If you haven’t heard of Red Simpson, then you probably weren’t around during the heyday of the Bakersfield Sound, when Red was busy defining “the trucker song,” with a Capitol Records contract and a string of hits that began with a bang in the form of a top country hit called “Hello, I’m a Truck.”
Red Truck (GL redux mix)
Dr BLT: words and music by Bruce L Thiessen, aka Dr BLT © 2011 kILLbiLLy rEcoRDs
(A birthday tribute to Red, whose birthday is Sunday, March 6, the day I’ve asked all Red fans and truckers to wear red and to honk when passing Semi trucks), and…
Let Me Buy You Dinner
Dr BLT: words and music by Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr BLT © 2011 kILLbiLLy rEcoRDs
(A song written for Red to possibly record on his own, inspired by the story Red told in this interview about the day he met, and bought dinner for the late, great Eddie Arnold)
Stay tuned to http://www.drblt.net for the release of these singles and for more releases from the forthcoming CD: Red Truck: Songs and stories inspired by Red Simpson
If you haven’t heard of Red Simpson, then you probably weren’t around during the heyday of the Bakersfield Sound, when Red was busy defining “the trucker song,” with a Capitol Records contract and a string of hits that began with a bang in the form of a top country hit called “Hello, I’m a Truck.” And if you haven’t heard of Red Simpson, the country star from Bakersfield then you probably haven’t heard about Red Simpson the songwriter---and you probably haven’t looked at the backs of records by the likes of Buck Owens, Tommy Collins, and Merle Haggard because he’s written and co-written many songs for quintessential artists of the Bakersfield Sound like these.
If you haven’t heard of Red Simpson, then you’ve missed out, but your luck is about to change, and this truck is about to roll. I thought of polishing this up in the form of a well-groomed interview/profile piece, but then I remembered, that’s not what the Bakersfield Sound is all about. We’re about giving it to you raw, and, straight from the heart.
So without further ado, here’s the interview with Red Simpson, and his wife, whom he met when they were in 3rd grade---Joyce Simpson. This was conducted in front of the last real honky-tonk in Bakersfield---Trout’s Nightclub, in between sets that featured Fattkat and the Vonzippers, in an evening dedicated to another honky-tonk hero from Bakersfield, Mr. Mel Lawrence.
Dr BLT: Red, are you up for an interview right now?
Red Simpson: Sure.
Dr BLT: This is for Phantom Tollbooth, and for my blog, Bakersfield Sound Underground.
I’m Dr. BLT, that stands for Bruce L. Thiessen. And you are…?
Red: Red Simpson.
Dr BLT: Red, I’ve heard a lot of your songs. As you know, I almost got into a head-on collision listening to one of them, with a red diesel, believe it or not-----Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves was the name of it, if you can believe that.
Words and music by Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr BLT © 2011
Red: Oh Lord, you may not be here today if you had hit the diesel.
Dr BLT: Well, fortunately we were both only going about 10 mph.
Red: Oh well, you might have still been here then.
Dr BLT: Yes, I had just crossed Buck Owens Blvd., and there was the semi, right in front of me as I was listening to your song. Anyway, your songs had a lot to do with trucking. How did you get interested in writing about those types of songs?
Red: Well, Bill Woods, a guy from Bakersfield---he was kind of the father of music down here, and he was going to cut an album, so I wrote four songs for him. Of course he never did get to cut it. Some years later, I was writing songs for Cliffy Stone, in Hollywood, and he heard some of the songs I had sent down there, and my voice and everything, and him and Ken Nelson got to talking, and they asked Merle Haggard if he wanted to do a trucking album. Merle said “No,” he wanted to stay with the old country. So Cliffy called me on a Friday afternoon, and he said, “Can you be down here by Monday,” and I said “Why?”
And he said Capitol records wants to sign you up to do a truck-driving album. I said, “Hell, I’ll be there in an hour and a half man!” So Merle turned it down because he wanted to stay with what he was doing, you know, and they wanted to have a truck-driving album so they called me. So I put some stuff together, and that’s how it happened.
Dr BLT: Red, you tell a lot of stories with your songs. How did your biggest hit, “Hello, I’m a Truck” happen?
Red: Well, Bob Stanton was the man who wrote the song. He was up in Yakima, Washington. I was in Vancouver, Canada…no, Vancouver, Washington. I was recording over there with a man named Gene Breeden. We had one record out on Portland Records. It didn’t do too good, so one day he said, “I’ve got a song for you. It’s called “Hello (I’m a Truck).” I said, “Well, let me hear it and see what we think.” He let me hear it, and that’s what happened.
Dr. BLT: Well that song made quite an impression. It’s a classic all over the world, right?
Red: Yes, it jumped 32 spots in Billboard in one week. You don’t do that every day. (LOL)
Dr BLT: Now did you grow up in a musical family? How did you get started in music?
Red: My dad played the banjo, and I had a brother who played guitar, and a couple of sisters that sang and played guitars. And my grandpa played the fiddle. He couldn’t play it very good, but he played it. That’s kind of how I got into it. My brother, Buster was a musician. He worked around here with Bill Woods, with his Orange Blossom Playboys, and I kind of wanted to follow in his footsteps. That’s how that all came about.
Dr BLT: Did you grow up here in Bakersfield?
Red: I sure did.
Dr BLT: You’ve survived many years in the business. You’re still playing over here at Trout’s I understand.
Red: Every Monday from 7-10 pm. You bet!
Dr BLT: Let me tell you, this is a great pleasure. I like to listen to your music. A lot of people get a lot of inspiration out of your songs. There are very few songs that tell a story these days.
What kind of advice would you give to a young person who is influenced and inspired by the Bakersfield Sound that is just starting out as an artist?
Red: Just try to right songs and don’t give up. Hang in there. Keep going. That’s the way I did it. I wrote all of the songs I could. I’m about wrote out, but I think I’ve got a couple more in me.
Dr. BLT: Well, if you ever need a co-writer, let me know.
Red: You’ve got it man!
Dr. BLT: Your songs have a certain laid-back quality to them, and I’m wondering… What inspires you? How do you get ideas for songs? What sorts of experiences have influenced you?
Red: I get them from everything----every day life, talking to people, listening to other songs. Stuff that really happens. My wife rights too.
(at this point, I turned to Joyce, Red’s wife).
Dr BLT: Joyce, I’m Bruce, Bruce L Thiessen, or Dr. BLT. Pleased to meet you.
Joyce Simpson: Nice to meet you, Bruce.
So you write songs too?
Dr BLT: Have you written any new songs lately?
Joyce: Well, a few. I had one little CD, it had 3 songs on it, that have been played at Pismo, Fresno and Sacramento.
Dr BLT: How did you meet Red?
Joyce: We met in school, years and years ago, barely knew each other. We were both in the third grade. We both took off, went in some other direction. 40 years later we met again. Everybody told me, “Take your songs to Red.” So that’s what I did. That’s how we met again. I just wrote a song about him. It talks about how we met when we were nine, and how, 40 years later we got married.
Red Simpson: Well, when is that song coming out?
Joyce: I don’t know. It has no music to it yet.
Dr BLT: Well, is Red going to write the music for it?
Joyce: I don’t know, he might.
Red: I hope to.
Dr BLT (turning back to Red Simpson). What kind of music did you listen to? What were some of your influences growing up?
Red: Red: Ernest Tubb, George Jones, Buck Owens, everybody…Eddie Arnold. We met Eddie Arnold in Nashville.
I was back there doing a thing called the Tennessee Truck Show and I was in this restaurant, having a beer, and the bartender said, “You that guy over there,” and I said, “No, who is he?” He said, “That’s Eddie Arnold,” and I said, “I’d sure like to go over and meet him.” And the bartender said, “Sure, go ahead.” I said, “No, I don’t think I can. He said, “Well, go have a couple more beers, and then see if you can.” So I did, and I went over to talk to him. My wife came down from the room upstairs. I said, “Honey come on over here, I want you to meet somebody.” She said, “Who is it?” I said, he’s here, sitting right here.” I said, “Honey, this is Eddie Arnold.”
Joyce: Oh, I was excited.
Red: What a great guy he was----Eddie Arnold!
Dr BLT: Well, he sure had a lot of hits, and I was sorry when he passed away a couple of years ago.
Red: Oh, I was too. I bought him dinner that night, him and his wife. I said, “I’d like to buy you dinner.” He said, “Oh, I’ve got credit here.” I said, “Hell, I’ve got cash!”
Dr BLT: Well, I’m a regular call-in guest for a show called Bakersfield and Beyond. Have you heard of it? It’s actually out of Marin County----on KWMR, but you can stream it world-wide on the internet.
Red: Yes, I have heard of it.
Dr. BLT: Well, you’ve got a lot of fans that listen to that show. Is there anything you want to say to them? I’ll be on the show again March the 3rd.
Red: Oh, March the 3rd? March the 6th is my birthday.
Dr BLT: Well that’s good to know. Now we can say Happy Birthday to you on the show.
I’ll be 54…no, 74 years old.
You know, I’m going to ask Mike and Amanda to wish you a Happy Birthday and I’m going to request a song I wrote about you and one of your own as well.
Dr BLT: What’s your favorite song of all of the songs you’ve recorded?
Well, that’s hard to say. A lot of them are pretty good. I guess one of my favorites, I didn’t write it, Tommy Collins wrote it. It’s called Roll, Truck Roll.
(At this point, Red started performing a totally “unplugged” version of the song.)
Rollin’ down the Feather River Canyon/goin’ down and the summit is closed…
Dr BLT: That’s the unplugged version. I’m going to release that. No, I’m kidding.
Red: That was on my first album for Capitol. An A&R man at Capitol, Ken Nelson, told me to get a bunch of songs together. I had these four songs that I wrote for Bill Woods, and he never did get to do his album so I recorded those four songs on my album and later I wrote a song called Bill Woods from Bakersfield, and Merle Haggard recorded it.
Dr BLT: I’ve heard that one.
Red: It’s a good song.
Dr BLT: Yes, it is.
I’m going to be in the studio on Friday. I don’t know what time you get up in the morning, but…
Red: I get up early.