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|Cultural origins||1960s – 1980s, United States|
Truck-driving country is a subgenre of country and western music. It is characterised by lyrical content about trucks (i.e. commercial vehicles, not pick-up trucks), truck drivers or truckers, and the trucking industry experience. This would include, for example, references to truck stops, CB (Citizens Band) radio, geography, drugs, teamsters, roads, weather, fuel, law enforcement, loads, traffic, ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission), contraband, DOT (Department of Transportation), accidents, etc. In truck-driving country, references to “truck” include the following truck types: 10 wheeler, straight truck, 18 wheeler, tractor (bobtail), semi, tractor-trailer, semi tractor trailer, big rig, and some others.
It is often confused with road music (e.g. Willie Nelson "On the Road Again", Roger Miller "King of the Road"), pick-up truck music (e.g. Toby Keith "Big Ol' Truck), and/or truck driving music. The last category would be the preferred choice of most truck drivers for eclectic listening while driving/operating all types, makes, and styles of trucks.
It is, at least partly, an oral history of trucking. A range of social and economic factors in the United States have strongly influenced the evolution of truck-driving country as a subgenre of "country" music. These factors include wars, civil rights struggles, the demographic shift from rural to urban areas, the feminist movement, economic recessions, changes in the railroads, and the oil embargo. Their impacts have diversified the folklore of truck songs.
Technological developments and changes related to both the music business and the trucking industry, however, have brought about the greatest changes to truck-driving country. Variously, these include the jukebox, 33⅓ rpm vinyl record albums, 8-track tape, cassette tape, the transistor to digital revolution, the Internet, CB radio, all-night radio broadcasts targeting truckers, Interstate highways, and multiple truck components (sleeper cabs, air suspension, power steering, synchronized transmissions, air conditioning, air seats, and electronics).
Collectively, there are more than 500 truck-driving country songs, all of which more or less originate from the oral tradition of truck folklore. Occupations, of course, have traditionally provided the raw material and inspiration for folk music in the United States (e.g. riverboat, mining, Great Lakes water commerce, logging, cowboy, agricultural field work and others), influenced by regional culture as well. Folk songs adopt, adapt, and incorporate colloquialisms, slang, and occupational terms into verbal snapshots. In truck-driving country, such specialized words and terms as truck rodeo, dog house, twin screw, Georgia overdrive, saddle tanks, jake brake, binder and others borrowed from the lingo of truckers are commonly utilized. CB vocabulary - which is different from truck driver lingo - is used by both truckers and the general public. Some of that vocabulary has evolved into popular culture and subsequently incorporated into truck-driving country (e.g. “hammer down,” “shakey town,” “smokey,” and “pedal to the metal”).
There has been a certain mystique attached to truck driving and truck drivers, especially those engaged in long distance driving. It is yet to be determined if the enduring image of the truck driver will achieve true folk hero status, even given the past popularity of truck-driving country. The post-CB song era perception of "truck drivin' country" music was that it was a passing fad. At times, the trucker also has been stereotyped as a "sexist, pill-poppin’, burly, pinball playin’, smokey dodgin’, philandering, truck driving son-of-a-gun," hardly a flattering or positive image. Not surprisingly, many recording artists have not wanted to be associated with truck-driving country because of such negativity, and major recording labels have considered truck-driving country a novelty of little or lasting commercial value.
Nevertheless, technological development and change continues to influence truck music and keeps it going. Just as truck drivers in the 1970s and 1980s no longer had to rely on AM radio or pre-recorded 8-track tape to listen to the music they wanted to hear by making-up their own playlists on cassette tape, today the portable computer, wireless wi-fi, and the Internet allows singer/songwriters to produce and distribute their own truckmusic (Dale Watson, Sonny George, Bill Kirchen). Other artists have started their own record labels (Joey Holiday - Truck It Records; Harold Crosby - Traveler Records).
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Two of the most famous examples of truck-driving country are the songs "Convoy" by C. W. McCall and "East Bound and Down" by actor and musician Jerry Reed. Notable truck-driving country artists include Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, David Allan Coe, Dick Curless, Dave Dudley, Merle Haggard, Rod Hart, Cledus Maggard & the Citizen's Band, Minnie Pearl, Del Reeves, Red Simpson, Red Sovine, Dale Watson, and The Willis Brothers.
- Stern, Jane Trucker, A Portrait of the Last American Cowboy (1975)
- Roach, Joyce Gibson "Diesel Smoke & Dangerous Curves: Folklore of the Trucking Industry" Hunters and Healers (1977) pp. 45–53
- American Truck Historical Society, <www.ATHS.org>
- Danker, Frederick E. "Trucking Songs: A comparison with Traditional Occupational Song" Journal of Country Music (Jan 1978) pp78-89
- Roach, Joyce Gibson Hunters & Healers
- Porter, Bernard H. "Truck Driver Lingo" American Speech (Apr 1942) pp102-105
- Seese, Gwyneth E. (Dandalion) Tijuana Bear in a Smoke'um Up Taxi 1977
- Schroeder, Fred "A Bellyful of Coffee: The Truck Drivin' Man as Folk Hero" Journal of Popular Culture (Spring 1969) pp 679–687
- Johnson, Jon "Watson, George, Holiday" Country Standard Time (Aug/Sept 2000) pp7-9