Burton & Mooney’s Diesel Classic

I once played a sweet little instrumental by James Burton and Ralph Mooney on an all-truck-driving radio show, even though it’s not actually a “trucker tune” — and yet nobody called me out on it, because the song – “Corn Pickin‘ – fit like a glove.  Later when I “back-announced” the set over the air, I re-named the song “Corn Pickin’ and Rig Ridin'” – to my great relief, the switchboard at WKHS did not light up in anger.   This was in 2004.

James Burton & Ralph Mooney LP

I happened to be checking the Washington Post website on March 23, 2011 when I was stunned to see Ralph Mooney’s name at the top of the home page — as one of the top “trending” stories!  As it turned out, Mooney – one of the “chief architects of the Bakersfield sound” – had left us at the age of 82.  The Post’s Melissa Bell was kind enough to add my Ralph Mooney recommendation to her musical tribute, the aforementioned “Corn Pickin'” from Burton and Mooney’s 1968 LP collaboration, Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’.  But then that audio clip disappeared from YouTube and never returned.  Until a fortnight ago!

“Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin'”     James Burton & Ralph Mooney     1968

From a “musical acrobatics” standpoint, this is not particularly ‘flash’ guitar work — and yet the relaxed exchange between the two accomplished musicians is supremely satisfying.  John Beland of the Flying Burrito Brothers, in his review for Amazon.com (entitled “Ground Zero for the Bakersfield Sound of the 60s”) preaches the gospel:

“This album was my bible for Tele[caster] playing … Recorded at Capitol in the mid-60s, this album, while perhaps sounding corny to some, laid down a true blueprint for west coast country playing.”

At the time of release, Billboard would give the album a “four-star” review in its February 17, 1968 edition.

A-side                                                              B-side

James Burton & Ralph Mooney 45-aJames Burton & Ralph Mooney 45-b

Sadly, this is only the 16th Zero to 180 piece to feature a truck driving song

Dieselbilly for the Long Hairs

Somebody [the Commander himself, I would later learn] went to considerable effort to stitch together all these images to tell the story behind Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen‘s “Truck Stop Rock” from 1972’s Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Trucker Favorites album — the least you can do is watch:

“Truck Stop Rock”     Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen     1972

Five of the band members – Billy C. Farlow, “BuffaloBruce Barlow, Andy Stein, Bill Kirchen, and the Commander himself – would get credit for penning this two-minute blast of truckabilly bop from their second album.

Front side                                                     Flip side

TOSHIBA Exif JPEGCommander Cody & LPA's 2nd album-b

Years later, an impressionable yours truly would find himself in the same metropolitan area as Kirchen, who helped inaugurate a series of free summertime public performances, “Silver Spring Swings” – along with Jack O’Dell & Johnny Castle i.e., Too Much Fun.   Kirchen and company would also tear the root off Silver Spring’s Half Moon BBQ [RIP], a shotgun shack of a venue with a teeny little stage and almost certainly the world’s smallest balcony (check out this shot of Dagmar & the Seductones photographed from same).  Kirchen would confer between sets with this young dieselbilly scholar and once even direct him/me to a fairly obscure (and gruesome) truckin’ tragedy by Johnny Bond, 1967’s “Gears” from Starday’s Man Behind the Wheel album.

Starday's 'Man Behind the Wheel' LPKirchen and his trusty Telecaster serve as the world’s ambassadors for the gloriously satisfying deep, twangin’ sound of truck driving country music.  Kirchen himself is to blame for the contagion that directly fueled Zero to 180’s obsession with the whole truckin’ musical subgenre.

2001’s Tied to the Wheel

Bill Kirchen & Too Much FunKirchen would relocate to Austin, Texas in 2011 but return to Montgomery County, Maryland at the end of that year to perform at Germantown’s Black Rock Center for the Arts — shortly after Zero to 180’s third all-truck driving radio show at WKHS (with host, Martin Q. Blank, son of the late, great Charlie Coleman).  After the show, the ‘Dieselbilly Kid’ would get a chance to tell Kirchen directly that his guitar work had graced three of the 50+ songs that were broadcast on WKHS’s airwaves to the good folks in the Chesapeake Bay area on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11, for real):  (1) “Truck Stop Rock” by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen; (2) “Semi Truck” (from 1996 truck driver tribute album, Rig Rock Deluxe) and (3) this harrowing bit of science fiction from 2001 album Tied to the Wheel, that was written by Cody and Kirchen (backed by Johnny and Jack on this track):

“Truck Stop at the End of the World”     Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun     2001

Good news:  Bill Kirchen is on tour!  Even better news for DC people:  Commander Cody will join Kirchen for a set this Saturday – tonight! – at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA.

Link to Zero to 180’s previous (and epic) piece about the performance art troupe – The Galactic Twist Queens – that accompanied Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen during their earliest years in Ann Arbor.

Mack: Synonymous with Diesel

Can you believe it’s been 4 months and 20 days since I last featured a truck driving song?  And how perfect is it that Lonnie Mack once wrote and sang a truck driving song for 1971 Elektra album, The Hills of Indiana?

“Asphalt Outlaw Hero”     Lonnie Mack     1971

Don Nix – who also wrote “Oh What a Mighty Time” for The New Riders of the Purple Sage, with Sly Stone & Jerry Garcia (previously celebrated here) – co-wrote “Asphalt Outlaw Hero” with Lonnie Mack.

Acoustic & Electric Guitar – Lonnie Mack
Rhythm Guitar – Wayne Perkins*
Steel Guitar – Lloyd Green
Bass – Norbert Putnam, Tim Drummond, Troy Seals & David Hood*
Drums – Kenneth Buttrey & Roger Hawkins*
Fiddle – Buddy Spicher
Baritone Saxophone – Don Nix*
Keyboards – David Briggs & Barry Beckett*
Lead Vocals – Lonnie Mack & Don Nix
Choir – Mt. Zion Singers
Producer – Lonnie Mack & Russ Miller
Arranger – Norbert Putnam
Engineer – Brian Ross-Myring, Gene Eichelberger & Marlin Greene*

* designates personnel on “Asphalt Outlaw Hero”

“Asphalt Outlaw Hero” & “All Good Things Will Come to Pass” recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio — all others at Quadrafonic Sound Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.  Elektra would issue a promo 7-inch of “Lay It Down” in 1971 but no actual singles.

Billboard’s review of The Hills of Indiana in its September 25, 1971 edition:

“Memphis, now Nashville.  Lonnie Mack bids for a chart comeback with still another fine LP country-soul and pop-gospel.  Mack is dedicated, often moving and brilliant, yet “undiscovered” by a pop public that would tune in fast if they could hear Mack soul away on ‘Rings,’ Dylan’s ‘The Man in Me’ and ‘All Good Things Will Come to Pass.’  Buttrey, Briggs and Putnam back Mack for an honest shot at popular exposure.”

Mojo would include The Hills of Indiana in its list of 60 Greatest Elektra Albums in the magazine’s November, 2010 issue — along with Don Nix’s Living by the Days, also from 1971.

The many moods of Lonnie Mack’s ‘The Hills of Indiana’

Lonnie Mack - Hills-1xElektra Records album sleevesLonnie Mack - Hills-2

Seven months ago, someone paid $20 for a sealed copy of The Hills of Indiana on Ebay.

Dale Watson’s Truckin’ Sessions (Vol. 1)

Last May’s piece about Sonny George and his modern truck driving classic album   Truckin’ Country (issued on Eddie Angel‘s Spinout label) reminds me that Dale Watson deserves recognition for his own equally excellent contribution that very same year, 1998’s Truckin’ Sessions.  Kick-off tune, “Good Luck ‘n’ Good Truckin’ Tonite”  would be issued as the A-side of a single — with “Yankee Doodle Jean” as the (non-LP) B-side:

“Good Luck ‘n’ Good Truckin’ Tonite”     Dale Watson     1998

Not to be confused with George Clooney’s cinematic love letter to Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, and Good Luck.

45 Picture sleeve – Diesel Only label

Dale Watson 45

The Truckin’ Sessions includes a song (I’m embarrassed to admit) that was excluded from my comprehensive list of songs that include the word “Baltimore” in the song title, “Heaven in Baltimore.”

By the way, I just got word that The Trucking’ Sessions, Vol. 3 will be coming out May 22nd in Europe (via CRS) and June 2nd (via Red River) as a mid-line stand alone release (previously only available as part of The Trucking’ Trilogy collection which was released last July).   All but one of the songs were re-mixed and re-mastered for Vol. III.

Track Listing

It’s Been A Long Trucking’ Day
Suicide Sam
Phillip At The Station
I Live on Trucking’ Time
I Gotta Keep On Keepin’ On
Texas Armadillo
Birmingham Breakdown
I’m A Truckin’
Drive Drive Drive
Big T
Lugnut Larry
Kitty Liang
We’re Trucking’ Along

Dale Watson is now on tour and just might be coming to a town near you.

This makes a total of twelve trucking driving songs profiled thus far on Zero to 180.

“Operation X”: Top-Secret Trucker Tune

Dave Dudley’s earliest recordings go back to King Records, interestingly — six sides altogether, with three written by Dudley and one co-written with Louis Innis.  Dudley would record for a handful of small labels before being signed to Mercury in the wake of “Six Days on the Road” and its breakout success (in retrospect, his first & last Top 40 pop hit).

Dudley, of course, recorded other material besides truck-driving tunes, such as these back-to-back singles released in 1965/66 – “What We’re Fighting For” & “Vietnam Blues” – the first written by Tom T. Hall and the second by up-and-comer, Kris Kristofferson.  But within the world of trucker music, “Operation X” stands apart in one important respect:  this is the only truck driving song (at least, that I know of) written about the Korean War:

“Operation X” from 1965 Mercury LP, Truck Drivin’ Son-of-a-Gun

Those famously percussive guitar riffs are being popped off by Jimmy Colvard, no doubt — and yet nowhere is his name in these credits from the indispensable LP Discography:

Jerry Kennedy:  Guitar & Dobro
Harold Bradley & Ray Edenton:  Guitar
Pete Drake:  Steel Guitar
Bob Moore:  Bass
Buddy Harman:  Drums
HargusPigRobbins:  Piano
Recorded:  March, 1965 – Columbia Studios – Nashville

Well as long as there’s a truck I won’t forget
Korea and Operation X.

I won’t forget the year of ’54
I drove a truck in that Korean war.
Haulin’ GI’s to the front and back
In a truck they called Deuce and a half.
The others called it Operation X
We had to move in just an hour or less.

First ethanol and maintenance that was all
And there were twenty men I had to haul.
That south Korean sky was smoky black
I was third in convoy from the back.
But twenty minutes out they hit the nail
It was mortar they were sendin’ in the mail.

We’ll scatter out and find a hole they said
Cause Operation X is catchin’ lead.
I wheeled into a side road to the left
Drivin’ to an almost certain death.
I heard the steady screepin’ of the shells
The burnin’ powder sent a deadly smell.

And it happened as I pulled into a stop
They hit us and I blacked out from the shock.
Somehow I got back to the States alive
And now I got another rig to drive.
My bumper sign says “Operation X”
It’s there ’cause I’m the only one that’s left.

“Operation X” was written by – who else? – Tom T. Hall.  Is it wrong of me to point out that by 1954, the United States had ceased combat in the Korean War (says the State of New Jersey’s website:  “On July 27, 1953, the Armistice was signed, and all fighting stopped”)?

“Truckin'”: Charlie Jackson on the Spar Label

A huge tip of the hat to the late, great Charlie Coleman for playing the righteous sounds on his Coleman’s Classic Country radio show in the greater Annapolis/DC area — a part of the nation that desperately needs help with the quality of its radio programming.  Charlie was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to program a couple of all truck-driving radio shows, and it delights me every time to hear his bemusement over the fact that this hot little number by Charlie Jackson – “Truckin’” – was issued on a tiny label, Spar, that not a lot of people can honestly say they have represented in their vinyl record collections:

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”Truckin'” by Charlie Jackson.]

An obvious candidate for an A-side, “Truckin'” – recorded at Spar Recording Studio and produced by Tommy Downs – unfortunately, was never released as a single.

Released on LP

Charlie Jackson LP

8-Track, too

Charlie Jackson 8-track

Back cover liner notes

Note:  Click on image above to view in ultra high resolution

“This album of great country hits by Charlie Jackson is dedicated to all the many truck drivers who spend a good part of their time pushing a rig down a lonely stretch of road so that you and I can benefit by all of the many products and foods that come to us from coast to coast.  [Their] home away from home is the truck stop that is fast becoming a familiar sight along the superhighways that criss-cross the nation.

What was once a few gas pumps and a restaurant known for its good food has been replaced by a combination hotel, supply depot, repair center, and last but not least, entertainment supplied by juke boxes, friendly talk from other drivers and bright lights that seem to never go off.  It’s a 24 hour world that never closes seven days a week.”  

Thanks to the Bowling Green State University’s library catalog, I was able to identify a handful of other titles released on Nashville’s Spar label, such as Ricky Page Sings Harper Valley PTA, Hits Are Our Business by The Now Generation, Country Hits and also Straight from Nashville – the last two by The Nashville Country Jamboree and all four released between the years 1968-1970.

Spar LP aSpar LP bSpar LP cSpar LP d

The Internet also helped to fill in some of the gaps in the library’s catalog of Spar releases.


        Interesting to see this LP            get re-branded Later in this fashion

Spar LP LaSpar LP Lb

Richie Unterberger, in his review of a 2007 CD anthology by The Now Generation, sheds some much-needed light on Spar’s operations:

“In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the studio-only ensemble, The Now Generation, were principally known for issuing albums full of soundalike covers of contemporary hits, although they did put out some original material.  Top Nashville session men like Henry Strzelecki, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Wayne Moss, Bill Purcell, Kenny Buttrey, “Pig” Robbins, and Charlie McCoy were among the musicians who played on Now Generation releases.  Fortunately, this 20-track compilation concentrates on the original material, as much of the CD is taken from their self-titled 1967 debut LP, their only album not to fall into the ‘soundalike’ bag.”

For those who don’t have the time to trawl through second-hand vinyl, help has arrived:  those fine folks at Yellow Label have rounded up enough material for a three-CD set of 7-inch recordings from Spar Records, home of such unsung musical artists as Bobby & the Beagles; Sandy & the Beachcombers; Jimmy Tig & the Rounders; Phoebe, Unky & Fatty Ann; Joe Pain; Ken Kennedy & The Now Generation, among many, many others.

Spar RecordsInformative piece about Spar Records’ budget subsidiary – Hit Records – in which MusicMaster Oldies makes this hilarious observation:

“[Ted Jarrett and Bill Beasley] ran another budget label called Spar Records.  It was on that label that Bobby Russell made his recording debut with a Nashville teen garage band called Bobby Russell And The Beagles.  It was 1964, the year the Beatles hit it big in America.  Clearly the “Beagles” was intended to trade off the success of The Beatles.”

Fascinating to learn that Bobby Russell would go on to have a Top 40 hit with the song “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” – memorably covered later by The Ray Charles Singers.  That’s Bobby Russell, by the way, doing the lead vocals on today’s featured song (Charlie Jackson is strictly the piano man), thanks to Paul W. Urbahns of Hit Records of Nashville and his insightful comment attached to this piece.

And, of course, much gratitude to Tom Avazian – record collector extraordinaire – for bringing this record to my attention in the first place.

Sleepy’s “Asphalt Cowboy”: First & Best Version

Don’t be misled by the German 7-inch soundtrack companion whose A-side bears the dual title, “Midnight Cowboy-Asphalt Cowboy” — Ferrante & Teicher did not, in fact, release an early version of the truck-driving country classic, “Asphalt Cowboy” in 1969.

Asphalt Cowboy German 45Sleepy LaBeef, in truth, recorded the first – and greatest – version of “Asphalt Cowboy” in Nashville at summer’s zenith (i.e., July 31) as a new decade (1970) dawned:

“Asphalt Cowboy”     Sleepy Labeef     1970

Produced by Shelby Singleton and recorded at Singleton Sound Studio in Nashville with the following musicians:

Jerry Shook: Guitar
Stevie Singleton: Guitar
Chip Young: Rhythm Guitar
Hargus Robbins: Piano
Bob Moore: Bass
Kenneth Buttrey: Drums

Asphalt Cowboy 45

“Asphalt Cowboy,” co-written by Lawton Williams, who hit the charts back in 1964 with his vocal tune, “Everything’s OK on LBJ,” was also recorded by Rod Hart and used as the B-side for novelty trucker tune, “C.B. Savage.”

Mr. LaBeef stormed through the Nation’s Capitol just this past week in preparation for a series of dates up the East Coast to follow in early September.

Veteran DC musicians, Darryl Davis & Jack O’Dell, with Sleepy LaBeef in Annapolis

Sleepy LaBeef - MD July 2014

“Dixie Fireball”: Modern Trucking, Vintage Sound

Another easy pick for Top 10 Truck Driving Albums Ever [besides Truck Driver Songs by The Lonesome Valley Singers] is Truckin’ Country — fourteen original and fun trucker tunes that feature dynamite musicianship and Sonny George‘s one-of-a-kind voice, including this revved-update of American folk standard, “Wabash Cannonball”:

“Dixie Fireball”     Sonny George     1998

Recorded in Semi-Fi

Sonny George - Truckin' Country

(Released on Eddie Angel’s Spinout label)

Sonny is backed by a super solid support group on this album that includes longtime Morrissey guitarist, Boz Boorer (also on 6-string bass), with Noel Brown on lap steel (and/or Jeff Mead on steel), Matt Radford on double bass, Brian Nevill on drums, and Darrel Higham taking the lead break on “Dixie Fireball.”

All songs written by Sonny George – except “Jacknife” and “The Ghostman Trucker” co-written with Boz Boorer.  Album recorded/mixed in 1998 by Liam Watson at London’s (famously all-analog) Toe Rag & Pathway Studios, as well as Starday in Nashville.

Video clip of Sonny George & The Tennessee Sons performing “Hillbilly Train” on Ch. 5’s 5’s Company from June 1997, with Boz Boorer, Brian Nevill & Matt Radford:

“Smoke and Mirrors”: Truck-Drivin’ Cautionary Tale

We will likely never know just how many people were lured to the truck driving profession as a result of the romantic and freewheeling images fueled by truck driving country music during its 1960s & 70s heyday.   Fortunately, we can all thank Alan MacEwen of veteran DC band, The Grandsons, for painting a considerably more balanced and forthright portrait of life on the road in his truck driving cautionary tale, “Smoke and Mirrors”:

Smoke And Mirrors – The Grandsons

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Smoke and Mirrors” by The Grandsons.]

This witty and wise track from 1999’s delightfully eclectic release, Pan American Shindig, features Alan MacEwen on vocals & guitar, Chris Watling on saxes & accordion, and Matt Sedgley on drums.  If you’re thinking to yourself, “That sounds like Bill Kirchen ripping some classic dieselbilly riffs on this track,” well, that’s pretty spooky … because he is!  Alan and Chris would return the favor soon after by laying down some horn and vocal lines on a couple tracks from Kirchen’s Dieselbilly Road Trip on the Cracker Barrel label.  “Smoke and Mirrors” was co-written with Susan Lowell – all songs were recorded at DC’s Groovetown USA studios.

Grandsons CDParody:  Protected by Free Speech – If You’ve Got the Dough

Back in the early 90s when my good buddy, Karl, introduced me to the band, the boys enjoyed a more elongated name, The Grandsons of the Pioneers.  No doubt many folks assume the band shortened the name to The Grandsons to save time, but the shocking truth is that the band was a victim of humorlessness – with deep pockets.  As the boys explain on their website:

“After eight years of plying their pop sound around the country as Grandsons of the Pioneers, the group’s increasing notoriety resulted in a high-noon showdown with singing cowboys, Sons of the Pioneers, who balked at the idea of acknowledging paternity to a low down, trumpet-toting, sax-blowing rock and roll band. Counseled by their team of cut-throat lawyers to keep on playing rather than pause to litigate, the band shortened its name to The Grandsons and has been going full throttle ever since.”

did i mention that dc’s the telecaster town?


“Fifteen Gears and Fourteen Wheels”: What Satisfies the Soul

Live truck driving country doesn’t get much better than this:

  From the 1973 Capitol album, Live at the Wheeling Truck Driver’s Jamboree.

Dick Curless LP

Harold Bradley - guitar/leader
Buzz Evans - guitar
Curly Chalker - steel
Joe Allen - bass
Buddy Harman - drums
Jerry Smith - piano

Sept. 2, 1972 - live - Wheeling Truck Drivers Jamboree; Wheeling, WV

Dick Curless Can’t Drive 45

Capitol would release one single from this album – “Chick Inspector” – backed with a non-album track, “Travelin’ Light” in February, 1973.

Chick Inspector 45