Steamroller Blues

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"Steamroller Blues"
Song by James Taylor from the album Sweet Baby James
Released 1970
Recorded December, 1969 at Sunset Sound
Genre Soft rock
Length 2:57
Label Warner Bros. Records
Writer James Taylor
Producer Peter Asher


James Taylor's 1970/76 publicity photo

"Steamroller Blues", often labelled just "Steamroller", is a blues parody written by James Taylor, that first appeared on his 1970 breakthrough album Sweet Baby James. The song title comes from the first line: "I'm a steamroller baby, I'm bound to roll all over you...". It was a multi-sectioned walking tune full of phrases such as "I'm a napalm bomb for you, baby" and "I'm a churnin' urn of burnin' funk." It exposed a humorous side of Taylor that was sometimes obscured by his more intensely personal work, and thus became one of Taylor's best-known songs.

Mocking White-Blues[edit]

Rock journalist David Browne writes that "[d]uring the Flying Machine days in the Village, Taylor had heard one too many pretentious white blues bands and wrote "Steamroller" to mock them."[1] Taylor and Danny Kortchmar, both playing electric guitars, laid down the track in one night at Sunset Studios, the rhythm section being added later. A tight budget and production schedule forced Taylor to record the song despite suffering from a severe head cold. His congestion can be heard in the final take.[2] According to Rolling Stone Album Guide critic Mark Coleman, Taylor "effectively mocks the straining pomposity of then-current white bluesmen."[3]

"Steamroller" was included on Taylor's diamond-selling Greatest Hits 1976 compilation in a live version recorded in August 1975 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles; a different performance from 1992 was included on his 1993 album (LIVE). Indeed "Steamroller" was and is a James Taylor concert fixture, appearing in virtually every set list of his over the decades.

Elvis Presley version[edit]

Even the King played Steamroller Blues all the way to his last tour

During the 1970s Elvis Presley added "Steamroller Blues" to his concert repertoire, it being a good fit for his latter-era on-stage persona; it was also featured in his live televised January 1973 Aloha from Hawaii program. It was included on the Aloha From Hawaii: Via Satellite live album released the following month, and then in March 1973 this live "Steamroller Blues" was released as a single. It did reasonably well, reaching number 17 on the U.S. pop singles chart. It was still being performed on Presley concert tours up until his 1977 death, and was included on the 2007 compilation The Essential Elvis Presley.

Other versions[edit]

A cover was recorded by country music singer Billy Dean on his 1994 album Fire in the Dark.

Isaac Hayes performed the song on an episode of The A-Team.

Bria Kelly of The Voice Season 6 covered the song in Blind Auditions, earning her four chair turns.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970 (2011: Boston, Da Capo Press), p. 62
  2. ^ Browne ibid., p. 63
  3. ^ Coleman, M. (1992). DeCurtis, A., Henke, J. & George-Warren, H., ed. The Rolling Stone Album Guide (3rd ed.). Straight Arrow Publishers. p. 293. ISBN 0679737294.