Truckers' Hats Are Back!

Returning to the road after four decades, still on 18 wheels

Red Simpson is a man who lives a life of danger, at least on his recently reissued 1967 Truck Drivin' Fool. Moving his rig down the interstate on sleepless, rainy nights full of blinding lights and hairpin turns, with the constant risk of losing control (as happens in both "Jackknife" and "Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves"), he knows how to evoke a sense of drama, although his cover of "A Tombstone Every Mile" sounds relatively jaunty compared to Dick Curless's deep-voiced original. He also knows about the conflicting appeal of life on the road and settling down.

But Simpson's real forte is chronicling the profession's working life, from short runs hauling trailers ("Piggyback Blues") to coping with undersized cabs ("Sleeper, Five-by-Two"). His weakness is the sentimental cliché—when Old Sam swerves to avoid hitting someone, it has to be a child looking for a lost dog—although this is more evident on his similarly resurrected Truckers' Christmas. Thankfully, his low-key humor offsets his more maudlin moments.

Kay Adams's likewise reissued 1966 Wheels & Tears, by contrast, begins with "Little Pink Mack," an atypical hit in this predominantly male country subgenre. The song pays more attention to Adams's fashion choices than to slippery pavement, and she claims that "to be wiped out by a girl would be a disgrace." But she also reveals that she cut her "baby teeth on a set of Spicer gears" and that she's a "gear swappin' mama" who can take care of herself. This is the only track that she sings from behind the wheel, but not the only one with plenty of twang and fuzz, as "Six Days Awaiting" (an answer to Dave Dudley's "Six Days on the Road") and "Big Mack" (also recorded by Simpson) attest.

Red Simpson, known for truckin', though not like the doo-dah man
photo: EMI Music Special Markets
Red Simpson, known for truckin', though not like the doo-dah man

These, as well as "That'll Be the Day" (when he quits trucking) and "The Reason We're Together" (because he's never in town long enough to be caught cheating), are told from the perspective of a trucker's significant other. The rest, including two Buck Owens covers, concentrate on non-truck-specific heartbreak, a bit of a downer after Adams's upbeat honky-tonk singing and enthusiastic verbal asides. The weepies conclude with the ominously titled "The Worst Is Yet to Come," but the lady does seem comfortable in both the slow and fast lanes of this manic-depressive highway of life.

 
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