Rolling with trucking culture
May 13, 2011 | by: Lucinda Coulter
Country singer Red Simpson, right, and actor Charles Napier posed for a photo in Overdrive’s May 1972 issue during their visit on host Larry Scott’s all-night KLAC radio show, which was broadcast from Whittier, Calif., one spring evening that year. Napier was a trucker and Overdrive correspondent in the early 1970s, and Simpson’s 1971 Top Ten Hit, “I’m a Truck” had distinguished him among country music fans. For his appearance on Scott’s radio show and Overdrive‘s accompanying radio hour, Smith arrived in a Mack truck at Alphy’s Coffee Shop, according to the magazine story.
Long-lasting entertainers, Napier and Simpson reside in Bakersfield, Calif. Both the actor and country music singer-songwriter benefited from their acquaintance with truckers and their culture. For example, Smith’s lyrics, “Another eighty miles and I sure am lonesome cause I’ll be late gettin’ home,” from “Roll, Truck, Roll,” were central to truckers’ feelings in the 1960s and ’70s and showed Smith’s empathy with them, despite the fact that Smith never drove a truck commercially.
Buck Owens and Merle Haggard inspired Simpson in the early 1960s, and at Bill Woods’ request, he started writing trucking-related ballads. His first one, “Roll, Truck, Roll,” became a Top 40 country hit in 1965, and his performance of Bob Staunton’s 1971 “I’m a Truck” was a Top Five hit. He recorded other trucking songs over the years, and his last trucking song, if a quirky one, that made it to popular charts is his 1979 “The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver.” All three of these songs can be heard on YouTube.com by searching under Simpson’s name and the song title.
Although Simpson no longer tours, he is reported to sing on Monday nights at Trout’s bar in Oildale, near Bakersfield.
Old-movie lovers may remember Napier for his full-frontal nude scene in Russ Meyer’s soft porn film, “Cherry, Harry and Raquel.” It was the macho actor’s film premier for a career that has run a gamut of major and minor character roles and voiceovers. One of his most memorable roles is that of Murdock, the intelligence officer in “Rambo,” and as the lead singer and driver of the Winnebago for the Good Old Boys in the 1980s “The Blues Brothers.”
His voice gave embodiment to the Hulk’s growling on the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk. Like Simpson, he had a connection with the myths of outer space. He appeared on Star Trek episodes “The Way to Eden” as a space hippie and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Little Green Men.”