BROOKE GLADSTONE: As radio format changes continue to elbow country music out of the way, a resurgence of interest in truckers songs has emerged in the most unlikely of places -- Brooklyn, New York. Once the exclusive province of late night radio and truck stop juke boxes, a new anthology CD and a growing interest among a younger audience may just change all that. OTM's Rex Doane reports. [TRUCKER SONG UP AND UNDER]
REX DOANE: Billed as the "Rig-Rocker," Jeremy Tepper spends Monday evenings here at Union Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn spinning vintage trucker tunes to a barful of trendy 20-somethings. Tepper is the owner and operator of Diesel Only Records. He is also the man behind the CD collection titled Truck Driver's Boogie, recently released by the Country Music Hall of Fame. Though trucking songs have been around for over 60 years, Tepper sees a strong sense of continuity in this under-appreciated sub-genre of American music.
JEREMY TEPPER: There's been a real continuum from the earliest days to, you know, contemporary truck driver songs. Drivers are still drinking coffee. Drivers still need to stop at truck stops to eat, to refuel, to make small talk, to socialize with other drivers and waitresses -- and many of those themes are present in the very first truck driving hit which was Cliff Bruner's Truck Driver's Blues in 1939. [SONG TRUCK DRIVER'S BLUES PLAYS]
CLIFF BRUNER: [SINGING] FEELING TIRED AND WEARY FROM MY HEAD DOWN TO MY SHOES FEELING TIRED AND WEARY FROM MY HEAD DOWN TO MY SHOES GOT A LOW DOWN FEELING TRUCK DRIVER'S BLUES....
REX DOANE: It was the growth of the interstate highway system in the 1950s along with the subsequent rise of the trucking industry that helped pave the way for the golden age of big rig hits in the 1970s. [SONG SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD PLAYS]
DAVE DUDLEY: [SINGING] WELL I PULLED OUT OF PITTSBURGH A ROLLIN' DOWN THAT EASTERN SEABOARD I GOT MY DIESEL WOUND UP AND SHE'S A RUNNIN' LIKE A-NEVER BEFORE THERE'S A SPEED ZONE AHEAD; WELL ALL RIGHT I DON'T SEE A COP IN SIGHT SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD AND I'M A-GONNA MAKE IT HOME TONIGHT.
JEREMY TEPPER: The big bang in truck driving musicals, Six Days on the Road by Dave Dudley which came out in the fall of 1963 peaked at number two on the country charts and crossed over to the pop charts, and the enormous popularity of that song triggered an avalanche of truck driving songs.
REX DOANE: Anxious to hitch a ride on the trucking craze, Capitol Records approached Merle Haggard to do a full album of trucker songs. When Haggard passed, Red Simpson stepped in. It was a move that would define his career.
RED SIMPSON: Just got, got into the trucking thing by accident there. But that puts you in that one category, you know; but they know who you are -- you know, Red Simpson? Oh, yeah - he does all them truck driving songs, yeah. [SONG I'M A TRUCK PLAYS]
RED SIMPSON: [TALK-SINGING] HELLO? I'M A TRUCK. YOU'VE HEARD SONGS ABOUT TRUCK DRIVERS MANY TIMES THEIR STORY'S TOLD HOW THEY PULLED OUT OF PITTSBURGH FOR SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD....
JEREMY TEPPER: Red Simpson's really not known for anything other than truck driving songs, so he's a individual who's completely associated with the truck-driving genre from his very first album, Roll, Truck, Roll to his big crossover single, I'm A Truck, in 1970. [SONG I'M A TRUCK PLAYS AGAIN]
RED SIMPSON: [WITH CHORUS SINGERS] THERE'D BE NO TRUCK DRIVERS IF IT WASN'T FOR US TRUCKS. NO DOUBLE-CLUTCHING, GEAR-JAMMING COFFEE-DRINKING NUTS....
REX DOANE: Few others are as qualified as Simpson to divulge the necessary ingredients needed to compose the classic trucker song.
RED SIMPSON: Oh, yeah. You gotta have waitresses and pinball machines and truck stops [LAUGHS]. Wouldn't be no truck drivers without them!
REX DOANE: [LAUGHS] And little white pills?
RED SIMPSON: I don't know much about that, but [LAUGHS]...
REX DOANE: It's little wonder that many of Red's fans still find it hard to believe that he never sat behind an 18-wheeler.
RED SIMPSON: Oh, yeah. I've had a lot of people tell me, you know -- you never drove a truck? Why do you sing-- truck driving songs? And I say well Roy Rogers shot a lot of people but he didn't really kill them. [LAUGHS] [SONG, CONVOY, PLAYS]
C. W. McCALL: [TALK-SINGING] ...LOOKS LIKE WE GOT US A CON-VOY....
REX DOANE: Bill Fries, a one-time advertising executive based in Omaha never drove a truck for a living either. But in 1976, recording under the name of C.W. McCall, Fries cut the biggest-selling trucker record of all time. [SONG COMES UP AGAIN]
C. W. McCALL: [TALK-SINGING] WE WAS HEADING FOR BEAR ON I-1-0 ABOUT A MILE OUT OF SHAKEY TOWN I SAYS BIG BEN, THIS HERE'S RUBBER DUCK AND I'M ABOUT TO PUT THE HAMMER ON DOWN.
CHORUS SINGERS: CAUSE WE GOT A LITTLE OLD CONVOY....
REX DOANE: The runaway crossover success of Convoy, and the inevitable C.B. craze that followed brought mainstream recognition like never before to truckers and their music. Hollywood churned out films like Smokey and the Bandit. Television countered with B. J. and the Bear. But fad status, as it always does, faded quickly. Twenty-five years later, trucker tunes occasionally dent the country charts, but only rarely. The trucking community itself has experienced great change as well. Again, Jeremy Tepper.
JEREMY TEPPER: Although the truck driving industry has continued to grow, the element that enjoys country music as a segment of the truck driving industry has become smaller, relatively speaking.
REX DOANE: Like most commercial radio, local trucker shows have long since given way to network talk. But for 30 years and counting Dave Nemo is keeping it rolling. [TRUCK DRIVER SONG PLAYS]
DAVE NEMO: [SINGING] YOU'VE ALWAYS GOT A GRAND ON YOUR RADIO DRIVING WITH DAVE NEMO DOWN THE ROAD. [HARMONICA]
DAVE NEMO: On a given night, over 5 hours, we'll play probably 20, 25 trucking songs. I would say it'll be roughly 40 percent of the music we play.
REX DOANE: Even with C.B.'s, CD's and cell phones to compete with, Nemo knows he is still needed.
DAVE NEMO: If a trucker calls me toward the end of the show and he says "Man, I'll tell you what --I, I-- don't think I could have made it if you hadn't have been on the, on the radio tonight." -- that, that really is the crux of what we do and, and, and that's the greatest compliment we can get.
REX DOANE: At the age of 67, Red Simpson continues to perform and is often reminded by old-time truckers what his music has meant to them on those long hauls.
RED SIMPSON: Passes a lot of time for the truck drivers I know. Lot of lonely hours, they say; but if you hadn't been there singing for us, we'd have-- it sure would have been a, a dull trip. [LAUGHS]
REX DOANE: And for those out there trying to "keep it in the ditches with the rubber side down" --that's a big 10-4. [TRUCK HORN] [SONG UP AND UNDER] For On the Media in New York, I'm Rex Doane.
RED SIMPSON: I'M A DOUBLE-CLUTCHING, STEEL-JUMPING, [MOM-LIKING], TAIL-GATING, COP-DODGING, LINE-CROSSING, COFFEE-DRINKING, PIN-BALLING, JACK-KNIFING, PART-TIMING, WINDJAMMING, LATE-RUNNING, GEAR-BUSTING SORT OF A FELLER! [TRUCK HORN]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, we consider the legacy of September 5th, 1972.