What’s behind the 'Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel,' a song about OTR and home realities

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Updated Apr 24, 2021

He’s best-known for his trucking hits “Giddyup Go,” “Teddy Bear” and “Phantom 309.” But another single by Red Sovine, a master of the sentimental trucker song, spoke poignantly to the difficult family dynamic of over-the-road haulers and their kin back home. 

That’s “Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel.” It’s a tribute to truckers’ wives, as the lyrics say, a special breed of woman that has to share a love affair with that long stretch of highway on his mind.

a woman resting her elbow on a clothesline with a sad faceThis Red Sovine song celebrated the heroic wives and mothers who shouldered the burdens of maintaining a household while their husbands drove over the road. It also subtly addressed doubts either spouse might have about the other because of their frequent times apart.The theme, however, is more complex, considering the realities of over-the-road drivers being separated from their wives so much, said Todd Uhlman, a professor at the University of Dayton, in Ohio, who specializes in America’s socio-cultural history. While the lyrics perpetuate the romantic notion of a long-suffering wife waiting for the return of her faithful husband, Uhlman notes certain trucker songs play up “the flip side.” That’s the trucker being “on the road and free from his wife and being able to do whatever he wants to do.” 

overdrive 60 year anniversary logoRead more in Overdrive's weekly 60th-annversary series of lookbacks on trucking history, and that of the magazine itself, via this link.Of course, either spouse can be tempted by infidelity when there are extended separations. An underlying message to the trucker hearing the song is that even though he’s absent so much, he shouldn’t be worried. “Everything’s going to be OK when you get home,” Uhlman said, adding that other trucking and country songs tell tales that don’t end so happily for the trusting husband.

Released in 1977, it was one of Sovine’s last singles. It followed some of trucking’s biggest hits, including the three mentioned above. In each of them, Sovine told tear-jerking stories, not so much singing as artfully narrating in his deep baritone. “Giddyup Go” and “Teddy Bear” touched truckers’ soft spot for young children. “Phantom 309” portrayed the trucker as a ghostly hero, having died when he swerved to avoid hitting a busload of children.

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For more detail on Sovine and “Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel,” listen to the podcast interview with Uhlman here.

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