Saturday, 9 January 2016

Singer-songwriter Red Simpson has died at aged 81

Red Simpson (March 6, 1934 – January 8, 2016)

Red Simpson - Montage

The Bakersfield Californian reported that Red Simpson, renowned songwriter, singer and peer to the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, has passed away at the age of 81. 

Bob Dylan called him “the forgotten man of the Bakersfield Sound.”
Paying his respects Merle Haggard wrote: “He played a huge part in the Bakersfield sound and was a dear friend of mine for over 50 years. One of the original musicians on "okie from Muskogee" RIP Red Simpson.

Simpson is reported to have passed away Friday afternoon (Jan 8, 2016) at a hospital in Bakersfield. Family friend Gene Thome told The Bakersfield Californian, "he seemed to be doing better. I was planning to go by and see him tonight."

Simpson was born Joseph "Red" Simpson in Higley, Arizona on March 6, 1934, Simpson was just following the path his brother Buster had laid out for him. Buster Simpson saw music as a way out of Little Okie, the village of shacks and dirt-floor tents off Bakersfield’s Cottonwood Road where cotton- and potato-picking families consoled one another in their mutual poverty.
He wrote hundreds of songs, many recorded by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, and became a star in his own right. But later in life, Red Simpson would also be known for owning Monday nights at Trout’s nightclub in Oildale and for being the kind of guy you could strike up a conversation with or bum some beer money from in a pinch.
Considered one of the last living icons of the music that came to be known as the Bakersfield Sound.

Simpson had suffered a heart attack Dec.18 after returning from a concert tour of the Pacific Northwest. Many friends and well-wishers had hoped he was on the mend and might even return to his familiar Monday night gig.
A short video posted on Facebook showed Red with his son, David, sitting on a sofa, playing some guitar and enjoying life. “I was outside,” said David Simpson, “when I heard him hollering for help from the bedroom.”
An ambulance was called and the son performed CPR on his dad until help arrived. But this time, Red could not be saved. By Friday evening, word was spreading fast on social media.

Simpson had a long run as Capitol Records’ entry into country music’s truck-driving subgenre of the 1960s, recording songs such as “Roll, Truck, Roll” and “(Hello) I’m a Truck.”
He never drove a commercial big-rig, however; he was merely playing a role developed by Ken Nelson, Capitol’s legendary coproducer/executive.
Performer and songwriter Buddy Mize met Simpson in the 1950s, when the Bakersfield Sound was being forged in barrooms and dance halls.
He was part of the gold that people mined out of California,” Mize said from his Nashville home Friday.
Mize, whose older brother is Bakersfield Sound luminary Billy Mize, thought of Simpson as a brother as well. The two reconnected in the last year or so when Simpson was in Nashville to perform at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which put together a stunning tribute to the Bakersfield Sound that concluded its two-year run in 2013.

We had such great times just laughing when we were in each other’s presence,” Mize shared. “Because things were funny when Red was around.” Music writer and historian Scott B. Bomar worked with Simpson on "Hello, I’m Red Simpson" a 2012 career-spanning retrospective that featured five CDs and a 108-page hardcover book, the definitive account of the artist's life and music.
During the Korean War, Red was stationed on the USS Repose where he formed a country group -- the Repose Ramblers.  Upon his return to California, Red played numerous clubs including the Blackboard on weekends. Red started studying piano, getting tips from Buck Owens, George French, and Lawrence Williams, and in 1956, when Williams left Fuzzy Owen’s band at the Clover Club, Owen offered Simpson the job. After working for next to nothing for so long, Simpson was finally playing for what the boys called “whiskey money.”

Over the next few years, Simpson cut singles on three small labels: Lewis Talley’s Tally Records and Leon Hart’s Millie Records (both based in Bakersfield), and Los Angeles-based Lute Records.

Then, in 1966, at the ripe old age of 32, he caught his big break. Truck-driving songs were all the rage on country music radio, with the likes of Red Sovine, Dick Curless, Dave Dudley, Jerry Reed, and Kay Adams
having established themselves as truck-stop staples. Ken Nelson wanted a slice of that pie for Capitol, and he chose Simpson to play the part.

It was a good choice: ROLL, TRUCK, ROLL (US Cat# ST 2468; #7 Top Country albums; title cut #38 Hot Country Songs; 1966) proved Simpson indeed had an aptitude for truck-drivin’ songs.
He cut three more albums for Capitol in the next two years MAN BEHIND THE BADGE (#34 Top Country Albums; 1966), TRUCK DRIVIN’ FOOL (1967, did not chart), and A BAKERSFIELD DOZEN (1967; didn't chart) and was given the opportunity to tour the country.
In 1966, he opened shows for Owens, including Buck’s March appearance at Carnegie Hall. He appeared on a half-dozen installments of the syndicated TV show “Buck Owens Ranch Show.” Later that year, he toured U.S. military bases in Germany and France, and in 1967 he went on tour as an opener for Haggard.
In 1971, he signed with Gene Breeden’s label, Portland Records and recorded “(Hello) I’m a Truck.” “Hello, I’m a what?” (Capitol; writer Robert Stanton) Red responded when Breeden first told him the name of the song he wanted Simpson to record. The song reached No.4 in December 1971 and spent 17 weeks on the reaching No. 4 on Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and spent 17 weeks on the chart and hit No.1 on radio playlists around the country.
Listen to Red Simpson's 1966 album Roll, Truck, Roll >> YouTube

Simpson’s final entry on the charts, the rather bizarre and obscure “The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver,” on Key Records, sputtered to No. 99 back in 1979.

He toured for three more years and then quit the road.
Simpson was honored in Nashville in March 2012 when he was asked to headline the grand opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s two-year exhibition on the Bakersfield Sound. He returned several times during the exhibit’s two-year run and basked in the warm, loving attention with grace and good humour.

A 10 track compilation HELLO I'M A TRUCK was released (27 Sept. 2005: Amazon UK |

Hello, I'm Red Simpson a 5 × CD, Boxset Compilation was released by Bear Family Records (BCD 16944 | Amazon UK | in 2012. 
This set includes all of Red Simpson's recordings from 1957 until the year he retired from touring, 1984. All the songs on his seven Capitol LPs are here, together with his singles for Capitol, Portland, and independent labels. The LP-sized boxed set includes a 108-page hardcover book, 165 tracks (Playing time: 415:49)
Note: Red Simpson never drove a truck but he sang plenty of songs about big rigs!

Watch the Product Video:

No less than 27 of the 165 songs on Bear Family's 2012 box set - a five-disc set containing all of his Capitol recordings, along with his early singles and a wisely curated selection of latter-day recordings stretching into the early '80s plus several unreleased acoustic songwriter demos -- contain the word "truck" in their titles, and that count excludes tunes with "Wheels" or "Road" in the titles, or other truck-driving classics like "Give Me Forty Acres" and "Nitro Express...(Review 4.5 STARS)

LISTEN: The Bard of Bakersfield Keeps on Rollin’

Audio Transcript: Nashville Publicmedia

Some of his numerous CREDITS include:          
“I'm Not Me Without You Anymore” (Red Simpson) recorded by Ferlin Husky (1965; album True, True Lovin')
“Close Up the Honky Tonks” (Red Simpson) recorded by Buck Owens (1964 album Together Again) and Dwight Yoakam (2007 album Dwight Sings Buck)
“Gonna Have Love” (Buck Owens / Red Simpson) recorded by Buck Owens (1965 album Before You Go)
“Bullshippers” (Red Simpson) recorded by Dave Dudley (1972 album The Original Traveling Man)
“You Don't Have Very Far to Go” (Merle Haggard / Red Simpson) recorded by Rosanne Cash (1981 album Seven Year Ache) and The Grascals (2006 Long List of Heartaches)
“Close Up the Honky Tonks” (Red Simpson) recorded by Dawn Sears (album Nothin' But Good)
You Don't Have Very Far to Go" (writers Merle Haggard / Red Simpson) recorded by Suzy Bogguss (2014 album Lucky)

Up there in truck drivers heaven singin' and playin' truck drivin man” R.I.P:

A show in honor of Red Simpson was set to take place Saturday January 9th at the Rustic Rail (147 E Norris Rd, Bakersfield, CA 93308) with David Simpson performing. Red's brand new album SODA POPS AND SATURDAYS was to be available with money going to support the family at this time.
Obituries/ Credits:
Bakersfield Sound pioneer Red Simpson dies at 81
Portions of this text were excerpted from “The Bakersfield Sound: How a Generation of Displaced Okies Revolutionized American Music” by Californian executive editor Robert E. Price.

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