This is a slow burning tale of life at the rougher end – those scrabbling around for hand-to-mouth employment – casual labour, not too many questions asked and maybe you get paid and maybe you don’t. Remember Richmond Fontaine’s ‘I Fell Into Painting Houses in Pheonix, Arizona‘? Well, this feels somewhat like the same scenes viewed by the kid they dumped on the corner unpaid at the end of the week.
If you can judge someone by their friends then let’s note that Tom Heyman has spent many years as a sought-after journeyman guitarist and pedal steel player recording and touring with a varied array of artists including John Doe, Alejandro Escovedo, Chuck Prophet, Penelope Houston, Roy Loney, Hiss Golden Messenger, Sonny Smith and Kelley Stoltz . His new album ‘24th Street Blues‘ was produced by Mike Coykendall (M. Ward ) and mixed by Scott Hirsch (Hiss Golden Messenger). It’s an album that documents the changes in San Francisco, where Heyman and his wife have lived for over two decades – seeing things change, with Heyman observing that “If you stay in one place long enough you really start to see it change. Around 2010, the city started to feel like a movie that was sped up, jerking and lurching forward at a dangerously fast, celluloid-shredding pace with market forces feeling like a locomotive bearing down on anything or anyone in its path.”
Tom Heyman told Americana UK about the song: “‘White Econoline’ is the oldest song on the record. There are 3 things that are central to how I came up with the song. When I first moved to San Francisco I read a story in the paper about how a woman working in the Charles Shaw Vineyards was denied a bathroom break, and later died of heatstroke. This was the vineyard that famously produced 2 Buck Chuck that you could get incredibly cheaply at Trader Joe’s. That story stuck with me for years.
About 10 years later my mother-in-law was being whittled away by dementia, and my wife and I spent an inordinate amount of time driving back and forth on Interstate 80 between our home in San Francisco and her Mom’s place Folsom about 100 miles away. I spent a lot of time looking out the window, and I noticed a lot of white vans, in various states of repair, many of which seemed to be transporting farm workers, and a few that were transporting guests of the state (Vacaville Prison, Sacramento State Prison and Folsom Prison are all located along the same route).
At the same time, in my neighbourhood, I walked past a house one day that had its garage door open and the space was lined with bunkbeds like a barracks. This seemed to answer a question about how some of the day labourers in SF get by. All of this got me to thinking about the gray economy that keeps this state going and the people who get ground up by it.