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Dudley, McCall lead the convoy of trucking songs of the '70's

By Jon Johnson, June 2000

In 1970, songs about trucks had been more or less absent from the upper reaches of the country charts for about two years when Dick Curless' "Big Wheel Cannonball" reached number 27. Although not a huge hit, nor particularly different from the songs charting two years earlier, it neatly marked the start of a second period of growth for trucker country music.

Some of the faces in the early '70's were familiar ones. Curless and Red Simpson (who reached number 4 in late 1971 with "I'm a Truck") had both charted in the '60's, as had Dave Dudley.

Although known primarily today for his numerous hits in the '60's, especially 1963's "Six Days On the Road," Dudley was also a major force on the charts during the '70's with "Keep On Truckin'" (number 19 in 1973) and "Me and Ole C.B." (number 12 in 1975).

"I guess I just fell into it," says Dudley, 72, in a telephone interview from his home in Wisconsin. "I got into disc jockey work part-time. (I went) from that to working in small clubs."

Though Dudley had already been recording for about three years prior to "Six Days On the Road," it was that song which made his career and forever engraved him in the mind of the public as a "trucker singer."

"'Six Days On the Road' was a demo that they had passed around someplace in the South. I was always trying to be a ballad singer. We were (recording) in Minneapolis, and we were aiming at a song that was a ballad. I don't even know how we did that. The guitar player was magnificent. The guitar work made the record really."

As with many of his contemporaries, Dudley recorded many other styles of country besides trucker songs, though it's the trucker songs that he's best known for today.

"I did a number of other things when I first came out of baseball. I was a switchman on a railroad. The railroad (also) had a truck line, and I drove a little truck then. But (singing about trucks) was an accident. I knew what trucks were about, but I just never thought it would happen that way. We had different plans for what we thought we'd like to do."

"When I got into singing things about working people, you're bound to inject some ballad things because you can't keep singing 12 songs on an album that are all about working men. So I wrote a lot of ballads, but I guess it wasn't too successful, because they wanted us to do the things that were more acceptable. We got fan mail from the working-type people."

"You kind of hang your hat on that peg and say, 'Well, I like it. It was successful, and if that's what they'd like me to do, let's see if I can do some more things that'll make them happy.'"

Like others of his generation, Dudley's career lost momentum in the late '70's in the U.S.

However, in 1980 a West German group, Truck Stop, had a hit with "Ich möchte gern Dave Dudley hören" ("I Want to Hear More Dave Dudley"), stirring interest in Dudley's music throughout Europe. Dudley took a chance on the European market and never looked back, touring and recording regularly in that market ever since, now only making occasional appearances in the U.S.

"I got involved for so many years over (in Europe) that it was kind of a lifestyle," though Dudley adds that he's booked a few mid-western appearances this summer. "I guess maybe in the category I fall into, we don't work as much as those guys today do because they're the ladies and gentlemen that are working these days with their sound."

"I started going over there in spring and fall. One year we did as many as 45 or 50 dates. And then I started getting a little nervous about it after six or seven years. I said, 'Look, you can't do this. You'll wear the whole thing out.' So we stayed with the spring tour."

Asked about the differences between audiences in the U.S. and Europe, Dudley says, "They still dig traditional (in Europe). If they know anybody at all, they really don't know too many of the new people. They're not interested," something that Dudley chalks up to the lack of American country radio influence and the heavy touring done by himself, Johnny Cash and other traditional stars in the past.

Sadly, Dudley says that recording a new album for the American market is unlikely at this point.

"We've done things for Europe. There wasn't much reaction (in the U.S.) when you'd bring something to (American radio) and say, 'Here's what Dave's doing now.' They'd say, 'Well, it's basically what he's done.' And they say, 'Well, he's getting older. We need kids.' They like to have kids under contract for a number of years and they can't do that with guys like me, Merle Haggard, or George Jones. I don't think it helps to put something out now. Nine out of ten times it has no place to go. Then you have to think, 'Well, it didn't help me get any more concerts.'"

Asked for advice to younger singers, Dudley's answer is straightforward.

"Sincerity is always the best thing. But good material also helps."

Perhaps one of the all-time strangest origins of a country singer was that of William Fries. A 45-year-old Omaha-based advertising executive in 1973, he had created a fictional bread delivery truck driver for an advertising campaign for the Metz Baking Company's Old Home Bread.

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