TORONTO, Ont. - Why are there so few Canadian trucking songs? Outside of "Bud the Spud," one is hard pressed to come up with any truck driving tunes that fly the Maple Leaf.Yes, there was Hank Snow an...
PLAY THAT STOMPIN' MUSIC: Truck News editor John Curran's well-used copy of the classic, Bud the Spud.
TORONTO, Ont. – Why are there so few Canadian trucking songs? Outside of “Bud the Spud,” one is hard pressed to come up with any truck driving tunes that fly the Maple Leaf.
Yes, there was Hank Snow and his Nova Scotia Home and his long stint on the Grand Ol’ Opry. He was clearly an institution and the man embodied country music. But his cover of I’ve been Everywhere was adapted from an Australian hit written by Geoff Mack. Although it does mention a few Canadian place names (Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Mattawa), the song’s pedigree is suspect.
There is no shortage of trucking songs. But why do they all have to be about south of the border? Why do drivers hauling across the second largest country in the world, with its incredible vastness and diversity, have to listen to songs about Tucson, Oklahoma and Bakersfield when we’ve got Wawa, Prince George and Trois-Rivieres?
It’s not like there is a shortage of songwriters or musicians north of the 49th parallel. So what’s the reason for the dearth of Canadian truck driving tunes?
“I’ve got a whole roomful of albums by Canadian artists who can’t get airplay,” says Steve Fruitman, host of CIUT’s Back to the Sugar Camp radio show (89.5 FM, Thursdays at 6:30 pm in the Toronto area). “Here’s a guy from Sudbury – Joe St. Denis. He wrote a great song called Trucking through the North. Ever hear of him?”
Fruitman cites a variety of reasons why Canadian country musicians get short-changed: geography, history and culture, are among them.
Canadians were first exposed to American country music in the 1920s and 1930s when the AM frequencies started opening up. The first Canadian stations served more as public affairs programs than dispensers of popular music, but American signals reached across the border.
“Country was working class music and Canadians instantly identified with it,” says Fruitman. The result has been that generations of Canucks have grown up listening to American songs, performed by Americans, and now they’re comfortable with that.
Looking through an old milk crate, Fruitman finds an Arc recording of Truck Driving Man by Dick Nolan that he thinks was pressed in 1963. This was the era when Canadian record companies like Arc and Rodeo hired Canadian performers to record Nashville standards and then sold them at corner stores for half or a third of the price.
The cover shows Nolan hanging out of the door of a classic Kenworth. The back jacket explains that this album is for “the long distance trucks … driven by rough and ready men who love country music.” Nolan covers all the major anthems and then some: Truck Driving Man, Six Days on the Road, 40 acres. In those days, outside of the Tommy Hunter Show, the best a Canadian country musician could hope for was to land a studio session churning out American tunes.
But then Stompin’ Tom Connors came along. Connors achieved a breakthrough, of sorts, with his 1968 album Bud the Spud. The song itself is a classic Canadian trucking tune that was written for his friend Bud Roberts, who was living in Bowmanville, Ont., at the time.
Roberts is Bud the Spud. He had to quit trucking because of the complications with an earlier bout of polio. For a time, Stompin’ Tom and Roberts toured together. Fruitman relates that after Connors gave the song to his friend, he waited patiently for him to record it. When no recording appeared, Connors decided to put it on his next album.
But it wasn’t until 1970 that Stompin’ Tom hoofed his way into the hearts of Canadians. At that time, Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern at Spadina and Queen was solidly country, and had been for many years. But Canadian performers never headlined there. The exception being Lucille Starr. They always served as opening acts for Nashville stars like Tommy Overstreet or Kitty Wells.
But Connors managed to book himself into the Horseshoe for a week and things started happening.
Fruitman, who had seen Stompin’ Tom as just plain Tom Connors in Timmins, Ont., recalls those early Horseshoe gigs. “It was weird. Here was this guy stomping on a piece of plywood, playing simple three chord songs. But they were about Canadians. For years he’d been going into towns and singing about them. He was singing about real people. He was a true folk man.”
Fruitman, a close friend of Connors, mentions that the original back up band at the Horseshoe considered Stompin’ Tom’s act to be hokey and juvenile. They’d chuckle to each other between songs and do cut-ups during the solos. After a couple of nights Connors went to the manager to tell him he could no longer work with the band. The manager had noticed what was happening, too, and told Tom. “You stay. They’re fired.”
Connors is reportedly very bitter about not receiving airplay for his music. “Here’s a guy who has sold more country albums than everybody except Shania Twain, and his music doesn’t get aired,” says Fruitman.
In 1997, a small independent record label from Guelph, Ont. named DROG, put out one of the strangest truck driving albums ever recorded.
Dave Teichroeb put out the call for new truck driving songs for a compilation album.
“Trucks have a way of inspiring a quick reaction from a musician,” says Teichroeb. “Usually it’s romantic or mythological.”
What came out of the project was a two-album CD set and 32 new songs by some of the standard-bearers of the Canadian folk-rock scene, including spirited efforts by the Skydiggers and Rheostatics.
Teichroeb, himself, with his band the Dissemblers, performs his own song Western Star. It is a true story about getting a ride with a trucker in Golden B.C.
The album also features a genuine truck-driving singer-songwriter. Wendy Davis, of Fergus, Ont., performs her song, All the way to Nashville.
The two volumes are divided into rock-derived tunes on the first CD and more country-oriented stuff on the second. Perhaps someone should consider putting together a mix of old and new.
Heck, you may even squeeze old Hank Snow on there, too. n