The Blasters

Long White Cadillac

Song Review by

The cult of the rock star who lived fast and died young before he/she could witness their artistic decline hardly began with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, or Jim Morrison -- in fact, the whole idea predates rock & roll as we generally know it. On New Years Day, 1953, more than a year before Elvis Presley would enter a recording studio for the first time and kick-start white rock & roll, 29-year-old Hank Williams died while napping in the back of his Cadillac as he was being driven to his next gig. It's a potent image, the "King of Country Music" (and Nashville's first great outlaw) dying in the rolling symbol of his success en route to another show, and more than one songwriter had referenced it before Dave Alvin wrote the song "Long White Cadillac" for the Blasters' third album, Non Fiction. While Williams is never mentioned by name, it's obvious that Alvin's lyrics are meant to record the thoughts of the great hillbilly poet as he takes his final long ride down the lost highway. "Night wolves moan/Winter hills are black/I'm all alone/Sitting in the back/Of a long white Cadillac," Dave Alvin sings, in a voice laden with emphatic stretched-out notes which sound like the voice of a phantom. "Sometimes I blame it on a woman/The one that made my poor heart bleed/Sometimes I blame it on the money/Sometimes I blame it all on me," he sings in the song 's bridge, four lines which might have made a good epitaph for Williams. While many see more than a bit of romance and daring in Williams' early demise, in "Long White Cadillac," Dave Alvin isn't having any of that -- it's a song which respects the legend and understands the importance of an artist such as Hank Williams, but also understands his last ride for what it truly was, a sad and lonely end to an often sad and lonely life. In its original recording on 1983's Non-Fiction, "Long White Cadillac" was fast, lean proto-rockabilly, punctuated by Alvin's less-is-more guitar solos and the relentless downbeat of drummer Bill Bateman. In 1987, Alvin revisited the song for his first solo album, Romeo's Escape (released in Europe as Every Night About This Time); in this recording, Alvin slowed the song down considerably and added a swampy undertow which made the song's menacing poetry all the more vivid and more moving, and Alvin's guitar work had gained a sharper and more jagged edge in the process. It was one of those rare examples of an artist re-recording a song and significantly improving it the second time around. And in 1989, retro country star Dwight Yoakam (a friend and fan of the Blasters) recorded the song as a bonus track for his first greatest-hits album, Just Lookin' for a Hit, in an arrangement modeled on the version from Romeo's Escape; while Alvin's recording packs more moody substance, there's little arguing that Yoakam has stronger chops as a vocalist, and his tough, soulful take on the song was a well-deserved hit, and the royalty checks helped finance Alvin's next solo set, Blue Blvd.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Non Fiction 1983 Wounded Bird 2:55
The Blasters Collection 1991 Slash 0:00
The Slash Recordings 2002 Rhino 2:55