Wedged down in a car floorboard, Houdini-like, juggling wires, tools, and a flashlight probably isn’t the way most people would choose to spend a day off from work. While most men would be chugging their Miller Lites at the golf course or pretending they were Bob Vila on that home improvement project they’ve been working on for the past three years, I was mired in a little mission of my own. Parked inside the bay of a soon to be closed service station, I was testing my mettle on what would surely brand me a techno-nerd of Radio Shack proportions. Fingers sticky from electrical tape, I pulled another wire from underneath the carpet and looked out my rear window. The antennae on the trunk lid sat mounted, like some silent totem pole, yet representing itself as an icon of retro kitsch, ready to become a conduit into a subculture that had been relegated to the pop culture flea market of distant memory. No, I wasn’t installing a tape deck, a radar detector, nor an 8-Track player, but that other symbol of road freedom, the CB radio…
The year was 2003, but if you were an amnesiac that had been cracked in the skull with a flying Eddie Rabbitt belt buckle in the late ’70s, you would have no indication that 24 years had passed by. Especially if you came to in the back seat of my four-wheeled prized possession, a 1979 Dodge Magnum, complete with T-Tops and a freshly mounted Eversonic 23 channel Citizen’s Band radio. This relic had been unearthed in my parent’s basement, sitting in hibernation on a shelf next to the unopened box of UnCandles and my Dad’s gaudy collection of custom-shaped Avon cologne bottles. Plundering this piece of highway history like a redneck Indiana Jones, I quickly took to task integrating this treasure like that one missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Once everything seemed in place, I turned the knob and watched in childlike delight the soft glow projecting from the power indicator window. And turning the volume up, I heard these magical words” “Breaker, Breaker, 1-9, you got a Smokey report? Come back…”. My muscular Mopar had just been transformed into a DeLorean, taking me back to a time when words and phrases like “Kojak with a Kodak”, “I’ll be 10-10 on the side”, “That’s a Big 10-4”, and “We got a Bear in the air” were all part of the everyday vernacular. But this was the early 2000s, not 1976, proving its timeless testament to an industry that’s still an integral part of the American way of life. Many aspects of the trucker culture, however, hasn’t survived the ages, and most everything that exemplified and glamorized their lifestyle has become nearly extinct, including the music.
Without a doubt, the CB/trucker craze had its frenzy reach Mount Everest-high proportions in the ’70s running alongside that other little trend you may have heard of, disco. Once it was deemed unnecessary to own a license to operate your own base station in your house, or a mobile unit in your Pinto Cruising Wagon, it blew the commercial doors wide open for limitless possibilities. Anything that could reflect a day in the life of going all “4 on the floor” sold in obscene numbers, and nothing proved that more than the singles that were cruising up the country and pop music charts like a “rocket sled on rails”. Compilation albums, cassettes, and 8-tracks were released by the truckload (of course), advertised on TV and sold everywhere, especially truck stops. It seemed in those days, all you had to do was put the word “CB”, “Smokey”, or even just mention a truck in the song title, and you had some attention. Here’s a few of those ratchetjawin’ maestros:
Red Sovine: My introduction to Mr. Sovine was not exactly a happy experience. The selection that scarred me for life was “Teddy Bear”, more of a spoken-word piece rather than an actual song, which told a tear-jerker of a tale about a crippled boy who spends his time talking on his deceased father’s CB radio to truckers passing through the area. Apparently, the public loved the single and it gave Red a #1 hit on the U.S. Country Singles chart in 1975 and also sending the album of the same name to the top spot on the U.S. Country Album charts of 1976. This wasn’t the first time Red Sovine had been at the top, as his single “Giddy-Up Go” was also a #1 in 1965, and a duet with Webb Pierce titled “Why, Baby, Why” hit the top in 1955. However, it was with “Giddy-Up Go” that Sovine found his niche with songs about truckers, mostly tragic ones. Other hits in this genre included “Phantom 309″(1967) and “Little Joe”(1976). Though he recorded many songs tailor made for the CB/trucker mania, quite a few didn’t chart and were found on the plethora of trucker song collections. On April 4, 1980, Sovine suffered a heart attack behind the wheel, causing him to strike another vehicle head-on while driving in Nashville. Although he was conscious when he arrived at the hospital, his injuries were too much, and he died a short time later.
C.W. McCall: Without a doubt, if there ever was an anthem for the trucker movement, it is, hands down, “Convoy”, masterfully delivered by William Dale Fries, Jr. Fries was the creative director for an advertising firm in Omaha, Nebraska, who hopped on the truck stop gravy train with his first hit “Wolf Creek Pass” that hit the Top 40 pop charts in 1975. He took on the persona of “C.W. McCall” which was based on a character he had created for a series of TV commercials for Old Home Bread. Next came “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep-On-A-Truckin’ Cafe” and “Black Bear Road” in which he collaborated with Chip Davis (who would eventually end up in Mannheim Steamroller). 1976 was McCall’s banner year, though, when “Convoy” hit #1 on both the country and pop singles charts, and eventually spawning the Sam Peckinpah-directed actioner of the same name in 1978. McCall released one last album, “C.W. McCall & Co.”, before retiring from the music business in 1979 and entering politics. He served six years as the mayor of Ouray, Colorado.
Cledus Maggard & the Citizen’s Band: Jay Huguely was also in advertising plus a stage actor to boot. While working for Leslie Advertising in Greenville, SC, Huguely staked his claim on the CB craze with his one and only hit “The White Knight”, recording under the alias “Cledus Maggard”. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in 1976, sending the album to #4 on the country album charts, but it merely crawled to #135 in the pop album spectrum. A second album “Two More Sides” was rushed out the same year, but it never even charted. Huguely, who had been involved with writing for television, most notably as a producer for “Magnum P.I.”, was (oddly) the writer and producer for “Jason Goes To Hell: the Final Friday”. He passed away on December 13, 2008 at the age of 68.
Rod Hart: Rod was another one-hit wonder who had a minor hit in 1977 with “C.B. Savage”, which charted on both the Billboard Magazine pop (at #67) and country charts (#23). The single landed his album “Breakeroo!” on the U.S. Country Album chart at #31. Described as one of the most bizarre country novelty songs of all time, it concerns a Smokey pretending to be a gay trucker over the CB radio, hoping to distract the leader of a convoy that his patrol unit wants to write up for speeding.
Dave Dudley: One act that was hard to follow, and who predated the CB craze of the ’70s was Dave Dudley. Beginning his recording career in 1961, Dudley’s first trucker tune was the oft-covered classic “Six Days On the Road”, a massive hit that awarded him a gold disc. The song had a controversial edge because of the reference to truck drivers using speed to help them stay awake and make their deliveries on time. Other hits followed, including “Truck Drivin’ Son-of-a-Gun”, “Trucker’s Prayer”, and “Anything Leaving Town Today”, all becoming thematic documents on the life of trucker lore. Dudley continued to have hits in the ’70s, but his popularity was waning, even though he continued to release singles catering to armchair gearjammers including “Keep On Truckin'”, “Rollin’ Rig”, “Me and ‘Ole C.B.”, and others. In the ’80s, he continued to tour, especially in Europe where had a huge cult following, and he was elected to the Nashville Teamsters Truck Drivers Union. Dudley died on December 22, 2003 at the age of 75 after suffering from a heart attack at his home on Staples Lake in Wisconson.
Dick Curless: A name that continues to get criminally overlooked in this genre is Dick Curless, considered a pioneer of trucking music. Often referred to as the “Baron Of Country Music”, Curless began his show biz career performing on radio shows, eventually recording “A Tombstone Every Mile” which landed at #5 on the Billboard Country Singles chart in 1965. After traveling with the Buck Owens All American Show, he began releasing a string of hits in the late ’60s starting with “Six Times A Day (the Trains Came Down)”, followed by “Travelin’ Man”, “Highway Man”, “Big Wheel Cannonball”, “Hard, Hard, Traveling Man”, and “Drag ‘Em Off the Interstate, Sock It To ‘Em, J.P. Blues”. In 1974, he released the appropriately titled album “End Of the Road”, for Curless would not release another one until the late ’80s when he began touring and recording in Europe where his popularity had almost reached deity levels. He died of stomach cancer in 1995, but he’s been immortalized in the most interesting of ways in pop culture. In the 1975 Stephen King novel “Salem’s Lot”, the song “Bury the Bottle With Me” is referenced, and Curless (in spirit) shows up in an issue of Marvel Comics’ “Ghost Rider” as a demonic trucker who inserts an 8-track that plays his classic “A Tombstone Every Mile” while doing battle.
Red Simpson: The second Red to make this list is another talent who began his career back in the ’60s, penning and performing songs about the big rigs. In 1965, he released the song “Roll, Truck, Roll”, prompting him to release a full-length album in 1966 under the same title. Other albums that followed included “Truck Drivin’ Fool” (1967), “I’m A Truck and Other Songs Of the Road” (1972), “Trucker’s Christmas” and “20 Great Truck Hits” (both 1973). The last time Simpson was on the charts was 1979 with his single “The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver”. In 1988 he was diagnosed with skin cancer and underwent surgery which resulted in a full recovery, at which point he began performing again. In 1995, Simpson returned to recording for two duets with Junior Brown, “Semi Crazy” and “Nitro Express”. At 81 years old, Red is alive and well, and a few years ago he released a middle finger recording that some of you may have heard titled “Hey, Bin Laden”.
To say that the music surrounding the CB/trucker milieu no longer has any relevance really depends on who you ask. Truckers themselves are a different breed today, and with the whole landscape of commercial country music also much different, songs today aren’t revolving around too many semis, truck stops, or a corrupt Smokey. The mythic status that surrounded these midnight riders is non-existent, and the use of the CB is (almost) strictly for commercial use now, thanks to the affordability of cell phones. Why own a base station now? Gone are the days when I could sit in my cherished Magnum and laugh at the feuding, gossiping, and flirting from urban bumpkins that I would probably never see in daily life. A sort of grass roots community has become a distant memory…as distant as 2003.
Joey Camp is the former host of numerous podcasts including “40 Oz. Nonsense” for Garage Punk Pirate Radio and “Cheap Beer & BBQ Radio” for Real Punk Radio. He currently resides in Roanoke, VA, and you can follow him on Twitter.