“I’m 56, just going down the road writing songs for 30 years,” truck driver Paul Marhoefer is fond of saying.
Known as “Long Haul Paul,” Marhoefer, now 58, is still going down the road — hauling eggs and dairy products for Moeller Trucking.
What’s different is that during the past two years he’s recorded some of those songs on an album, “Bessemer to Birmingham,” produced by Travis Wammack. A Memphis, Tennessee, music prodigy, Wammack recorded his first record at age 11 and went on to work at FAME studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, generate several Billboard hits and lead Little Richard’s band from 1984 to 1995. Wammack has also been dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine as “the fastest guitar player in the South.”
The CD was produced by Wammack for Laughing Hyena, an independent record label/brand licensing company that first produced Jeff Foxworthy of “you might be a redneck” fame. And no, Marhoefer isn’t a comedian, although he’s funny; Laughing Hyena produces music, too.
Marhoefer writes songs about the hard, gritty and sometimes sad and poignant things that happen on the road, accompanying his gravelly voice on guitar and harmonica.
One of his most poignant tunes is “Elloree,” named after the South Carolina town where trucker and father of three Jason Rivenburg was shot and killed in the cab of his truck by Willie Pelzer III for the seven dollars and change in his pocket. Pelzer was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 for the murder.
The chorus alludes to the lack of safe parking for truckers (Rivenburg had parked at a gas station off Interstate 26): “Ain’t no rest for a workin’ man. Where’s a poor boy supposed to sleep?”
Marhoefer’s been compared to Bob Dylan, and he said the “gravel” sound in his voice was caused by a truck accident in which he broke his neck. “It stressed my vocal chords and affected my voice, but I don’t recommend you rear-end a trailer to enhance your singing career.”
That Marhoefer was discovered by Wammack was a quirk of fate or the hand of God, depending upon your persuasion, and directly attributed to his daughter, Audrey.
Marhoefer had mentioned to her that he wanted to visit the Muscle Shoals area recording studios someday, and upon her graduation from the College of Charleston, Audrey bought her dad a day’s worth of recording time and said she wanted to accompany him down to Muscle Shoals as her “senior trip.”
One of the area’s studios — an old concrete block building that was previously a coffin showroom — was converted to a recording studio in 1969 when a group of musicians called the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section decided to start their own operation in competition with the FAME Studio owned by Rick Hall, spawning a fight among the competing parties, some of it physical, according to Marhoeffer.
Over the years, artists who recorded in the Muscle Shoals area have included The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Cocker, Levon Helm, Bob Seger, and Rod Stewart, to name a few.
Marhoefer said his CD is a compilation which included tracks from the FAME studio, Milkhouse Studios in Richmond, Indiana, and Muscle Shoals Marketing.
After arriving in Muscle Shoals, Marhoefer and his daughter stopped at a local diner and were told about a jam session that welcomed one and all and was being held in a garage.
There, they met Wammack, and “he liked my music and wanted to produce it,” Marhoefer told The Trucker.
“These old-time session musicians are all retired; I wanted to see how far they could take my songs,” he said, adding that he had to promise to buy Wammack a Cadillac if any of his songs charted at No. 1. “A Cadillac is the holy grail for a Memphis musician,” he explained. He’s still not sure if Wammack was joking or not.
But, he said these seasoned musicians took his rough songs and made them sound good. Still worried about the Cadillac thing, Marhoefer said, “I’m going down the road in a Freightliner; how am I going to get the money if it goes to No. 1?”
Actually, he doesn’t think that will happen, but said he’s been told his CDs are “moving well at $7.99 each.”
He said they’re being “test-marketed in truck stops.” Which ones, he’s not exactly sure, probably because, he jokes, “they don’t want to tell me in case my buddies all want to go in there and buy them up.”
It’s hard for a trucker to be a successful musician, Marhoefer said. “I was an owner-operator for 10 years and I had no time to be creative. When I was a produce hauler I didn’t have that much space to sit there and create songs.”
Hauling reefers for Moeller Trucking seems to be more forgiving as far as his music is concerned. The folks at Moeller, he said, “are just good country people.” He’s worked there for seven years.
Marhoefer is originally from Indiana and remembers his first job was washing trucks for his dad. “He came from Germany and his family were butchers and they had a lot of trucks.” According to CD liner notes, his father was the CEO of the 12th largest meat packing company in the country. To hear Marhoefer tell it, all his family members are professional people, from lawyers to teachers to librarians to translators. “I’m like the black sheep of the family,” he said, because for some reason all he wanted to do was drive a truck. He did regional routes at first and then began OTR runs in 1987.
He started learning guitar chords at age 16 and took up the harmonica at about 18 or 19. “I don’t know that many chords; there are songwriters out there that are a whole lot better pickers than me,” he said modestly.
He calls his music, “Americana,” because it’s a fusion of various genres: blues, folk, bluegrass, country and more.
When he’s not writing songs, Marhoefer said he will continue to haul reefers: “I don’t see retiring at 70; I feel too good,” he said. “I hope I’m still trucking when I’m 80.”
To check out Marhoefer’s music go to his website at paulmarhoeffermusic.com