Music

Jim Varney + Ricky Skaggs Recorded One of the Most Rewarding, and Unlikely, Versions of 'Hot Rod Lincoln'

Wikimedia Commons/ DavidHardy5 and AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

If you catch a rockabilly or traditional country band in any honky-tonk or dive bar from Bakersfield to Myrtle Beach, it's safe to assume that they're ready, willing and able to make good on your "Hot Rod Lincoln" request. That's in part because the song's taken some interesting twists and turns from its 1955 debut to today, making it accessible to a wide range of guitar slingers and their bandmates.

'Hot Rod Lincoln'

Rockabilly singer-songwriter Charlie Ryan wrote the future standard as an answer song to Arkie Shibley's similarly-themed teenage fantasy from 1950, the Ford versus Mercury battle " Hot Rod Race." Ryan first recorded it, in 1955 for Souvenir Records (as Charlie Ryan and the Livingston Bros.) and in 1959 for 4 Star (as Charlie Ryan and the Timberline Riders).

Johnny Bond introduced Ryan's souped-up coupe to country listeners in 1960. Since then, Western swing purists Asleep at the Wheel and others have kept "Hot Rod Lincoln" fresh in fans' minds, but it's a group of country-rock outsiders that secured the bar band classic's immortality.

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Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen's crossover pop rendition from the 1971 album Lost in the Ozone made the Ryan original acceptable for classic country fans and rock 'n' roll outsiders alike. Chances are, the original Commander Cody version and a live recording from 1997 during which guitarist Bill Kirchen steals the show now define the song to many of those before-mentioned bar bands.

Commander Cody's crew, a band known for fan favorite "Seeds and Stems (Again)," wasn't the most surreal collective to tackle Ryan's car song. West Coast punkers All have covered it, as has bass-slapping outsider Les Claypool. Yet the oddest recording on paper (and one of the more rewarding versions in retrospect) has got to be the Jim Varney and Ricky Skaggs team-up for the Beverly Hillbillies (1993) movie soundtrack.

"Hot Rod Lincoln" Lyrics

My pappy said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln"

Have you heard this story of the Hot Rod race
When Fords and Lincolns was settin' the pace
That story is true, I'm here to say
I was drivin' that Model A

It's got a Lincoln motor
And it's really souped up
And that model A body makes it look like a pup
It's got eight cylinders; uses them all
It's got overdrive, just won't stall

With a 4-barrel carb and a dual exhaust
With 4.11 gears
You can really get lost
It's got safety tubes, but I ain't scared
The brakes are good, tires fair

Pulled out of San Pedro late one night
The moon and the stars was shinin' bright.
We was drivin' up
Grapevine Hill
Passing cars like they was standing still

All of a sudden in a wink of an eye
A Cadillac sedan passed us by
I said, "Boys, that's a mark for me!"
By then the taillight was all you could see

Now the fellas was ribbin' me for bein' behind
So I thought I'd make the Lincoln unwind
Took my foot off the gas and man alive
I shoved it on down into overdrive

Wound it up to a hundred-and-ten
My speedometer said that I hit top end
My foot was blue, like lead to the floor
That's all there is and there ain't no more

Now the boys all thought I'd lost my sense
And telephone poles looked like a picket fence
They said, "Slow down! I see spots!
The lines on the road just look like dots."

Took a corner, sideswiped a truck
Crossed my fingers just for luck
My fenders was clickin' the guardrail posts
The guy beside me was white as a ghost

Smoke was comin' from out of the back
When I started to gain on that Cadillac
Knew I could catch him, I thought I could pass.
Don't you know by then we'd be low on gas?

We had flames comin' from out of the side.
Feel the tension. Man! What a ride!
I said, "Look out, boys, I've got a license to fly!"
And that Caddy pulled over and let us by

Now all of a sudden she started to knockin'
And down in the dips she started to rockin'
I looked in my mirror; a red light was blinkin'
The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln!

They arrested me and they put me in jail.
And called my pappy to throw my bail.
And he said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot... Rod... Lincoln!"

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Jim Varney + Ricky Skaggs Recorded One of the Most Rewarding, and Unlikely, Versions of 'Hot Rod Lincoln'