Hey there, Bear here—named after Bear Bryant. No, I’m not exactly thrilled about that. In my defense, and as is generally the case, I had no say in my name. If I had, I would have much preferred something like Alexander or Abraham. But instead of being named after someone as courageous as Alexander the Great or as legendary as Abraham Lincoln, I was named after a college football coach. That’s how things go sometimes, I guess. OOK-OOK.
Did I mention I’m an ape? An APE, not a monkey—presumably just like you. I am not, however, defined solely by my species, as I lead a rich and complex life that’s filled with a great many adventures that go far beyond simply field-stripping bananas and picking parasites off the backs of family and friends. In the interest of getting to the point, however, there is one principal achievement I will likely be remembered for once I eventually shuffle off to the great Ugandan ironwood tree in the sky: trucking. That’s right, I’m a trucker. OOK-OOK, good buddy. Well, my partner and I are truckers, to be exact. His name’s Billie Joe McKay, and he has joined me on an endless series of open road escapades for as long as I can remember. Perhaps you’ve heard of our ongoing documentary series fittingly titled Bear & The BJ? I will now kindly suggest that you remove your mind from the gutter.
This isn’t really about me and my partner, though. We’re here to talk to you about Freeways. No, not the complex system of limited and controlled-access highways offered to anyone with two or more wheels for the very agreeable price of zero dollars and zero cents, we’re talking about the band Freeways: a four-piece outfit out of Canada that plays a style of liberating hard rock that’s custom-built for fightin’ white line fever.
Before anything else, if you think BJ and I listen to nothing but the candy-coated malarkey the producers of the show constantly dubbed in, you need to loosen your helmet strap a couple holes. Truth be told, John Denver will only get you so far with smokies hot on your trail, and Barbara Mandrell ain’t exactly the best complement to huffing speed off the dash at 4am when you need to get to Amarillo before noon. Push comes to shove, my partner and I reach for things like UFO, Blue Öyster Cult, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and Tanith to help keep the Cummins pumping. Freeways works their magic in that particular sphere, with a cushioned sort of ride that’s as smooth and glowing as a freshly lit indica nugget. The band’s dual guitars and catchy choruses are as welcoming as a sunrise on the Santa Monica pier, and the amount of times we’ve played True Bearings (their debut full-length) in the cab might lead one to believe that we’ve become as addicted to it as I am to smoking banana peels. In light of this infatuation, we’ve decided to break the album down for you with personal accounts of how the songs relate to some of our exploits. So, flip on that bird dog and get ready to rumble—we’re heading out from Chicago on our way to Santa Monica along Route 66.
1. “Eternal Light, Eternal Night” // Springfield, IL
We cruise the Route 66 run from Chicago to Santa Monica a lot, and the first significant pin on our way to the west coast is Springfield, IL. You might think it unlikely that we’d get into much trouble after only being in the Kenworth K-100 for three hours, but we once got into a scrape in the heart of the city with an exotic animal salesman who tried to smuggle a drugged up liger amidst a big shipment of vegan cozy dogs (corn dogs, to the layman) headed to Missouri, us being none the wiser. But surprise! The liger woke up ten minutes outside of Springfield, on account of it being in heat, and being an ape, I can understand ligers, so I heard him moaning about needing to “dip his wick into something… ANYTHING” from the cab. I was smart enough to stay the hell away, but humans are all immediately transfixed by big cats, so BJ of course tried to bond with him at the next rest area. Fun scenario for me because I got to watch BJ get clawed from chin to nuggets in the grip of liger love, and “Eternal Light, Eternal Night” was the perfect soundtrack for the event because there’s a lot of drivin’ energy in the riff & rhythm of that opener. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if that catchy chorus of “run into light / run from eternal night” was running through BJ’s mind as he desperately searched for his safe place. OOK-OOK. The wonderful lead that hits deep into the song has the sort of lift and energy necessary for any good climax, and the tuffness of the riffing as the song closes out is a pretty good representation of BJ’s annoyance with me for just watching everything unfold while smoking grass in the passenger seat.
2. “Sorrow (Love in Vain)” // St. Louis, MO
Well, after that little scrape in Springfield, it was back to the open road. I-55 S, to be precise. I know I was trying to put as much asphalt between that liger and myself and Bear, and luckily “Sorrow (Was Her Name)” kicks off with a driving rhythm moving at the pace of highway markers as they fly by the K-100. Those hot licks accentuating the vocals in the chorus keep the rubber hot and the radiator cool! The music sinks down into a groove that’s heavier than two tons and sixteen wheels as we pull into a truck stop diner to grab a quick bite. Next thing you know, we’re high-tailin’ outta there with a crew of mercenaries in hot pursuit with their eyes on the full load of Hi-Fi stereos we picked up in Springfield. Bear managed to knock one of them off the trail with a few well-timed oil slicks, syncing up perfectly with the leads whining over the return of the song’s galloping main riff. After that it was just a matter of some good-old fashioned “defensive driving” to maneuver that other rascal off into a ditch just before the 1-64 W exit, with the tunes playing us out of another whirlwind adventure.
3. “True Bearings” // Tulsa, OK
Something about being in the heart of the bible belt makes the corners of a city like Tulsa a little harder than you’d expect. During one stop a few years back, BJ and I found ourselves in a bar called the Loose Caboose, which not only appeared to have a number of loose cabooses enveloping its wobbly barstools, but more than its fair share of gristly bikers on their way to Vegas to boot. Well, ol’ BJ had a few too many Silver Bullets, and after someone put a load of Garth Brooks on the juke, he barked something along the lines of, “Whose ass did this music fall out of?” Little did he know that Garth was born in Tulsa and was therefore considered untouchable, so a crew of hairy ogres (from the Hairy Ogres MC) touched up BJ’s face. Have you ever seen a human get their hair washed in a toilet? I have. Bikers really don’t seem to mind when a chimp in overalls takes polaroids of them kicking around a guy who looks like an underwear model. OOK-OOK. I put “True Bearings” on as soon as the kerfuffle started because its a brawler right out of the gate, and those brief mellow snapshots that happen throughout its 4 minutes are perfect slow-motion representations of the shots BJ’s jaw took from fists the size of hams. There are a couple loud and quick leads at the end of this cut that are as cold as the icepack BJ eventually put on his beanbag. BJ lived to fight another day, but I think I’ll always think of “True Bearings” when he gets concussed.
4. “Dead Air” // Amarillo, TX
Anytime we haul through Texas, I remember just how lucky I am to have a partner like Bear with me. Those long stretches of open road start to blur together, but it’s not just his company that’s saved my hide in Texas. Like the one time we were moving livestock for a rodeo into Amarillo and the swaggering rhythm of “Dead Air” was putting me in a peppy Lone Star State blues spirit as we pulled into the roundup. It’s not that Bear wanted that bull to get loose, but you know, sometimes things have a way of working out in the way you may not have wanted them to in the first place. Seeing as how we hadn’t logged in our cargo yet, it was still our responsibility. And never having wrangled a bull in all my life, I readied myself to wrassle that sucker back into the trailer. As the “Dead Air” chime chords rang out during the main riff, my gaze met the bull’s across the lot. Knowing the danger ahead, it felt as though I was standing on the precipice of time, reassured that I’d be fine. Sure, I’d never done this before, but I’m always looking to rearrange my world view by exploring every avenue. As the bull charged during the sliding lead in the song’s bridge, I felt myself slip. Everything seemed to drop to slow motion, and as it built its way back up, I was sure I was going to be trampled by this raging beast. Yet, there he was—Bear, my partner in this wild life on the road—emerged from a barrel of smoke in full rodeo clown regalia, waving flags and grinnin’ up something fierce. It was just enough to distract the bull and give me a second to regain my composure, just as the song sank back into its dust-bitten main riff. Everything was coming down to the wire with no more help on the line—I grabbed that bull by the horns and rode it on into the rodeo, delivering our cargo with a triumphant fist in the air as the suspenseful end of the song put a definitive period on the end of the affair.
5. “Battered / Bruised” // Albuquerque, NM
By the time we get about 1300 miles into our haul, I can always tell that BJ is starting to get a little frayed around the edges. As for me, I’m cool as a cucumber because I smoke a lot of California grass and obviously look at life from a chimp’s perspective. Life is a tire swing, my friends—not much fun if it’s just dangling motionless in the breeze. Well, I don’t have to be Dr. Zaius to know my partner needs a little swinging of his own now and again, and one particular jaunt through Albuquerque in the springtime found us in the comforting presence of a touring crew of Tropicana Girls after we pulled off the road along the Rio Grande. One thing that’s pretty great about being me is the fact that everyone loves to cuddle a chimp wearing pants, and more often than not, these very same humans will also undress right in front of you simply because you’re not of their species. OOH-OOH-AH-AH!
It might not seem as if a song called “Battered / Bruised” would be well-suited for a romantic encounter, but there’s quite a bit of seductive strut as soon as the song breaks from the gate, and the opening riffs have enough hair on them that you’ll need a full flagon of Axe body wash to cut through the musk. The chorus is silky smooth, too, and Freeways introduces companion sax and piano play that unbuttons the shirt a few more notches. Swivel those hips, BJ! The ladies are watching! Poor bastard was so gullible that this touring crew of grifting wildcats had him hook, line and sinker within fifteen minutes of meeting us. By the time I eventually bothered going off to look for him, he was fully stripped, ripped and robbed of absolutely everything. It’s during these precious moments that I just love playing the part of a “stupid ape” who can’t quite understand what a human means when they plead, “Untie me, boy! You can do it!” What’s that, buddy? Go find that group of wholesome campers we came across on the way down here and bring them down for an eyeful? I’m on it! The little Spanish flare in that wonderful acoustic solo deep into the song is clearly an ode to the fact that BJ actually believes Spanish fly works. This particular caper ended with me taking a nap in the truck before remembering how to chew through rope.
6. “Time Is No Excuse” // Flagstaff, AZ
It never rains in Arizona, but it sure was that night me and Bear cruised on through Flagstaff. I’ll never forget it: the wipers were beating faster than the weighted blues groove of “Time Is No Excuse,” pushing sheets of rain off the widescreen view of the dimly lit desert roads. It’s times like these when you’re prone to reflect on heartbreak, imagining with sorrowful regret the way things could have been. The creeping pace of the bass here is seductive, yet distant…. Much like she was.
She was hitching a ride, and we would have missed her save for the flickering of the neon vacancy sign of the roadside motel. She was in a bit of a bad way—recently escaped from the local mental institution after being accused of killing her husband—and we were happy to help her out. The stark realization that we might be riding with a murderer hit me and Bear like the creeping interplay between the guitars as we exchanged a worried glance. But with a little investigation into her story, it appeared she was telling the truth! With a little extra sleuthing (and the aid of a mischievous little twist in the music into a jazzy little number), we outed the goons trying to frame this poor woman. Sure, there were a few hijinks involved (with a bongo rhythm like this, how could there not be), but with the push of energy at the end of the track, we exposed those thugs for who they really were. And from there, sunny California would certainly be an easy ride.
7. “Survival” // Santa Monica, CA
By the time the Kenworth finally rolls into Santa Monica, the two of us are pretty happy to have simply survived another run. Well, BJ is, at least—he looks like he spent the last four nights buried alive beneath a mass of burning tires. I, of course, remain mostly unscathed, because chimps ain’t wimps. “Survival” is an appropriate way to end this particular journey because the song has just a tiny extra touch of golden sunniness in those opening riffs that recalls early Y&T and strolling the pier with dab of zinc oxide on your nose and a fanny pack loaded with jays. Hey, chimps can get sunburn, too. “Survival” ain’t exactly the sort of epic closer that puts a definitive period on the end of the sentence, though. In that regard, it’s indicative that the Freeways journey isn’t close to being over, which is great news for us because we’ll be headed back east in no time. Until then, keep the Cummins hummin’, stay clear of the fuzz, and get True Bearings into your speakers.
• Jacob Montgomery (Droid) – guitar / vocals
• Sebastian Alcamo (Droid) – drums
• Domenic Innocente – guitar
• Amar Amrith – bass
True Bearings is available Friday, April 3rd through the good people at Temple of Mystery Records. GO BUY!
Also available: the Cold Front EP from 2017.