Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, “Motorvatin’ Mama”

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Jeff Beck couldn’t believe that “Motorvatin’ Mama” wasn’t a song from the 1930s. In fact, it was written by The Rolling Stones founding bassist Bill Wyman and recorded for his all-star group The Rhythm Kings’ first album, Struttin’ Our Stuff, in 1997.

“Jeff Beck said to me, ‘Where did you get ‘Motorvatin’ Mama’? Where’d that come from, who did that originally’?” Wyman recounts by phone from the UK, where he’s enjoying a day off from The Rhythm Kings seven-week tour. “I said, ‘No, I wrote that.’ He said, ‘Get out of it, that’s a ’30 song.'”

“I said, ‘I wrote it, it just sounds like one because we made it sound like that and I’m using lyrics that are familiar to that time.’ And then he said to me, ‘Who plays bass on it?’ And I said, ‘I do.’ And he said, ‘No you didn’t. That’s a double bass on there and you don’t play double bass. Your hands are too small.’ That’s me playing bass but I’m trying to make it sound like a double bass, because that’s what was being used at the time.”

Wyman, who left the Stones in 1992, has since put his focus into The Rhythm Kings, as well as other interests like writing, photography, archeology, and running his Sticky Fingers restaurant.

He says the idea for the Rhythm Kings grew out of the eclectic spirit of his 1985 Willie And The Poor Boys project, which featured some of the same members (Andy Fairweather Low, Geraint Watkins) that would work with The Rhythm Kings. The Rhythm Kings explore a wide range of styles, from rock and roll to jazz, blues, gospel, soul, and rockabilly. “It’s a variety of music, not the same old numbers,” Wyman says. (A new five-CD box set on Proper Records shows the group’s breadth on three studio albums and a double-disc live outing.)

While never a major songwriting force in the Stones, Wyman wrote songs for solo albums like Monkey Grip, Stone Alone, and Bill Wyman (which yielded the hit “(Si, Si) Je Suis un Rock Star”). But, now, when he works out a song for The Rhythm Kings, Wyman says he tries to write “in the style of the time.” He compares it to archeology: “You’re finding little treasures and bring them to life.”

“I just tried to capture the atmosphere of the time of what I was thinking that song suited, whether it was the late ’30s, or whether it was jump music, around the time of Fats Waller. [I’m] trying to use the local slang, to use the kind of melodies they would sing backing vocals to, and different kind of horn arrangements.”

“Motorvatin’ Mama” is a clear homage to ’30s hokum blues double entendre, recalling that genre’s heyday and risque tunes like Tampa Red’s “Let Me Play With Your Poodle,” Bo Carter’s “Please Warm My Weiner,” or Memphis Minnie’s “Bumble Bee.”

But with its automobile sexual innuendoes, “Motorvatin’ Mama”‘s closest influence might be Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues,” named for the car made by Detroit’s Hudson Motor Company, which was popular when Johnson recorded in 1936.

Like Johnson’s automobile analogy, Wyman goes through a laundry list of car parts that need repair: starter, plugs, steering, radiator, carburetor. In both songs, the protagonist has been away from home and wonders “who’s been in my garage” (or in Johnson’s case, “Who been drivin’ my Terraplane for you since I been gone?”).

Wyman clearly enjoys the opportunity to play classic songs alongside newer tunes written in the style of the musical eras he loves. “We’ve got no pressure to make hit records or massive-selling albums, or record companies kicking us up the backside. We don’t have any of that so it’s just a pleasure to do it. You do it for the love.”

Stay tuned for our full interview with Bill Wyman, in which he discusses the difference between working with The Rhythm Kings and the Stones, getting George Harrison to play slide guitar on a song not long before he died, and his misunderstood blues book.

“Motorvatin’ Mama”

I’ve been out of action far too long
Who’s been in my garage since I’ve been gone
Motorvatin’ mama, driving hard
If I don’t fix you, baby, you’re heading for the breaker’s yard

Looking at your starter gotta change those wires
Searching your connection, your plugs don’t fire
Motorvatin’ mama (motorvatin’ mama), driving hard (drivin’ hard)
If I don’t get you runnin’, you’re heading for the breaker’s yard

Straighten out the steering so your wheels don’t drift
Checkin’ your suspension, gettin’ for a lift
Motorvatin’ mama (motorvatin’ mama), driving hard (drivin’ hard)
If I don’t fix you, baby, you’re heading for the breaker’s yard

Gotta rev your engine, change those oils
Plug your radiator ‘fore your engine boils
Motorvatin’ mama (motorvatin’ mama), driving hard (drivin’ hard)
If I don’t get you runnin’, you’re heading for the breaker’s yard

You’re rustin’ up, much too slow,
Gotta check the body work down below
Motorvatin’ mama (motorvatin’ mama), driving hard (drivin’ hard)
If I don’t fix you, baby, you’re heading for the breaker’s yard

Turn your carburetor get the timing right
Fix those gears ’cause you’re much too tight
Motorvatin’ mama (motorvatin’ mama), driving hard (drivin’ hard)
If I don’t get you runnin’, you’re heading for the breaker’s yard

You’re a motorvatin’ mama (motorvatin’ mama), driving hard (drivin’ hard)

Written by Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor

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