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Southern Cal Transport’s Cliff Abbott pens song for bluegrass great Larry Sparks

Cliff Abbott, director of driver development for Southern Cal Transport, sits in his office at the Birmingham, Ala.-based carrier. He is a cowriter on the song, “Lines on the Highway,” which was recorded recently by bluegrass notable Larry Sparks on Rounder Records. (Courtesy: CLIFF ABBOTT)

By DOROTHY COX
The Trucker Staff

4/28/2011

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Every songwriter dreams of having a tune recorded by a music legend, and Southern Cal Transport’s Cliff Abbott is no exception.

After having spent 30-plus years in the trucking industry, 13 of which he drove professionally, Abbott’s song, “Lines on the Highway,” has been recorded by bluegrass great Larry Sparks on a Rounder Records’ CD titled “Almost Home.”

It will be distributed nationally and hit Wal-Mart stores, Amazon and other outlets on March 15. To make it even sweeter, the song, co-written with trucker/songwriter Big Al Weekley, is a trucking tune. That’s something Abbott is pleased about.

“I’m thrilled he chose one of my songs and even more thrilled that he picked a trucking song,” Abbott told The Trucker.

Abbott, 54, currently is director of driver development for Southern Cal, here. He manages the recruiting department, also does some training and has been with the carrier since 2006. Out of high school Abbott immediately went into the Army and after four years serving his country he got into trucking. Over the years he not only has driven over-the-road but also has held jobs in safety and operations.

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“To say trucking’s in my blood is pretty accurate,” he said.

Although he’s been writing songs since he was in his twenties, Abbott didn’t take up an instrument until he was 46, when he learned to play the upright bass by teaching himself off the Internet.

It took him a couple of more years to attempt singing. But now he performs regularly around Birmingham with The Uplander Singing Band.

He and Weekley, who also is a Lexington, Neb., KRVN radio personality, co-wrote “Lines on the Highway” about five years ago when the two were recording some other music. During a break Weekley said ‘Hey, I got this thing running through my head; we each contributed a little to it and before you know it we had got a song going.”

It gathered dust awhile in a drawer until a little over a year later, when Abbott discovered it again and decided to record a demo of it.

Then he e-mailed Sparks, a bluegrass music staple for 42 years and one of Abbott’s heroes, and asked if he could send him the song.

Sparks agreed and a few months later asked Abbott for the lyrics and chords.  Sparks had planned to put it out independently but in the meantime was approached about signing on as artist by Rounder Records.

Meanwhile, Abbott said he was “on pins and needles” waiting to see if the Rounder deal would go through and if his song would be kept or cut.

“As a writer I’m excited,” he said. He’d had three other songs recorded by a regional artist, but to have a bluegrass byword like Sparks pick his song is a kick, despite the fact that he won’t make much money from it.

“I’ll get a few cents [in royalties] from sales and airplay. If I get a few hundred dollars” over the course of a several years “that’s about all I can expect,” he said.

Abbott said a lot of Southern Cal Transport drivers know about his songwriting: “I bring my demos to work and give them out; sometimes it’s good to get their feedback,” he said.

No doubt drivers will identify with “Lines on the Highway,” which said Abbott, was written “from my own days on the road.”

The chorus says: “Those lines on the highway, take me where I want to go. Those lines on the highway, take me where I want to go. There’s diesel in my bloodline, highway lines are painted on my soul.”

And the first verse says: “When I was a young boy, daddy let me take the wheel. He said ‘stay between the lines, son, remember how the highway feels.’ That’s when I began to see, just what it meant to me, the highway may be lonesome but it’s real.”

 “I love the industry and I want to give something back [so] I’m glad it was a trucking song,” said Abbott. 

Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at dlcox@thetrucker.com.

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