Black Music Matters Festival

Watson, George, Holiday keep on truckin' in the '90's

By Jon Johnson, July 2000

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When asked to pick some particular favorites of the genre, Tepper unhesitatingly picks Dick Curless' 1973 album "Live at the Wheeling Trucker's Jamboree."

"It's a real hard record to find. I found a copy about seven or eight years ago," says Tepper, adding that he's also particularly fond of Red Simpson's Capitol albums, Johnny Dollar's and Jim Nesbitt's late '60's recordings for the Chart label, Red Sovine, the Willis Brothers, and Kay Adams, whose music he's hoping to reissue in the future.

Austin-based country traditionalist Dale Watson, who released three albums on HighTone, has long championed the seemingly lost art of the trucker song. Watson's albums have frequently featured trucker anthems such as "Truckin' Man," "Jack's Truck Stop & Café," and "Roadtrain." In 1998, Koch Records released Watson's album of trucking songs, "The Truckin' Sessions," an expanded version of a cassette-only album that Watson had self-released the previous year.

"My dad drove in the '60's and went back to driving in the late '80's and early '90's," says Watson in an interview from his Austin home. "I grew up with that stuff, so it's always (been) there. The way I got into it was from being out there on the road with these guys. And I just ended up writing some songs that happened to identify with truckers."

To this day, one of Watson's best remembered tours focused on playing at trucks stops around the country, a tour that Watson booked in conjunction with Nemo's Road Gang radio show.

"About '95, we ended up doing a truck stop tour because I wanted to do a trucker album. We did the tour first and after the tour I had enough material to do the album. It was all independently owned stations. Some were good, (and) some were awful, but all in all it was a lot of fun. It went real well."

Sonny George has also long been associated with the trucker genre. As lead vocalist for the Nashville-based rockabilly band the Planet Rockers, George has often worked trucker songs such as "Truck Driver's Rock" onto the band's records. In addition, George has released two solo albums since 1995, including 1998's excellent "Truckin' Country" on Spinout.

Like Watson, George grew up in a trucker family. "My father was a trucker all his life - a long-haul guy - and he always listened to all of that old Red Sovine stuff. He dug all that, so I heard it around the house."

In contrast to Watson, however, George himself has worked as a truck driver and, in fact, still works on a part-time basis for Consolidated Freightways. "I worked freight from the time I got out of high school. And I still do, sort of. I don't drive any more, but when I'm out playing, they say 'Call us when you get back.'"

"When the Planet Rockers kind of broke up (in 1995; though George and guitarist Eddie Angel have recently reactivated the band), I started writing. The Planet Rockers were mainly a cover band - obscure covers - and I didn't write then. My father passed away, and I wanted to do something that was a tribute record to him and the kind of music he dug. I guess it's a 'days-gone-by' kind of thing. There was a lot more romanticism involved in (the music). Back before the interstates, it seemed like it was a lot more of the 'Concrete Cowboy' kind of guy. I wanted to do something that would appeal to truckers, so I wrote everything (on "Truckin' Country") within about a month."

Interestingly, much of George's "Truckin' Country" album is closer to the rockabilly stylings of the Planet Rockers than the more traditional sounds of Red Simpson, Dave Dudley or Dale Watson, which just goes to show that even within the trucker country genre, there are variations on the theme, as Nemo points out.

"Stylistically, Sonny is a rockabilly artist, and Dale is more of a Bakersfield Sound artist. There's (also) a guy who's doing a world of work who's not getting anywhere near the credit he deserves named Joey Holiday. Joey is more of a modern country artist, with about six albums out on the Truck It label. He's taking the traditional trucking country theme, but putting it into a more modern Nashville-type sound."

"Joey Holiday and Dale Watson are the two kingpins of trucking music. And whereas Dale does trucking (music) and other stuff, Joey is basically all trucker."

Indeed, Holiday is so "all trucker" that he and his wife (who travels with him) recently earned their C.D.L.'s and travel to and from the 120 or so dates they perform per year in their own truck; a semi pulling a 40-foot trailer that houses a pull-out stage with built-in speakers.

And as Nemo says, Holiday's sound is certainly more contemporary than either Watson or George; almost a parallel universe in which trucker country themes progressed right along with the rest of the country music industry, instead of being abandoned after the early '80's.

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