Listen to this track by Pacific Northwest R&B supplicants the Sonics. It’s “Have Love Will Travel” (that title being a possible reference to Have Gun Will Travel, a TV western program), a well-travelled rock tune, written by the same guy who wrote “Louie Louie” , Richard Berry. This tune would be covered by many from Stiv Bators, to Tom Petty & The Heartbrekers, to the Black Keys.
This version of the song appears on the Sonics 1965 album Here Are the Sonics, a release that would characterize ’60s garage music, and later be seen as the roots of punk in the 1970s. The group grew out of the growing Seattle rock scene, among the first bands to forge a scene in that city that would endure for decades. The band were quintessential garage rockers, with a clear mission to deliver scrappy and loud R&B in a rock context.
The album contains several of what can be considered classics of the R&B catlog including Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”, Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ The Dog”, Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want”), and Ray Charles “Night Time Is the Right Time”, among others.
All of these songs were the early templates for the British bands that had loved the originals and that had sold them back to American audiences during the British Invasion. And even if the Animals, The Stones, Them, the Yardbirds, and others had gone past this canon of material by the mid-60s, it was still very much alive and well on garage scenes all over the United States and Canada, even if many bands would not distinguish themselves by covering them.
But, what of this song by R&B vocalist and writer Richard Berry, and why is the Sonic’s version of it so undeniable, influencing so many down the decades?
Richard Berry , a bona fide R&B writer and performer, had been in several touring bands since he wrote the song in 1959. Among the dates Berry played with his band at the time was Seattle, a city where bands were itching to play raw R&B to crowds that were hungry for the same. Needless to say, Berry’s song had an impact, along with “Louie Louie” which would turn out to be one of the most covered rock songs in history, the Sonics version included. Fellow North-Westerners Paul Revere & The Raiders would also cover both of Berry’s songs. But when it came to “Have Love Will Travel” in particular, it was the Sonics that brought the song a new life, playing it dirtier and meaner, and streamlining it for the future just as the Kingsmen had done for “Louie Louie” two years before.
The tune itself is both of its time as well as being highly adaptable to interpretation. On this one, distortion, angry sax solos, exaggerated vocal mannerisms, a broken-bottle of a riff, and a rough, even simplistic groove is the order of the day. You can see why a sound like this would be something of a beacon to punk bands of ten years later, and beyond. And you can also see why this version was the rosetta stone used to unlock the possibilities of what a rock song could sound like when the evolution of the music was in transition; first in the mid-60s when rock ‘n’ roll was getting artier, and again in the mid-70s when it was becoming more corpulent.
Of course the Seattle scene of which the Sonics was a part would continue to evolve as well. By 1991, the secret was out on an international level about how musicians from this city and in that region had the potential to transform rock ‘n’ roll yet again.
For more information about the Sonics, and about how songs were bashed out in the studios from the local scenes in Seattle in the ’60s, read this fine article about The Sonics’ cover of “Louie Louie” from music writer Morgan Young.