Country singer, trucker Tony Justice draws musical inspiration from work on the road
Tony Justice performed at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas in August. (Photo: Aprille Hanson)
By Aprille Hanson
The Trucker Staff
Editor's note: This article was first published in the October 15-31st edition of The Trucker newspaper on stands now.
When Tony Justice steps up to the mic and sings:
When you see me coming get out of my way
I got a hot load of freight, can’t be late
I’m gonna make my destination come rain or shine
In my souped-up, signed up, get you there by sun-up Peterbilt 379,
from his song, “Peterbilt 379,” it’s not just a trucking character he’s crooning about — he’s living it.
“It’s just real. I’m not somebody trying to tap into an industry just because it’s a big industry and I see potential. It’s what I do. I’m just like they are,” said Justice, who drives a 2004 Peterbilt 379 for Triple G Express out of Memphis, Tenn.
“I’m out there in the trenches with them. The fact that I’m still driving while this album has been on the shelves is the best PR tool. They know that I can relate. They can relate to me and at the same time, they know I can relate back to them. A lot of times, you don’t get that with artists … There’s nothing fake about it.”
Justice, an over-the-road trucker for 14 years, has been working his way up in the world of country music, starting at the place he’s most familiar with: trucking. His most recent album, “On the Road,” is distributed at six major truck stop chains, from TravelCenters of America to Pilot/Flying J. Justice said his music is also available online at iTunes, Google Play, Amazon.com and his website, tonyjusticemusic.com.
His next album, “Apple Pie Moonshine” will be released in December and already has 10,000 pre-orders, compared with 1,200 on his last album, he said. His official sponsor is Blue Tiger, which produces Bluetooth headsets and communication peripherals, according to its website, bluetigerusa.com.
On Oct. 15, TravelCenters of America/Petro debuted the “Justice Burger,” named in his honor.
“It’s cool,” Justice said of the burger, which comes with a free sampling of his new album for those who try it. “It’s a great idea with promoting the CD cover, its release.”
It’s another step forward in Justice’s budding music career that took a back seat for years to trucking and racing.
Justice said his father was a trucker for 38 years, as well as four of his uncles and his brother. His father owned three trucks when Justice was a child.
“That was our chores on the weekend, cleaning and servicing the trucks. That had to be done before we got to do any playing or anything extra. So I’ve always been around trucks,” Justice said, adding that trucking is “a different challenge every day. Whether it’s a traffic situation you’re trying to avoid or weather or deadlines, I really enjoy the daily challenges. It differs; it’s never the same old, same old.”
While Justice said he has played bass since he was around eight years old, particularly in church or his mother’s gospel groups, it was always about racing.
“My childhood dream was growing up to race cars. I’m a big NASCAR fan,” Justice said. “I never had musical aspirations when I was little, it was all about racing. So when I got out of high school, I started dirt track racing.”
Through the racing circuit, he met a friend who asked if he could play bass for him at a gig in Gatlinburg, Tenn. From there, it clicked.
“So I started writing songs that were race-oriented because I loved racing so much,” Justice said. “We actually had a NASCAR album out in 2002,” called “Rockin’ Rusty,” which was endorsed by racing veteran Rusty Wallace, team owner Roger Penske and Miller beer.
“So we got to do a lot of cool stuff,” he said. “We did probably 14 pre-race concerts that year at the start-finish lines, about an hour set before driver introductions.”
Since then, Justice has been “pounding the ground,” working to spread the word about his music while also driving his truck. For now, Justice is taking a break from trucking to focus on his music.
“God’s just really blessed us,” Justice said. “I can’t take the credit for it. Some of these things, no amount of work makes happen. Someone has to open a door for you and that’s where I feel like God stepped in.”
His most recent album, “On the Road,” features a song originally written for country artist Kenny Chesney.
“They had written a trucking song for Chesney to record some years back and he didn’t record it,” Justice said, saying Chesney, Kim Williams and Randy Bodreaux (also the producer for the album) co-wrote the song. “We ended up getting the song and got the OK from Chesney’s people to put his name on the CD.”
Justice said he co-wrote about five songs on the 13-track album, with eight centered around trucking.
“I grew up listening to the ‘Keep on Truckin,’ album,” which included various country artists, he said. “It had a ton of classic truck songs on it. I grew up listening to that stuff as a kid and you know being around trucking and my family and me driving all the time and writing songs, it just went hand-in-hand.”
For his “On The Road” album, some of the trucking songs included, “Trick My Truck,” “Wheels and Wings,” “One Hot Mother Trucker” and a cover of “Six Days on the Road.”
Justice’s songs hearken back to a more traditional and ’80s-’90s country style, unlike more of the pop-country heard on the radio today.
“I love the classic country artists: Merle Haggard, Keith Whitley, Alabama, Charlie Daniels Band; I have several influences,” Justice said. “I’d probably say Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley are the two; a lot of people will hear similarities when I sing.”
Justice said inspiration strikes usually when he’s out hauling a load.
“I write a ton driving up and down the road. Fortunately I have the ability to keep a melody in my head and the words … I’ve got probably 30 songs. I haven’t written the words down yet, it’s all up here,” Justice said pointing to his head. “There’s a ton of inspiration on America’s highways. There’s just inspiration around every corner. I’ve written songs about things I’ve heard on the CB radio. It’s pretty cool.”
Justice said his favorite song on “On The Road,” is “East Tennessee,” which is one of the standard country songs on the album and includes the lyrics:
East Tennessee, Smoky Mountain memories
Sweet Caroline and Me
Skinny Dippin’ in Freedom Creek
Another town, another show
No matter where I go
In my mind I’m always going home
To East Tennesse.
“I didn’t write it, but it’s a really great song,” Justice said. “It’s where I live, it’s home. Every word that’s sung in that song, I can sing it with passion and emotion because it’s how I feel about where I live.”
For his next album, Justice said he’s focused on continuing to earn “people’s respect” in the music industry and so far it’s working — country singer Lee Brice wrote two songs for the album and it is being recorded at Oceanway Studios in Nashville, where artists like George Strait and Willie Nelson have recorded, he said.
“The next album is going to be totally awesome. As soon as we recorded the last song on this album [On the Road], I started writing,” Justice said. “We’ve sold a little over 10,000 of this CD here so it’s given us a little more of a budget this time around for recording a CD. The same guy who engineered and mixed Lee Brice’s two albums is mixing and engineering my new one.”
Justice said his goal is to continue to move up the ladder musically, but also become a spokesperson for truck stops and oil companies because, “I really do rely on their products every day,” he said.
“I want to have a No. 1 one day, whether I write it or whether I’m an artist on it. Just knowing that I was good enough to write something that’s No. 1. That’s probably trying to catch lightening in a bottle a little bit, but my albums, they have split personalities — you have the trucking side and then you have the country side on it,” Justice said. “The trucking side has been my bread and butter. Even if we don’t get to No. 1 or become a household name, I think I can be successful in the trucking industry.”
However, like most truckers can attest, family comes first, and Justice, a married father of four children and two step-children, said he will keep on trucking to support his loved ones.
“If I can make $800 a week or $1,000 driving a truck or go play a show and make $400, I got to drive the truck,” Justice said. “I got to take care of the family.”
For more information on Justice and how to buy his music, “Like” him on Facebook.
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