Junior Brown's Broke Down South Of Dallas.
There are a ton of songs about or inspired by Dallas, and they say a lot about who we are. So each week in this space, we'll take a closer week at one of these songs — and we'll try to determine what, exactly, they say about this great city of ours. Check out this feature's archives here.
In 1914, August Charles Fruehauf constructed the world's first semi-truck in order haul a boat for one of his merchants. Not long after, the trucking industry was born, forever changing the way goods were moved about the country.
Consider this: Nearly everything you've ever purchased was on the back of a truck at some point or another.
And, for nearly as long, truckers have been coming up with ways to keep themselves entertained after millions of monotonous miles on the road, which for the most part involves peeing in bottles, asking their good buddies about bear traps on the CB, and continually telling each other to “keep on trucking.”
Occasionally, they also listen to songs about their profession. Some of them are humorous, and most of them fall under the genre of country (see: Merle Haggard's “White Line Fever,” Jerry Reed's “East Bound and Down” or anything from Del Reeves' catalog).
In 1993, neo-traditionalist Junior Brown tried his hand at this trucking song sub-genre with the track “Broke Down South of Dallas” from his 12 Shades of Brown album.
It makes sense why this sub-genre is so well admired by its targeted demographic: These songs center around several experiences key to the profession. Every trucker has been homesick at some point, for sure. And, no matter how well they keep up their rigs, they've all experienced that helpless feeling of being broke down on the side of the road.
Another historically universal experience in the trucking industry, no doubt, is flipping on the radio during an overnight haul and listening to North Texas-based DJ Bill “The Midnight Cowboy” Mack's radio program. Beginning in 1969, the same year that that Dustin Hoffman/Jon Voight vehicle Midnight Cowboy was released in theaters, Mack began tailoring his overnight radio program to the trucking audience. At one time, his locally broadcast show was syndicated to as many as 800 radio stations across the country.
Mack has said he earned his nickname due to his rebellious nature. And maybe he was a little. In the early years of his program, the DFW-based radio station WBAP was playing adult standards by artists like Dean Martin, but, when everybody would leave for the night, Mack would use his “Country Crossroads” show to play country music, which he claims even the bosses didn't know about at first. But since Mack's ratings were through the roof, he proved hard to get rid of.
Over the years, his show changed names a few times, too, from the “U.S. 1 Trucking Show” (an odd choice as the station is located nowhere near that highway) and “The Midnight Cowboy Trucking Show.” In 2001, he became known as “The Satellite Cowboy” when he became one of XM radio's first hosts.
But, despite being elected to the Country DJ Hall of Fame, winning a Marconi Award for radio broadcasting excellence and earning every other honor that can bestowed on a broadcaster, Mack is no one-trick pony. His other claim to fame is his penchant for penning hit songs. Mack wrote his first song, “Buford With That Curl in Your Hair,” at the age of 10 and has written more than 300 other songs throughout his life.
Artists like Dean Martin, Ray Price, Jerry Lee Lewis and George Jones have all recorded Mack-penned tunes. His most famous song, and the one that earned him a Grammy in 1996 for Country Song of the Year, was LeAnn Rimes' “Blue.”
As one might imagine, Mack also had many close friends in “the business,” including Elvis Presley. In 1954, The King agreed to play for free at a concert being thrown for the Wichita Falls television station where Mack was working at the time. That was far from the two's only encounter, though. Elvis accompanied Mack to the hospital when one of his daughters was born, and it was even said that he tuned into Mack's first show on WBAP from Graceland.
But, hey, you don't last over 40 years on the air without acquiring a lot of great stories like that — and being great at telling them, too.
One of our favorite Bill Mack stories that we've heard involves Roy Orbison. Because Orbison was almost never seen without his iconic black shades, Mack, like many other folks at the time, assumed he must be blind. When the two were introduced, Orbison put his hand on Mack's arm, furthering Mack's suspicions. So, when a woman then walked up to speak with them, Mack was sure to say to Orbison, “Roy, this Mae Axton.” Orbison replied, “Yes, I know.” When Mack asked if it was because he recognized her voice, a confused Orbison was left with only one response. “Well, no,” he said. “I recognized her face.”
Not unlike how Junior Brown recognized the popular nature of trucking songs, actually. Sometimes, the easiest answers are the best ones.