Dave Dudley: 1928 to 2003
For 40 years, Dave Dudley was the accidental voice of truck-driving music. After an injury to his pitching arm forced Dudley to sideline his dreams of a professional baseball career, he financed the 1962 recording session that produced “Six Days On The Road” with the insurance settlement from a car accident outside a Minneapolis nightclub. Had there not been extra studio time left over, he might not have reached into his guitar case for the demo Jimmy C. Newman had given him and knocked out a quick take of what would become the most influential truck-driving song of all time. Originally a self-released single, “Six Days On The Road” was picked up by Mercury and in 1963 reached #2 on the country charts (and #32 pop).
The song was based on the real-life experiences of its writers, Carl Montgomery (brother of Melba Montgomery) and Earl Green, who made a weekly run from Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dudley wasn’t a trucker or a native of the south. The 35-year-old crooner hailed from Spencer, Wisconsin, where he was born David Darwin Padraska. But his diesel-soaked voice, a low-rolling baritone that slurred its way through a litany of trucker jargon, made the record an instant classic that would usher in the golden age of truck-driving music.
Dudley recorded loads of other trucker songs throughout his career. His mid-1960s albums Truck Driving Son Of A Gun and Thanks For All The Miles are two of the best single-artist collections of their kind. He was still hitting the charts in the ’70s with songs such as “Rolaids, Doans Pills And Preparation H” and “Me And The Ole C.B.”. Among his final recordings was a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11 titled “You Ain’t Gonna Truck With Us”.
Dudley also had some success as a music publisher, partnering with Jimmy Key and Jimmy C. Newman on Newkeys Music, which retained the services of a young Tom T. Hall. Not only did Dudley share in the proceeds of Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (a #1 hit for Jeannie C. Riley in 1968), he also got first dibs on some of the writer’s best material, and scored his only country #1 in 1970 with “The Pool Shark”. Throughout his long association with Mercury, Dudley recorded dozens of vintage Hall tunes, including “Temporarily”, “Coffee, Coffee, Coffee”, and “That’s How I Got To Memphis”.
When I began work on the trucking tribute Rig Rock Deluxe in the early 1990s, Dudley was A-1 on my list of artists for the project. I managed to track him down at his home in Danbury, Wisconsin, and we had several long conversations about his career and recording plans (he had abandoned the U.S. market and toured almost exclusively in Germany in his final years). It was an honor to speak with “the voice” of truck-driving music, but to my great disappointment, we couldn’t work out the details, and the album was finished without Dave Dudley. I had never given up hope of another recording project with Dudley, until I heard he had suffered a fatal heart attack near his home on December 22. As he sang in “End Of The Road”, a tender recitation to a faithful old truck written by Tom T. Hall: “Maybe this just ain’t the proper thing to say, but here’s hoping you rust in peace.”