Roaring motorcycles and powerful blues music have gone hand in hand for decades. Blues bars and jams across the country regularly have a parade of iron horses parked together while their owners take in great music. One man from Illinois, however, has set a new standard in the blues-and-bikes fusion — and his standards are sky high.
In Aurora, a suburb of Chicago, Mike Garwood spent the winter building Etta Two, his personal, ridable, artistic homage to the blues he loves and the bikes he rides. A 2011 Harley Street Glide, Mike adorned his bike in a fiery paint job reminiscent of a classic Fender guitar, with Portraits of blues legends skillfully painted on the saddle bags, gas tank, and fairing. Mike spent the winter doing the labor-intensive prep work before bringing it to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Scott Takes at Underground Art Studios sprayed the sunburst style base and the beautiful images. “I have maybe three months into it,” says Garwood. “I mean, the longest thing was basically just waiting for the paint job because [Scott] is so busy. But there was a good couple of months of emailing and phone calls, coming up with the ideas. And he’s actually very good at listening and pulling information from you.”
In a special homage to the Chicago Blues pioneered at the nearby Chess Records, two of the label’s famous artists are featured on the bike’s frame, and it’s name holds a deep significance, not only to Chess, but to Mike as well. “I love Etta James. I love her voice. I love her style… she sings with such emotion! I never thought of the name, I just wanted Etta! I don’t have a picture of her on there, so here was a way to include a female aspect of it into this.” Mike’s soon-to-come custom license plate? Etta 2. “There’s only one Etta”, Garwood says with a determined resolve.
“I do a lot of traveling for my job,” Mike explains, “and I was actually driving back and forth from Chicago to Ft. Wayne, Indiana. A couple of days, I listened to the Buddy Guy autobiography, and I listened to a thing about Chess Records. And then in my mind, I was trying to think of bike ideas and it just popped into my head: I’m going to do something about the blues.”
A classic greyscale image of Buddy Guy, with his signature beside him, sits conspicuously on the gas tank. The right saddle bag boasts an image of Jimi Hendrix thoughtfully smoking a cigarette. His famous signature beside him, a and quote from the undisputed guitar master, “Blues is easy to play but hard to feel” wraps around a flowing paint accent. Nestled among sweeping silver accents, the other saddlebag boasts a beautiful black, white, and grey image of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One”, complete with the trademark SRV “stickers” that made it one of the most famous guitars on the planet.
As Mike rides Etta Two, through the city that James called home during her career at Chess Records, a very special face can be seen in the rear view of anybody who’s lucky enough to have Etta Two roll up behind them. Muddy Waters, cigarette casually hanging from his lips and guitar strap over his shoulder, rests in his place just below the windshield, signature by his side. In what something of a halo behind him, his famous lyrics; “Blues had a baby and they named it rock n roll”.