Red Simpson, who made trucks a vehicle for Bakersfield Sound, dies at the age of 81

Red Simpson, an architect of the seedy, persistent Bakersfield sound in country music who made truck driving songs like the 1971 hit “I’m a Truck” a career, died on January 8th in Bakersfield, California was 81.

The cause was complications from a heart attack he had in December, said Gene Thome, a friend.

Mr. Simpson played in local clubs and wrote songs for Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and other artists in the mid-1960s when Ken Nelson, Mr. Haggard’s producer, signed him to Capitol Records to record truck songs.

The genre was a staple of the country, but the expansion of the interstate highway system and the growing popularity of CB radio added romance to trucking life, which translates into hits like Red Sovine’s Phantom 309 and A Tombstone Every Mile ”by Dick reflected Curless and“ Six Days on the Road ”by Dave Dudley.

Mr. Simpson first reached the country charts in 1966 with “Roll Truck Roll”. He followed with “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves” before breaking into the top 10 with “I’m a Truck”, which climbed to 4th place.

That song, the lament of a trailer truck tired of seeing truckers all the glory, opened with the simple line, “Hello, I’m a truck,” further arguing that the truck is the real hero of the road:

Without us trucks there would be no truck drivers.

No double clutch, transmission jams and coffee drinking pods.

They will ride their way to fame and they are all lucky.

Without us trucks there would be no truck drivers.

Joseph Cecil Simpson was born on March 6, 1934 in Higley, Arizona, the youngest of 13 children and grew up in Bakersfield, where he learned to play the guitar as a child. His red hair earned him his nickname.

He joined the Navy during the Korean War and served on the hospital ship Repose, where he played with a group of ships, the Repose Ramblers.

On his return to Bakersfield, he played in local nightclubs, including the Blackboard, where he stood up for Mr. Owens on weekends. “Although Buck and Merle are considered the pillars of the Bakersfield sound, Red was right up there,” said Michael Gray, music editor for the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Country Music Museum, in an interview Tuesday. On his Facebook page, Mr. Haggard wrote, “He played a big part in the Bakersfield sound.”

Mr. Simpson and Mr. Owens became good friends and songwriting partners. Mr. Owens brought her song “Sam’s Place” to the top of the country charts in 1967. Mr. Simpson also wrote “You Have Have Very Far To Go” for Mr. Haggard and “Close Up the Honky Tonks” in 1965. Recorded by Mr. Owens in 1964 and later by Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam.

“He wrote more than 30 songs that Buck recorded,” music historian Scott B. Bomar told The Bakersfield Californian. “He wrote about eight songs that Merle recorded. Red’s fingerprints can be seen on Buck’s and Merle’s songs, as well as his. “

Mr. Simpson hit the country charts in the 1970s with Country Western Truck Drivin ‘Singer, Awful Lot to Learn About Truck Drivin’, and Truck Driver’s Heaven, a trucker version of the Tex Ritter classic, I Dreamed of a backwoods heaven. “His final top 100 single,” The Flyin ‘Saucer Man and the Truck Driver “was released in 1979.

He toured extensively until the mid-1980s and performed regularly in later years at Trout’s, a club in Oildale, California. In 1995 he recorded two duets with the neo-traditionalist country singer Junior Brown, “Semi Crazy” and “Nitro Express”. A song that he recorded for the first time in 1966.

In 2012 his work was collected in the five-CD set “Hello, I’m Red Simpson”. That year, Mr. Simpson, who lived in Bakersfield, was a featured artist in The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Shortly before his death, he completed an album entitled “Soda Pops and Saturdays” which is due to be released next month. Mr. Simpson’s first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife Joyce; one son, David; a daughter, Mechelle Simpson, known as Missy; a sister, Minnie Robertson; three stepchildren; 14 grandchildren; and 24 great-grandchildren.

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