Get this crazy baby off my head!



Sailcat - Motorcyle Mama - 1972 - Elektra

Sailcat from Alabama were a one hit wonder band. In 1972, the song ."Motorcycle Mama" was a big Summer hit. "Motorcyle Mama" is often classified as a "concept" album about stories on the road. However, there is no real thread of continuity, and the tracks can be listened to individually. Dismissed by some critics as a novelty album, the album contains some good songs composed by John Wyker. Wyker and Court Pickett's vocals are also good. Many of the tunes have a trippy, psychedelic flavour to them, and the album is very enjoyable. This is not your average seventies Southern Rock album, but it has many good musical moments, especially the guitar and horn playing. Definitely worth a listen.


1."Rainbow Road" John Wyker - 4:00
2."The Thief" Court Pickett - 3:30
3."Highway Rider/Highway Riff" John Wyker & Court Pickett - 5:40
4."The Dream" Court Pickett - 2:45


1."If You've Got A Daughter" Court Pickett - 1:33
2."Ambush" John Wyker, Clayton Ivey, Pete Car - 3:06
3."B.B. Gunn" John Wyker - 2:48
4."It'll Be A Long Long Time" Court Pickett - 2:12
5."Motorcycle Mama" John Wyker & Court Pickett - 2:06
6."Walking Together Backwards" John Wyker - 3:19
7."On The Brighter Side Of It All" John Wyker - 2:23


Pete Carr, Joe Rudd, Johnny Wyker - Guitar
Scott Boyer - Guitar, Violin
Bob Wray - Bass
Court Pickett - Bass, Vocals
Art Shilling, Chuck Leavell, Clayton Ivey - Keyboards
Lou Mullenix, Fred Prouty - Drums
Jesse Gorell, Bill Connell - Percussion
Jack Hale, Wayne Jackson, James Mitchell, Andrew Love, Ed Logan - Horn
Al Lester - Fiddle, Violin
Tom Russell - Banjo
Charles Chalmers - Strings
Faye Sanders, Terry Woodford, Laura Struzick - Vocals
Brenda Hagan, Marlin Greene - Sound Effects, Vocals


When Sailcat's "Motorcycle Mama" rose to #12 in the national singles chart in the summer of 1972, few would have suspected that the song had almost literally got thrown out in the garbage before it had a chance to get released. Too, few were aware that its songwriter, John Wyker, was hardly a newcomer to the business, but had been a behind-the-scenes player of note in the Southern rock scene for more than a decade. Accordingly, the Motorcycle Mama album was a diverse cocktail of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama roots music in which Wyker was steeped, merging blues, country, R&B, rock, and gospel music into a concept album of sorts. Wyker had barely entered his teens when he first got into the music business in the late 1950s, hanging around Spar Music in Florence, "the only recording studio [then] in the state of Alabama as far as I know." He got to know the great soul singer Arthur Alexander, songwriter Dan Penn, and some of the session musicians who'd later form the backbone of the Muscle Shoals sound. By his college years he was playing in a band with singer John Townsend (who struck gold in the late 1970s as part of the Sanford & Townsend duo) and bassist Ed Pickett, older brother of Sailcat singer Court Pickett. As the Rubber Band, they had a mid-'60s hit in many regions of the South with an original tune on Columbia, "Let Love Come Between Us." With the composition co-credited to Wyker and Joe Sobotka, in 1967 the song was covered by the popular soul duo James & Bobby Purify, rising to #23 in the pop charts. Near the end of the '60s, he formed American Eagles with John "Buck" Wilkin (who'd spearheaded Ronny & the Daytonas, who had a big hot rod hit in 1964 with "G.T.O.") and a young Chuck Leavell, who dropped out of high school to be the piano player. American Eagles issued just one single on Liberty, but that 45 (co-produced by Wyker in Muscle Shoals) was Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee," well before Janis Joplin took the same song to #1. By the early 1970s, John was hanging out in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with Leavell and Court Pickett. "Three o'clock in the morning we'd be out in the parking lot, Court'd be doing 'Motorcycle Mama,'" he recalls. "I'd be playing and singing along with him, and the local Hell's Angeles would be out there just loving it." At a local bar in February 1971, Wyker "just jumped up on the bar and said, 'I heard somebody opened a new studio in Muscle Shoals. He mainly knows about running a truck stop, and had never been in the business. These two girls have volunteered to drive me up there. I'm gonna go up there and talk a speculation deal for some recording time. Anybody that wants to play on it, come on up. By the time you get there, I'll have a deal made.' That was a pretty bold thing to do, and crazy. But we go up there, and I catch the guy, Ron Ballew, who owned Widget Studios, walking out of the studio about midnight." Wyker wasted no time going into his pitch, and "by this time, I didn't expect it, but all my friends from Tuscaloosa showed up, like Chuck Leavell and his girlfriend, and the dog, the cat, and all his equipment. Lou Mullenix, an incredible drummer that died way too young, and about 15 guitar players. I mean, he couldn't have thrown us out of the studio. We had literally just taken over by force. But he said, 'Give me a minute.' He called around, and evidently somebody gave me a good reference. So we started a publishing company together and recorded for two or three days, cut four songs—'Motorcycle Mama,' 'Rainbow Road,' 'B.B. Gunn,' and I think 'The Thief.' So we get a motel, come back, listened to what we did, and I said, 'Oh, man, this is the worst thing I ever heard in my life.' And took the tape, and literally threw it in the garbage can." Soon afterward, John was knocking around Florida with Leavell, Mullinix, and Capricorn artists Cowboy and Alex Taylor when Ron Ballew somehow got a hold of him by phone. "He says 'Wyker, I took "Motorcycle Mama"'—and it didn't [even] have the Pete Carr slide guitar on it at that time—'I caught Russ Miller, vice president of Elektra Records.' I didn't think Ron could pitch it because the only thing he had to play it on was one of those Dictaphone machines. [But] he played it for Russ, and almost before the thing was finished, [Miller] said, 'I'll take it. I know [Elektra president] Jac Holzman will love this, because he started his business delivering his recordings on a Harley 165. I'll give you a $30,000 budget, any artwork you want, if you can get this guy to finish the album.'" Ballew did get Wyker to finish the album, even flying down to Macon, Georgia, where John had "caught pneumonia or something," to take him back to Muscle Shoals and get "me a doctor and some antibiotics and stuff." The producer was also chosen in the on-the-fly spirit guiding the whole enterprise: "Pete Carr was trying to break into the business. I'd met him in '65. He was trying to get a job as a guitar player or something at Muscle Shoals Sound. Word got out that I was building the perfect beast, and Pete came down like the first or second day that we were recording, and all I wanted to do was get drunk and go sit by the river or something. So I said, 'Hey Pete, you wanna produce?' Pete almost went into shock. He just rolled [his] sleeves up and started telling people what to do. He said word got out at Muscle Shoals Sound, which was a closed door for him, [and] they offered him a job as soon as he finished the project." Carr wrote a couple of songs ("The Dream" and "It'll Be a Long Long Time") for the LP as well, and would go on to play guitar on albums by Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, and numerous other big names in the business. Old friends Court Pickett, Chuck Leavell, and Lou Mullenix were among the supporting players, with bassist/singer Pickett being the only other official member of Sailcat besides Wyker. Why Sailcat? "The name came from a Jonathan Winters record, where a sailcat is a cat that's been run over so many times on the highway that you can scoop him up and throw him like a frisbee," reveals John. "We went in the studio, and I hadn't written but about fifteen seconds of half the songs on there," Wyker admits. "But most of the songs were vague ideas in my head, and when we got everybody together, the adrenaline would start flowing to where I could finish the songs on the spot. I remember when we did 'Highway Riff,' we had an intro on the guitar, and I told [keyboardist] Clayton Ivey, 'In one part, I want it to sound like he's riding and the cops are chasing him.' That's when Clayton starts just beating on the Hammond organ. I said, 'And then I want it to be like an adventure, and all of a sudden, he comes to a screeching halt. And then the sun's going down, and I want it to sound like he's coming into town and winding down, and eventually winds up in a bar having a beer. In "Ambush," I want places where it sounds like circus girls swinging by their feet from those ropes.' Just turned Clayton loose, gave him a bunch of visual illustrations, and he interpreted it so well. 'Ambush' and 'Highway Riff' are two of my favorite songs still." Strings were added in Memphis at Sun Records, and the famed Memphis Horns were also used. As for the album's "concept" (with which Wyker is even credited on the back cover), "I called it a rock opera. The storyline behind Motorcycle Mama is really simple to understand. It's about a no-good riding motorcycled tramp that is really a latent romantic, and has dreams of settling down and having a family. And 'B.B. Gunn' shoots him down." In the inside of the original gatefold sleeve, each song was illustrated with a different picture by artist Jack Davis, working from details supplied by John. The record label was happy too, as "the guy from Elektra gave me a box of albums and $500, which was a lot of money back then. He said, 'I had the privilege of telling Dustin Hoffman after he made The Graduate that this movie was gonna change his life forever. I've got the same honor to be able to tell you that this is gonna be a hit, and it's gonna change your life. Go somewhere and stay healthy, and we'll contact you when we're ready.'" John went to "a sleepy little fishing village" in Florida, "checked in the campground, and gave the lady one of the albums. I loved it so much, I'd never felt that free, just having a good time. I was seriously considering telling Elektra to go fuck off. But one day I was in the shower and heard 'Motorcycle Mama.' My first thought was, I gave the woman an album, she's probably got it on at the turntable in the playroom behind the shower. Then at the end of the thing, I heard the guy say, 'That was ol' Sailcat singing about his motorcycle mama. I got one, how 'bout you? This is WTIX, in New Orleans.' I knew it was a 50,000-watt, important [station]. I went running out of the shower naked, screaming, 'Hey y'all, I just heard "Motorcycle Mama" on the radio! Hallucination verification, somebody! We got a hit!' That night, there was a radio on, I remember the song before it was 'Candy Man' by Sammy Davis Jr., and then they played one by Frank Sinatra Jr. Then later we heard it on a country station. I said, 'Good god, man, I got a fucking crossover hit. Something I threw in the garbage can.'" It wasn't long before Sailcat were promoting the record in Los Angeles. "It was already in the charts, and we didn't have a band put together," says Wyker. With a hastily hired backup group, they appeared on TV with Dick Clark, where Clark "says, 'How come so much great music comes out of a little town like Muscle Shoals, Alabama?' I said, 'There's nothin' else to do.' Sweat popped out of Dick Clark, just shot out every pore, like 'he's just insulted his home town.' He thought they'd take it a different way. But people that live there knew I was telling the truth." His candor wasn't always appreciated by Elektra, however: "I cussed the label out from the stage of Carnegie Hall. Somebody said 'Motorcycle Mama'! I said, 'You know, I hate that fucking song. It's just so wussy. I had thrown it in a garbage can, and somebody fished it out and these fucking double-domed eggheads from L.A. thought it could be a hit, and they made it a hit, and I'm ashamed of it. I'll play it, but first, I'm gonna play it the way I feel it.' And did a whole 'nother, like, 'Why Don't We Do It in the Road' version of 'Motorcycle Mama.' But I kind of said some nasty things onstage and had some people squirming. When we ended our show, we went right back in the bathroom and locked the doors so they couldn't beat us up and cuss us out. We passed out in there, and about four in the morning this guy says, 'They're gonna turn the heat off, and it's gonna get down to zero tonight, so if you're in there, you're gonna freeze to death.' So we woke up and got out of there." Motorcycle Mama sold pretty well, reaching #38 on the album charts. Yet although Sailcat did issue a subsequent non-LP single, "Baby Ruth," they never made another album, though Court Pickett did a solo LP for Elektra shortly afterward. "We were a one-hit wonder by choice," explains Wyker. "I was so burned out on the road. They would fly us from one side of the country to the next. I said, 'Man, this was a freak accident, I'm not going to try to duplicate the success. I'm gonna leave while I'm on top.' Then came back to Muscle Shoals, bought a 24-foot houseboat, and lived on it." John's still living in Alabama today, putting most of his musical energies into the Mighty Field of Vision project (www.mightyfieldofvision.com), which is both an internet radio station and a foundation for aiding fellow musicians and artists in need of social and financial assistance. "Now my mission in life is to promote new artists, and also, more importantly, expose some stuff that got done in the '60s and '70s that got put in the vaults, and the record companies missed them, or passed over 'em, or somebody had half an album and died, and their music was destined to live in the can and collect dust forever," he summarizes. "Our content, you can't get it anywhere else." © Richie Unterberger


Alabama's Sailcat only released one album and only had one hit, both titled Motorcycle Mama. The song, of course, is better-remembered than the album, as it was one of many hazy oddities that played on AM pop radio during the early '70s and subsequently was recycled on many CDs of '70s hits (it was also covered by the Sugarcubes for the 1990 Elektra tribute, Rubaiyat), and the sunny, hippie-dippie vibe of the single is indeed memorable, but not a very good indication of the rest of the LP, which is hippie but also more trippy than the hit indicates. Take into heavy consideration that the liners call Motorcycle Mama a concept album, which very well may be true but it's hard to discern since the concept is fuzzy — it vaguely involves highways and thieves in the South, but it's hard to piece together the strands into a story. More importantly, Motorcycle Mama feels like a concept album, due more to its puffed-up progginess than its songs. As soon as "Rainbow Road" fades in with its circular fiddle and banjo, it's clear that Sailcat aren't a gritty Southern band and that's a perception proven true by the rest of the record. Which isn't to say there aren't soul and grooves here: they are certainly the product of Muscle Shoals and churn out some good, gritty Southern rock, as when "Rainbow Road" finally kicks into gear or when they slide into the greasy jokes of "B.B. Gunn" or lay into some driving rock & roll on "Highway Rider/Highway Riff." But even that five-minute jam offers ample proof that Sailcat are no simple Southern rock outfit, as it is punched along by jazzy horns and waves of organ before it descends into tinkling piano and strings that are straight out of a 101 Strings LP. That kind of fuzzy eclecticism keeps things interesting on Motorcycle Mama, as it also encompasses hippie folk, sunshine harmonies, and multi-part suites borrowed from prog rock. These are all elements that, when put together, are pretty interesting, but they don't necessarily gel into a cohesive LP — or in several cases, not even a cohesive song. Despite this, the rampant imagination and gutbucket hard rock on display make Sailcat'sMotorcycle Mama one of the more fascinating one-shot wonders of the early '70s: maybe not a record that would be played often, but certainly one worth hearing once. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine, allmusic.com


Sailcat was a Southern rock band who had a chart and radio hit in 1972 with "Motorcycle Mama." The single's success (it reached number 12 on the Billboard singles chart) led to appearances on American Bandstand and at Carnegie Hall. Sailcat released a self-titled album in 1972 for Elektra that featured many of the heavy-hitters in the Southern rock field such as Chuck Leavell, the Memphis Horns, and Pete Carr. Soon after releasing the album, Sailcat broke up. Sailcat leader Johnny Wyker, who had been a member of the Rubber Band who recorded the original version of "Let Love Come Between Us," later a hit for James and Bobby Purify, went on to play with many of the great Southern rock musicians like Eddie Hinton, Dan Penn, Delany Bramlett, among others. He is currently working on a benefit project called The Mighty Field of Vision Anthem, a group dedicated to raising funds for musicians who have fallen on hard times. © Tim Sendra


Sailcat was the duo of Court Pickett and John Wyker, two guitarists-vocalists working in the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, USA area in the early 70s. Pickett and Wyker, along with local session musicians Chuck Leavell (keyboards, later of the Allman Brothers Band), Clayton Ivey (bass) and Pete Carr (guitar, half of the duo LeBlanc And Carr), put together the debut Sailcat album on Elektra Records in 1972, although they never performed under that name. Wyker's song "Motorcycle Mama" was included on that credible album and became a US number 12 single. With that success, the musicians converged to record songs for follow-up singles, but none reached the charts and the project was abandoned. © IPC MEDIA 1996-2009, All rights reserved