In 1963, Dave Dudley popularized truck driving songs with his seminal hit "Six Days on the Road." Since then, the working man's anthem became almost as standard as "Ring of Fire" in the live sets of country and rockabilly bar bands from coast to coast.
Thematically, the song set off a chain reaction of country hits and novelty singles about truckers' frustrations with the highway patrol and the inescapable loneliness of life on the road. To pull themselves through, some maverick truckers turn to "little white pills," fly through every speed zone ahead when they don't see a cop in sight and cut ICC (the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission) corners with their log books and at weighing stations (the cargo's a little overweight). Each strategy shortens monotonous trips like Dudley's trek outta Pittsburgh and down that Eastern seaboard.
Dudley's deep voice added grit to co-writers Earl Green and Carl Montgomery's tale of boredom and defiance. His delivery brought life to such minute details as "there's a flame on her stack and that smoke's blowin' black as coal."
The top five hit on the Billboard country charts pigeonholed its singer into the same trucking song mold as Red Sovine, Red Simpson and lesser-known country and rockabilly performers like Jimmy Logsdon. It wasn't a bad gig, considering the prominence of truck driver anthems in the '60s, namely Merle Haggard and the Strangers' "White Line Fever." After C.W. McCall helped make CB radios cool and Jerry Reed introduced an old country music trend to a new audience, singing about a "truck drivin' son-of-a-gun" coasting downhill in Georgia overdrive became an even smarter strategy. Turning an already fun song into the 1982 Christmas carol "Six Tons of Toys" made sense, too, considering it cashed in further on a lasting hit.
Sawyer Brown famously made it a top 15 hit again in 1997. Charley Pride, George Jones, Steve Earle and others also cut their own versions to celebrate Dudley's modern-day American drifter. Beyond the confines of country music, memorable covers include recordings by folk-pop genius Jim Croce, blues picker Taj Mahal and popular rock artist Johnny Rivers.
What's most rewarding, though, is seeing your friend's band shift their forward gears and scoot their cowboy boots to that instantly-recognizable chorus: "six days on the road, and I'm gonna make it home tonight!"