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Rig Rock Deluxe
 Upstart CD 025

A tribute to the American trucker

Sometime in 1972, I picked up a cutout copy of Commander Cody’s  Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Trucker’s Favorites (allegedly recorded for $5000 on a 4-track). That led to Dave Dudley’s  Six Days on the Road, and pretty soon I was hooked on trucker songs. It was an infatuation that ended only when, in seeming defiance of the Geneva conventions, the CB craze subjected innocent Americans to "Convoy" every 15 minutes or so. I hadn’t picked up either of those LPs in about 20 years when this tribute CD caught my eye in a San Francisco record store. Well, now I’m happy to say the review copy has been wearing out the laser beam on my CD player, and I’m back in trucker heaven.

If you’re not familiar with the genre, you’re probably wondering what I’m babbling about. Loosely classified as an offshoot of country music, it is ultimately a difficult form to pin down. As the fine but too-brief liner notes point out, the songs cover "tear-jerking tragedy songs, lone ranger behind the wheel numbers, long haul working man’s anthems, love and lust ballads, truckstop and waitress odes, and raucous hell-raisin’ whoop ’em ups." This set’s got ’em all, including only moderately updated arrangements of classics like "Semi Truck," "Truck Driving Man," and "Looking at the World Through a Windshield." There’s a wide variety of artists as well, from originals like Del Reeves and Red Simpson to throwbacks like Steve Earle, Nick Lowe, and Son Volt. There’s a mix of standards and new compositions, though I sure would have appreciated a bit more info in the liner notes on when each song was composed, and the original artist.

There are few weak cuts on the album, but a few stand out. Nick Lowe raves it up with "I’m Coming Home," a rocking cross between the Link Wray school of reverb-drenched surf guitar and more traditional tinny truckstop rock. Buck Owens weighs in with the delusional exuberance of "Will There be Big Rigs in Heaven?" Red Simpson’s "Nitro Express" doesn’t measure up to the original, but it does include a priceless fadeout with Red bantering about quitting the business, saying "even Dudley’s given it up."

One of the most enjoyable aspects of these tunes is their occasional lapse into bizarre fantasy. "Nitro Express" features the macho hero saving a town from a runaway truck full of explosives. Marty Stuart’s "Miss Marie and the Bedford Blaze" is a story about a woman with a David Allen Coe fixation (how’s that for a dated psychosis?). Then there’s the unabashed acknowledgment of drug use. This ranges from the overtones of Steve Earle singing "White Freight Liner Blues" to the explicit chorus in "Semi-Truck": "here I sit, all alone with a broken heart, I took three bennies, and my semi-truck won’t start."

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to climb into of a brand-spanking new, state of the art Kenworth cab. Don’t ask why. There was a wraparound console dash with CD player, a hemorrhoid-preventative air-spring cushioned seat, a built-in refrigerator within arm’s reach, and a full-size bed just a step away (just in case Lowell George’s "Truckstop Girl" showed up). In many ways its a far different life than the vagabond road warriors celebrated on this CD. But in so many other ways its the same–mile after lonely mile, punctuated only by the opportunity to pull into a greasy spoon, lower your weary body down from the driver’s seat and grab a quick meal. With a little luck, the jukebox features "A Tribute to the American Trucker," and for a few quarters you can make that all-important leap from reality to reverie.–  Bill Kuhn

various artists

Don Walser, Buck Owens and his Buckaroos, Red Simpson and Junior Brown, Mary Stuart, Kelly Willis, Shaver, Son Volt, Del Reeves & Jim Lauderdale, Cheri Knight, Steve Earle, the Yahoos, Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun, Kay Adams & BR5-49, Nick Lowe and the Impossible Birds, Bottle Rockets, and Rig Rock Deluxe.

Copyright © 1997 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.