Red Simpson wasn’t the most famous of the Bakersfield Sound singers, but Simpson, who died Friday at 81, had one of the more entertaining niches: truck songs. In fact, the young singer-songwriter got a contract from Capitol Records just to sing them, William Grimes writes in an obituary: “The genre was a country staple, but the expansion of the Interstate highway system and the growing popularity of CB radio lent extra romance to the trucking life, reflected in hits like“Phantom 309” by Red Sovine, “A Tombstone Every Mile” by Dick Curless and “Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley.”
Those songs, as well as many of Simpson’s big hits, fit the standard conventions:
“Roll Truck Roll,” “Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves,” “Country Western Truck Drivin’ Singer,” “Awful Lot to Learn About Truck Drivin,’” “The Flyin’ Saucer Man and the Truck Driver.” The songs are a little formulaic (though often redeemed by their wit): References to missing home, fast women, faster curves, hard drinking, gallons of coffee, and the very real dangers of truck driving. Many are self-referential, mentioning other truck songs and even Simpson’s own.
But Simpson’s biggest hit was “I’m a Truck,” which is at once the logical endpoint of the genre and also a hilarious subversion of it. “Hello, I’m a truck,” the narrator intones to kick things off, then mocks his braggart operator:
Well there he sits in that cafe drinking coffee and telling lies,
Probably telling 'em how he topped that hill 10 miles back.
He ought to tell 'em how he missed a gear
And that Volkswagen bus full of hippies passed us like I was sitting up on jacks!
Or how we took that curve over on 66—
Hadn't been for me hanging on the shoulder we'd both wound up in the ditch.
There’s even a little bit of the classic tomcatting: “Why couldn't we have put me next to that little pink Mack sittin' over there?” the truck wonders. “Gosh, she's got pretty mud flaps, and talk about stacked, they’re both chromed.” This delightfully weird little tune reached No. 4 on the country charts in 1972, and stayed on the charts for 17 weeks.
Now, just as Simpson foretold, he’s no doubt playing “I’m a Truck” on the bandstand in truck driver’s heaven.