Saturday, March 17, 2012


Dave Dudley is one of the many reasons I get so pissed off at today's "country" artists. Today's "country", for the most part (with a few exceptions), is basically rock music with the singers doing their best to inject some "twang" in their voices. The guitars come straight out of Def Leppard, circa 1981. The drums? HAH! Go to a "country" concert sometime - you'll see drum sets that would make Bonzo Bonham say, "well, that's a bit much, isn't it?" And of course, all the new country bands have a steel guitar player and a fiddle, but when was the last time you actually HEARD the steel on a country record, or the last time the fiddle solo wasn't buried under loud guitar chords and/or super-loud drums? Here's what country has come to - last year, Connie Smith was coaxed out of retirement by her husband (Marty Stuart) to make her first album in 18 years, called "Long Line Of Heartaches". It's pure country all the way - no fuzz guitars, the drums played softly with brushes and - tellingly - the upfront instrument is the steel guitar. Connie couldn't get a major label deal to release it. Most radio people wouldn't even touch it. I thought it was one of the best albums of 2011 and played it a lot when I had my radio show. But I know nothing, apparently.

The other thing wrong with country music (actually, today's music in general) is that there's WAAAAY too much emphasis on how an artist looks. That's the only explanation I can figure for the phenomenon known as Taylor Swift. Yes, she's got a pretty face, nice to look at, and her songs aren't even that bad - BUT SHE CAN'T SING. She sounds OK on the studio recordings, but watching her sing live on TV, that's painful. I'm sure Taylor's the nicest girl in the world, really loves her fans, and is genuinely humbled by all the attention and awards.....but I can NOT imagine, 30 years from now, some grizzled old dude walking into a bar, ordering a shot and a beer, and asking if there's any TAYLOR SWIFT on the jukebox to help him forget his troubles.

That's why I love older country records. Those folks were country when country definitely wasn't cool. It also didn't matter (too much) how they looked. Dave Dudley was a big, burly guy (in fact, he was the very definition of "burly") with long sideburns who probably could have sat with his fans in some bar and not be recognized. He certainly didn't look like a star, but most stars would have been envious of his career. Born David Pedruska on May 3, 1928 in Spencer, Wisconsin, Dave Dudley's original ambition was to be a professional baseball player. Unfortunately, he only got to the semi-pro stage before hurting his arm, and his baseball career was soon over and done with. Dave had a big baritone voice, and decided to get into the music business, forming a country music trio and working as a disk jockey at radio station WTWT in Wausau, Wisconsin. He signed his first record contract with the legendary King Records in 1955. Unfortunately, he was injured in a 1960 car accident and the next year was spent recuperating. In the early 60s he recorded one-offs for labels like Vee and Jubilee, having minor country chart action with those records.

Dave had been living in Minneapolis, Minnesota since 1960, and was a local presence there, where he and his band The Country Gentlemen held residence at the Gay 90s Club, while also appearing regularly on radio station KEVE. It was there where he met Jim Madison, who owned a small label called Golden Wing Records. Dave signed with Madison as a producer, talent scout, A&R man, and recording artist in 1962. After his first single on Golden Wing (country updates of the folk chestnuts "Barbara Allen" and "John Henry") bombed, Dudley recorded his second single for the label in April, 1963 - "Six Days On The Road", which was written by Earl Green and Peanuts Montgomery (George Jones' main songwriter, and brother of country star Melba Montgomery). It became such a smash that the largest record company in Minneapolis (Soma Records, later home to "Liar, Liar" by The Castaways) had to distribute it. The record soon zoomed to #2 on the country charts, and also placed in the Top 40 on the pop charts!

"Six Days On The Road" pretty much dictated the rest of Dave's career - many of his songs were about truck drivers and trucking. Some of his biggest hits include "Trucker's Dream", "There Ain't No Easy Run", "Truck Driving Son-Of-A-Gun", "Rollin' Rig", "Anything Leavin' Town Today", and the immortal "Rolaids, Doan's Pills, and Preparation H". In fact, in the 1980s the Teamsters truck drivers' union in Nashville gave Dudley a solid gold lifetime membership card in recognition of his great trucking songs.

Anyway, "Six Days" was such a big hit that Dave Dudley started attracting the attention of major labels, and in late 1963 Dave signed with Mercury Records. However, his third Golden Wing single, "Cowboy Boots" had just been released. Mercury had a subsidiary label called Wing Records, so they made Jim Madison change the name of his label to Golden RING Records to avoid confusion. "Cowboy Boots" was another big country hit, and Dave Dudley was now a Mercury artist.

The other direction that "Six Days On The Road" pointed Dave Dudley in was musical; it had a rockabilly feel without actually being rockabilly, and Dudley's booming baritone voice blended in perfectly with the sound. The same sound served him throughout his career. Listen to a Dave Dudley record from 1965, and one from 1975, and you'll be struck by how similar they are musically - the shuffle beat, the booming voice, the rockabilly-styled guitar and the great lyrics.

Dave stayed with Mercury until 1974, when he formed his own label, Rice Records, which lasted, on-and-off, until the early 80s. After a brief affiliation with United Artists and the revived Sun Records, Dave went into semi-retirement, occasionally recording and releasing a single (including the 2002 "Dave Dudley, American Trucker", released in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks). Oddly enough, very few of his songs have been released on CD, so his original 45s and LPs are much sought-after by classic country fans. He died in Wisconsin on December 22, 2003, from a heart attack.

The above record is one of my favorite Dave Dudley songs, the B-side of one of his last country Top Ten hits ("Comin' Down"). It has "BOOGIE" written all over it. If you overdubbed a fuzz guitar and phased drums, and brought the key up a LOT higher, and put a 30-second guitar solo in the middle of it, 18-year-old girls in white cowboy hats and cutoff jean shorts would be SCREAMING about this record. But Dave Dudley knew what he had, and he didn't need anything else. Pop success? Big deal. Dave had his truckers' union card and the support of a million drivers. And that was just fine by him.

Dave Dudley - Six-O-One (Mercury 73193) - 1971

1 comment:

  1. If you like this you should try some Sleepy LaBeef from the same Era.