Bernie Early, a Rockabilly Hall-of-Famer, says the purpose of his new Highway My Way album is to provide publicity and support for truckers.
Bernie Early’s latest album, Highway My Way, was written and produced with a singular goal in mind. “I want to be a voice for the truckers,” Early says.
Early, 71, says music’s been his way since age 13, when he started playing bass and guitar in bars in Ottawa, Ontario, and elsewhere around Canada. “In Quebec, you can sing and play in bars at that age as long as you don’t drink,” Early says. In 1957, when Early was 19, Fats Domino’s manager, Lou Freedman, discovered him during an audition set up by a local newspaper reporter.
“The audition lasted about 10 minutes,” Early says. “I was in a room full of music managers, and Freedman was the only one to speak up.” Early then auditioned in New York and was given a five-year contract with MGM. At age 19, Early sold 1.5 million copies of the single “Rock Doll,” and “Oh California” made number one on the RPM charts but was never released in stores.
In 1958, Early performed “Rock Doll” on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, calling it one of the “most terrifying things” he’s ever done. “I had all these teens yelling around me, and I was trying to mime the words to my song,” Early says. “I performed in front of 50 million television viewers.” Miming songs on American Bandstand was common, Early says, because the cost to bring in a real band was too high.
Early’s style of music is what he calls “true rockabilly.” Rockabilly began in the 1950s and is one of the earliest forms of rock ‘n’ roll. “I’ve been doing rockabilly since before it was rockabilly,” Early says, describing the genre as “country music with a beat.” Early was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in February 2008 alongside such legends as Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.
He now lives in Largo, Fla., and performs six days a week, averaging 60 shows each month, at senior citizen centers. Over the years, Early has met many truckers and calls them some of the “nicest people on the road to meet.” Early recalls that years ago truckers were the first set of people to help someone if they were having car trouble or were broke down. “Today it’s not that easy,” Early says. “Now truckers worry about getting mugged – or worse.”
Most of the bars Early played in days gone by were late-night stops for truckers. Laughing and talking with truckers, Early says, was one of the highlights of his career. He was fortunate enough to meet artist Dave Dudley, who was most famous for his truck-driving country songs. “I loved his stuff,” Early says. “Trucking stuff is more modern and tells the story about the truck driver, his family and everyone else associated with him.”
Early says he wants to become the new Dave Dudley and be a voice for truckers. “I want to see if I can bring trucking back to where it should be,” Early says. “They need all the publicity and support they can get, and I want to give it to them.”
Highway My Way was released in April 2008 and trades in Early’s rockabilly roots while injecting a more traditional country sound. “I like the trucking music better,” Early says. “It has a nice beat, and you can make it raunchy and people can relate to it.” The album features two increasingly popular tunes, “Song of a Trucker’s Son” and “The Truckstop.” Additionally, Early’s song “Take That Gas and Shove It” was released in June 2008 – a song that just “popped” into Early’s head after Highway My Way was released.
“The trucker is the last true rebel, the cowboy, the independent that goes through hell and drives through it,” Early says. “Many times truckers have helped me out – even saved my life.” With his trucking album, Early hopes to open the radio waves to more trucking music. “Right now, trucking music is played on primarily trucking radio stations,” Early says. A follow-up song for “Take That Gas and Shove It” is slated to be released in October, and Early hopes it too will impact truckers. “I need the truckers to support me,” he says. “I want to kick country music back into gear.”
The Highway My Way album is available for $10 and the single, “Take That Gas and Shove It,” for $4. Both can be purchased at amazon.com, iTunes.com and other online retailers.
“I’m here to stay till I croak,” Early says. “I’m not giving up till I get ahead, and it’s gonna be a trucking hit that does it.”
Bernie encourages truckers to contact him at [email protected].
A Heavenly Payoff
Fund established to help truckers pay for medical expenses
Professional driver Terry Robson and his wife, Kim, know when something is “god sent,” and the help they’ve received through the St. Christopher Fund qualifies.
Robson had a stroke in Dec. 2007 as he and his wife were moving from Houston, Texas, to Charlotte, N.C. Soon after he started physical therapy, the Robsons found themselves fighting for every penny. Terry Robson was out of work and out of an income.
“My wife and I had been running a successful business and managed to hang on as best we could,” he says. “But money doesn’t last forever.”
Some of Robson’s friends contacted the St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund and told the organization about his situation.
“St. Christopher’s called us and told us they would follow up with my situation,” Robson says. “Sure enough, [Executive Director Donna] Kennedy called.”
Kennedy told Robson the SCF would pay for two months of medical expenses and insurance – $1,050 each month. “It was a weight taken off our backs,” Robson says, “a chance for us to breathe again.”
According to the official website, www.truckersfund.com, the SCF is a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to professional truck drivers who have medical problems and can not otherwise afford health care.
Created by Michael Burns and Dave Nemo, of the Dave Nemo Show, and Dr. John McElligott, chairman and founder of Professional Drivers Medical Depots (PDMD), the SCF assists with direct payment for medical services, prescription drugs, recovery expenses and negotiating price reductions with insurance companies, medical providers and hospitals.
“We are really just getting started and trying to bring in money in order to help people,” Kennedy says.
Jeff Miller, president and CEO of PDMD, says access to medical care is limited for truckers because of their irregular work hours and time away from home. “Drivers can’t just pull into a pharmacy and get a prescription filled,” Miller says. “Their trucks restrict them from routine hospital visits.”
According to the SCF website, more than a third of drivers do not have health insurance. As a result, truckers are unable to receive treatments for illnesses that become severe, leading to hospitalization and disability.
Also, more than 70 percent of the 3.2 million professional drivers in the U.S. have one or more serious health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, sleep disorders or cardiovascular disease.The St. Christopher Fund, named for the patron saint of transportation, was started in 2007 and has helped six families.
“We’ve heard wonderful feedback from the drivers we’ve helped,” Kennedy says. “Even though some of them didn’t make it through their operations, they lived longer as a result of our help.”
For a driver to be considered for support from the SCF, he or she must hold a commercial driver’s license, drive a commercial vehicle for a primary source of income and have a significant medical problem that requires monetary assistance. The SCF is supported by individual donations that come from both professional drivers and corporations acting on the needs of professional drivers.
“Hopefully the industry, corporations and individual drivers will see value in St. Christopher’s and help their brothers and sisters out,” Miller says.
As for Robson, the help he’s received from the SCF won’t be forgotten.
“When I get back on the road, these are the people I will be donating to,” Robson says. “They’ve really helped us out, and we thank them for it.”
For more information about the St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund, or to make a donation, send a letter to P.O. Box 30763, Knoxville, TN 37930.
Paying It Forward
Denver trucker and friends pitch in to help tornado-damaged daycare
After a tornado in Windsor, Colo., damaged the Windmill Child Enrichment Center, one of the town’s daycare centers, on May 22, 2008, Denver-based trucker Billy England says he knew he had to help. “Anytime you can help someone do something that might one day benefit you it’s worth it,” England says. “I love paying things forward.”
Within a week, England, who drives a dump truck for Brannan Sand & Gravel, organized a toy drive. For two weeks, community members were able to make donations of new toys at various locations around town. The response from the community was great, England says, but not near what it could have been. “Twenty years ago I could have filled the dump truck full. Instead it was a quarter of the way full,” England says. “People don’t care anymore; they’ve forgotten the small things.”
All the same, England and five of his buddies delivered the toys June 14 to the gym of Skyview Elementary School in Windsor – the temporary home of the daycare center. Shane Paterson and his wife, Shelley, the Windmill center’s owners, were nearly in tears when the toys were delivered. “I never expected someone to do this for the daycare and for the kids,” Shane Paterson says.
On an average day, Windmill Child Enrichment Center hosts 150 kids ranging in age from infancy to 8 years old. Before the tornado struck, the center was one of the newest, most up-to-date daycare centers in Northern Colorado, Paterson says. Though the daycare wasn’t destroyed during the tornado, 40 percent of its structure has undergone cleanup and reconstruction since May.
Paterson says many people think of truckers as mean guys who care about nothing, but that’s not the case. “Billy and his company are about 60 to 70 miles away from us, and yet they still decided to do something for us,” Paterson says. “It’s a great feeling.”
Paying it forward is something both England and Paterson feel more Americans should incorporate into their daily lives. “If there were more Billy Englands in the world there would be a lot happier people,” Paterson says. “It has opened my wife’s eyes and mine to see that we can all help out when need be. It takes a big person to help out like this, and Billy did that. He wasn’t selfish at all. I learned one heck of a lesson during this entire process.”