Sleeper Berth Studios

MayTT1Everyone loves to sing in their truck as they drive through the night, but this driver stepped it up a notch (or two). Brad James (dubbed The Singing Truck Driver), has always made his music in the truck he is driving, hence the name of his company, Sleeper Berth Studios. Brad has no formal musical training and, in fact, can’t even read music – but that may not be a bad thing.

I remember hearing an interview with Lionel Richie once where he talked about not being able to read or write music, and while doing research for this article, I found that there are a few other famous performers that couldn’t read music either – and they made history!

MayTT2Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters (and Nirvana) once said he didn’t even know the chords to his song “Everlong” – he only knew where to put his fingers on his guitar. Slash, the lead guitarist of Guns N Roses, said that he plays by ear. Eric Clapton once had a guest session with Aretha Franklin, and he was nervous because he couldn’t read music and they were all playing from music sheets on stands. Eddie Van Halen’s piano training transferred to the guitar, but he never learned how to read music (he used to fool his teacher by doing it all by ear). Jimi Hendrix is praised by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music. In his biography, he claims that his inability to read or write music allowed him to focus better on the music he heard.

It sounds to me like not being able to read or write music should not be a big problem for Brad James, either. The videos that Brad produces in his truck are awesome, and many of my friends enjoy the performance he puts on when he sings. When it comes to trucking songs, I don’t think there is a better place you could record than in the truck you drive every day to make your living.

MayTT3I had the pleasure of meeting Brad for the first time at the Mid-America Trucking Show when he came out to our trucks that we had entered in the show. It seemed the perfect place to do an interview with this singing trucker, and it was a pleasure to chat with him about his music, how he got started, and how his videos have evolved.

Sitting in my friend John’s purple Kenworth W900, Brad shared the fact that he had never sat in a truck with a long hood before, saying, “It’s a long way out there. How do you drive it?” Another first was when John put Brad’s CD in the radio and cranked it up – this was the first time he’d heard his own music in a truck (apparently, he never plays his own CD’s in his truck).

Brad’s driving career started in 1992 when he drove for Landstar Poole. Six years later, in 1998, he came home to run local so he could be there for his boys growing up. During these years, his wife enjoyed going out to Karaoke bars and listening to Brad sing. In the early days, Brad would sing using the PA system on his CB radio, singing along to all his CD’s. This was great until 2010, at which point he got laid off. Without enough seniority to stay at his local job, he had to go back on the road to pay the bills. There were many tear-filled nights being gone and missing his family.

MayTT4Turning to something he loved, he used music to help fill the downtime on the road. In the app store, he found an app that he could do some Karaoke to pass the time. Later, he found another app that would let him save the music he made and share it. He shared his songs with his Aunt Linda Blake, and she in turn shared them on her Facebook page, and they were very popular with her friends. Brad eventually started his own music page, where he could share his songs. He was surprised at how popular it became in a very short time.

When he went to record the song “Sitting by the Dock of the Bay” one day, he decided to use the melody but change the lyrics a little bit to be more of a trucking song. It took him about 15 minutes to write “Sitting at the Dock All Day” (which he calls Detention), and then he recorded the video while actually sitting at a dock (his facial expressions and hand gestures go along so perfectly with the words and how it really is out here). When he posted the video, it got thousands of likes in no time at all.

MayTT5The videos that Brad records now are done separately – he first records the vocals, and then makes the video while lip-syncing the words. But you would never know it when you see the end result. And to think this is all done in the cab and sleeper of his truck, makes it even more amazing, when compared to professionally-recorded videos.

The producers of “America’s Got Talent” recently contacted Brad after seeing one of his videos. He has since submitted four videos, and is waiting to see if he gets to perform on the TV show. If he makes it, I think he would be a great representation for the trucking industry, up there on that big stage. Not long ago, country music star Kellie Pickler rode around in Brad’s truck, filming a pilot for CMT. The Kellie & Ben Show, if it airs, will feature Kellie and her husband, Ben. While in the truck, Kellie and Brad even did a duet together.

MayTT6Last year I wrote about one of Brad’s friends, Tony Justice, and this year he was the opening act at MATS for Thompson Square. On Saturday night, after MATS this year, Brad, Tony Justice and Bill Weaver put on a concert over in the Papa John’s lot for the truck drivers parked there. It was awesome to see these drivers, who truly have musical talent, get out there and share their music, while they are still out there running up and down the road in a truck. Brad, Tony and Bill are all friends in not one but two crazy businesses – trucking and music. Brad has recorded some of the songs Bill has written, including one called “Truck Driving Women and Men” about, you guessed it, truckers.

You can check out some of Brad’s videos at www.brad-james.com or on YouTube, which has a variety of songs to choose from. One of my favorites is Brad’s cover of Prisoner of the Highway. This one has special meaning to anyone that truly loves being a driver and really feels “up here in this cab is where I’m most alive” – like me.

Trucking and singing go together. Back in the days before XM radio made listening to music so much easier, I can remember listening to drivers sing over the CB – some were pretty good, while others, well, let’s just say, it was nice to have an “off” switch. Now, with the power of Facebook and other social media sites, these singing truckers can share their music with not only other drivers, but the world.

The most famous singer who was a trucker before he became famous was Elvis, and he could not read music either. You never know… maybe one day there will be another trucker who makes music history… right from his sleeper!

About Kim Grimm

Kim Grimm has had a license to drive a truck since April of 1978 and has driven millions and millions of miles ever since. Living in Wisconsin with her beloved cocker spaniels, Kim, who is a long-haul owner operator, has been a regular contributor to 10-4 Magazine since 2003.