The Trucking craze took hold of mainstream Country music of the USA in the early 1960s, spearheaded by the likes of Dave Dudley, Dick Curless, and Red Sovine, but, as is often the case with musical genres, it had been a long and winding road of musical and social developments leading up to that point, and it is these years that this release concentrates on.
In late 19th century America the rapidly growing country’s cargo was almost exclusively moved on the railroads but although the trains were fast to deliver they only serviced large built-up areas and once the freight arrived in these urban bases the horse-drawn carriage took up the task of delivery to more out-of-the-way areas.
During the first decade of the 20th century a few trucks began to appear but they were of limited commercial use due to their lack of power and space, coupled with the fact that once out of any urban location the rough roads weren’t suitable for driving. By 1910 many important technical improvements, such as the development of gear drives, higher quality transmission, and the invention of the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, helped increased growth of truck delivery but, again, it was only the cities and larger towns that benefited because although the trucks themselves were now much improved, the rural roads were still in the same terrible shape.
The advent of World War I brought about many great technical leaps as the motorised vehicles had to deal with rough terrain on a daily basis and so something had to be done to allow them to deliver their heavy loads in good time on bad roads. The answer was the pneumatic tire and once the war was over these new tires completely revolutionised the trucking business as companies could now deliver to far-flung destinations on all manner of surfaces and so began the sub-culture of the long-distance trucker.
The sub-culture grew rapidly – by 1920 there were over one million commercial trucks on US roads – and slowly began to filter into America’s musical landscape. Although many point to Cliff Bruner’s 1939 recording of ‘Truck Driver’s Blues’ as the starting point for the Trucking song it was actually The Red Fox Chasers’ 1928 recording, ‘The Wreck on the Highway’, that lays claim to that distinction. The group were an Old-Time band from North Carolina and in keeping with that areas’ strong and long-standing devotion to songs of a tragic nature, the lyrics detail the story of a truck driver named Lonnie who meets his end on a dangerous bend at the foot of a mountain, leaving his wife widowed and his two children orphaned.
By the mid-1930s the trucking boom had made enough of an impact on the social mores of the US to have a dance named after it and ‘trucking’ was celebrated in song form by the likes of Fats Waller, Al Miller, Smokey Wood, and The Modern Mountaineers. The most famous song regarding the dance was recorded by Piedmont Blues pioneer Blind Boy Fuller and his ‘Truckin’ My Blues Away’ contained the phrase “keep on truckin’” which would later provide underground graphic artist Robert Crumb with the text for his famed image that was to be found, and still is, on the mud flaps of many a trucker.
As has been mentioned before in these notes, Cliff Bruner’s 1939 recording of ‘Truck Driver’s Blues’ is generally regarded as the first truck-driving song, and although we now know that The Red Fox Chasers rightly deserve that note in the musical history books, the assertion still rings true with a slight revision. Whereas ‘Wreck on the Mountain Road’ was the first song to use a truck-driver in the story, ‘Truck Driver’s Blues’ was the first song to be consciously directed at the truck-driver’s themselves. As trucking grew and grew throughout the 1930s another important part of that world sprung up; the roadside diner. With so many men working on the roads, the need for food, drink, and rest, on long trips was serviced by cafes and truck stops that popped up all over the US and by the late 1930s many of these places were taking advantage of another new craze, the jukebox, to make money from their customers, who were predominantly truckers.
It didn’t take long for a record man to see the planets aligning and in 1939 an executive from Decca Records came up with the idea of to selling a song about truck-drivers, to truck-drivers, whilst they were out on the road. Luckily, song-writer and Houston-native Ted Daffan had also seen that there was an opening for a song about truckers, for truckers, and had penned ‘Truck Driver’s Blues’, which had come to the attention of Decca, who gave the song to Cliff Bruner and his group to record. Although more than likely picked to record the song due to their locality to Daffan, Bruner’s band had some world-class members, counting Country great Moon Mullican and electric steel guitar virtuoso Bob Dunn, amongst their number. All of the ingredients were stirred perfectly with the record going on to surpass over 100, 000 sales, and the Trucking genre of Country music as we know it was born.
Many songs followed in the wake of ‘Truck Driver’s Blues’ but it would take a while for the next true classic to emerge. After World War II the record business had changed drastically with the emergence of many independent labels. These labels would normally spring up in a certain locale to cater to those that lived within the environs, and if all went well, beyond. In California in the early 1950s, no doubt due in some small part to the massive wave of immigration from Oklahoma due to the infamous dust storms of the 1930s, there was an exciting fledgling Hillbilly music movement and one of the songwriters on the scene was Cal Martin who wrote ‘Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves’ in 1952.
‘Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves’ was quickly picked up by Doye O’Dell and released on the small Californian independent Intro Records. The song would prove to be very popular within the California Hillbilly scene with five other artists covering the song in short time. Steel guitar great Speedy West provided the licks for not only O’Dell’s version but for three other covers of the song, and with his two solo contributions to this collection it’s fair to say that his style, and even name, must rank him as the most important guitarist of early 1950s Trucking music.
The wait for the next trucking standard was not as long, with 1954 heralding the release of Terry Fell’s brilliant ‘Truck Driving Man’. Fell was another denizen of the California Hillbilly scene and had left his native Alabama to become a professional musician in the 1940s but it took a while for him to make his mark, recording for three other labels before signing with RCA Victor subsidiary X Records. His first session for the label took place in February, 1954, in Hollywood, and at that debut session he cut four numbers with ‘Truck Driving Man’ being amongst them. The song would go on to become a smash hit and as with ‘Truck Driver’s Blues’ and ‘Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves’ before it, spawned many cover versions. The song also contained an element that the Decca executive back in 1939 would have approved of; Fell singing about putting the very song he was singing on the jukebox whilst in the truck stop diner – clever!
With the lyrical content of what made the genre so appealing to the truckers - depicting them as romantic vagabond figures with women at every stop, making their money with the freedom of the open road – already firmly in place there was still some way to go before the sound that propelled the likes of Dave Dudley and Red Sovine to greatness was to be heard. The echo-laden, sparse, and heavy-string guitar style that fans today so associate with Trucking music can first be heard in storyteller supreme Johnny Horton’s ‘I’m Coming Home’. The song was recorded in 1957, with Nashville session legend Grady Martin (who a few years later would accidentally invent the fuzz tone style of guitar playing due to some faulty equipment whilst backing Marty Robbins on his excellent ‘Don’t Worry’) providing the licks that would go a long way to defining the sound of the guitar in Trucking music.
The rest of the 1950s and the first few years of the 1960s found many other artists gaining success within the Trucking musical idiom, as can be evidenced by the work of Coleman Wilson, Lonnie Irving, and the great Hank Snow, but all of their efforts and of those before them were to serve as a warm-up act for Trucking’s golden era which would be announced in 1963 with the release of Dave Dudley’s ‘Six Days on the Road’ which would become a massive hit and is now considered the ultimate Trucking anthem. ‘Six Days on the Road’ would take Trucking music to another level and help to establish it as its own important sub-genre of Country music, one which, as this release shows, had started its’ journey some distance before.