The Road Hammers
by Duff McCutcheon
It's been a few decades since a trucker could spin the radio dial and have
a hope of hearing Red Sovine's "Phantom 309", Dave Dudley's "Six
Days on the Road" or some other ode to the trucking life. Scan the dial
these days for some truck-inspired Country & Western musical accompaniment
and you're more apt to hear Toby Keith crooning about his favorite bar, or Gretchen
Wilson belting out an anthem to redneck womanhood.
Nothing wrong with either, but it's been a spell since anyone has broached the
long-lost genre of trucking music. That's evidently what Canadian country star
Jason McCoy thought, too. He teamed up with a few of his buddies in the music
business - Clayton Bellamy and Chris Byrne - to form the Road Hammers, a country-southern-rock-style
band with its heart in the cab of a truck.
"The Road Hammers is the ultimate driving album," says McCoy. "It's
got country elements, like Waylon Jennings of the classic era of country, which
truckers really relate to, and it's got southern rock elements like Lynyrd Skynryd
or the Allman Brothers. It's rootsy and it's got a lot of good tempos on it
- it's meant to keep people awake. It deals with love and loss, as well as regular
trucking driving themes. We've got one song called 'Keep on Truckin'- it starts
off talking about how it's hard to make it these days with the price of diesel
and whatnot, but the second verse talks about seeing a band at a little bar
and how hard they're rocking and hey, when the going gets tough, you just keep
McCoy says the Road Hammers project started after he'd written a couple of trucking
songs in the same vein as Red Sovine's Teddy Bear, "and all sorts of other
classic, campy recitation songs, which I really liked growing up." That,
coupled with the urging of his friends and relatives in the trucking business,
as well as a week-long stint in a truck last year during a tour for a children's
charity, gave birth to the idea behind the Road Hammers. Once he'd called up
his pals Clayton and Chris (guitar and bass, respectively), the idea became
He says he picked his bandmates because he liked the way they sounded together
whenever they got the chance to sit around and jam.
"I sing real country, Clayton sings rock n' roll like John Cougar, and
Chris sings real high like Timothy Schmidt of the Eagles. We'd be sitting around
backstage together at various festivals and I loved the way our voices sounded
together. I thought it would be great if we could create something new with
all our various styles and that's what we've done. It's got a real country flavor
with what I do, and it's got a real rockin' edge with Clayton - it's a whole
"Truckers are traditionally country fans. But you're also seeing them listening
to classic rock. In my own backyard research, I notice a lot of truckers like
AC/DC and Skynyrd, but then you've got your George Jones and Johnny Cash fans
- not so much the new country. The Road Hammers fulfils a lot of the orders
that they're requesting from the trucking world."
You hear the name "Road Hammers" and you automatically think of some
truck booting along down the hammer lane, but McCoy says their handle has nothing
to do with trucking. In fact, it stems from a time in Bermuda when McCoy and
his bandmates were cruising around on Vespa scooters. "We thought we were
some bad gang so we called ourselves the Road Hammers. Since then I've always
had the name earmarked for a trucker band."
In his other life, McCoy is a country star with four albums to his name and
a Canadian Country Music Association male vocalist of the year award (2004)
on his shelf. Originally from Minesing, Ont, near Barrie, he's been playing
country gigs with various bands since he was 16. He formed his own country band
at age 20, and has been touring around ever since.
"This has been my main job since high school. I love rock, but I've always
been country, traditional country. It's just genetics, that's what my voice
K-k-k-keep On Truckin'
Looking for a groove to get you through the 4:00 a.m. lull? If the latest
CD from Jason McCoy's new band, the Road Hammers, doesn't do it, maybe
it's time for a nap. The disc is a 12-track mix of original tunes and
a couple of covers with a kick-ass, give-'er-another-gear feel. McCoy
has nailed the driver's love/hate relationship with the road. Whether
you're out there wishing you were home, sitting loaded - and out of hours,
or ripping down a two-lane highway a day late and a dollar short, this
CD has something drivers can relate to.
'Call It a Day' is a ballad about the other life - I've got one life on
the road, and one with you at home / And it feels like one too many when
I'm gone / I need one to make a living and one to make it all worthwhile
/ I watch the miles slip away so I can finally call it a day, and 'Hammer
Goin' Down' is one of those songs that makes it easy to understand "gotta-get-there"-
My mind is grinding like a steel gear baby / I gotta cover some ground
/ She'd know how hard and fast I'm fallin' for her / if she could just
hear the sound of the hammer goin' down.
The third track, 'Overdrive', will get your right foot tappin's just a
little heavier on the hammer with each passing beat and keep it tapping
all the way through to track 10, 'Willin'', a Little Feat cover that will
bring you down just a bit with a reminder of how tough life in the left
seat can be. But through it all, we keep on trucking, maybe just for the
love of the game, maybe for the love and respect of family and friends.
Whatever drives us, the Road Hammers has captured all the highs and lows
of driving for a living on this disc and wrapped it up with searing lead
guitar, solid rhythms, and background vocals that fill the space between
verses like the Tower of Power horn section. And where would it all be
without the signature banjo twang on 'Eastbound and Down' and pedal steel
riffs on 'Girl on the Billboard'? If you've got an ounce of diesel in
your veins, this album will have you reaching for the repeat button over
and over again.
The CD release date is slated for May 17, but the band will be airing
a special on CMT Canada TV on April 23.
|Trucker Tune Redux?
there was ever a heyday for the trucking genre of country music, it was
in the late 1960s, early 1970s, with Red Sovine and his country music-with-story
style hits like 'Teddy Bear' and 'Phantom 309'.
"Those were the classic tunes that became the industry standard for
what a trucking song was," says Jason McCoy. "But the ultimate
truck tune was 'Six Days on the Road' by Dave Dudley - he was the trucker
balladeer of trucker balladeers." Then there's C.W. McCall's 'Convoy'
in the mid-1970s - which morphed into a movie starring Kris Kristofferson,
Ernest Borgnine, and Ali McGraw.
The genre has since lain relatively fallow, but shows signs of a modest
renaissance with Paul Brandt's remake of "Convoy", McCoy's Road
Hammers project, as well as a southern rock outfit from the U.S. called
the "Drive-by Truckers" who have garnered big acclaim from the
alternative music world, if not the country world.
Doug Rollins, veteran country DJ and former program director at Hamilton's
820 CHAM, calls it part of the cycle. "That genre is tried and true,"
he says. "With so little certainty in the world, people naturally
turn back to what's familiar - what they trust."
Rollins points to the current craze in dance and rap music of using samples
from past hits. "I wouldn't be surprised to see a rap version of
'Six Days on the Road' sometime. The song has legs 'cause road songs have
an almost universal appeal."
One doesn't have to look hard to find compilation discs of old trucking
tunes like Dudley or the Willis Brothers in a truckstop or a flea market.
In case you missed them the first time around, the words and music on
those remastered CDs are a testament to a time when trucking was still
fun. They'll bring a smile to even the most cynical faces - or a tear,
in Sovine's case. Still, I'd argue that the absolute best rendition of
a Red Sovine tune has to be Tom Wait's cover of 'Big Joe' and 'Phantom
309'. Only he could do it that way, and it's never worked better. It's
on his 1975 double live album, Nighthawks at the Diner. You'll wish you