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The History Of Canadian TRUCK DRIVING Songs

The History of CANADIAN TRUCK DRIVIN' SONGS
A Special CMN Feature
by Larry Delaney

Award-winning Canadian country group The Road Hammers have created some renewed interest in “TRUCKER” songs with their debut, self-titled album featuring such classic hits of the genre as East Bound And Down and their current radio hit, The Girl On The Billboard.,p> During the late 1960’s and through the 70’s, the “Trucker” song was a staple theme in country music, with Red Simpson (I’m A Truck / Roll, Truck Roll / The Highway Patrol, etc.); Red Sovine (Phantom 309 / Teddy Bear / Freightline Fever, etc.); Dave Dudley (Six Days On The Road / Truck Drivin’ Son-Of-A Gun / Trucker’s Prayer, etc.); Dick Curless (A Tombstone Every Mile / Big Wheel Cannonball, etc.), and many others scoring huge chart hits with their “truckin” songs. Their successes inspired a whole generation of “trucker” song artists and songs, which eventually led into the C.B. age of trucking, and the C.W. McCall 1975 classic, “Convoy”. (A recent re-make of that song by Canadian artist Paul Brandt actually preceded The Road Hammers venture into the Canadian truckin’ song world.) Then, in 1980, the Urban Cowboy craze entered the picture …and the “Trucker Song”, with its redneck, blue-collar image, was no longer in vogue.

During the height of the Six Days On The Road truck song era in Nashville (and beyond), Canadian country music and its artists of the day enjoyed their own huge legacy of Canadian truck (and truckin’) songs; and while no Canuck country singer ever matched the magic of classics like Six Days On The Road, many came very close, and indeed the Canadian truckin’ song culture held its own against the Yankee crowd.

Country Music News (CMN / February, 2006) illustrated the background of the 1965 Del Reeves hit song The Girl On The Billboard, and predicted the current success of The Road Hammers ‘cover’ of the song. CMN’s crack research team has now delved a little deeper into the history of Canadian “truckin” songs and provides this special feature on the subject.
It is important to recognize that hundreds of songs have been written about “the road”; not all of these pertain to the “trucker’s” theme we are looking at here. Many “road” songs deal with “life on the road”, or “traveling down that lonesome road”, or “the hobo’s life” (as in the Roger Miller classic “King Of The Road”). In this review we are concentrating solely on “truck driving” songs by Canadian country recording artists.

THE REAL DEAL

Several Canadian artists who released truck driving albums or songs, actually lived the life of a highway truck driver – Dick Nolan, Roger Quick, Ron McMunn, Terry Sumsion, newcomer GM Paterson, and likely many others. Some artists paid homage to the lifestyle (and song) by releasing albums (vinyl Lp’s) with front cover photos of them sitting in the cab of their 18-wheeler. One of the more memorable of these photo cover albums came from Newfoundland’s Dick Nolan, best remembered for his novelty hit Aunt Martha’s Sheep. He released the album Truck Driving Man (Arc-633), featuring classic truck driving hits Six Days On The Road, Give Me 40 Acres and Truck Driving Man (he previously recorded the staple Truck Driving Son-Of-A-Gun tune). Ironically, Nolan’s album also contained numerous “train” songs, making the title of his album a little deceiving. Sadly, Dick Nolan, one of the most celebrated of our “Newfie Country” artists, passed away December 13, 2005.

Roger Quick, of London, Ontario, titled his 1978 album Rainbow Special, after his 18-wheeler, and included the two truck driving classics, Six Days On The Road and Truck Driving Man in his album which was fronted with a photo of himself and band members in his ‘big ol’ truck’.

Likewise, Ottawa Valley Hall Of Famer Ron (“The Fox” McMunn, a truck driver and heavy equipment operator by profession, is pictured with an 18-wheeler on his Thanks For 30 Years album (Foxland-3). The album features Ron McMunn’s original classic, “My Old Truck”. His earlier albums on Rodeo/Banff include his versions of Truck Driving Man and his own Waitin’ For The Diesel song.

VINTAGE TRUCK DRIVIN’ TUNES

Among the earliest Canucks to record a trucker’s song were New Brunswick’s Kidd Baker with his 1953 release Wheeling Back To Wheeling, West Va. Ottawa Valley Hall Of Famer Hank (Rivers) Lariviere wrote and recorded his song Big Semi-Trailer on a 1959 (circa) album. Veteran Chef Adams, still active on the country scene today, was also among the earliest to cut a trucker’s song with his The Truck Driver tune. The late Ray McAuley, from Surrey, British Columbia, earned lots of airplay with his Diesel Cowboy song, written by Ed Molyski. The song was part of McAuley’s marvelous Sometimes Good – Sometimes Bad album released on RCA in 1977, just prior to his untimely passing at age 33.

FEW FEMALES GET IN ON THE ACTION

Not surprisingly, there were few Canadian females who got into the act of writing and /or recording “trucking” songs. Perhaps the most notable was the Sylvia (Fricker) Tyson song, Trucker’s Café, recorded originally by Ian & Sylvia on their now highly collectable 1969 Lp Great Speckled Bird. Sylvia Tyson later released a solo version of her song, and the tune was also recorded in 1978 by American folk artist Rosalie Sorrells.

Linda Brown, of Kingston, Ontario included her song Roll It On Homeward (My Truck Drivin’ Man) on her 1974 Sing-A-Long With Me album (A&M Records). Alberta’s Vicki Alynn recorded the Dallas Harms song Trucker’s Lament, on her 1976 One Heart For Sale album (Maple Haze Records), produced by Harms. Canadian Hall of Famer Colleen Peterson did everyone proud with her raucous version of Six Days On The Road, a key track on her memorable 1976 debut album, Beginning To Feel Like Home (Capitol).

PUTTING SOME LAUGHS INTO THE CAB

Regina, Saskatchewan cabaret comic “Metro”, remembered best for his drunken version of The 12 Days Of Christmas; introduced similar comedic value into his trucking songs with Don’t Take The Truck To Town, a parody of the Johnny Cash hit Don’t Take Your Guns To Town; and his hilarious take-off of the Dave Dudley classic – this time as Six Weaks On Da Road. The Metro tunes were part of his 1974 Metro Goes Country album.

Also on the parody side was Side Roads’ version of C.B. Savage, the “gay” answer song to the C.W. McCall hit Convoy. Side Road was a Lindsay, Ontario-based trio, led by the late Gary “Spike” Spicer, of Family Brown band fame.

Equally humorous was Jimmy Arthur Ordge’s song Herschel’s Hemi Half-Ton, but this one also turned out to be a Top 40 hit for Ordge in 1976. The song was first featured in his I’ll Go Anywhere Lp (Royalty).

Among some of the oddities in Canadian trucking songs was Diesel Drivin’ Man, by Toronto’s Angus Walker, who was billed as “Canada’s Prime Minister Of Country Music”. Walker wrote and recorded the song, featured on his 1970 Lp (Cynda Records) which also contained his controversial Top 20 hit, Parliament Hill.

Surprisingly, Canadian balladeer Stompin’ Tom Connors, composer of literally hundreds of Canadian folklore songs, seldom wrote about the “trucker” – dealing more with his specialty of ‘thumbin’ a ride, or hoppin’ a freight. One of Stompin’ Tom’s songs that did pay homage to the trucker was his Alcan Run. Although recorded originally by Connors himself, Alcan Run was more successful as a hit single by Bud Roberts, when he actually topped the RPM charts in 1967 with his single released on Apex Records. The Oshawa-based Roberts also recorded the Stevedore Steve (Foote) song, I’m A Truck Driver, also a Top 30 hit for the Nova Scotia-based Stevedore Steve in 1971.

THE “TRUCKIN” CHART HITS

Several truckin’ songs also topped the country music charts in Canada (RPM). One of the most popular among the domestic truckin’ songs on Canadian charts was Big Red Jimmy, written and recorded by Niagara Falls, country traditionalist, Jerry Warren. His 1975 release (on United Artists) topped the RPM charts that year, and was subsequently covered by popular Hamilton-based recording artist Ron McLeod on his 1979 Royal Flush Lp (Birchmount), produced by Gary Buck. Jerry Warren’s Big Red Jimmy and the Bud Roberts single of Alcan Run, both have the distinction of being a # 1 hit on Canadian charts.

Also charting with their “truck song” releases of the day were Ottawa’s Ralph Carlson with his original tune Transport Blues. His 1976 single, released on Melbourne Records, peaked at #6. The Ian & Sylvia single of Trucker’s Café (written by Sylvia Tyson) reached #9 on the charts in 1970; and The Good Brothers had a #16 hit with their 1978 Truck Driver’s Girl. Roger Quick reached #29 in 1978 with his Ten Miles From Home lament.

Among the many other Canuck artists with “truckin” song recordings were Wiz Bryant (Trucker’s Dream); Canadian Zephyr (The Trucker’s Gift), Freddy Dixon (18 Wheeler), Wayne Fehr (When I Come Truckin’ Home), Gerry Doucette (The Truck Driver), the late Mike Graham (Roll On Big Wheels); Howard Hayes (Tombstone Every Mile), Ron Jeffrey (This Big Old Freighter), Lindsay Thomas Morgan (The Trucker Song), Dennis T. Olson (Truck Driving Outlaw); Joe St. Denis (I Love My Big Mack and Trucking Through The North), Valdy (Trucker’s Song), the late Rex Hemeon (Come On Truck / Big Rig / Heartaches On The CB)…and the list goes on.

TRUCKIN’ IN LA BELLE PROVINCE

Many of Quebec’s country music recording stars have recorded French language “truck drivin” songs, marketed within the province only. Several Quebec-based artists have also cut truckin’ songs for the English market. Ricky Fort enjoyed some success with his Border Truck Hauler; while the late Jerry Robitaille (of Jerry & Jo’Anne fame) frequently included truckin’ classics in the duo’s many album releases.

Likely one of the more bizarre and least heralded of Canadian truck-driving songs came from Cliff Hinton, with his Truckin’ Friend song, which was included on the 1981 Inside Out Lp (Phonodisc). The song is notable because the entire album featured songs and performances by inmates of the maximum security Edmonton Institution. The project was co-produced by Sylvia Tyson and Alan Kates.

One of truckin’ music’s biggest hits was written by a Canadian. Scott Turner, who was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and went on to an illustrious career in Los Angeles and Nashville as a songwriter, producer and record label executive, wrote the song Trucker’s Prayer, which became a Top 20 hit in 1967 for Dave Dudley, the undisputed “king of the truckin’ song’. Turner, best known for co-writing the hit songs Shutters & Boards, Hicktown, When The Wind Blows In Chicago, etc. also penned the Red Simpson truckin' hit Nitro Express and the Kay Adams chart hit, Little Pink Mack.

Songwriter Gordon Grills of Oshawa, Ontario, was the co-writer of Woman Behind The Man Behind The Wheel, recorded by Nashville star Red Sovine, noted for his many truck drivin' hits and albums.

Canadian truckin’ song history also owns one of the biggest misconceptions in recorded country music. The 1962 Hank Snow classic “I’ve Been Everywhere”, recorded by dozens around the universe, more often than not credits Canadian Hall of Famer Hank Snow as the writer of the tune… in fact it was penned by Australian songwriter, Geoff Mack.

That’s a 10-4, good buddy!!

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