The line separating “trucker” and “road” songs is thin. Roger Miller’s signature song, “King of the Road,” makes no mention of trucks but is about life on the road. Dave Dudley’s “Six Days on the Road” is written from a truck driver’s perspective. Although both songs include “road” in their titles, Miller’s is about the “hobo” lifestyle while Dudley’s is about a hard-working truck driver excited to get home. One interesting aspect of country music is its ability to connect people from seemingly different worlds. In the instance of Miller and Dudley, when they do meet, the difference between the trucker and road songs blurs.
Hank Snow was born in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia in 1914. Separated from his father, authorities deemed his mother unfit to care for him. Instead, he lived with his paternal grandmother, reportedly a despicable human being who made sure Hank grew up in a household filled not with love but physical and verbal abuse. Eventually, Hank reunited with his mother. And when she purchased a guitar and allowed him to play, word spread of his talents.
At just 12-years-old, Hank set to sea, not uncommon among youth growing up in Canada’s maritime provinces. A cabin boy on a fishing schooner, the job paid nothing except experience. Four years later, after his schooner barely survived a storm, Hank decided he had all the experience he needed.
In the meantime, Hank’s musical talents developed, and he eventually found his way to Nashville. By chance, he got his shot to play the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville’s most coveted welcome gift. His second single, “I’m Movin’ On,” placed him on the road to stardom as it hit the No. 1 slot on country charts and remained there for 21 weeks. In 1962, “I’ve Been Everywhere,” became another of Hank’s signature songs, a version of Australia songwriter Geoff Mack’s tour of his home country rewritten by Lucky Starr. Hank’s version, with apologies to Johnny Cash’s outstanding cover, is arguably the most recognized among fans of classic country music, with bonus points added to the original singer.
“I’ve Been Everywhere” begins with Hank (singing as a hitchhiker) along “the dusty Winnemucca road,” a reference to U.S. Route 50, a cross-country highway passing through north-central Nevada. The chosen road, known as “The Loneliest Road in America,” tells listeners a lot about the hitchhiker and his secluded, slow-paced life. When “a semi with a high and canvas-covered load” stops, the driver asks if the hitchhiker needs a lift to Winnemucca, the passenger climbs aboard.
The conversation in the cab turns to the U.S. 50 when the driver asks if his passenger has “seen a road with so much dust and sand.” The response reminds one of the pauses in Beethoven’s “Surprise Symphony,” a halting answer showing little appreciation for the ride the trucker is providing – “Listen, Bud. I’ve traveled every road in this here land.” And with that, “I’ve Been Everywhere” abruptly shifts from a trucker song to a tune about the road.
The remainder of “I’ve Been Everywhere” begins with a chorus that will be repeated five times and four stanzas of lyrics listing what Hank means by “everywhere.” But the song is far more than impressive memorization of many obscure locations in the western hemisphere. The style Hank employs is indicative of the “road” experience and how it can change depending on perspective.
Hank sings the remaining lyrics at a fast pace, so fast that the names of cities, towns, states, and areas of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and South America almost blend into a very long multi-syllable-to-the-extreme word. In fact, the slow, lonely introduction having passed, the change in tempo is likely intentional, as Hank contrasts of a life walking the roads with the trucker’s high-speed, deadline-driven lifestyle.
Hank references 91 locations he has visited. He could easily list 500 more, and the song would never get old.
If we mapped the 91 locations Hank mentions, we’d realize that he has “been everywhere.” The various locations are spread across the country and a few outside the U.S. Hank tells us he has visited eight countries in North America, Central America, and South America. In the U.S., he rattles off 64 cities loosely broken down as: Southwest, 10; Northwest, 10; Midwest, 15; Southeast, 17; and Northeast, 12. He mentions nine states by name, four locations in Canada, and eight south of the U.S.-Mexico border. By the time the song wraps up with a fading chorus, listeners can imagine the truck driver’s exhaustion; in fact, they are exhausted as well, proof that the song filled its intended purpose. Still, firing the tune-up is almost an addiction, if only to see how much of the song listeners can memorize.
Somewhere out there in the sea of truck drivers, at least one has visited every location Hank rambles through in “I’ve Been Everywhere.” There are likely more, if we consider just those in the U.S. I challenge you to pull up the lyrics on the internet and check off how many you’ve been to or passed. My count is 32, or 35%, not bad for someone who hasn’t visited the Pacific Coast, the Northwest, or South America. Take a few minutes to count how well you’ve followed Hanks’s trail, and email me with the number of checkmarks you make along with a photo of you and the truck that made it all happen. I’ll run a list of the most widely traveled drivers in a future column.
Until next time, keep in rhythm with the road. I just remembered I have an appointment in Ombabika.
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.