She’s real fine, my 409

Sacramento is a car town. One needn’t drive from Sacramento to Orangevale to discover that this metro mess, based on the Los Angeles model, is damned near impossible to navigate without wheels.

As in Los Angeles, car consciousness runs deep in Sactown. The Beach Boys, whose 1963 repertoire was as much about hot rods as surfing, scored their first successes outside of SoCal right here. And every February, save for a couple of recent years, deuce-coupe fans could check out the latest custom cars and street rods at the Sacramento Autorama, which will return to Cal Expo the weekend of February 9 through 11. The next Autorama will feature Roseville native George Barris, who’s turned out a number of famous customs from his Van Nuys garage over the years, including the Batmobile and the Pontiac GT-derived Monkeemobile.

So, you ask, what are cars doing in a music column? Cars and music are longtime bedfellows, for starters. Music sells cars. Songwriters pen odes to cars. Car sound systems play music. But sadly, a visit to this past weekend’s Sacramento International Auto Show at Cal Expo turned up little evidence that our beloved local car dealers could make that connection.

Sure, there were plenty of speakers blasting local radio stations, most featuring what passes for country music today, or stale 1970s album-rock butt nuggets. But there was little that was au courant, like hip-hop, or electronica or indie rock. There was a band called Howlin’ Alan whose members looked like Skip’s Music Weekend Warriors. It played somnolent covers of Eric Clapton and Doors songs, which were pleasant but seemed mired in the original muscle-car era. Where were Th’ Losin Streaks, or Sonic Love Affair, or a decent turntablist?

An easel sign near a turntable displaying the all-new Toyota Tundra pickup truck announced that “Toyota NBA Legend” Wayman Tisdale would sign autographs at 2 p.m. At the appointed hour, the former Kings power forward and current smooth-jazz bass icon was seated at a table, ready to ink his Hancock.

“Where’s your bass?” I asked. Just outside, the big guy answered, adding that he’d arrived after leaving Dave Koz’s smooth-jazz cruise-ship tour of the Mexican Riviera a little early to fly to Virginia for one night, then to Sacramento to appear at the Toyota gig.

Some 55 seconds later, Tisdale shifted his gaze toward a pair of approaching autograph seekers and decidedly away from me, no doubt uncomfortable with what might be a forthcoming request, from some apparent smooth-jazz fanatic, to go retrieve his bass for a quick demo of some Jaco-style pops. Or perhaps he figured I was a DaimlerChrysler interloper angling to trick him into playing the signature bass-riff hook Dodge uses in its TV ads.

Mildly crestfallen at Tisdale’s snub, I left to chat with a representative for one of Toyota’s competitors. “You can’t compete with those Toyota guys,” he groused. “They own whatever segment they chose to go into, by sheer force of marketing dollars.”

Perhaps. But maybe next year, the carmakers might bring a little more tuneage to their marketing mixes. Even Toyota’s vaunted youth brand, Scion, showed up with two about-to-be-discontinued models and little in the way of musical hooks.