For Edgar Murdoch, a retired professional driver, schoolteacher and opera singer – yes, you read that right – there was no such thing as an ordinary load. Murdoch, who has held a commercial driver’s licence for 63 years, having acquired one on his 16th birthday, has put in a complete career behind the wheel while also singing at some of the most revered venues around the world.
Asked recently if he thinks of himself as a truck driver who sings or an opera singer who drove truck, he quips simply “Yes.” The two careers were so intertwined; it seems pointless to delineate one from the other.
“I would take a rig to a rehearsal, run in and do the rehearsal, leave and drive to Pittsburgh, unload and come back to Toronto, park outside the venue, rush in and do a concert and then go deliver my load. This was not uncommon,” Murdoch recalls.
Even when he taught music at northern Ontario schools, a set of truck keys was never far away. Murdoch said he’d find owner/operators to fill in for on weekends, and take on a long-haul job during the summers.
“Truck driving was always a part of my life,” he says, as was music.
Murdoch traces his trucking career back to his teens, when he worked for Eaton’s driving anything they’d allow him to. When the over-the-road drivers would come into the warehouse yard to make a delivery, Murdoch would beg them to let him climb behind the wheel and learn to maneuver the tractor-trailers around the yard.
“Eventually they would let me maneuver them around the yard and back them into the docks,” Murdoch recalls. “My first time (backing) was a spectacle to behold; I managed to get it twisted all out of shape but I backed it in and I walked with my head held high that day. I don’t think my feet touched the ground the rest of the day.”
By the time he was 21, Murdoch was running long-haul for Eaton’s, delivering from southern Ontario to Manitoba through the US. At the same time, he was singing in various orchestras and playing the trombone.
Murdoch once performed to an audience of 12,000 people at Ontario Place while at the same time juggling these performances with a successful truck driving career.
“The music industry has a fixed schedule, the trucking industry does not,” Murdoch says. “I would give my music schedule to my buddies who were owner/operators or company owners. I’d pass around my music schedule and they’d pencil me in when they wanted to take time off or when other drivers had an appointment.”
Murdoch was anything but a part-time hobby trucker, however. He delivered loads from coast-to-coast, and to all four corners of North America, including a year spent running Alaska. Through the years, he found himself putting more miles under his wheels when the Conservatives were in power, and performing more frequently when the Liberals formed the sitting government.
“The Conservatives were never particularly friendly to the classical music genre,” says Murdoch. “Cultural groups that toured depended on government funding for support.”
Former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, on the other hand, was a big supporter of the arts, and during his time as leader, Murdoch found himself busy performing around the world. He twice toured Europe, played all the Baltic States and spent two weeks in 1977 singing in the Soviet Union. He also performed for two US presidents: Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.
The performance for Nixon was particularly memorable. Murdoch and the other singers performed without instruments and at a reception following the event, Nixon was so impressed he sought out the singers and asked for a demonstration.
“Wherever we were in the room, he had us singing,” Murdoch recalls. “It blew Richard Nixon right out of the reception hall – it was amazing.”
But after rubbing shoulders with Nixon, it was back in the truck, back out on the road. For a time, Murdoch ran Montreal-Victoria hauling mail with a partner.
“We had 72 hours to get from Montreal to Victoria, including the ferry ride. We were never late except when they closed the roads in the winter,” he says. He still chuckles at the memory of truckers heading into the mountains during storms while Murdoch would park the truck knowing the roads would be shut down.
“The roads would be closed for two days and later we’d pass the trucks that went ahead,” he says.
Unfortunately, Murdoch’s trucking career was cut short in 2001 due to health issues. He was an owner/operator at that time, leased to Monarch Transport in Edmonton. Murdoch experienced chest pains when delivering a load to Chicago. Chalking it up to indigestion, he drove back to Regina in considerable pain, popping Rolaids all the way. Back in Canada, Murdoch went to the hospital and underwent a bunch of tests that indicated his heart was okay. He headed out on another run but cut it short when the pain worsened.
Murdoch suffered a massive heart attack and spent three weeks in intensive care and another week in the general ward before he was released. After selling his truck and recovering, Murdoch spent some time working in safety and compliance for a B.C. fleet. He has since written a book on his interesting career. Driving Through My Memories can be ordered from Shuswap Press at: http://shuswappress.wordpress.com/ed-murdoch/.
You can also watch him performing a Glenn Gould fugue piece on CBC from 1967 on YouTube here: http://bit.ly/NsTAb8. Murdoch is the singer closest to the camera.
Even today, Murdoch continues to stay connected to the trucking industry, serving as a mentor to young owner/operators.
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