Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
For a song that began its life as a B-side and never charted higher than halfway up Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” has made a significant impact on popular culture since its debut in 1970. It’s been covered more than 35 times, by artists ranging from Bon Jovi to Lana Del Rey to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Speaking of Hollywood, the song was featured prominently in the Winona Ryder movie Girl, Interrupted and the Patrick Swayze movie Road House, and it even inspired the title for Season 2, Episode 1 of the Netflix series The Punisher.
Contrast that with the A-side, “You Make Me Real,” which isn’t even listed on secondhandsongs.com. While similar in feel, but with more of a honky-tonk sound and brighter vibe, the A-side has garnered no movie, way fewer covers, and no series episode titles. That’s because “Roadhouse Blues” is quintessential Doors: more congruent with Jim Morrison’s dark and brooding persona, hinting at danger with a pretty stern admonition to “keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel” right out of the gate, and the implicit promise that what lies beyond the danger will be well worth the risk.
With that sort of appeal, it’s no wonder that “Roadhouse Blues” eclipsed its flipside and became the more popular choice to cover. Many covers are faithful to the original, often bordering on straight-up re-creations. Other artists manage to find the means to adapt the song to their own styles. Of these versions…
Christopher T. Gautreaux did a good job.
Steve Roy did it better.
Los Lonely Boys did it best.
Christopher T. Gautreaux – Roadhouse Blues (The Doors cover)
Christopher T. Gautreaux, formerly of Deadboy & the Elephantmen and now performing under the name Christopher Goat, offers a solo acoustic take on “Roadhouse Blues” that is bluesy, swampy, and powerful enough to compete with the original. The pace is slower, which puts a lot of the burden on the vocals to drive the song, and Gautreaux’s voice is up to the task. He sings in a backwoods, road-weary blues style with a vocal tone somewhat reminiscent of Chris Isaak. He has an impressive range as well, going way higher in later parts of the song than Jim Morrison ever did (or could). An additional treat is a guitar break right around the 7:00 mark that sounds like it comes from a completely different song; it includes some slide work, harmonics and other goodies, transitioning back after a minute and a half to finish up the song.
Steve Roy – Roadhouse Blues (The Doors cover)
There’s not much information available about Steve Roy, at least not that one could use to definitively identify the musician responsible for the next video. Nonetheless, it’s a great cover and deserves a listen. Steve Roy’s version of “Roadhouse Blues” is a metal-inspired cover that pushes this song along at a faster, more driving tempo, complete with the requisite level of guitar distortion and drums brought more forward in the mix. The vocals are clear— there’s no “cookie monster singing” on this track. The overall arrangement is straight-up metal, so this version lacks the modulation that gives the original that little bit of a bouncy blues feel. The absence of keyboards (it is a metal cover, after all) also contributes to the change in feel. Guitar leads sub in for the piano and harmonica when they can, though, and do a fine job of adding interest and listenability. Really, the only bad thing to say is that the animated video comes across as a bit creepy.
Los Lonely Boys – Roadhouse Blues (The Doors cover)
With the high regard for tradition in the history of Los Lonely Boys, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear them perform a cover version of a well-known song that was highly respectful of the original. At the beginning of this version of “Roadhouse Blues,” Los Lonely Boys guitarist Henry Garza launches into the familiar opening notes, then tells the crowd “Texican style, y’all” before continuing with his pedal-heavy, extended introduction. And Texican style it is, with LLB delivering a visceral performance that remains faithful to the original in almost every way, while still managing to retain a distinctive Los Lonely Boys style. Much of the credit goes to Henry’s near-flawless guitar work, especially his masterful use of varying effects, but that wouldn’t really be possible without his brothers Jojo and Ringo (on bass and drums, respectively) providing a firm foundation on which Henry can build. The vocals are good, even sounding a bit Morrison-esque at times. Of the three versions reviewed here, this is the one that checks all the boxes.