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Michael Hyatt Bio
General Bio Photography Bio Train Songs/Route 66 Bio
Train Songs / Route 66 Bio

I grew up in a family that appreciates good music, from classical and jazz to rhythm & blues, folk and rock. My mother was a classically trained singer and pianist and my father booked jazz bands, including the Stan Kenton Orchestra, during the early 1940s.

During a summer job at Post’s Rancho Sierra Mar Campground in Big Sur, California in 1969 and 1970 I was introduced to the pleasures of Be Bop and Cool Jazz by my friend Charles Pavlich, who managed the campground. Chuck played drums and was a prominent jazz musician during the 1940s and 1950s. He even played the part of Gene Krupa in the film bio about Tommy Dorsey. Chuck is also a photographer and was a strong influence on me at the beginning of my interest in photography.

In 1979 I spent a month photographing in Ireland. While there I met the all-female Irish punk rock band The Boy Scouts, which inspired me to pursue the Los Angeles music scene. Within a month of my return I began documenting the performances and backstage activities of the prominent punk rock and roots rock bands of the era, including The Plugz,  X, The Blasters and Los Lobos. The fascinating and visually stimulating audience for this music was also documented in Los Angeles and during two national tours with X. In 1981 I asked Exene, the female singer for X, if she’d do the graphics for the 1982 Xerography Calendar I was planning. The art for the calendars was my Xeroxed photographs. The information for the date boxes was mostly music related, like the birthdates of Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie. A music and xerography calendar followed in 1983 and a mailart datebook with the triple theme of Orwell’s 1984, Summer Olympics and music was produced in 1984. Blues music was the theme of the 1985 and 1986 calendars with blues musicians album covers being the artwork. 

In 1982 I was invited to be a guest on a radio show on KCRW in Santa Monica. Host Rene Ingle wanted to talk about the 1982 calendar and the music trivia. He suggested that I bring along some music selections to play. That experience inspired me to pursue a career in radio. My friend Kidd Squidd had moved to Tucson to be a host on KXCI Community Radio. During a visit to Tucson and to the KXCI studio I decided to move to Tucson and become a DJ. That took awhile, but on September 9, 1987 I hosted my first radio show, the ROUTE 66 show.

During a KXCI membership drive in the summer of 1996 a caller pledged nearly $1,000 and said how much he liked the train songs I played each week. This comment got me to thinking about producing a compilation of train songs. Being a rail fan and an avid collector of many themes in railroad songs, I thought about contacting Rounder Records to see if they’d be interested. Louisa Hufstader, Director of Special Markets advised me to send a proposal. She said they’d had a train songs collection on the to-do list for 20 years and never gotten around to it. I quickly replied with a proposal for 10 volumes, based on the 350 songs I’d compiled into my database. I’d also gotten Norm Cohen to agree to write the liner notes. Norm is the author of Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong.

Rounder agreed to issue 2 volumes initially and see how sales were and what kind of reviews the set got. Steel Rails and Mystery Train were released in February 1997. Excellent sales and reviews followed. That success led to the release of Night Train in 1998, Freight Train Blues in 2000, Merle Haggard’s Train Whistle Blues in 2001 and Bluegrass Express in 2004. Due to licensing problems, Freight Train Blues and the Merle Haggard album are no longer available. The other titles listed within the Classic Railroad Songs series are distributed by me to railroad museum and excursion train giftshops and via mail-order.

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