Thanks to the truckers

Leland Martin

Between radio tours and releasing his new album, country music singer Leland Martin never forgets his biggest fans – truckers.

Issued on Magnet Records, his self-titled album, Leland Martin, hit stores nationwide Oct. 4. A special, 17-song version of the album is only available in truckstops – TravelCenters of America, Love’s and Petro Stopping Centers. Eight of the songs Martin wrote himself.
The album’s three acoustic bonus tracks are Martin’s first hit, “Stone Cold Fingers,” and remakes of Del Reeves’ famous 1968 song, “Looking at the World through a Windshield,” and Dave Dudley’s hit “Six Days on the Road.” Martin dedicated the new album to his fans in the trucking industry.

“I always promised drivers that I would do something for them,” Martin says. “I want them to know how much they mean to me.”

Martin got the idea for his first album when he was hauling propane gas. “I was in a hurry to get somewhere,” he says on his website,, “and I thought, ‘If you people will just keep your pants on, I’ll be there in a little while.’ That gave me the idea to write a song called ‘Keep Your Pants On.’ I thought it was so darn good that if somebody would hear it I might get somewhere. So me and a friend got enough money to demo it, along with one more song I’d written called ‘I Just Want To Sing.'”

His first album, Keep Your Pants On, didn’t get much airplay on the radio, but Martin hit a turning point with a new song he wrote – “I Wish I Had Long Legs (Like Alan Jackson).” This song earned for Martin his first national attention.

Another album later, he was invited to play a songwriters’ night at Nashville’s famed Bluebird Cafe, and there he caught the eye – and ear – of music producer Michael Burns. Martin recorded a new version of “Long Legs” on Simply Traditional in 2002 and reached the Billboard charts for the first time. He had another, bigger hit with “Stone Cold Fingers” that same year.

Martin’s latest album features the song “Wrecking Machine,” about a rodeo bull, and also includes several gospel tracks. There is something for the whole family, Martin says.

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Martin knows something about family. He grew up with eight brothers and sisters in Success, Mo., where he began playing music in bars as a young teenager. Married in 1974 at 16 years old, Martin continued to pursue music on the weekends while driving a truck and working at the local sawmill. Martin’s father drove a truck his entire life, and Martin’s allegiance to the trucking industry inspired him to tip his hat to drivers with his fourth album.

“I know how hard it is to drive and have a family,” Martin says. “It means a lot to finally get to pay tribute to drivers for having the guts to do it.”

Martin added, “I’ll probably cut a whole album for truckers at some point.”

He plans to tour after his album has gained recognition, but he says he’d be happy if his only fans were drivers. He performed in October at the World’s Largest Truck Convoy for Special Olympics in Lakeland, Fla.

“I want me and my drivers out there to prove to the industry that this is not a bad industry,” he says. “Drivers can turn your album into gold.”

Martin and his wife Pamela currently live in Missouri, although Martin frequently travels between home and Nashville to work.

His favorite tours involve truck shows, like the Great American Trucking Show in August, where he appeared at the Dave Nemo Radio Show booth. And, says Martin, the hands he shakes make all the hard work worthwhile.

“I’m singing for them,” he says.

Driven to Sing
No one answered the phone at home after Carl Tanner’s truck broke down one night in 1990. He walked home at dusk through a clearing, as the last light faded behind the trees. Singing softly to himself, Tanner suddenly spotted a four-leaf clover in the middle of the field.
“I had asked God for a sign,” Tanner says. “And there it was.”

So after five years driving trucks and moonlighting as a bounty hunter, Tanner decided to put his career on hold and pursue his first love – music.

The four-leaf clover wasn’t Tanner’s only sign that day. While driving down the road, listening to the Metropolitan opera on the radio and belting out his own rendition, a woman pulled up beside him.

“Why are you driving a truck?” she said. “You know what you are supposed to be doing, but you aren’t doing it.”

Tanner graduated from the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Roanoke, Va., in 1985 with a degree in performance, but he had never thought about a career in music until that day. Although he sang in his high school chorus and performed in college, it was more of a hobby than a dream.

But when he arrived home that day after finding his lucky charm, his father also mentioned that he had been thinking about his son’s musical future.

“‘Carl,’ he said, ‘you are supposed to be a singer,'” Tanner says. “But I didn’t want to be a singer. I wanted to be a truck driver or a bounty hunter.”

But in 1990, the future opera tenor quit his job trucking at Frame Masters in Arlington, Va., and moved to New York City with $75 and a suitcase of clothes. Richard Gaddes, head of the Santa Fe Opera, soon discovered Tanner while he performed in a bar in Greenwich Village. Gaddes then offered him a role in an opera, sparking Tanner’s now international fame.

Since then, Tanner has traveled all over the world, starring in operas in Germany, Japan, Italy and the United States. But becoming a jetsetter has its downsides, Tanner says.

“I miss the days of not having to answer to anybody as a truck driver,” Tanner says. “And I didn’t worry about traveling then – now I do. It can get scary with what’s going on in the world.”

Tanner speaks Italian, a little German and a little Spanish, but his success hasn’t made him forget his blue-collar roots.

“When you drive a truck, you meet people from all walks of life,” Tanner says. “Dealing with people on their level trained me to be an opera singer.

“But it didn’t teach me how to deal with overbearing, pretentious sopranos.”

Truck driving is an integral part of Tanner’s past and still plays a role in his current publicity. Recently, a German magazine photographed Tanner driving a 55-foot, 70-ton trailer on the narrow highways of Germany.

“I didn’t think there was any way I was going to be able to fit that thing on the road,” Tanner says.

Mindy Rayner, Tanner’s publicist, attributes Tanner’s fame to his amazing voice and equally intriguing story.

“I don’t know of any others quite like this one,” Rayner says. “The reason he is getting this press is because people aren’t saying, ‘Oh, another truck driver and bounty hunter turned opera singer.'”

Last year, Tanner sang his famous rendition of “O Holy Night” for President Bush and the First Lady at the Christmas Pageant of Peace in Washington, D.C. This year, the archdioceses of New York and the Vatican have invited Tanner to sing the same song at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Tanner maintains that singing was never his dream – it was his calling.

“I was chosen to do it,” he says. “Happiness lies in finding out what you are supposed to be doing and finding aspects of it that you love.”

For now, Tanner is content to be an internationally acclaimed opera tenor with performances lined up until 2010. But he speaks of his days on the road with a lot of love and affection.

“I still have a lot of friends who are truck drivers,” Tanner says. “If there was one thing I enjoyed, it was driving a truck.”

For more information on Carl Tanner, visit this site.

Trucking from Anxiety to Zen
Frustrated with the politics of her social work occupation and ready for a life change, Joyce Cascio decided to embrace truck driving and ultimately achieve her life dream – becoming a writer.

Already working two jobs in programs to prevent domestic violence and counsel victims of domestic violence, and with two college degrees, Cascio wanted to do something different that did not include textbooks and classrooms. So she signed up for a paid training program with Schneider to become a driver.

Cascio drove for 16 months and kept a journal of her experiences on the road. While new and exciting, the first months of truck driving were overwhelming for Cascio.

“The first three months are hard for a new driver,” Cascio says. “I was overwhelmed by the culture and initial loneliness.”

But solitude became the muse for her book, Joyce in the Belly of the Big Truck: A Modern Day Jonah Story. The book is a collection of life lessons learned on the road and how Cascio applied them to overcome fears and anxieties that were holding her back from achieving her goals.

“Being in the big truck gave me a lot of time to think about my life,” Cascio says. “It helped me put my life into perspective and find peace. I knew I had to write a book about it.”

Her book, now available with a companion workbook, is divided into anecdotes and ends each chapter with the lesson that Cascio learned about herself from each experience. In one incident, Cascio is attacked by dogs and injured because she did not heed a “Beware of Dogs” sign. Ultimately, the author discovers that when it comes to other people’s safety and welfare, she takes precautions to protect them. But when it comes to her own safety, she subconsciously decides her life does not matter. A theme throughout the book is finding inner strength and taking hold of one’s life.

Although many of Cascio’s experiences in the book are difficult, the author speaks fondly of truck driving.

“I didn’t respect drivers before I became one,” Cascio says. “But everybody should do a stint as a truck driver.”

In the first chapter, “The Zen of Trucking,” Cascio humorously describes the training process and her initial assessment, “How hard can it be?” After grinding gears and making a lot of mistakes, Cascio realized she had been living a timid life and had to decide whether or not she was going to pass the training program.

“I had come face to face with a truth about myself,” Cascio says. “I had settled in life.”

Her first bout with low self-esteem was in high school when a teacher told her she had no talent as a writer. Devastated, Cascio shied away from writing for much of her life. Truck driving gave life to her literary dream.

“It gave me the courage to face my greatest fear – putting something in print,” Cascio says. “But it is harder to write something personal and put it out there to be criticized.”

Although the book is based on the biblical story of Jonah and the whale, it is not a religious book, Cascio says. The audience is anyone who is interested in self-enlightenment. The author is a Universalist and says many Unitarian and Universalist churches have adopted her book and begun distributing it.

Cascio, who lives with her partner Amanda and two sons, Seth and Matthew, in Kansas City, Mo., now tours the country leading workshops and speaking to groups about the “Nineveh Experience,” which is the theme of her work. The book and workbook can be purchased from Nineveh Press for $10 each at this site.
–Rachel Telehany