Forgotten Artists: Dave Dudley (1928-2003)

Paul W. Dennis | April 7th, 2009

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

Discography

Vinyl
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.

CD
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.

  1. TimeO
    April 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Good article! It’s sad to realize that Dudley is now “forgotten” — he was such a force when I first started listening to country music in the late 1960s. I believe among his other distinctions is he was the first artist to chart with a Kris Kristofferson song (or, possibly to ever record a Kristofferson song): “Viet Nam Blues” (a song Kristofferson somewhat distanced himself from in the recent Rolling Stone profile).

    When I was a young country music fan, I was particularly taken with novelty songs. Dudley had two of the funniest: Day Drinkin’ with Tom T. Hall (two buddies sit around getting intoxicated while their wives are out; there’s an early reference to HBO/pay TV on the cut); and George of the North Woods, which you mentioned above.

    That latter still makes me laugh, though it is a bit macabre: The narrator is blind man, talking with his “friend” George in a forest cabin. He talks about what a loyal pal George is, not like his ex-wife who would gladly kill him for the insurance money. He asks George a question, and then realizes…George has abandoned him deep in the woods. We assume George will run off off with the blind man’s wife and collect the insurance money.

    Yeah, it doesn’t sound so funny….but Dudley’s delivery is so spot on, particularly at the moment of realization. It’s truly one of the best acting jobs on a country record…

  2. glory2001
    April 7, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I have only come on here before, defending John Rich, but I could not resist commenting on Dave Dudley, my mom loved him, and played him all the time, my dad didn’t listen to music, except for Dave Dudley and he sang along to Squaws Along the Yukon. I just went on Amazon and order a cd of Trucker Hits by dave dudley. Thanks for bringing back a great memory.

  3. Paul W Dennis
    April 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    The album cover of the GEORGE (AND THE NORTH WOODS) album leads one to believe that George was the man’s dog. The lyric is fairly ambiguous and lends itself to differing interpretations – I always assumed that the wolves got the dog !

  4. Rick
    April 7, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    The only Dave Dudley song I have is “Six Days..” on a Time Life 60’s compilation, but it’s nice to know I have the original version. Thanks for all that great info, Paul.

  5. Patrick
    April 7, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I can personally vouch for the fact that Dave was a wonderful guy. He waited a long time for success, and he was ready when it finally came, He had a great time, and he made more friends than anyone could count!

  6. Lee
    April 7, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    “Day Drinkin’ Again,” is one of my favorite songs.
    The line,

    “Tellin’ the waitress how we won the war,
    And day drinkin’ some more,”

    always made me grin.

  7. Steve Harvey
    April 8, 2009 at 8:20 am

    I love Dave Dudley. Surprised and saddened to hear that he falls under this category…

  8. Joyce Canup
    July 24, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    I really loved dave dudley and his wife marie I sure hope to find her and talk to her we are old friends from Chicago. If anyone knows how to reach her please send me an email and let me know.

  9. Charlie Ochs
    April 29, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    I was a DJ in Phoenix in the mid 70’s and knew Dave’s wife. I can’t remember her stage name when she was doing some singing and recording. Can you help me?

  10. Denise
    May 6, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    I know Marie and just talked to her to see if she knew you. Needs more info. Has a few memories but needs to make sure.

  11. Elizabeth
    March 21, 2011 at 8:03 am

    I,m trying to find the names of the members of the Dave Dudley Trio. Dave was a friend of my parents and one band member was called “Corn”.
    Anyone know his real name?

  12. Paul W Dennis
    February 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    In writing this article, I really should have made mention of Dave Dudley’s German-released recordings

    During his years of touring Germany, Dave Dudley recorded several dozen songs for German record labels .Some of the songs were remakes of his US hits of the 1960s and 1970s, but many were songs Dave previously had not recorded or had been written since Dave’s heydays with Mercury.

    The remakes, while sounding different than the original hits, were far superior to usual dreary remakes typically released by American labels such as Sun, Plantation, Dominion, K-Tel or their ilk. For one thing, Dave was in good voice up until after he retired from performing. For another thing, Dave’s songs were not “old hat” to the enthusiastic German musicians who played the sessions with Dave – they were fresh and exciting new material and you can hear the enthusiasm in the musicians’ playing.

    Moreover, the German sessions did not scrimp on the number of musicians playing on the sessions. The recordings have a clear, crisp full sound that you never hear on Plantation or Dominion remakes. They are just flat out good recordings.

    As for the new material and songs not previously recorded by Dave Dudley ? If you like Dave’s Mercury recordings you’ll like these songs. In fact, they are better than much of Dave’s post-Mercury material for labels such as United Artist and Rice. I should note that I am not entirely sure that these recordings were made using German musicians – I am simply assuming that they were.

    So how do you tell if a CD contains these German-issued remakes and new recordings ?

    1) The recording is on a label such as Koch, Kassel or Karousel

    2) Some of the song titles are in German (“Im Stau”) or reference Germany in some manner (“Sunday Here In Deutschland”)

    3) Some of the following song titles appear on the disc: “Cowboy Hat”, “Wanderin’ Truck Drivin’ Man”, “Professional Bum”. “Waterin’ Hole”, “Memories” , “Gas Pump Jockey” “I’m, Single Again” and “Us Ol’ Truckers Don’t Like Rockin’ When We Roll”

    In 2004 Koch released 37 of these recordings in Germany as THE FAREWELL ALBUM

Tagged In This Article

// // // //

Current Discussion

  • luckyoldsun: Jim Z-- I get the feeling Barry was this close to calling you what Kinky Friedman called his guy from El …
  • Leeann Ward: Thanks, NM. I like a good pop hook, to be honest. So, maybe I need to try it again.
  • Barry Mazor: OK, Jim Z. That changes everything. I surrender.
  • Jim Z: to call the Dirty River Boys an "Austin area band" is still incorrect. They are based in El Paso.
  • nm: Leeann, you and I often have similar tastes in more-traditional country. And, to my ears, Sam Hunt's voice and lyrics …
  • Barry Mazor: Matter of fact, as always--I did. The notes say the album was recorded & mixed by and at "The …
  • Roger: Looking forward to picking up the Jamey Johnson Christmas EP - love all of those songs and can't wait for …
  • Jim Z: that record was recorded in El Paso. (you could look it up) and other than appearing in Austin once in …
  • Leeann Ward: Yes, I can always use more dobro in my life! Thanks for the Phil Leadbetter tip! I haven't been able to …
  • Barry Mazor: OK, Jim. The record's more or less out of Austin. But I'm sure they're also good in El Paso...

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • walkerandthetexasdangers3
  • deadmanstown
  • tom t hall storytellers
  • paulthorntooblessed
  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton