Advocate: Making truckers tracks

Nashville studio founded by former Allman Brothers keyboardist making music for and by truck drivers

When Doug Jones moved to Nashville, Tenn., from Delaware in the 1990s, he was a musician, but the guitar and harmonica player was in town at the invitation of longtime friend and former late-80s-era Allman Brothers keyboardist Johnny Neel, who had launched his Straight-Up Sound studio on Nashville’s south side to do session and production work. “I was a musician,” Jones says, “but I didn’t know much about the business of music.”

The most recent edition of Truckers Tracks from Nashville-based Doug Jones’ independent Spec Records label builds on the mostly Jones- and Johnny Neel-authored work of the first two volumes with its inclusion of music from the wide and varied community of truck driver/songwriter/performers around the country.

You might be surprised to learn that Neel and Jones share more than just considerable and wide-ranging talent in and devotion to music. They’re both also blind. Via the Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation Center’s services for the blind, Jones enrolled in a music-business program at a local university and learned the ins and outs. The final result is the third edition of a series of compilation records that began with sound-track cuts to a few installments of the North American Show Trucks DVD series.

The first edition of Truckers Tracks, as the series is titled, was called Saddle Up and Ride. It cemented Jones’ commitment to making it an ongoing project, particularly after he felt what he calls the warmth of the trucking community he was a new part of when the record debuted at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville in 2008. “When we went to MATS,” he says, “I met a lot of the distributors and product vendors, and everybody was very welcoming and warm. I knew this industry was going to be good for me.”

“Truckers Tracks” is released on Jones’ own Spec Records label, and this year’s edition, Ice Road Trucker, contains a title track whose lyrics were penned by Alex Debogorski, the ice-road-hauling star of the History Channel’s now-infamous TV series. The hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll tune, its music written and performed in large part by Neel, is less than typical for a truck-driving-songs compilation, a quality Jones has striven to evoke from the series’ get-go, leaning toward a diversity of styles that runs the gamut between R&B, alternative rock and more traditional country licks.

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“Trucking is a broad audience in terms of demographics,” Jones says, “so the music here is a little more progressive, with country and Americana right alongside newer styles — more progressive blues sort of stuff. In trying to stay true to the theme, most were specifically written for and about truckers.”

And, particularly on the latest edition, some have been written by truckers, too. The more involvement he’s had with various industry events and drivers — his wholesale distributor for the series is custom component maker Rockwood Products — Jones has been able to identify and include dynamic material direct from driver/songwriters working in rigs on the road today.

Straight-Up Sound’s Doug Jones (left) and Dennis Gulley

Plano, Texas-based Performance Food Group driver Stephen Cohen wrote and sings his “Winding Road” for the new edition of the compilation, and Jan McCarter, one half of the Keys Truckers (the­keys­, an owner-operator team with Jan’s husband Jimmy doing all the driving, Jan the navigating, the paperwork and so much else besides, contributed “Lot Lizard Boogie” and “Draggin’ My Wagon,” the latter a favorite among the Twitter and YouTube trucking set. It’s a tribute to marathon Tweeter @DriverGeoff, a friend of the McCarters, whose “I’m draggin’ my wagon through [INSERT LOCATION HERE]” Twitter and Facebook updates have been the textual backdrop to many a hauler’s online experience in recent years.

Straight-Up Sound founder and former Allman Brothers keyboardist Johnny Neel

Alabama-based driver Donnie Roberson falls into the “straight honky-tonk” camp, says Jones, and penned and sang the twang-heavy “(Truck-Drivin’) Honky-tonk Cowboy” on Ice Road Trucker. “He’s got the old-school but with a little more Texas to it. So I think people will like that,” Jones says. “It’s traditional, in a sense, but it’s fresh. There’s a big difference between true country and alt-country or southern rock, just as there’s a big difference between slide guitar and a steel guitar, a B3 organ and a fiddle.”

Other notables on the disc include former driver and industry music personality G.M. Paterson, a “Trick My Truck” bonus track produced by the folks with the CMT series and more. For song samples or to order a copy, visit The album’s available via CDBaby, iTunes and other online retailers.

Featured on Truckers Tracks, Vol. 3

Visit www.truckers­ for a video interview with Steve Cohen (pictured) at work recording at Nashville’s Straight-Up Sound studio with Johnny Neel, Doug Jones and Dennis Gulley.

Just more than three years ago now, Plano, Texas, resident Stephen Cohen was working for an apartment maintenance outfit that up and moved its entire operation to the East Coast, selling all of its Texas assets. In addition to his day job, he’d long been a guitarist working the club scene in the area with various bands. His next job he felt he’d like to be something where time alone might facilitate a growing repertoire of song ideas.

“I said to myself, ‘You know, I’d like to work alone,’” as Cohen puts it. “I’d had it with the corporate thing for a while, and that’s what got me into truck driving. I can work alone, get in my own head.”

He attributes to the solo aspect of the trucker’s work — he runs a local route near his home delivering to casual dining restaurants, then a regional once a week to Las Vegas and back — a large majority of the songwriting he’s finished of late. “That solo aspect of everything, being alone in the middle of the night driving down the road, opened up a lot of ideas for songs, and I really began writing.”

He’s recorded a set of songs with session players at Johnny Neel’s Nashville, Tenn.-based Straight-Up Sound studio that Doug Jones says will hopefully “turn out for him, in this year, as his own record.”

Though he did, at Jones’ request, write and sing the “Winding Road” track on this year’s edition of Truckers Tracks, he’s not writing truck-driving songs, typically. “He brings contemporary sounds and arrangements to his songs,” Jones says. “He’s really unique about his songwriting, as it relates to his day-to-day life and how he perceives his work. We’re excited to have Steve recording here.”

“I’ve become more prolific,” Steve says about how trucking has affected his songwriting output. “It’s a ‘craft,’ to borrow [Straight-Up Sound engineer Dennis Gulley’s] term, and the more you do it, just like anything, the better you get at it. Every time I write something new, it seems better than the last one.”

Featured on Truckers Tracks, Vol. 3

Singer Jan McCarter worked on a CD with the crew at Johnny Neel’s Straight-Up Sound studio. The collection of rockin’ country boogie and blues is named after the title track, “Pretty Girls Drive Big Rigs Too,” a song that is tribute to the legions of female drivers on the road today. In recent history, they included Jan herself.

She still has her CDL, but she’s ceased driving team with her husband, James. She is, however, full-time navigator, bookkeeper and dispatcher from the passenger seat of their 2004 Freightliner Century Class, leased to J.B. Hunt in the carrier’s program for owner-operators that allows them to book loads via live company load boards. The McCarters have a base address in Illinois, but they live their lives on the road, taking time off to visit friends around the country or a place they’ve always wanted to go.

Visit www.truckers­ for video with Jan and James McCarter at work recording their tribute to Jasmine “Jazzy” Jordan (see cover story, this issue).

“It works out,” she says. “We drove team for quite a while, then we got out of the business for a while, sold our truck. But when we decided to buy another truck, about two and half years ago, we came to J.B. Hunt. They had a good lease-purchase program, and it’s worked out really well. We’ll have it paid off by the end of the year.”

Since, McCarter and her husband have made big inroads in the burgeoning network of drivers creating and sharing media online, and their website, the­keys­, is a grab-bag of comic videos, music and business advice for owner-operators.

The 47-year-old has come a long way from the girl whose first experience of a rig was one of relative horror, she says. Growing up in Northern Virginia the daughter of a dance-teacher mother and a engineer/musician father, she was performing in funk and R&B clubs from a young age, then moving to country as a backup singer with, among other groups, the Road Dogs. On an on-road break on tour with them and the Tampa Bay, Fla., group the Outlaws, she says, “I got up in this cabover — that I didn’t realize was called a cabover at the time — and I said, ‘Oh, my God. People live in these things?’ I remember how mortified I was looking at it.”

But, she says, living full-time on the road with her husband today she wouldn’t trade for anything.