By Kimberly Sherman
‘You’ll find me underneath that great big sky, or maybe somewhere on the stage tonight, I’m just a vagabond passing through, you’ll find me at your local saloon and hear my drifter blues.
The man crooning this tune in a dimly lit bar may look familiar. Life as a heroic firefighter serves J.D. Goodwin’s need for stability during the day, but at night Goodwin transforms into the gritty leader of a little band called Motel Drive, a fitting name for a group firmly rooted in the soil of the Central Valley.
Goodwin’s career and his craft have many parallels. What began as a Tulare County volunteer position in 2002 turned to a seasonal position with CDF (now CalFire). A year ago he was hired on as an engineer for Kings County Fire Department. As a relief driver, he doesn’t have his feet planted on the ground; Goodwin fills in at whatever station needs a body. ‘I drive the fire engine and control pump panel,’ he said. ‘I’m a vagabond. Wherever they need me, I go.
As a musician, Goodwin’s casual demeanor creates the atmosphere of the year-old band. ‘I’ve known Jake, the bass player, my whole life, and I’ve been fans of each of the members’ bands for a long time,’ Goodwin recalled. ‘All the stars and moons were aligned one day and we got together and said, ‘Let’s do this.’ We got all these personalities together, and it worked like magic.
A description of the band’s sound on its website whisks listeners into a nostalgic fantasy:
‘A ’64 Bel Air barrels down old Highway 99. In the darkness to the west lie row after row of cotton, to the east, grapevines and other cash crops of California’s Central Valley. A break in the fog up ahead allows the warmth and buzz of neon lights to break the wet silence of that long dark drive. But before any head hits that motel pillow, the brain begins to shake, the bones begin to rattle, and the heart begins to roll as the seasoned blend of veteran musicianship which is Motel Drive, the slinky, rootsy, and greasy country, rock and roll, and rockabilly music carries you to that lone bar on the edge of town, that bar Mama told you to stay away from, where Gretsch guitars wail and an upright bass is slapped around, where voodoo drums pound and a lap steel grinds away. It’s Motel Drive, baby, where Cash and Stray Cats pound ‘em down with Gram, Buck, and Dwight. It’s blood, love, and beer, the smell and taste of the Motel Drive stew. One hell of a night and your new favorite band. Motel Drive.
The rogue novel ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac inspired poets, writers, and musicians, and Goodwin’s band name, Motel Drive, is no exception.
‘I was inspired by ‘On the Road,’ Goodwin said. ‘I’m from Fresno, and I had this dark kind of image of being surrounded by old, seedy neon signs and bars, like the watering holes and living on the road lifestyle symbolized by the old Motel Drive.
Goodwin has had a life-long interest in music. With a drummer for an uncle and a musically inclined father, Goodwin recalls the spectrum of sounds to which he was exposed throughout his childhood. ‘They got me into the Beatles, the Stones, all kinds of rhythm and blues, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry and, of course, Elvis Presley. I heard all that stuff when I was young,’ he said. ‘When I was a kid, I just wanted to play in a rock and roll band’not knowing how life really is. I’ve played in bands my whole life; I’ve always loved playing, writing music, and performing.
‘When I got older, some of my skateboarding friends formed a band, and I used to go watch them play. I’d always had a relationship with music; it’s always spoken to me,’ recalled Goodwin. ‘So I started singing and playing guitar when I was 13.
Many years and fifteen to twenty projects later, Goodwin is relieved and thrilled that this gig is sticking. ‘There’s something about our chemistry’something that just works and I can’t explain why,’ he said.
Talent in Harmony
Song composition has even become a group effort. In the past, he took on a majority of the work to keep the band glued together, but this time around, everyone pitches in evenly, and Goodwin gives props to each band member. ‘Everyone works at the same level and comes up with ideas. When you have people happy to be with each other, it just feels right. It’s just fun to do.’ Even the wives and girlfriends mesh together in harmony.
Music aside, each of the band members has a distinct trait to add to the cohesive mix. Jake’s ability to manipulate the written word provides the tone and description of the group for media outlets. Goodwin is decidedly the spokesman of the group; his dry wit and unprovoked enthusiasm are infectious. ‘The drummer and guitar player are computer nerds,’ he joked. ‘Nah, they’re really cool; I’m just jealous of their abilities. They’ve got these programs and are graphic artists with a good eye. They do it all the posters and graphic stuff themselves.
Motel Drive’s sound revolves around a mix of music, from Elvis Presley to the Stray Cats. Goodwin says, along with their distinctive sound, their lyrical inspiration is simple: Life. ‘I have an active imagination, I love just talking to people, and I love funny topics,’ he laughed.
In fact, Goodwin’s favorite song is called ‘Trailer Park Queen.’ He explained, ‘It’s about a guy that lives in an Airstream trailer, like I did when I was younger. He’s sick of living in California and is looking for a beautiful bride. He finds her in a strip club, and they get married and have a family. ‘ Not everything we sing about is true, but it’s entertainment.
With a name like Motel Drive and a sound that attracts fans ages 6 to 60, from all walks of life, Goodwin’s goal is to bring the ’50s rockabilly back into style.
‘Some guys are really into hobbies like fishing, camping, motocross, and hunting. I just love playing music,’ Goodwin said. ‘There’s all kinds of bad stuff on the news, but really, people want to be entertained. By going to a club and rocking out to Motel Drive, they can just go have fun.
Sidebar:’ Motel Drive across the Internet
Its music may be inspired by vintage icons, but Motel Drive stays savvy in current social marketing trends. Aside from a growing base of rockin’ fans, online marketing is the crux of the band’s success. Check out more of Motel Drive at these niches across the net: