The trucking industry and its old “brotherhood of the highway” mentality is not dead yet. Although it has taken a beating over the past few years, singer-songwriter and second-generation trucker Tony Justice would like to see that image come back. When drivers listen to his music, he wants them to know that we can be united again. The songs on his CDs are mostly about the brotherhood we should all strive to share out here on the road. We didn’t lose this image in a day, and we won’t regain it in a day, either, but we CAN do it!
Years ago, truck drivers were the white knights of the highway. If someone was broken down, they could count on a trucker (or two or three) to stop and help, be it another truck driver or someone in a 4-wheeler. We were held in high regard for the job we did, maneuvering those giant trucks and trailers down the highways and byways of our nation. It’s sad to see how many people have such a low opinion of drivers today. But, you know, together, we can restore that image of yesteryear with positive actions we can choose to exhibit every day out there on the road. Tony’s dad said it perfectly: “We are not just truck drivers, we are the guardians of the road.”
Tony would like to dedicate this month’s column to Kim Williams, the man who did so much to help him in his career, as he recently passed away on February 11, 2016. It was because of him that this old George Strait song called “Brothers of the Highway” that Kim wrote, along with Doug Johnson and Nicole Witt, became the title cut on Tony’s new album. He helped open doors for Tony, and continues to do so, even after his passing. After Tony told me about his friend Kim, I looked him up online, and what an impressive story of how this man did not let a horrific accident keep him down – he went on to become the Country Songwriter of the Year in 1994, and was then inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
Kim was playing guitar and writing songs by the age of 11. He toured around the Midwest and the South with numerous bands until he got married and left music to work in construction as an electronic technician. While working at a glass plant in 1974, Kim caught on fire and suffered burns all over his body. Throughout the next 10 years, he underwent more than 200 surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, much of it at Music City’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center. His time in Nashville helped him get the songwriting bug again – he took songwriting classes, began pitching his work and became a staff writer with Tree International in 1989.
William’s first major hit was with Joe Diffie, who recorded his “If the Devil Danced (in Empty Pockets)” song in 1991. Kim also wrote songs for Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, and Randy Travis (“Three Wooden Crosses”), which won Grammys in both the Country and Gospel categories. No song before or since has achieved this.
Kim always loved truck drivers and it was reflected in some of his songs. Kim, along with Garth Brooks and Kent Blazy, wrote “Cold Shoulder” which in one part says: “This old highway is like a woman sometimes, she can be your best friend but she’s the real jealous kind. She’s the lady that leads me to the life I dream of, and she’s the mistress that keeps me from the ones that I love” – words I’m sure many drivers out there can really relate to. Tony said, “Kim was the Dale Earnhardt Sr. of country songwriting!”
Tony Justice started playing bass guitar in his mom’s gospel band when he was only seven years old. When he was in his early 20’s, he started writing songs. But music was not his first choice for a career – he wanted to be a racecar driver! Running on dirt tracks for a few years, he never got the money or endorsements to get to the top, but NASCAR team owner Roger Penske and Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace both endorsed his “Rockin Rusty Wallace” album of race songs. You write about what you know, and Tony knew about (and loved) car racing.
After writing a song about his hero, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Tony was supposed to meet the legend after the race that took his life. That was a sad day for the racing family – whether you loved him or you hated him, you have to admit the man was bigger than life and died doing what he loved. After this race, Tony said that going to a race now was “like going to Disneyland with no Mickey Mouse.” He performed a pre-race concert at the next Daytona race six months later, but it was not the same as it would have been if Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt was there.
Shortly after that, Tony began driving a truck. Sometimes his “day job” (trucking) can get him into places where he gets to perform at his “dream job” (singing). And for helping this happen, he would like to thank his amazing boss. Always driving for someone else throughout his 16-year trucking career, Tony said, “If I own the truck, then I am committed to the truck.” He wouldn’t be as free to pursue his
music if he owned the truck. Trucking and singing go together, and if you have ever listened to some really good (and some not-so-hot) budding artists singing on the CB, you know what I mean. You just never know where you might get discovered. Hopefully, one day, Tony’s singing will pay enough for him to buy his truck, and maybe more than one truck, to haul his own show around the country.
Tony argued with Kim about doing “Brothers of the Highway” and said that he couldn’t remake a George Strait song. After a couple months, Tony finally agreed to do the song. Wanting to make the song a symbol of brotherhood in the trucking industry, Tony asked Kim about maybe having Aaron Tippin sing it as a duo with him. A few of Aaron’s greatest hits were songs about trucking, and Tony’s vision was to have two truck-driving singers united and singing a trucking song! Introductions were made and with an “I’d be honored to” from Aaron, the wheels were in motion. I am going to put in my own personal opinion here: no offense, George, but these two drivers get my vote for the best version. It’s hard to beat the experience these two men have, actually driving a big rig up and down the road, to really make you believe what they are
There are some great sponsors who believe in Tony, too. Shell Rotella – who recently hosted their SuperRigs show in Joplin, Missouri – paid for Tony to be there all three days, including a full performance on one of the nights. Our friends at Stay Loaded Apparel have also designed two shirts for Tony – one is for “Brothers of the Highway” and the other is a special “Purgatory” (the name of Tony’s truck) edition featuring the truck that Tony drives for Everhart Trucking out of Greenville, TN. Last but not least, Blue Tiger USA is a proud sponsor of Tony, as well. Blue Tiger USA makes high-quality dash cams, Bluetooth headsets and Bluetooth speakers for the trucking industry.
And then you have the very talented Christopher Fiffe, the owner and producer of Big Rig Videos. Chris made the video for “Brothers of the Highway” and it is awesome! If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this video yet, search for it online and then sit back and enjoy the ride. After that, keep on clicking and check out other videos that Chris has done. His talent at creating trucking videos, after having been a driver himself, stands out in the work he produces. But that is a story for another month (stay tuned).
With four albums under his belt, Tony already has quite the library of truckin’ music. And, I can’t tell you everything, but I see some very exciting new things coming down the road for Tony Justice, as well. So, stay tuned and keep listening – I’m sure there is some great new music that will be playing on a radio near you soon. And let’s all accept Tony’s challenge, and be better truckers. Let’s unite and earn back that image we once had, and again be the white knights of the highway and the guardians of the road! To learn more about Tony and his music, visit www.tonyjusticemusic.com.