NASCAR’s roots date back to the Prohibition Era when bootleggers, trying to get a leg up on Eliot Ness types in hot pursuit of their illicit booze, souped up their cars so they could outrun their pursuers and deliver their contraband. How could they have possibly known that their exploits would not only eventually cause Uncle Sam to relent and repeal the Eighteenth Amendment, but also give birth to one of America’s most popular spectator sports? Let’s raise a glass to the bootleggers!
Our latest band that rocks, Lehigh Valley-based Bootleg Express, has embraced the historical significance of the American bootlegger, NASCAR racing and good ole American rock and roll. Band members are John Karas (guitar/vocals), JR Peterson (guitar/vocals), Bill Lytle (bass) and Paul Shankweiler (drums). Swamp, southern, blues, and country rock with a touch of rockabilly are their specialties and they played a wide variety at Strange Brew Tavern in Allentown on Friday, March 8.
Right off the bat, we were swamp-bound with CCR’s “Born on the Bayou.” Karas was spectacular on guitar and sang with all of the familiar John Fogerty nuances. Creedence was a heavy staple for Bootleg Express throughout the night as they also covered “Hey, Tonight”, “Travelin’ Band”, “Green River” and “Down on the Corner.”
ZZ Top covers included “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers”, “Tush” and “La Grange.” We enjoyed some Setzer with our seltzer as they belted out Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut.” They threw in some Three Dog Night, George Thorogood, Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry and the house was rockin’! By this time, the beer was flowing freely and those in attendance at Strange Brew were diggin’ on The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues!” Better to be in a roadhouse than a speakeasy as I’m sure Prohibitionists Eliot Ness and J. Edgar Hoover were spinning in their graves.
Bootleg Express adroitly changed gears by downshifting to some Brit rock with covers of The Rolling Stones, Bad Company, Cream, The Who and Jethro Tull. I was particularly fond of their rendition of Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” - a song I just don’t really get to hear except on the radio or juke box.
I spoke to bass player, Bill Lytle, and he told me, “We are going to work on some Deep Purple songs, more Jethro Tull, AC/DC and Rush. Rush is my favorite band. We’re going to learn Rush’s “In the Mood.”
Now imagine hearing all the great American rock that they already play with an even bigger chunk of British, Australian and Canadian Prog Rock included. I told Bill, “You’re a man after my own heart.”
If you like to rock out to all of the music of the aforementioned bands plus hear the likes of Joe Walsh, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steve Miller and Steppenwolf and if you like to dance to the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Georgia Satellites and Wilson Pickett, then Bootleg Express is ready and willing to do your bidding.
There is no pretense with this band. These are all regular guys who truly enjoy playing the music they love and they love playing to appreciative crowds so cheer them heartily when you see them play.
Bill said, “We just wanna play out more; as much as we can. We enjoy what we’re doing. We’re playing stuff that everybody likes to hear.”
Like many other local musicians, Bill is concerned about the decrease of available booking opportunities for live bands.
“There’s a lot of places closing up and it’s pretty tight trying to get in to any place anymore. You’re fighting tooth and nail trying to get in there.”
Keep fighting the good fight, Bill. At least there are still some places like Strange Brew where you can swill some cold suds, grab some pub grub, watch the games or NASCAR and keep the rock alive – all at the same time. And we have to thank them and continue to patronize them. I know I will.