Roctober #46 presents: Truckin’ Music!

thats-truckdrivin_225x231The new issue of my Roctober Magazine features a huge article on the history and highlights of the truck driving country and western genre that ruled the roads and airwaves in 60s and 70s. To celebrate the release of the magazine we gave away truckdriving music cassettes featuring covers of classics and originals by the Roctober staff. For those of you who missed the party, or who don’t have a cassette player, we are posting the compilation in its entirety here, including the “bonus track,” a rare 70s soul 45 that is all time funkiest trucking tune. Here are the stories of the cover songs and bonus tracks, adapted from the pages of the magazine:

“Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley (#1, 1963)

Dudley is, in death as in life, The King of the Truckdriving Songs. His booming voice and the big, boss guitar sound of his better known songs (provided by Johnny Voit) defined the truckstop sound, which was just coming into being when he cut his breakthrough smash, 1963’s “Six Days on The Road.” The song is the perfect trucker tune; his manly monotone invokes the macho of the road cowboys, yet he’s not too manly to avoid expressing his (universal theme of) longing for home (“my hometown’s coming in sight/If you think I’m happy you’re right!”), plus there’s enough trucker lingo to sound authentic, but not so much as to baffle Beetle drivers (“I just passed a Jimmy and a White”¦I’m a little overweight and my logbooks way behind”). Not to mention some of the only pro-drug lyrics aimed at Republicans in the 60s (“I’m taking little white pills and my eyes are open wide”).

From there, it was on to big rig classics like “Truck Driving Son Of a Gun” (#3, 1965), “There Ain’t No Easy Run” (#10, 1969), and “Thanks For All The Miles,” speaking a language the truckers understood (long before the C.B. craze of the mid-70s and its subsequent novelty hits). Not that Dudley was above doing novelties, check out the almost-Rockabilly “Cowboy Boots” (#3, 1963) or the hilarious “Rolaids, Doan’s Pills, and Preparation H” (which tells you what truck drivers REALLY live on). Dudley had a big, full sound, the kind that, along with Johnny Cash or George Jones, could win over the average rocker who’s just getting his feet wet in the Country pool. He sang in two keys, matter of fact and that’s that. Dudley’s career didn’t begin or end in the truckdriving song era that he helped launch. He was a rockabilly artist for King in the 50s and just two years before his death he released a truck driving reaction to the September 11th attacks called “You Ain’t Gonna Truck with Us” on his album “American Trucker.”

Though he was far from a one trick pony (his half-century career yielded well over thirty LPs, most of non-big rig c&w), between 1963 and 2001 he recorded at least 75 songs about trucks, one for every year he lived. When he rode off into the sunset in 2003 naturally, I expected to hear tales of truckers hanging their little flags at half-mast after Dudley made his last run, but, when I asked my friend, Pope, who’s a trucker himself, he just said, “Nahh, these younger guys don’t know anything about that.” But, we remember Dave Dudley, the real patron saint of truck drivers everywhere.

“The Girl on the Billboard,” Del Reeves (#5, 1968)

Franklin Delano Reeves had a long career, which hit its groove in 1961 with his first chart record “Be Quiet Mind” (#9, 1961). He hit the top of the country charts with the truckdriving tune “The Girl on the Billboard” in 1965. This ridiculous ditty in which Reeve’s trucking persona obsesses over a sexy billbnoard he keeps seeing as he hammers down the highways (“You’ll find tiny pieces of my heart scattered every which a way/Shattered by the girl wearing nothing but a smile/And a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big old highway,” followed by the timeless lyric, “A doo da doo doo doo doo da doo doo doo dee da dee dee doo”) adapts the Johnny Cash “chicka-boom” rhythm that the Man in Black so often used to simulate train sounds to both overtly suggest the rhythm of the road and perhaps covertly bring to mind the sound of the song’s self-declared “double-clutching weasel” protagonist pumping his own piston as he stares at the title character. That song, and many of his signature tunes (including “Women Do Funny Things to Me,” #9, 1965, “The Belles of the Southern Belle,” #4, 1965, and “Philadelphia Fillies,” #9, 1971) were lighthearted, girl-happy novelty ditties, to go along with a career in which his comic persona (doing impressions at the Grand Ole Opry, hosting a zany TV variety show, appearing in a Burt Reynolds’ movie) outshone his music.

However, his finest moment as a recording artist was a truckdriving song that seemed more about sublimely expressing the sincere joys of the life of the road than it was in getting giggles. In “Looking At The world Through A Windshield” a second generation trucker comes to understand his father’s lifestyle as he starts, “looking at the world through a windshield” and seeing, “everything in a little bit different light.” With this song’s swelling chorus, as rousing as a German drinking song, and the fantastic rhythmic phonics of the lyrics (“I’ve pushed this rig through sleet and rain/And I’ve driven through the rough terrain/Of the Rockies to the docks of old L.A./On down that old Pacific shore/Swing north and head for Baltimore/Or some place ’bout two thousand miles away”) songwriters Jerry Chesnut and Mike Hoyer composed one of the most convincing tributes to trucking. Though he died on New Years Day 2007 Reeves continues to impact popular culture. Without his support Billy Ray Cyrus would never have made it, and if that didn’t happen we’d have no Hannah Montana today. And when Hannah covers “Girl on the Billboard” the circle will close. (unless it already did, due to the out of court settlement”¦but that’s another story).

Here’s “Looking at the World” live on TV, and here’s “Looking at the World” through 60s home movies of driving:

“Give Me 40 Acres (To Turn This Rig Around)” by The Willis Brothers (#9, 1964)

There are plenty of trucking songs about despair, death and destruction (and even ghosts) on the highway, including King of Bluegrass Jimmy Martin’s poignant classic “Widowmaker,” the tale of Billy Mack, a trucker who will never see his beloved Wanda Ann again because he drove his rig into oblivion rather than plow into a stalled busload of kids, honoring that “one life for ten has always been the diesel driver’s code.” But to my knowledge there are only two about trucking chaos in the Northeast. The more serious of the pair is “A Tombstone Every Mile,” by the eye-patched “Baron of Country Music” Dick Curless, the tale of a “stretch of road up north in Maine that’s never, ever, ever, seen a smile/If they buried all the truckers lost in them Woods there’d be a tombstone every mile.”

A far more light-hearted turn on the theme of truckin’ gone bad in New England is presented by the Willis Brothers, the Grand Ole’ Opry members whose long career (from the early 30s to mid 90s) is validated by history because they backed up Hank Williams on some key early records, and is validated by Billboard by this, their sole Top 10 hit. This goofy novelty tune is this tale of a rookie trucker reduced to tears by the narrow, congested, tangled, one-way city streets of Boston. Perhaps this is an allegory about a collective Southern inferiority complex/sense of marginalization in the long wake of Civil War defeat. Or maybe it just sucks to drive in Boston.

Hear the original:

“Soul Dog Pt. 1” by Soul Dog (R&B #65, 1976)

“Soul Dog” is a funky CB-novelty song using Blaxploitation soundtrack wah wah and sassy soul sister backup vocals to tell the tale of b-a-a-a-d black trucker who is doing 95 miles an hour through the South, where a redneck highway patrolman (who keeps calling Soul Dog “boy”) is outfoxed by the speedy trucker. Soul Dog eventually gets up to 250 miles an hour, and his woman is near orgasmic as she urges him to “whip it, Soul Dog, bring it on home.” “Soul Dog” was portrayed by Sweet Charles Sherrell, best known for playing bass (and some keys) for James Brown from 1968 through the early 80s (he also co-wrote some songs including “Get Up Offa That Thing”), and for his 1974 solo album on Brown’s People label. Songwriter Willie Johnson composed the tune and Sherrell produced and did the vocals on what stands as the all-time funkiest CB record, good buddies.

  1. Road Hog by Johnny Sampson
  2. Give Me 40 Acres (To Turn This Rig Around) by Japanese Master Track
  3. Angel of the Rest Stop by The Slow Poisoner
  4. Girl on the Billboard by High A-Wake-A-Fi
  5. Ridin’ High by Velcro Lewis Band
  6. Comin Home by Slink Moss
  7. Six Days on the Road by Gentleman John Battles
  8. Trucker Song by F. R. Forster
  9. Harley Girls by Short Punks in Love
  10. Truck Stop by Gary Pig Gold
  11. Orlando Run by Ken Burke
  12. Roll Truck Roll by Slink Moss
  13. Soul Dog by Sweet Charles