“TRUCKER FROM TENNESSEE” (WRITER: ABBIE PETTY–LINK DAVIS–WILMA LEMONS)
ARTIST: LINK DAVIS
RELEASED 1956 ON 7” 45
Link Davis, born in 1914 in Texas, pretty much played any style of music that he had to in order to forge a career. He sang, fiddled, played sax, piano, and harmonica, and created a niche by being able thrive in a variety of genres, including Western swing, Cajun, hillbilly, country, and R&B.
His first and biggest hit was an early 50s Cajun/Western fusion called “Big Mamou,” and he went on to record for several important record labels of the era including Okeh, Mercury, and Starday.
He never again had a smash, but continued to record discs for whatever labels would have him, and he found work as a session musician on hundreds of records all across the American south and west. This superb, well-researched article notes that he played saxophone on hit records by the Big Bopper and Johnny Preston.
Eager to support his family and stay relevant, it was inevitable that Davis himself would try and keep up with the newest trend, and in the mid-50s, that was rock and roll. Since early R&R really was a fusion of blues, swing, and hillbilly music, it wasn’t a stretch for him.
In summer 1956, Starday released his 45 of “Don’t Big Shot Me” and “Trucker from Tennessee.” Despite being 42 years old when he sang these sides, Davis’ delivery of this raucous new music is utterly convincing. “Don’t Big Shot Me” is full of witty lyrics and moves with a rocking, reckless beat that entertainingly updates Western swing. But I dig “Trucker from Tennessee” even more.
One reason that I love “Trucker from Tennessee” is that the lyrics—innocent trucker turns rock and roller, turns out to be great at it, gets famous, and even steals the narrator’s girl—are both ridiculous and completely believable in the world in which Davis lived, a world where catching the right trend could make a success of you but also a world in which your livelihood and security were always on the line.
The song has three writing credits—Petty-Davis-Lemons. “Petty” is Abbie Petty, and “Lemons” is Wilma Lemons. I know nothing about either of them, unfortunately, except that they and Davis created a lasting work.
Another reason I love this thing is that it really bops. Davis plays a pretty hot sax solo after the first chorus, and the piano and steel guitar are right on point. The rhythm section smokes as well. This is just an outstanding performance of a funny and catchy song. It careens and caroms all around, as any good fusion of four or five musics ought to.
Davis, who seems to have lived the standard musicians’ life of ripping and running, died in 1972 from complications related to stroke. He was just 57.