It’s an old trick. Find a catchy tune that was also a smash hit that is just old enough that your audience will have never have heard the original and remake it as your own.
Cover tunes make money.
All the big boys have done it: Pat Boone, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, the Grateful Dead are good examples. I am guilty of falling for that trick, when I was young; I was absolutely certain that Janis Joplin had written “Piece of My Heart”.
As I got older, I learned that playing the music was easy, but that composing it was the hard part. During my salad days, singer-songwriters gained their place of importance in the business. Pat Boone was replaced by the Beatles, who wrote and performed their own music.
I grew up listening to the music that I heard on KSAN, (the seminal FM station in San Francisco) and particularly liked the somewhat local bands such as Taj Mahal and Commander Cody. (neither were actually from San Francisco, but had come to the Bay Area to make it big)
I recall that Taj’s “Giant Step” and Commander Cody’s “Lost In The Ozone” were among the earliest records that I ever bought. (A very used copy of Big Brother & The Holding Company’s “Cheap Thrills” being the first)
I liked Taj Mahal’s version of “Six Days On the Road”, and must have played that track a million times. I literally wore out my copy of Commander Cody’s “Lost In The Ozone”, and their next release “Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Truckers Favorites”. What was it about these tunes? Songs of the open road, of travel, of adventure and of trucks captured my imagination.
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To this day I like nothing better than a road trip. It doesn’t have to be to anywhere in particular, just a road trip.
And for as many years as I have been enamored by the open road, I have driven an old, air-cooled VW bus. One thing that these old VW busses don’t like is being run hot. They run fine in northern Germany, but will continually melt valve seats doing what the Americans demand of them. Unless you want to meet tow truck drivers and collect shocking repair bills, you learn to travel when the temperatures are cool and the engine doesn’t overheat. That means that you drive only at night. Don’t ask me how I learned this.
I loved traveling at night. Once you escape the city rush hour traffic, the roads empty out. There is not much out there except for long-distance semi trucks that drive most of the night. Since an old VW bus is among the slowest vehicles on the road, I would find myself with trucks, passing trucks and being passed by trucks. Truckers are generally a polite bunch; they dim their headlamps for you to let you know that you have enough space to merge.
Old VW Westfalia campers have a blind spot, you have to use your mirrors all the time, a signal from a truck is greatly appreciated. Trucks have to use their mirrors as well, and I always dim my lights for trucks trying to merge back in. In appreciation, they blink their taillights at you. I love this. I love the courtesy. Professional drivers are the best.
I also like the music; that sort of sub-genre of Country Music written for truck drivers, songs like “Six Days On The Road”, (the song that I first heard as sung by Taj Mahal.)
Over the years, I tracked down the original songs as written (or at least popularized by) the original artists. Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Hank Snow, Johnny Bond, the Willis Brothers, Merle Haggard. Listening to the eclectic playlist of Gilroy-based radio station KFAT (and later KPIG) helped to popularize these great songs to a brand new audience.
What was amazing about these tunes is that they seemed timeless. Certainly, the remakes (that had fooled me when I was younger) had not even bothered to improve upon the songs or their arrangements. The originals had sufficiently powerful vocals and oftentimes extremely hot guitar licks.
Dave Dudley’s 1963 song “Six Days On The Road” opens with a guitar hook that is perfect, and the guitar licks are tasty. It is perhaps the perfect ‘truckers song’, and still gets airplay. I confess to singing along at times. I just wish that I could sing like Dave.
I’m making a “run” down to Bakersfield, Barstow, Mojave and Searchlight soon. I will be in the right lane, trying to maintain a safe speed and dimming my headlights for the truckers. I will have my radios on. My CB will be set to channel 19 so that I can listen to the truckers whine about their dispatchers, and my car stereo will most likely be blasting “Six Days On The Road”.
Dave Dudley died on December 23rd of 2003. He was 75. He had more than 40 hits during his career. His Billboard chart hits included “Truck Drivin’ Son of a Gun” (No. 3, 1965), “What We’re Fighting For” (No. 4, 1965), “Vietnam Blues” (Number 12, 1966), “There Ain’t No Easy Run” (No. 10, 1968) and “The Pool Shark” (No. 1, 1970).