Trucking crooner Red Simpson, who penned hundreds of songs, including a ditty about what “Truck Driver’s Heaven” would look like, has finally arrived at that big truck stop in the sky.
Simpson, 81, passed away on Friday, Jan. 8, at a hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., where he made his home and his mark on the city’s eponymous musical style. He had continued writing original music and performing live up to the end of his life. He suffered a heart attack Dec. 18 after returning from a concert tour in the Pacific Northwest.
“He wrote hundreds of songs, many recorded by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, and became a star in his own right. But later in life, Red Simpson would also be known for owning Monday nights at Trout’s nightclub in Oildale and for being the kind of guy you could strike up a conversation with or bum some beer money from in a pinch,” reads the opening to Simpson’s obituary in the Bakersfield Californian newspaper. The paper notes that while he penned and performed many trucking-inspired tunes, unlike some of his contemporaries in the genre, Simpson himself never actually drove a truck for a living.
Even more influential than his ballads of life on the road, were his contributions to the so-called “Bakersfield Sound,” a twangy, electric style pioneered by him and his contemporaries, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, developed at honky-tonks as a counterpoint to the slick production and smooth strings of the Nashville Sound.
In a Facebook post from the day Simpson died, Haggard called him “a dear friend for over 50 years” and “a huge part of the Bakersfield sound.” He also credited Simpson as one of the original musicians on his own legendary hit, “Okie From Muskogee.”
In an obituary on Rolling Stone’s website, the music and culture magazine described the truck-driving subgenre of country music as perhaps “the most unique, as they romanticized a hard life spent on the highway, evading Smokey and his radar and popping pills to stay awake.”