I was just a lad, nearly twenty-two
Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you
And now I'm lost, too late to pray
Lord, I've paid the cost on the Lost Highway
So goes the song "Lost Highway," made popular by the late country-and-western star Hank Williams. The name seems fitting for a classic rock band based in Sihanoukville, the beach-town escape at the end of Highway 4.
Named after the country's former monarch, King Norodom Sihanouk, the seaside village sprung up in 1960 in a wave of post-colonial nationalism and pride. The feeling of change in the air in Cambodia at the time coincided with a growing sense in the West that more change was just around the corner. A few years later, a much larger quest for change culminated in a whole new generation of music that expressed a desire for a new and better world.
"The music of the 60's was inspired by the times," says veteran drummer Tom LaCroix, a.k.a Tommy Nick, one of Lost Highway's founding members. "There was a lot of optimism and people really believed they could change the world."
Born in Boston in 1951, Nick grew up listening to The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. He moved to the Bay Area in the mid 1980s and more recently to the coastal town of Sihanoukville.
A career musician, Nick is now a growing force behind Cambodia's nascent live music scene. He's played with the Lazy Jazz Drunks, Shangri La Band, El Dealbreakers and Those Guys. And in addition to Lost Highway, he's also working on a "sideline" project called BluesBerry Jam.
Like most local-area bands, Lost Highway has seen half a dozen lineups since splintering from yet another band, Route 66, about a year-and-a-half ago. While transient expat lifestyles can prove to be a challenge to a band's stability, they can also be a boon, Nick says.
"There have been so many different players," he says. "It's really been an honor to have played with so many talented people. Chris and Dave are the latest and, I must say, the band has never been tighter."
In addition to Nick on drums, Lost Highway's current lineup includes "Smokin'" Kenny Smith and Chris Kebeck on guitars and Dave Zdrilluk on bass.
Smith is the band's second founding member, and Kebeck and Zdrilluk are Lost Highway's most recent additions.
Like everyone in the band, Kebeck's career dates back decades, and his resume includes stints with some genuine five-star acts. Kebeck recorded with Tim Dawe, an original member of Iron Butterfly, on Frank Zappa's Straight Records label in the late 1960s. And in his forty-five years of professional experience -- recording, performing and producing -- he's worked with the likes of Hoyt Axton, Three Dog Night, and The Righteous Brothers.
Before Kebeck's arrival, Nick and Smith experimented with harmonica and keyboard players, but the pair found they preferred the stripped-down guitar sound. "We seem to work best as a two-guitar band," Nick says.
Fans certainly agree. And as a result, Lost Highway has been making the road trip from the coast to the capital with growing regularity.
"Playing in Cambodia is an adventure. It can go either way, but it's always raw and in the moment and cool -- and that's what makes it exciting," Nick says. "There's an artistic freedom here that's very fresh."
Lost Highway will play The FCC Phnom Penh on Sept. 11.