Many won’t remember, and others will scoff, but 37 years ago the truckers’ troubadour left the highway for the last time. No one did what Red Sovine did…better!
The date won’t mean much to many of you, but to America’s truckers April 4 marks a fateful date. April 4, 1980 was the day the “troubadour of the turnpike”, Red Sovine died of a heart attack at age 63, driving his Ford van home from the grocery in Nashville, Tennessee.
Who was Red Sovine?
Well, he was born Woodrow Wilson Sovine in Charleston, West Virginia, and years later, after starting his own country and western band he became well-known for his “truckers” songs that he performed as a member of the Grand Ol’ Opry.
They were sad and mournful, the perfect backdrop on radio for those lonely cross-country routes in a Peterbilt. Truck drivers everywhere knew him immediately for the distinguishing lament of his voice. Songs like Gitty Up Go, Phantom 309, and Teddy Bear became his calling card. Rigs (trucks) were named in honor of his songs, and Red Sovine became synonymous with the trucking culture.
His popularity soared as he began pairing with other country stars of the late 50s, performing duets with other rising names, Webb Pierce, and later George Jones. But his niche turned out to be those tunes of the turnpike…stories of heartbreak and the loneliness of the open road, of making a living at the expense of being away from home and family.
He didn’t sing, he talked through the lyrics, his voice often cracking from genuine emotion. Teddy Bear was 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. Phantom 309 is the story 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.
I like to write about legends of song because they deserve to be remembered. And while he wasn’t as popular as the crossover stars of his era, everyone who drove a truck knew and loved Red Sovine, who turned out to be the best, and only, of his particular genre of music. Nobody’s done it better since, and likely they never will.
“Gitty Up Go”, Red.
Gitty Up Go…!