Sweet Maria

I love the custom of naming inanimate objects, especially vehicles. Personifying them with a moniker, endearing the object to us, identifying it as our own. Especially when we put a nametag on a bike, owned and loved through miles and years and good times and bad, when done with purpose and meaning. I’ve known many men and women who have named their bikes with cute pet names or tough guy names or funny names or even silly or comical names denoting an extension of the owner’s personality. It’s the serious names that I truly like. We have all known someone who has done this to a bike or a car. Take for example James Dean’s “Little Bastard”. The name he gave his 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder that eventually killed him. Little Bastard INDEED. I’ve named a few bikes in my day, but only when they’ve given me trouble. I know a bike named Sweet Marie, which brings me to my point. She’s owned by JB Walker, of ‘JB Walker and the Cheap Whisky Band’ fame. I have been friends with JB for decades and have had the honor of serving with him on many fundraising boards and charity events over the years and ridden beside him and his bike to bars and funerals and weddings and legislative sessions to name but a few. All while he’s piloted his “Sweet Marie”. I’ve been his lawyer, his confidant and even his fan in good times and in bad. I’ve know him to own several bikes over those years, but there has been one pretty consistent bike, so totally identified as his, that even I could pick it out in a parking lot full of Harleys. “SWEET MARIE” is iconically JB’s bike. An all black 1996 Harley Davidson Heritage. It is not a fancy bike. As a matter of fact, some would say she’s quite ugly. No time is wasted polishing her chrome or waxing her paint. She’s not a ‘looker’, she’s a ‘runner’, and run she does. JB recently explained to me how he acquired her 20 years ago. He indicated that he was playing some music for the old Stone Mountain Harley dealership in Gwinnett County back in the 90’s and mentioned the need of a new bike to owner, Greg Becker. Greg, one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet, struck a barter deal with JB for the slightly used trade in. The timing of this deal was no coincidence for JB. He had just buried his son, little JB, lost to a terrible disease with which he suffered his whole life. The same condition that took JB’s daughter a few years later. Little JB was JB’s pride and joy. His only boy. He never got to ride Sweet Marie with Daddy. A great hole in his heart, JB took to America’s Highways on Sweet Marie to ease his pain with “wind-therapy”. And ride JB did! The “Cheap Whisky Band” was in full swing in those years and travelled all over the country with their biker brand of rock and roll. JB, their leader and main vocals, pondered his loss and cleared his head from concert venue to concert venue. “Go ahead guys, get the equipment to Nashville, I’ll meet you there in a few days”, was his typical travel plan. He rarely rode with the band in those years and Sweet Marie delivered him to every concert across the South and beyond. It wasn’t long before Sweet Marie had 325,000 miles on her. That’s a lot of wind therapy. In all those years and across all those miles she never let him down. Sweet Marie started every time without fail. She ran flawlessly and never left him stranded. He said to me as we spoke of her, “She rolled hard”, one of JB’s legendary sayings. I asked him the origin of her name and he told me that it came from Bob Dylan’s 1966 double album ‘Blonde on Blonde’. A song in the middle of the album called “Absolutely Sweet Marie”. Listen to it sometime. It is not one of those iconic Dylan songs like ‘Maggie’s Farm’, or ‘The Times They are a Changin’ or ‘Blowin in the Wind’. It’s just an upbeat tempo song not played live by Dylan until 1988, 22 years after he first released it. If you are curios enough to listen, you’ll hear Dylan sing: “To live outside the law you must be honest”, a concept of coincidence not lost on me, knowing JB as intimately as I do. Dylan borrowed the phrase from Woody Guthrie, whom Dylan admitted heavily influenced him in youth. An apropos reference to true 1960’s radical counter-culture. If you know my friend JB, it all makes perfect sense. Dylan whines the question: “where are you tonight —   my Sweet Marie?” We all have a Sweet Marie. For some it is a woman, for some an ideology, for some fame, for some an old Harley that connects to the past, perhaps a bridge to the future. For JB, I trust his Sweet Marie is more than just metal paint and rubber. She represents something in time, past and future. Freedom of mind, ease of thought, peace. Isn’t it the same for us all, all of our Sweet Maries?

Typically the name of the bike is reflected in its paint, its style, its leather. Not here. Sweet Marie frankly does not look sweet. I remember the day I met her. It was nighttime and we were in a parking deck in downtown Atlanta. I had to meet JB over some business and he rolled in straight piped and loud with a big smile on his face and that damn cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth. I thought if you didn’t know him you’d think he a glam rock cliché, but if you did, you just thought as I did. The dude, JB Walker, is the real deal. His bike, Sweet Marie, the real deal. Marked by miles and use. Not patina, but dents, scratches and wear. Ask yourself how many miles you have on your bike? 25,000? 50,000? 100,000? More than 325,000? If so, call me, JB and I owe you a beer. Sweet Marie looks rode hard and put up wet. JB’s got his wrinkles too. I once asked him how he survived burying 2 children? His answer was quick, pointed and serious. “My pain is what makes me who I am”, he said to me in his gravelly voice. I made him write it down. I look at that little index card on the corner of my desk every morning. I count my blessings. Sweet Marie sits at JB’s house as you read this. It begs the question, but he knows where she is. A respite from the grind, catching her proverbial breath as JB awaits a new hip! A life on the road, rain, trucks, hard miles, cheap hotels, nightly performances, city to city, sooner or later something is going to break. An ignition, a hip, evidently both are replaceable. Where are you tonight my Sweet Marie? Resting. Waiting. Faithfull. Till spring, when JB throws his leg over with that new hip, thumbs Sweet Marie’s worn ignition and rolls hard once again. Take JB’s lesson. Embrace your pain. Find your Sweet Marie. Put wind in your hair and roll hard. No regrets. God Bless little JB. He will ride on Sweet Marie with Daddy someday on the highways of the Promised Land.

Well, signing off for now.  Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.

Leave a Comment