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Del Reeves' Truckin' Country

There is a strain of Nashville country music that to me, as a dyed-in-the-wool rock 'n' roller, was always one of the least objectionable of its forms. That was truckin' country. And Del Reeves, who died on New Year's Day, was its Beatles.

I kind of liked truckin' country because it seemed to vaguely rock, which is far more than I could say about any other kind of Grand Ol' Opry stuff coming out of Nashville in the '60s. I mean, of course it was still so right-wing and reactionary that I could never really embrace it, but I had to admit that some of it was undeniably hooky. Plus, it was the only kind of country music that seemed to have any sense of humor. It made me realize truckers liked to laugh in between hippie-bashings. Or maybe even during.

del_reeves.jpgMy guess is that, compared to a lot of country music fans, truckers got around more and that exposed them to what was going on musically in the rest of the world. So their kind of truckin' country incorporated a few elements of rock 'n' roll - first and foremost, a twangy yet hard-edged guitar sound. One of the kings of the truckin' country guitar sound was Franklin Delano Reeves, who died on Jan. 1, 2007 (ironically sharing that New Year's Day demise with fellow country greats Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt). Reeves' death marks the passing of one of the few Nashville/Opry types of the 1960s whose willingness to answer rock's blasting guitar call helped create an opening for the huge success of "country rock" in succeeding decades.

It's a trebly thing, that sound, which twangs and punches at the same time. It's instantly recognizable as the trucker's guitar. The first time I heard it, it was being wielded by Dave Dudley in "Six Days On the Road," released in 1963. I thought it was pretty cool, because as well as being the first song I ever heard about meth, the guitar sounded like it was being plucked with a hammer. It had a rock beat, rather than a country beat, although there was no doubt that the twang labeled it as Nashville. The lyrics were funny, and I kind of got into it, at least as much as my rock chauvinism would let me, which wasn't much.

Then along came Del Reeves to further refine truckin' country. Although Dudley's "Six Days" is still the gold standard by which the genre will forever be defined, Reeves' 1965 song, "Girl on the Billboard" was probably its biggest hit. It came out about the same time that Roger Miller was riding high with his sly country-ish novelty numbers like "King of the Road" and "Dang Me," so I think the record-buying public was especially receptive to funny country songs. But this one took the cake. Not only was it pretty raunchy for mainstream radio, it was rather clever in its construction. Not something you'd expect from the Opry scene.

In memory of Del Reeves' passing, here are the lyrics to "Girl on the Billboard," the "Stairway to Heaven" of truckin' songs. Best of all, it's got a Chicago reference . . . I think that's because all long-haul truck trips either begin or end in Chicago in song-lyric world.

Doo da doo doo doo doo da doo doo doo

Who is the girl wearing nothing but a smile
And a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big old highway
Rolling down the highway in my Jimmy hauling freight
From Chicago to St Louis, Lord I see her every day
A double clutching weasel like me can hardly ever get a girl to look at him that way
Like the girl wearing nothing but a smile
And a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big old highway

Well what a girl wearing nothing but a smile
And a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big old highway
I bet it wouldn't take her very long to be gone
If someone would pull a dirty trick and take her hot pants away
I slow my Jimmy down to twenty that's how many wrecks I see there every day
Caused by the girl wearing nothing but a smile
And a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big old highway

A doo da doo doo doo doo da doo doo doo

Doggone that girl wearing nothing but a smile
And a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big old highway
Sleepy-headed painter said the girl wasn't real
And I'd better get the (%@**!) on my way
On Route 66 from the billboard to Chicago
You'll find tiny pieces of my heart scattered every which a-way
Shattered by the girl wearing nothing but a smile
And a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big old highway

A doo da doo doo doo doo da doo doo doo dee da dee dee doo



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Posted on January 9, 2007


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