missouri working on the Mississippi River. Now it makes more sense that the band didn’t write this song, considering the Turnpike Troubadours are from Oklahoma and have never worked on the river. Although this song was written in 1976, it has a timeless message that people can relate to by using simple structure with appropriate instruments to set the mood.
This song appeared on their album Diamonds and Gasoline which did not make a dent on the music charts. But, their next album released two years later in 2012 called Goodbye Normal Street reached number 14 on the U.S. country charts according to Billboard. Why might this be? Some success may be due to the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter made it his walk up song in 2013 – the same year they were in the World Series. Band member and fiddle player Kyle Nix thinks this exposure is what “seems to have blown up [their] fan base really big.” Social media seemed to have made the song very popular in the Missouri region.
In order to understand this song it is important to go back to its roots. The original writer of the song, John Hartford, was born in 1938 and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He got his first job at 10 years old on a river boat and spent his time listening to “traditional country music he heard on the Grand Ole Opry”. By age 13 he was an expert on the fiddle, banjo, and guitar. This early job is what influenced the writing of “Long Hot Summer Day” as seen in the chorus lines, “For every day I workin’ on the Illinois River / Get a half a day off with pay / Oh tow boat pickin’ up barges.” Notice the incorrect grammar being used here which adds to the speakers voice. A southern river boat worker as well as the type of person listening to this song most likely don’t use perfect language. While the members of Turnpike did not have this same experience in, they can all relate to working on hot (Oklahoma) summer days. Initially the band wasn’t going to record the song but once they performed it live and got a positive response they went ahead with it. I think they realized the live performance potential this song had. According to band member Kyle Nix, “Evan [Felker] was listening to a lot of John Hartford, and I was listening to a lot of bluegrass stuff…It was just kind of a neat little song. It was cool the way Hartford did it, just by himself, tapping his foot, playing the fiddle. And we figured it might be cool to put a whole band behind a song like that.”
This brings to attention the audience that Turnpike is trying to appeal to. This young band is better known for their live performances at all different types of venues. I have seen them perform at a small cafe, a country music festival, and even at a fraternity house. They take pride in sticking to their roots even as they grow bigger. “Long Hot Summer Day” emphasizes the appeal of their live performances with the multiple instrumental solos. While the solos my not be as exciting in a recording studio, it can bring great entertainment at a concert to show off the band. They are creating a loyal fan base with people who are willing to attend their concerts in many different places. This can been seen online in a review comment on an article about their Diamonds and Gasoline album. Duluke stated that, “these guys came and played at a tiny rural Minnesota bar north of the Twin Cities in the middle of last winter. I thought it was very cool of them to make that trip. It was an awesome show that made a fan out of me.” Their fans clearly love their commitment and the message they portray.
The message of this particular song is very simple and easy to grasp with little story plot involved. Whether you are currently working long hot summer days or have at one point in your life, you can feel the beaten down voice of the singer. It appeals to young and old folks alike.The song is plainly structured with switching off between a verse and the chorus. This seems to follow the same format that original working class folk songs followed. Also, the instruments in this song play a key role in the message. The beginning fiddle solo repeats twice, first by itself and then with a little help from the drums and guitar, which sets the worn out mood. The first verse and chorus only have a drum just keeping the beat and a slight fiddle, but the prominent part is his voice. This is how the original song was, with Hartford just keeping beat with his foot, and allows the audience to focus on the words. Lead singer, Evan Felker, with his very distinct voice, draws out his words to set the tone. The beat picks up after the first chorus, but throughout the song there are five instrumentals that switch off which instrument has the solo. Although the tune is the same, the change between harmonica, fiddle, electric guitar, and a combination of all three creates a different feel each time. The fiddle is folky, the harmonica is bluesy, the electric guitar is rocky, and when all three play together it blends the three genres to perfection. Combining these aspects creates a great cohesion of influences.
“Long Hot Summer Day” has a timeless message that stems from many different influences and tries to keep traditional country alive. Working hard for little pay while your woman waits for you at home is a theme that started long ago and can still be seen in todays songs. With the combination of the fiddle, harmonica, and electric guitar while sticking to a simple structure, the singer can effectively reach the live audience. I believe The Turnpike Troubadours owes their success to Matt Carpenter who picked “Long Hot Summer Day” as his walk up song. It expanded their fan base with a free promotion.
|0:00-0:25||Introduction||fiddle then guitar and drums||The first half of this intro is all a fiddle solo. Then it repeats the same fiddle solo but a guitar and drum chime in. It is a very distinctive intro so you always know what song it is when that intro comes on.|
|0:25-0:39||Verse 1||“Well I’m gonna…”||This first verse has few background instruments. It only has a drum keeping beat and a slight fiddle. The lyrics set up a scene for a “long hot summer day.”|
|0:39-0:52||Chorus||“For every day I workin’…”||It goes right into the chorus after the first verse with no pause. This first chorus is the same tune/beat as the first verse. The lyrics discuss his hard work during the summer.|
|0:52-1:06||Instrumental||Harmonica||This instrumentals main focus is the harmonica that is playing the same tune as the chorus. It changes the song to be a little more upbeat|
|1:06-1:18||Verse 2||“Well I got me a gal in Pecan…”||Unlike the first verse, this one has more consistent instruments in the background but still has the same beat. It introduces his girl into the song.|
|1:18-1:32||Chorus||“For every day I workin’…”||Like the first chorus, it goes straight into the lyrics after the verse with no pause. Although, unlike the first chorus it has more consistent instruments.|
|1:32-1:45||Instrumental||Fiddle||This instrumentals main focus is the fiddle which is accompanied by the drums and guitar.|
|1:45-1:58||Verse 3||“Well Last night…”||The instruments are exactly like verse 2.|
|1:58-2:11||Chorus||“For every day I workin’…”||The chorus is the same as it was the second time.|
|2:11-2:25||Instrumental||Electric Guitar||This time the main instrument solo is the electric guitar but to the same tune as the rest of the instrumentals.|
|2:25-2:38||Verse 4||“Well we dropped a man off…”||Same tune as the rest of the verses. He mentions two towns in Illinois which is the setting of the song.|
|2:38-2:52||Chorus||“For every day I workin’…”||It goes straight into the chorus again and is the same beat of the other chorus’.|
|2:52-3:04||Instrumental||Fiddle||This instrumental brings it back to the fiddle.|
|3:04-3:32||Chorus X2||“For every day I workin’…”||The first time the chorus is like the first chorus of the song and when it repeats it plays like the rest of the chorus’ with all of the instruments.|
|3:32-3:45||Instrumental||harmonica, guitar, drums||This last instrumental doesn’t have a prominent solo and they all play together.|
|3:45-4:07||Playout||Fiddle solo||Same fiddle solo as the intro|
Coroneos, Kyle. “Turnpike Troubadours Get Song Into World Series with Matt Carpenter.” SavingCountryMusic.com. Saving Country Music, 22 Oct. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
Duluke. “Re: Review – Turnpike Troubadours “Diamonds & Gasoline”.” Web log comment. SavingCountryMusic.com. Saving Country Music, 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
Manheim, James. “John Hartford.” AllMusic.com. AllMusic, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
“Turnpike Troubadours.” Billboard.com. Billboard, 26 May 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.