Who would expect a Canadian actor to be working with a British South Coast rock band, a country blues guitarist and a Scottish soul singer? And all playing American-styled music too . . . That was Meal Ticket for you.
Scotsman Willy Finlayson came to Meal Ticket via more than ten years at the microphone, singing just about everything from skiffle to country, via Glasgow soulsters Writing On The Wall and Bees Make Honey.
Behind his beard and broad, friendly grin, Steve Simpson was a fine mandolin player and an excellent guitarist who had picked steel on the road and in the studios with just about everybody from Ronnie Lane to Graeme Edge.
Meal Ticket often drew comparisons to The Band. The cover of their debut album Code Of The Road showed the six guys hitchhiking down a highway that lost itself in an AAA road map of the States. The group aspired to American roots – and the way they played you were forgiven for thinking they really had ’em.
With the three-man guitar line of Ray Flacke, Steve Simpson and Willy Finlayson right up the front, and Chris Hunt’s drums and Jack Brand’s bass back out under the load, Meal Ticket proved themselves masters of every bounce and boogie on the road between Memphis and Nashville.
At the centre of Meal Ticket lie the songs of Canadian pianist and singer Rick Jones. Rick’s roots were in the theatre – Everything from Shakespeare to BBC TV’s Play School – and his songs (written with former Hollywood scriptwriter Dave Pierce) tapped a slightly different vein of Americana to Robbie Robertson’s.
Jones’s songs were like spaghetti Westerns but set in the Seventies in truck stops by the big highways, or on the Mexican dope trails. A Meal Ticket song could be like a good movie – from Keepin’ The Faith and OK Bar (which star the sort of luckless adventurer Bogart might have played), to Day Job (which is streaked with Tony Curtis humour).
Meal Ticket also got smooth and technicolour at times too, and they wore their immaculate four and five-part harmonies like a buttonhole (they were often favourably compared with both Steely Dan and The Eagles).
Mandolin, guitar, vocals