The 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.
- Road Hog by Johnny Sampson
- Give Me 40 Acres (To Turn This Rig Around) by Japanese Master Track
- Angel of the Rest Stop by The Slow Poisoner
- Girl on the Billboard by High A-Wake-A-Fi
- Ridin’ High by Velcro Lewis Band
- Comin Home by Slink Moss
- Six Days on the Road by Gentleman John Battles
- Trucker Song by F. R. Forster
- Harley Girls by Short Punks in Love
- Truck Stop by Gary Pig Gold
- Orlando Run by Ken Burke
- Roll Truck Roll by Slink Moss
- Soul Dog by Sweet Charles
I just don’t even need to say anything about this, do I?
Well, I will say a few things. As the opening stock-music fanfare gives way to the manly announcer proclaiming, “When it comes to handling manure, you need dependable equipment!” you know you’re in for a good thing. Plenty of fun quotes, such as “Teeth are arranged to pull manure inward,” though for some reason I just love the brief statement, “Adjust suck.”
Incidentally, the reason I have it is that my grandfather and my uncle ran the John Deere store in Plain City, Ohio (yes, “Plain City”… you can’t make that stuff up) for many years. Although my family was far from rural or white trash, this meant we had John Deere everything: John Deere calendars, John Deere bicycles, John Deere wall thermometers. When they closed up shop, my parents managed to hold onto a couple dozen of these records, all 45 RPM soundtracks to sales presentations. This is easily my fave.
The liner notes of this 1967 album explain it pretty comprehensively, so I’ll just paste them here:
Americans Speaking is a recording prepared by the National Council of Teachers of English to provide teachers and students with large-scale samples of some of the major varieties of American English, as naturally used by educated speakers. It is the first record to provide samplings of this scale since the inauguration of the Linguistic Atlas project in 1930; thanks to the evidence of the various regional atlases, it has been possible to select speakers whose pronunciation is characteristic of wide and identifiable dialect areas. All speakers recorded represent the cultivated speech of their areas: each had had some college education at the time the recordings were made, and some were postgraduates; no speaker exhibited pronunciation features widely regarded as substandard in his own area.
To permit larger samples than most records of this type provide, only six specimens are given, three from the North, two from the Midland, one from the South, following the regional designations first used by Hans Kurath in his Word Geography of the Eastern United States (Ann Arbor, 1949).
- Eastern New England (Topsfield, Massachusetts)
- Brooklyn, New York
- Inland Northern (Madison, Wisconsin)
- The Delaware Valley (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- South Midland (London, Kentucky)
- Prattville, Alabama
It is noted that three of the speakers are from the area of the original settlement where local divisions are discussed in the Word Geography. The other three—Inland Northern, South Midland, Southern—come from areas of secondary settlement for which there is as yet no detailed analysis like that in the World Geography or in Kurath and McDavid’s Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States (Ann Arbor, 1961); nevertheless, the evidence suggests that the three principal dialect regions extend west of the Alleghenies and even beyond the Mississippi, with clearly marked subareas.
The fact that these six specimens appear on this record must not suggest any judgment that these are the only models for good American pronunciation. Many others exist-from the older areas, for example, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Charleston; from newer ones, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Francisco, Portland, Salt Lake City, and Denver. It is to be hoped that this record will be but the first of a series which will provide teachers and students with an understanding of the many varieties of cultivated American English.
The selection for each speaker is in two parts: (1) a set text read aloud and (2) a sample of free discourse.
The set text, composed by Mrs. Celia M. Millward of Boston University, was designed to give examples of three types of pronunciation features:
- Differences in the pronunciation system. Does fought have the same vowel as lot, or a different one? Does morning have the same vowel as car or as ford, or are they different? Does Tuesday have a (y) glide following the (t)? Does whetstone have an (h) at the beginning?
- Differences in the phonetic quality of the vowels and consonants. Do you notice differences from your own speech in the pronunciation of (ai) in five, (au) in out, and the stressed vowels of rode, paper, week, murder?
- Differences in the occurrence of particular vowels and consonants. Does greasy have an (s) or a (z) sound? Does creek have the vowel of seek or that of sick? Does sister have the vowel of sick or something else? Does laugh have the vowel of grand or that of father?
In addition to the set passage, each speaker talked informally about some topics of interest to him, and from each of these unrehearsed recordings a selection was made. The topics are diverse: small town life in Kentucky and New England, childhood on an Alabama plantation, a philosophy of teaching, developing the craftsmanship of the professional writer, the duties of a specialized National Guard unit. What all the passages have in common is the fact that the subjects were of such interest that the speakers were unconcerned about how they were talking. From these passages one can observe several aspects of oral communication: (1) possible differences from the pronunciation of words as read; (2) the reduced contextual pronunciations of auxiliary verbs (have, will, are), prepositions (to, of), conjunctions (and, or); (3) the conversational patterns of intonations, stress, and word transitions—and the ways these may differ from the patterns found in reading aloud; (4) some evidence on the complex orchestration of speech that scholars now call paralanguage…
- Inland Northern: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
- Inland Northern: conversation
- South Midland: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
- South Midland: conversation
- Eastern New England: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
- Eastern New England: conversation
- Alabama: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
- Alabama: conversation
- Brooklyn: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
- Brooklyn: conversation
- Delaware Valley: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
- Delaware Valley: conversation
Linguistics fans out there should also check out the International Dialects of English Archive.
Here’s another fun one for you DJs out there: the FCC’s 1939 station identification regulations — as sung by Cary Grant.
This is from the second episode of the NBC radio show The Circle, broadcast on January 22, 1939. NBC assembled a top-drawer cast — Grant, Ronald Colman, Madeline Carroll, Carole Lombard, and Groucho and Chico Marx — and put together a show in a round-table format, where all the stars were members of some sort of club. Much to everyone’s surprise, the show almost immediately flopped, only lasting a few months.
Grant singing is inherently amusing — check out his performance as the Mock Turtle in the 1933 Alice in Wonderland — but having him sing FCC documentation with full orchestral accompaniment is another level altogether. Truly to be treasured.
I’ve posted just the song MP3 and also the entire show, which has some other entertaining moments, like a routine where Chico owes Groucho money.
Conquer the Video Craze was issued in 1982, at the height of arcade games’ popularity. Over a background of ambient arcade noise, Curtis Hoard, “Atari Champion finalist”, reads convoluted game tips in a slow nasal monotone.
I’ve not been able to find out much about Hoard; most of the search results point to articles about a different Curtis Hoard, a sculptor of some reknown at the University of Minnesota. Perhaps this fellow’s father? One of the few links I found about this Hoard says that he graduated from Alhambra High School in California in 1981. Perhaps he knew David Wills (“The Weatherman” from Negativland), who also attended around that time.
The liner notes talk a little about Hoard and his sad, sad life:
There are few games in the marketplace that Chris has not mastered. He has extensive experience at playing video games and diciphering [sic] their patterns and techniques of play. His analytical mind automatically envisions patterns and virtual line drawings of the games. He currently logs more than 8 hours of play per day and has been coined by his peers and friends as the “Human Video Game”.
The label, ALA Enterprises of Los Angeles, is similarly obscure. They issued a motley grab-bag of products in the late-1970s–early-1980s, including bootlegs of Memphis Slim and Canned Heat; “Dungeon Key”, a cassette game for the TI-99/4a computer; and film composer warhorse Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack for blaxploitation flick The Mack and His Pack.
I’ve always thought that between the subject matter and Hoard’s slow talking, this would make great sampling material; just snip off the introduction where he says the video game’s name, and you have a man saying things like, “As a beginner, it is better just to kill everyone as fast as you can”, utterly deadpan. At least one DJ, Canadian Kid Koala, had the same idea.
Hello Gardners; a pleasure to be here — and to make my first contribution.
I’ve been a die-hard forgotten media collector and create digger for many years, amassing an enormous library of strange sources to be used to create music as/with The Evolution Control Committee. So, it just seemed natural to start off with a good find — expect more to come.
Having amassed most of my vinyl treasures in the bible belt and Devo state of Ohio, religious vinyl artifacts are a familiar and favorite find. Whether it’s another piercing sermon from Jack Van Impe (or occasionally his kick-ass accordion playing) to irritating Christian puppets, there was always a glut. So much so that I eventually had to split my “Religion” record category in two, separating the adult material from the kids (the latter category becoming “Opiates For The Lasses”). But … always, always, always Christian.
Which was what made “Qur’an for Little Muslims” so refreshing.
Once you’re past the gleeful shock of the title, look at the cover — what’s wrong with this picture? Could it be the blond-haired, blue-eyed, Aryan Youth dutifully studying his Qur’an? There’s also something neatly symbolic about the faceless girl, conveniently looking another direction. Yeah ”¦ keep it that way, you.
As for the contents, it’s Islamic storytime with a very white sounding soccer mom. Uh, in a burqa. Not thrilling, but Negativland did use a bit in their 2006 shows after I sent a copy to Mark Hosler, even with no “My First Car Bomb” track. Nonetheless, here it is in its entirety for you, complete with artwork.
- Al Fil
- Al Alaq
- Al Maun
- Al Asr
- Al Fatiha
- Al Falaq & Al Nass
- Al Lahab
- Al Nasr
- Suras Recitation
For our inaugural post, I’ve put up Christopher Recordings on Sex Instruction, an early-1950’s album for good Christian parents on how to properly teach their children about the mysteries of sex. Highlights include some of the worst adults-pretending-to-be-children acting of all time, and the stern warning against masturbation in track 3.
There’s a semi-interesting story behind these files. I originally made them in 1997 from my copy of the album, a collection of four 78 RPM 10-inches (it was also issued on LP). I then posted them to the newsgroup alt.binaries.sounds.mp3, the best way to trade MP3s in those pre-Napster days. Not long after that, I moved and put most of my records in storage (this will be a recurring theme, I’m afraid). A couple years ago, I wanted to play some of these on my radio show, but the records were packed away and I couldn’t find the MP3s on any of my backups. I did a search, without much hope, on WinMX, and to my surprise I found them all. After downloading them and looking at the tags, I realized these were the exact ones I had encoded and posted years earlier — they had been bouncing around the various P2P networks all these years.