Bakersfield / Country Trucking Legend Red Simpson Passes Away
Devastating news out of Bakersfield, California Friday night that country legend Red Simpson has passed away. According to the performer’s family, Red died today, January 8th. Simpson was just getting ready to release his first official record since 1973 in February with his best friend Mario Carboni. Red Simpson was 81-years-old.
A singer, a songwriter, a performer, an important piece of the Bakersfield Sound, and possibly one of the most well-known overlords of country trucking songs, Red Simpson was an important hub in country music that far surpassed his name recognition, or the official accolades he received during his lifetime. Born March 6th, 1934 in Higley, Arizona, and raised in Bakersfield, Red first got his start in music as a piano player, playing in clubs such as the Wagon Wheel and Clover Club in the greater Bakersfield area. Simpson later became the replacement player for Buck Owens at the Blackboard Club, and began writing songs with other Bakersfield performers, including the 1962 Top 10 hit “Gonna Have Love” with Buck Owens.
Recording artist Bill Woods was the first to ask Red to write a song about trucking for him, and soon it became what Simpson was most known for. Ken Nelson of Capitol Records wanted to create a country star specifically based around trucking songs. He first tried to recruit fellow Bakersfield artist Merle Haggard for the job, but Merle refused. In 1965, Red Simpson decided to fill the role, recording his own trucking songs and the trucking songs of others, and the subgenre became the bread and butter of Red’s career. The trucking song “Sam’s Place” that went on to become a #1 for Buck Owens was written by Red. Simpson made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1972. And in 1975, Red landed his own Top 5 hit with “I’m A Truck.”
READ: The Overlords of Country Trucker Songs
Later in his career, Red would switch from Capitol to Warner Bros., but only recorded singles through Warner. Red Simpson released nine albums and compilations, and had eight charting singles, including the #4 “I’m A Truck,” which became his signature song, and his favorite saying. Red’s last charting single was “The Flyin’ Saucer Man and the Truck Driver” released in 1979.
In the 80’s and 90’s, Red Simpson shied away from the performing life, but continued to be a cherished member of the Bakersfield country music community, and a legend to the ones who remembered his early contributions to the West Coast country sound. In 1988, Merle Haggard recorded Red’s song “Lucky Old Colorado.” Red had the original version of “Highway Patrol,” made famous in 1993 by by retro country star Junior Brown. In 1995, Red recorded a couple of country duets with Junior—“Semi Crazy” and “Nitro Express.”
Though Red never toured later in life, he regularly played in and around Bakersfield, including a Monday night residency at Trout’s in Oildale, near Bakersfield. The Muddy Roots Festival in Tennessee had flown Red out a few times to perform over the last few years, and after being championed by a new generation of performers, including Bob Wayne and JP Harris, Red was beginning to experience a resurgence of interest. It was upon this interest that Red decided to record a brand new record called Soda Pops and Saturdays, which he was excited to be releasing in February.
“It is with great regret that we share the news that the legendary Red Simpson has passed,” the family said in a statement. “He was such a caring and wonderful man that he has been described as ‘a walking heart.’ More info will be provided shortly for those wishing to pay their respects. We know you’re up there in truck drivers heaven singin’ and playin’ truck drivin man…”
January 8, 2016 @ 9:15 pm
Anyone else left of that Era of Truck Driving songs other then Kay Adams
January 8, 2016 @ 9:29 pm
C.W. McCall is still alive at 87.
January 8, 2016 @ 9:29 pm
My favorite Red Simpson song has always been ‘Roll, Truck, Roll’ which was his debut charting single in 1966 and was written by the great Tommy Collins (the ‘Leonard’ of the Haggard song). Another thing that has always amused me were the number of trucking songs by artists named Red. In addition to Red Simpson we have a cover of ‘Truck Drivin’ Man’ by Red Steagall that charted in 1976 and then the two trucker classics ‘Giddyup Go’ (which hit number one for 6 weeks in 1966) and ‘Phantom 309’ by Red Sovine (which peaked at #9 in 1967).
I miss these little niches that made country music so quirky and special.
January 8, 2016 @ 9:32 pm
Don’t forget Shotgun Red!
January 9, 2016 @ 11:34 am
Another good guy was Red Lane.
January 8, 2016 @ 9:29 pm
Sad news. I miss that country trucking sub-genre. Growing up in Kentucky in the early 90’s, I often fell asleep to WSM’s (AM) overnight broadcast of a syndicated national truck-driving show. All the forementioned songs were often played including a heavy dose of Simpson.
On a recent road trip stretching the length of I-75, I made the observation that all my country music playing from my iPhone was about God, drinkin’/druggin,’ cheatin,’ and truck drivin.’
January 8, 2016 @ 9:51 pm
At a certain point, we might have all gotten sick of lame mainstream country songs about trucks, as illustrated by a certain Wade Bowen song, but songs about trucking will always be cool.
Rest in peace, Mr. Simpson.
January 9, 2016 @ 2:58 am
one of the nicest men I ever met.
January 9, 2016 @ 4:55 am
This brings back lots of memories from being very young and listening to Red and all the other guys mentioned. For some reason, I always found that “trucking” songs were some of the most heartfelt and emotional songs recorded. If this spurs people to go to You Tube and listen to some of these songs, I suggest Dave Dudley doing the greatest truck driving song of all time, “Six Days On The Road”. A true masterpiece!
January 9, 2016 @ 5:23 am
Sad to hear that,I liked him,Red Sovine,Bud Brewer and Dave Dudley.
Don’t play them so much nowadays… But still, R.I.P.
January 9, 2016 @ 6:58 am
This is a sub-genre of country music that is almost extinct. Dale Watson is about the only artist to still cut truckin’ songs.All the mainstream acts can sing about are jacked-up passenger vehicles. There’s just something about one man being in charge of 80,000plus pounds of rolling steel ,making a living for himself and his family.If that doesn’t scream country music I don’t know what does.So rest in peace Red you will be missed.
January 9, 2016 @ 7:43 am
Bill Kirchen (formerly of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airman and famous for “Hot Rod Lincoln”) still performs what he calls Dieselbilly. Great stuff!
January 17, 2016 @ 9:02 pm
I started driving April 1970 and reds songs along with Dudley , sovine, del reeves brought a common thread that gave us old timers a bond and pride for our jobs .
Yeah we cust a lot at those old trucks but the AM was always on and late at nite there would come a driving song on and it always slapped us side the head and put a smile on our face cause it gave us a feeling that that song was about us .
I had a chance to talk to red on Dave nemo’s show and it really overwhelmed me but red if you can read this your body gave out but your spirit will always be in our hearts . I’m still driving and when I go thru Bakersfield I’ll wave hello and thanks for the memories and God give strength to your family in this time of need
January 9, 2016 @ 8:14 am
Sad news, I was in Bakersfield last month and went to Trout’s, but didn’t see Red, what a shame! The big news out there was Merle Haggard was in the hospital during this time. I met Gene Thome while out there at his Bear Mountain gun shop, he and Red have an album out from 2012 and he told me Red had an album coming out in February. If y’all are ever out in Bakersfield you have to go to Trouts and the Crystal Palace. Trout’s is the last remaining Honky Tonk left in Bakersfield from the 40’s. You have to see Brian Lonbeck, who used to be Barbara Mandrell’s lead guitar player, now with Deke Dickerson.
January 9, 2016 @ 8:28 am
I got to work with Red at the bowling alley in Bakersfield in 1975. Red played guitar and I played piano. I will never forget that night !!!!! I got to eat because of Red. I went on to become house piano player at Texas Barrelhouse a local truck drivers stop in Bakersfield for the next year.
January 9, 2016 @ 11:25 am
One of the greatest Country artists to ever live. Rest easy.
Hank Unck (DJ name Lee Michaels)
January 9, 2016 @ 12:03 pm
I discovered Red Simpson (and many other great Country artists and music) when I was hired as a disc jockey in 1971 by a radio station in the West. I had hardly ever listened to, and knew next to nothing about, Country music, but I needed a radio job, so accepted it. However, through my program I discovered that I loved Country music, the artists, and even the Country fans and listeners, who were (and still are) exceedingly loyal. The first time I played a Red Simpson song on my show I was hooked on him! He may not be the first name people think of when asked to name popular Country artists of the 1960s and 70s, but Red certainly was a defining influence with the Trucking sub-genre and Bakersfield influenced sound. I still play his songs for my enjoyment. I eventually moved on to become a “Top 40 Rock Jock” but never lost my affection and appreciation for Country music. Now, no longer working in radio, it’s my preferred popular music, thanks in no small part to Red Simpson. Rest in peace Red.
January 9, 2016 @ 1:19 pm
“Writer of ‘highway patrol’ dies after recording his last song ‘dope train’ with ‘outlaw carnie’ Bob Wayne”
January 9, 2016 @ 3:13 pm
One of my all time favorites…next too Dick Curless and Tombstone every mile! RIP Red!
January 10, 2016 @ 1:05 pm
Red was my uncle he will be sorley missed and loved by minny.
I will miss you.
January 10, 2016 @ 4:00 pm
Thanks for the songs I grew up with Red, you will be missed. Those days of real truckers and the songs that go with are gone.
January 11, 2016 @ 3:55 am
I got to pick with Red a few times over the years in my old SoCal days. The first was at a private event someone had organized and I was called to play lead guitar. While the band was setting up I noticed the pedal steel player who looked familiar… It turned out to be Red who did a nice job. I didn’t know he even played steel before that.. I have a CD that I made from a cassette at a club called “Next Time Country” around ’79 or ’80 when I was playing pedal steel for Eddy Drake. We had Red for a two night guest shot and he did a great job on lead guitar, vocals and really had the crowd in the palm of his hand… He was a very versatile musician playing just about any instrument he touched. a couple of years back on our semi-annual trip to the west coast my wife and I stopped in to Trout’s on a Monday night to visit with Red and local steel legend Larry Petrie. Red was on keyboard and vocals and handled the music very well… He and Larry did a nice show… I’m sorry to hear of his passing. He wrote my favorite Buck Owens tune, a pretty waltz called “Don’t Ever Tell Me Goodbye”……JH in Va.
January 11, 2016 @ 8:20 am
I never considered “Sam’s Place” a trucking song, although one of my favorites.
January 15, 2016 @ 11:17 am
I got into Truckin songs via Dale Watson, But Corn Bread Red is the MAN. I live in England, and none of my family or friends can understand why i like these songs. Well neither do i, but i love The Man Behind the Badge. Rest In Peace, in That Truck Stop in The Sky.
Shirley Seibold (Andersen)
May 7, 2016 @ 8:59 pm
I grew up in Bakersfield and now I’m living in Oregon and have hired Mario Carboni many times to play for our residents at a retirement community – we love his extremely talented piano playing.The album he was doing with Red is done, Mario rushed it down to Bakersfield before he died and they listened to it together all day before he died. Some of you have mentioned what a really nice guy Red was. Mario is also one of the most caring young men I know, helping Red to fulfill his dream of recording one last album. I listen to it all the time when I’m driving. It’s very nostalgic and sweet. You all need one!
October 23, 2016 @ 3:55 pm
I produced many albums with Red. He was truly a trooper. We featured “New Voices” – we recorded new artists that we felt would some day become stars!
Red wrote many songs for these albums, and even sang a duet with several of these new artists. Red was lots of fun and laughs, I have tremendous memories of his humor! Along with video interviews and recording sessions, I treasure all the footage and audio tape that I have on Red.
” Soda Pops and Saturdays ” was one of the songs featured on an early album that I produced. Red had a habit of placing songs throughout his home, in drawers, cabinets, and other odd places. Then years later, he would pull them out and ask; “Would you like to record this one?” – That’s what happened to “Soda Pops and Saturdays”, it was almost a hit when we recorded it in the early 1990’s!
Red holds a special place in my heart, and I will remember him forever!
– Grace Brandt-Hillman-Toich” GEE BEE RECORDS.