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Though he had a long, distinguished career in country music, singer/songwriter and guitarist Red Sovine is best remembered for his earnest, funny, and at times highly sentimental recitations that took the cab of an over-the-road truck for their settings. Born Woodrow Wilson Sovine into an impoverished family in Charleston, WV, he was inspired as a child by WCHS radio musicians Buddy Starcher and Frank Welling. Sovine and his childhood friend Johnnie Bailes joined Jim Pike's Carolina Tar Heels and performed as "Smiley and Red, the Singing Sailors." They appeared briefly on the powerhouse WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, but Sovine returned to Charleston to get married and took a factory job. He continued to sing on Charleston radio, but his friend Johnnie went on to greater renown as one half of the Bailes Brothers.
Bailes continued to encourage Sovine's efforts, however, and in 1947 he assembled a band called the Echo Valley Boys. After a year of performing in West Virginia Sovine moved to Shreveport, LA, where the Bailes Brothers were performing on KWKH. Sovine's own early morning show snared few listeners, but among his stagemates on the station's Louisiana Hayride show was Hank Williams, who steered Sovine toward a better time slot at WFSA in Montgomery, AL, and toward a contract with MGM Records in 1949. Over the next four years he recorded 28 singles, mostly following in Williams' honky tonk footsteps, that didn't make much of a dent on the charts but did establish him as a solid performer.
Sovine continued to perform on the Hayride and made another valuable friend in fellow performer Webb Pierce, who in the early '50s was just at the beginning of a long string of Top Ten country hits. Pierce convinced Sovine to lead his Wondering Boys band and helped him along toward a contract with Decca in 1954. The following year Sovine cut a duet with Goldie Hill, "Are You Mine?," which peaked in the Top 15, and in 1956 he had his first number one hit when he duetted with Pierce on a cover of George Jones' "Why Baby Why." Sovine had two other Top Five singles that year and joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. After recording close to 50 sides with Decca by 1959, Sovine signed to Starday and began touring the club circuit as a solo act. In Montana in 1963 Sovine passed on the helping hand given him by older performers when he heard the singing of African-American minor-league baseball player Charley Pride and suggested that he move to Nashville. Sovine opened doors for Pride at Pierce's Cedarwood publishing house, but his own career hit a lull. "Dream House for Sale," which reached number 22 in 1964, came nearly eight years after his last hit.
The genre of the spoken word truck driving song dated back to the late '40s, and Starday featured several specialists on its own roster, but it took several albums before Sovine's emotive baritone voice was paired with trucker material. In 1965, Sovine at last found his niche when he recorded "Giddy-Up Go," which, like most of his other trucker hits, was co-written (with Tommy Hill) by Sovine himself. That story of a father-son truck-stop reunion spent six weeks atop the country charts and even crossed over to become a minor pop hit. Subsequent truck driving hits included the ghost story "Phantom 309" and a tearjerker tale of a disabled child's CB-radio relationship with caring truckers, "Teddy Bear." The last-named song became Sovine's biggest hit since "Giddy-Up Go," spending three weeks at the top of the country charts in 1976 and reaching number 40 on the pop charts. Sovine followed up "Teddy Bear" with "Little Joe," a tale of a blinded trucker and his devoted canine friend which became his last big hit. Sovine died in 1980 after suffering a heart attack while driving his van.
Woodrow Wilson "Red" Sovine (July 7, 1917 – April 4, 1980) was an American country music singer associated with truck driving songs, particularly those recited as narratives but set to music. The most famous example was his 1976 number one hit "Teddy Bear".
ContentsBiography1.1 Early years1.2 Fame1.3 1960s1.4 Trucker songs and sentimental tunes1.5 Death
Born in 1917 in Charleston, West Virginia, Sovine (whose last name was pronounced So VINE) was taught to play guitar by his mother. His first venture into music was with his childhood friend Johnnie Bailes, with whom he performed as "Smiley and Red, the Singing Sailors" in the country music revue Jim Pike's Carolina Tar Heels on WWVA-AM in Wheeling, West Virginia. Faced with limited success, Bailes left to perform as part of The Bailes Brothers. Sovine got married, and continued to sing on Charleston radio, while holding down a job as a supervisor of a hosiery factory. With the encouragement of Bailes, Sovine formed The Echo Valley Boys.
After a year of performing in West Virginia, Sovine moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where the Bailes Brothers were performing on KWKH-AM. Sovine's own early morning show wasn't very popular, but he gained greater exposure performing on the famed KWKH radio program, Louisiana Hayride. One of his co-stars was Hank Williams, who steered Sovine toward a better time slot at WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama, and toward a contract with MGM Records in 1949. That same year, Sovine replaced Williams on Louisiana Hayride when Williams jumped to the Grand Ole Opry. Over the next four years he recorded 28 singles, mostly following in Williams' honky tonk footsteps, that didn't make much of a dent on the charts but did establish him as a solid performer.
Another Louisiana Hayride co-star who helped Sovine was country music legend Webb Pierce. Pierce convinced Sovine to lead his Wondering Boys band and helped him toward a contract with Decca in 1954. The following year Sovine cut a duet with Goldie Hill, "Are You Mine?" which peaked in the Top 15, and in 1956 he had his first number one hit when he duetted with Pierce on a cover of George Jones' "Why Baby Why". Sovine had two other Top Five singles that year and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. After recording close to 50 sides with Decca by 1959, Sovine signed to Starday Records and began touring the club circuit as a solo act.
In 1961, a song copyrighted, in 1955, by Sovine and co-writer Dale Noe became a sizeable hit on the Pop charts. The tune was the ballad "Missing You", arranged in Countrypolitan style and was recorded by Ray Peterson for his own Dunes label. "Missing You" became a #29 Billboard "Top 100" hit. In the fall, it peaked at #7 on Billboard's "Adult Contemporary" chart (see U.S. Copyright Office's website and Joel Whitburn's "Across The Charts, The 1960s"). In 1963, Sovine passed on the helping hand given him by older performers when he heard the singing of minor league baseball player Charley Pride and suggested that he move to Nashville, Tennessee. Sovine opened doors for Pride at Pierce's Cedarwood Publishing, but his own career had stalled: "Dream House For Sale", which reached number 22 in 1964, came nearly eight years after his last hit.
Trucker songs and sentimental tunes
In 1965 Sovine found his niche when he recorded "Giddyup Go", which, like most of his other trucker hits, he co-wrote with Tommy Hill. It is spoken, rather than sung, as the words of an older long-distance truck driver who rediscovers his long-lost son driving another truck on the same highway. Minnie Pearl released an answer song titled "Giddy-Up Go Answer". Sovine's version of the song spent six weeks atop the country charts and crossed over to the pop charts. Other truck-driving hits followed, including:"Phantom 309", a tale of a hitchhiker who hops a ride from a trucker who turns out to be the ghost of a man who died years ago giving his life to save a school bus full of children from a horrible collision with his rig. This story was later adapted by singer-songwriter Tom Waits, who performed "Big Joe And Phantom 309" during his Nighthawks At The Diner recordings. Waits' version of this song was covered by Archers of Loaf on the 1995 tribute album, Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits. Musician Steve Flett named a recording project after the song. The song was originally written and recorded by Tommy Faile."Teddy Bear", the tale of a disabled boy who lost his truck driver father in a highway accident and keeps his CB radio base as his only companion."Little Joe", a tale of a trucker and his devoted canine friend which became his last big hit. This last story features Teddy Bear who can now walk.
Sovine was also remembered for his Christmas tear-jerkers, which included "Here It Is Christmas" (a divorcee's holiday lament), "Faith In Santa" (a dialog between a poor, runaway boy and a sidewalk Santa), and "What Does Christmas Look Like?" (a little blind girl asks her father to describe the Christmas she cannot see). He scored another sentimental hit with "Little Rosa" in which an Italian-American railroad employee tells a stranger, in broken English, about getting a bouquet to place on the grave of his small daughter who was killed by a train while he was away.
On April 4, 1980, Sovine suffered a heart attack while driving his Ford van in Nashville, which caused him to crash. The injuries and his heart attack were fatal. He was buried next to his wife Norma, who died in 1976.
For many years after his death, his greatest hits collection (The Best Of Red Sovine) was advertised on television, exposing his music to a new generation of fans."Red Sovine - Biography". CMT. Retrieved July 11, 2012. "Red Sovine". Rovi Corp. 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2012. "Red Sovine Bio". Redsovine.com. Retrieved 2012-04-25. "Opry Timeline - 1950s". Retrieved July 10, 2012.
Sovine performed covers of many truck driving songs made popular by fellow country stars, such as Del Reeves and Dave Dudley, as well as "Why Baby Why", a duet with Webb Pierce originally recorded by George Jones. Other covers include "A Dear John Letter" (Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky), "Old Rivers" (Walter Brennan), "Bringing Mary Home" (The Country Gentlemen), and "Roses for Mama" (C.W. McCall), among many more.
His last charting hit in his lifetime, in 1978, was by rock singer-songwriter-guitarist Eric Clapton – "Lay Down Sally." Save for the mid-song guitar bridge, Sovine's version– a No. 70 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart – closely resembled the Clapton original.
Many of Sovine's biggest truck driving hits were covered by artists such as, Del Reeves, Dave Dudley, Ferlin Husky, Boxcar Willie, Tex Williams and Australian country singer Nev Nicholls. Mike Judge covered "Teddy Bear" as Hank Hill for the King of the Hill soundtrack. Some of Sovine's songs were covered by Dutch artists and became big hits in the Netherlands (Teddy Bear, Giddy Up Go and Deck of Cards by Gerard de Vries, Phantom 309 (Stille Willie) by the B B Band, Little Joe (Kleine Waker) by Henk Wijngaard). Tom Waits released Big Joe and Phantom 309 on his 1975 "Nighthawks at the Diner".