Forgotten Artists: Dave Dudley (1928-2003)
In the summer of 1987, my wife Kay and I were vacationing in Germany and Austria. As is always the case, I would check out the local record stores in the various towns that we visited, and in doing so I was surprised to see the large number of Dave Dudley cassettes and CDs that were available for sale–ten or twelve albums, all with songs performed in English and mostly songs about truck drivers.
I have always loved the music of Dave Dudley, a mid-level American country music star of the 1960s and early 1970s, best known for his huge 1961 hit “Six Days On The Road.” Dudley had a unique, deep rumbling voice, once described as the sound of “too much coffee and too many cigarettes at truck stops at three in the morning.” In other words, perfect for the songs he sang.
I found it interesting that so much of his material was available in Germany and, to a lesser extent, Austria, particularly since all of his classic Mercury recordings were long off the American market, leaving only a few albums of inferior re-makes available for purchase. My inquiries revealed that a German country music band, Truck Stop, had scored a major hit in 1978 with a song titled “Ich möcht’ so gern Dave Dudley hör’n” that had sparked interest in Dave Dudley, an artist of whom no one in Germany had any knowledge. In fact, it launched a career revival for Dudley who performed occasionally in Germany and other parts of Europe for the next decade or so.
Born David Darwin Pedruska on May 3, 1928, in Spencer, WI, Dave Dudley was raised in Stevens Point, WI and like many country artists of earlier generations (Charley Pride, Jim Reeves, Roy Acuff), aspired to a career in major league baseball. He played semi-pro baseball until an arm injury forced an end to his baseball career in 1950. After picking up his guitar, Dudley performed and became a country music disc jockey working at stations in Idaho and the upper midwest. Dudley also formed the Dave Dudley Trio in 1953 and worked dates in the vicinity of his current employment. The band eventually broke up after achieving little success.
In 1960, Dudley, by now working in Minneapolis, formed another group, the Country Gentlemen. The group built up a solid local following. In December, 1960 a bad break ultimately turned into good luck when Dudley was struck by a car while loading equipment following a performance in Minneapolis. In 1963, he used the insurance proceeds to start his own record label, Golden Wing. Prior to that, beginning in 1955, he had recorded singles for King, Starday, NRC, Vee and Jubilee, and scored some regional successes.
Lightning finally struck for Dudley in 1963, when his friend Jimmy ‘C’ Newman gave him a song written by Earl Greene and Earl ‘Peanut’ Montgomery (Melba Montgomery’s brother). The song was titled “Six Days On The Road.” While initially skeptical about the song, Dudley issued it on Golden Wing and watched it soar to #2 for two weeks on Billboard’s Country Charts (it also charted on the pop charts). The success of “Six Days on the Road” helped him land a recording contract with Mercury Records, where he released his first single for the label, “Last Day in the Mines,” before the end of 1963.
Throughout the ’60s, Dudley charted a long string of truck driving singles, including “Truck Drivin’ Son-of-a-Gun,” “Trucker’s Prayer,” “Anything Leaving Town Today,” “There Ain’t No Easy Runs,” and “Two Six Packs Away.” Dudley was an affable sort and made many friends in Nashville. One of his closest friends was rising songwriter Tom T Hall. Dudley co-wrote a number of songs with Hall and ultimately recorded over 40 of Hall’s compositions, both as hit singles and as album cuts.
Not limited to truck driving songs, Dudley also had success with non-trucking songs such as “George (and the North Woods),” “If It Feels Good Do It,” “Day Drinkin'” with Tom T. Hall, “This Night Ain’t Fit For Nothing But Drinking,” and his only #1 record, “The Pool Shark” in 1970.
Dudley remained with Mercury until the end of 1973 and issued 21 albums, including three greatest hits/best of collections. After that he recorded for United Artists (1975-1976) / Rice (1974-1981 – Rice leased masters to United Artists). During this period, he scored only one more top twenty hit, 1975’s “Me and Ole CB.”
After that, Dudley recorded for minor labels. All told, he charted 41 times on the Billboard Country Charts and his last charted single, “Rolaids, Doan’s Pills and Preparation H,” was released in 1980. Although the hits stopped coming for Dave Dudley, he retained a loyal audience among truck drivers. In fact, the Teamsters Union awarded him an honorary, solid-gold membership card.
Like many country artists, Dudley’s catalog fell completely out of print with the switch to compact discs as only top selling acts such as Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley had back catalog material made available on the new format until much later–at least in the United States…
Dudley died of a heart attack in his native Wisconsin on December 22, 2003. While his memory has faded with time, no one who ever heard his deep rumbling voice ever forgot it–and no one ever mis-identified a Dave Dudley recording. As long as there are truck drivers, there will always be an audience for “Six Days On The Road” and “There Ain’t No Easy Runs.”
The chorus of Truck Stop’s hit “Ich möcht’ so gern Dave Dudley hör’n” goes:
Ich möcht’ so gern Dave Dudley hören
Hank Snow und Charlie Pride
richtig schönen Country-Song
doch A.F.N. ist weit
Translated (very rough translation):
I would really like to hear some Dave Dudley, Hank Snow and Charley Pride
All those great country songs but AFN (American Forces Network) is too far to tune in
Dave Dudley issued 21 albums on Mercury not counting reissues on the Mercury Wing label and recordings leased to other labels. The Mercury albums find him at his absolute vocal peak and (until about 1971) mostly are devoid of ‘Nashville Sound’ trappings. All of them are worth hearing as Dudley sprinkles his albums with sufficient tempo changes and variety of material to keep things interesting. While his forte was truck driving songs, the albums don’t consist solely of such songs. I particularly liked Songs About The Working Man (1964) and George (And The North Woods) (1969), and others such as Lonelyville (1967) are also very good.
Please note that any recording of “Six Days On The Road” or “Cowboy Boots” on Mercury will be a remake of the the original hit on Golden Wing. The Mercury recordings are a very good re-makes and casual listeners won’t be able to tell the difference.
The United Artist/Rice albums are more inconsistent and feature arrangements designed to make them sound more contemporary–a mistake with a voice that does indeed sound like “too much coffee and too many cigarettes at truck stops at three in the morning.” I have several of these albums but rarely listen to them. They are okay but the Mercury albums are classics.
Sun International issued a number of CDs on Dave Dudley–some with as few as eight songs, none (that I’ve seen) with more than twelve songs. Sun also licensed them endlessly to other labels. These CDs include some material that Dudley did not record for Mercury, plus some remakes of his hits on Mercury. They are not terrible (and Dudley’s voice never deteriorated all that much), but I would buy these only if I could buy them cheaply or if I could not find either of the two titles listed below.
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection ( Mercury Nashville, 2002) – an adequate collection of 12 songs, including remakes of “Six Days On The Road” and “Cowboy Boots” and ten songs that were hits for Dudley on Mercury–great stuff, but should be 20-25 songs, not twelve!!
Truck Drivin’ Son of a Gun: The Mercury Hit Singles 1963-1973 (Westside, 2004) – this CD appears to be out-of–print, but if you can find it, this is the one to purchase. Twenty-four tracks of Dave Dudley at his peak–great sound and all the biggest hits except “Six Days On The Road” and “Cowboy Boots,” which were not hits on the Mercury label. This should suffice for all but the most diehard Dave Dudley fans.
If you just gotta have the original version of of “Six Days On The Road,” check for one of the Time-Life Collections. If the disc lists the song, it will be the original version.
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