It’s always fun to take a look at those performers who made a specialty of story songs, especially the kind that are sentimental to the point of cheesiness — which includes most of them, I guess. It’s territory I’ve visited before — for example, T. Texas Tyler’s “Deck of Cards” — but today’s subject is Red Sovine, who had a long career in country music but made his name with story songs that spoke directly to truckers.
Like many country music stars, Woodrow Wilson ‘Red’ Sovine was born poor in heartland America — in his case, near Charleston, West Virginia. While growing up during the Great Depression he was inspired by listening to country music performers on the radio, and as he grew to adulthood he naturally pointed himself toward a musical career.
He spent years gaining experience performing in his home area, but often only part-time because he had to work at a regular job to support a new wife and child. By the post-war years he had moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was able to latch on with the popular Louisiana Hayride radio show. Performing alongside stars like Hank Williams and Webb Pierce allowed Sovine to gain experience and led to his own recording contract.
By the 1950s he was doing well, even showing up on the Grand Ole Opry, and he was selling a lot of records — traditional honky-tonk tunes like “Why Baby Why” (in collaboration with Webb Pierce). But it would be a few more years before he really hit pay dirt. That happened in the next decade when he wrote and recorded a number of sentimental story songs like “Giddyup Go,” “Phantom 309,” and a few years later, “Teddy Bear.”
Most of his biggest records had trucking themes, and Sovine soon became a favorite of truck drivers everywhere. He would continue to perform for a number of years, along the way giving a helping hand to new performers like Charley Pride, before dying of natural causes in 1980.