Red Sovine

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Red Sovine
Birth nameWoodrow Wilson Sovine
Born(1917-07-07)July 7, 1917
Charleston, West Virginia, U.S.
DiedApril 4, 1980(1980-04-04) (aged 62)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
Instrument(s)Guitar, vocals
Years active1935–1980
LabelsDecca, Starday

Woodrow Wilson "Red" Sovine (July 7, 1917 – April 4, 1980) was an American country music singer and songwriter associated with truck driving songs, particularly those recited as narratives but set to music.[1] His most noted examples are "Giddyup Go" (1965) and "Teddy Bear" (1976), both of which topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.


Sovine was born in 1917 in Charleston, West Virginia,[1] earning the nickname "Red" because of his reddish-brown hair. He had two brothers and two sisters. Sovine was taught to play guitar by his mother. His first venture into music was with his childhood friend Johnnie Bailes, with whom he performed as "Smiley and Red, the Singing Sailors" in the country music revue Jim Pike's Carolina Tar Heels on WWVA-AM in Wheeling, West Virginia.[2] Faced with limited success, Bailes left to perform as part of The Bailes Brothers. Sovine got married, and continued to sing on Charleston radio, while holding down a job as a supervisor of a hosiery factory.[2] With the encouragement of Bailes, Sovine formed The Echo Valley Boys.[3]


After a year of performing in West Virginia, Sovine moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where the Bailes Brothers were performing on KWKH-AM. Sovine's own early morning show was not popular, but he gained greater exposure performing on the famed KWKH radio program, Louisiana Hayride.[1] One of his co-stars was Hank Williams, who steered Sovine toward a better time slot at WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama, and toward a contract with MGM Records in 1949. That same year, Sovine replaced Williams on Louisiana Hayride when Williams jumped to the Grand Ole Opry.[2]

Another Louisiana Hayride co-star who helped Sovine was country music legend Webb Pierce, who convinced Sovine to lead his Wondering Boys band and helped him toward a contract with Decca in 1954. The following year Sovine cut a duet with Goldie Hill, "Are You Mine?" which peaked in the Top 15, and in 1956 he had his first number one hit when he duetted with Pierce on a cover of George Jones' "Why Baby Why".[1] Sovine had two other Top Five singles that year and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.[2][4] After recording close to 50 sides with Decca by 1959, Sovine signed to Starday Records and began touring the club circuit as a solo act. That same year, Sovine was seriously injured in a car accident that claimed the life of two of his band members, Douglas Nicks and Johnny Morris.


In 1961, a song copyrighted in 1955 by Sovine and co-writer Dale Noe became a sizeable hit on the pop chart. The tune was the ballad "Missing You", arranged in Countrypolitan style and was recorded by Ray Peterson for his own Dunes label. "Missing You" became a No. 29 Billboard "Top 100" hit. In the fall, it peaked at No. 7 on Billboard's "Adult Contemporary" chart. In 1963, Sovine passed on the helping hand given him by older performers when he heard the singing of minor league baseball player Charley Pride and suggested that he move to Nashville, Tennessee. Sovine opened doors for Pride at Pierce's Cedarwood Publishing, but his own career had stalled: "Dream House For Sale", which reached number 22 in 1964, came nearly eight years after his last hit.[2]

Truck-driving songs[edit]

In 1965, Sovine found his niche when he recorded "Giddyup Go", which, like most of his other trucker hits, he co-wrote with Tommy Hill.[1] It is spoken, rather than sung, as the words of an older long-distance truck driver who rediscovers his long-lost son driving another truck on the same highway. Minnie Pearl released an answer song titled "Giddy-Up Go Answer". Sovine's version of the song spent six weeks atop the country charts. Other truck-driving country hits followed, including;

  • "Phantom 309", a tale of a hitchhiker who hops a ride from a trucker who turns out to be the ghost of a man who died years ago giving his life to save a school bus full of children from a horrible collision with his rig. This story was later adapted by singer-songwriter Tom Waits, who performed "Big Joe And Phantom 309" during his Nighthawks At The Diner recordings. Waits' version of this song was covered by Archers of Loaf on the 1995 tribute album, Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits. Musician Steve Flett named a recording project after the song. The song was originally written and recorded by Tommy Faile.
  • "Teddy Bear", the tale of a disabled boy who lost his truck driver father in a highway accident and keeps his CB radio base as his only companion.
  • "Little Joe", a tale of a trucker and his devoted canine friend which became his last hit. This last story features the Teddy Bear character, who can now walk.[2]

Personal life and death[edit]

Sovine was married to Norma Searls, who died on June 4, 1976, at the age of 57.[5]

On April 4, 1980, Sovine suffered a heart attack while driving in southern Nashville, causing him to run a red light and strike an oncoming vehicle. He and the other driver, 25-year-old Edgar Primm, were transported to St. Thomas Hospital. While Primm was treated and released for minor facial injuries, Sovine died shortly after arrival. According to a preliminary autopsy, Sovine sustained massive abdominal bleeding caused by a lacerated spleen and liver, and fractured ribs and sternum.[6][better source needed]


Sovine performed covers of many truck driving songs made popular by fellow country stars, such as Del Reeves and Dave Dudley, as well as "Why Baby Why", a duet with Webb Pierce originally recorded by George Jones. Other covers include "A Dear John Letter" (Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky), "Old Rivers" (Walter Brennan), "Bringing Mary Home" (The Country Gentlemen), and "Roses for Mama" (C.W. McCall), among many more. Among his many other recitations was a reading of John Berrio's essay "Please God, I'm Only Seventeen", a cautionary tale of safety to newly licensed teen-aged drivers.

His last charting hit in his lifetime, in 1978, was a cover of Eric Clapton's "Lay Down Sally". Save for the mid-song guitar bridge, Sovine's version—a No. 70 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart—closely resembled the Clapton original.

Many of Sovine's biggest truck driving hits were covered by artists such as, Del Reeves, Dave Dudley, Ferlin Husky, Boxcar Willie, Tex Williams and Australian country singer Nev Nicholls. Mike Judge covered "Teddy Bear" as Hank Hill for the King of the Hill soundtrack. Some of Sovine's songs were covered by Dutch artists and became big hits in the Netherlands (including "Teddy Bear", "Giddy Up Go" and "Deck of Cards" by Gerard de Vries, "Phantom 309" (Stille Willie) by the B B Band, "Little Joe" (Kleine Waker) by Henk Wijngaard). Tom Waits released "Big Joe and Phantom 309" on his 1975 Nighthawks at the Diner.


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Chart positions Label
US Country AUS[7] CAN
1956 Red Sovine MGM
1961 The One and Only Starday
1962 The Golden Country Ballads of the '60s
1963 Red Sovine Decca
1965 The Heart Rending Little Rosa Starday
1966 Country Music Time Decca
Giddy Up Go 4 Starday
The Sensational Red
The Nashville Sound
1967 I Didn't Jump the Fence
Dear John Letter
1968 The Country Way Vocalion
Phantom 309 18 Starday
Tell Maude I Slipped
Sunday with Sovine
1969 Classic Narrations
Closing Time Till Dawn
Who Am I
Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town
1970 I Know You're Married
1973 Greatest Grand Ole Opry Chart
1974 It'll Come Back 48
1975 Phantom 309 (reissue) Gusto
1976 Teddy Bear 1 57 67 Starday
1977 Woodrow Wilson Sovine 50
1978 Christmas with Red Sovine
16 New Gospel Songs Gusto

Compilation albums[edit]

Year Album US Country Label
1975 The Best Starday
Little Rosa Hit
1977 16 All-Time Favorites Starday
16 Greatest Hits 47
1980 Teddy Bear Gusto
Phantom 309
Giddy Up Go
Gone But Not Forgotten Castle
1986 Sings Hank Williams Deluxe
1989 Crying in the Chapel Hollywood
Famous Duets
1991 Best of the Best Federal
2001 Phantom 309 Prism Leisure
2002 Pledge of Allegiance King
20 All-Time Greatest Hits


Year Single Chart positions Label
US Country US AU
1955 "Why Baby Why" (with Webb Pierce) 1 Decca
"Are You Mine" (with Goldie Hill) 14
1956 "Little Rosa" (with Webb Pierce) 5
"If Jesus Came to Your House" 15
"Hold Everything (Till I Get Home)" 5
1959 "Yankee, Go Home" (with Goldie Hill) 17
1964 "Dream House for Sale" 22 Starday
1965 "Giddyup Go" 1 82
1966 "Long Night" 47
"Class of 49" 44
1967 "I Didn't Jump the Fence" 17
"In Your Heart" 33
"Phantom 309" 9
1968 "Loser Making Good" 63
"Normally, Norma Loves Me" 61
"Tell Maude I Slipped" 33
1969 "Who am I" 62
1970 "Freightliner Fever" 54
"I Know You're Married But I Love You Still" 52
1974 "It'll Come Back" 16 Chart
"Can I Keep Him Daddy" 58
1975 "Daddy's Girl" 91
"Phantom 309" 47 Starday
1976 "Teddy Bear"A 1 40 12
"Little Joe" 45 102
"Last Goodbye" 96
1977 "Just Gettin' By" 98
"Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel" 92
1978 "Lay Down Sally" 70
"The Days of Me and You" 77
1980 "It'll Come Back" 89
"The Little Family Soldier" 74
  • A"Teddy Bear" also peaked at No. 1 on the RPM Country Tracks chart and No. 49 on the RPM Top Singles chart in Canada. It also hit No. 4 on the UK charts in 1981, the only song of his to chart in that country.


  1. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 412. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Manheim, James (2012). "Red Sovine". AllMusic. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
  3. ^ "Red Sovine Bio". Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  4. ^ "Opry Timeline – 1950s". Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  5. ^ "Mrs. Norma Sovine". Sunday Gazette-Mail. Charleston, West Virginia. June 6, 1976. p. 56. Retrieved May 5, 2021.
  6. ^ "We Miss You Red Sovine (MP3) – WFMU's Beware of the Blog". Retrieved April 13, 2018.
  7. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 286. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.

Further reading[edit]