Six Days on the Road is one of the greatest trucking songs ever recorded. Dave Dudley had the big Country hit version, but it’s been covered by the likes of George Thorogood, Steve Earle and Sawyer Brown amongst many others. The song was a big favourite among the counter-culture with the lyrical reference to ‘little white pills’ – amphetamines, in other words – being an overt drug reference in a Country chart smash hit. Less controversially though, the brothers Jim & Jesse McReynolds recorded a bluegrass version brought to you this month on their album Diesel On My Tail
There’s an interesting selection of material featured here and the title track gave the duo a top twenty Billboard Country Singles chart hit with the Ballad of Thunder Road which was the theme song from a 1958 bootlegging movie, Thunder Road. The song was written by Don Raye, who wrote hits for the likes of The Andrews Sisters, as well classics such as The House of Blue Lights, recorded by the great boogie-woogie piano player, Merrill E Moore and later by The Flamin’ Groovies. Raye’s co-writer of the song was that giant of the silver screen, Robert Mitchum. Mitchum had worked with Raye before on an album entitled Calypso is Like So... and Mitchum himself had released The Ballad of Thunder Road as a one-off single in 1958, although he didn’t sing the actual movie theme itself.
Hot Rod Race is a kind of early variant on the classic Country ‘car race’ song, Hot Rod Lincoln. Originally a hit for Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys in 1951, Shibley’s version incited a modicum of controversy at the time, with the second verse “Now along about the middle of the night / We were ripping along like white folks might” which some Eastern US stations refused to play. Subsequent covers by the likes of Red Foley, Tiny Hill and Ramblin’ Jimmy Dolan amended the lyrics subtley.
The Terry Fell song Truck Driving Man has been covered over the years since its original 1954 release by artists as varied as George Hamilton IV, Charlie Walker, and the J Geils Band. Its celebration of the trucking values and a life on the road seems to find favour with successive generations of musicians, and Jim & Jesse’s bluegrass approach makes for a refreshing and affectionate version.
Lovin’ Machine, written by Larry Kingston, was a 1966 hit for Johnny Paycheck, and the songs titular motif is ostensibly in homage to a car, although it obviously has a dual meaning, as the car is described in very feminine terms. Girl On The Billboard was a 1965 hit for Del Reeves, and again is a lyrically witty opus about a trucker being wooed by a picture of a girl on a roadside advertising hoarding.
Closing with a bluegrass take on Tijuana Taxi, a 1965 hit for Herb Alpert, the album is a fun celebration of truck driving songs played with skill and humour, and is more than the novelty item that it may first appear. The album went on to be a great influence on the Country Rock bands that would emerge in the late sixties and early seventies, including Commander Cody, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Flying Burrito Brothers and many others, including the English Country-Rock combo, Plainsong.
In the meantime, this superb reissue affords you the opportunity to appreciate two masters of the Bluegrass Arts at the very top of their game. To partially paraphrase The Band, it’s a trucker’s dream, if I ever did hear one...
With thanks to Alan Robinson