Most of us could only imagine what it would have been like to work with bands and artists like Elvis, the Beach Boys, Loggins & Messina, REO Speedwagon, Chicago, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many others. But Duncan Putman, a musician, part time truck driver, a photographer and writer, has memories of all these bands – and so much more. Duncan was mentioned in a story we did about Mark Harter in the October 2021 issue entitled Preserving History, and we decided his story was interesting enough to share here with all of you.
When Duncan was a kid growing up in the mid-1950s, he would often ride with his dad who managed angus cattle farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He fondly remembers riding with his dad one night when he was hauling prime breeding cattle from the farm to the train station in Lambertville, NJ. He sat in the jump seat talking to his dad all night long to keep him awake (Duncan could never shut up, so they would send him along to keep his dad awake when he had to drive all night). The cattle were headed for Florida on the train and then on to Cuba. Duncan fell in love with trucks back then because they belched black smoke and sounded like real machines, but he didn’t learn to drive them until later, when he got on the road doing sound work with those big bands that were previously mentioned.
While attending a boarding school in Geneva, Switzerland, music was Duncan’s top interest. Back then, like many of us, he dreamed of being in a big successful band like the Beatles or The Rolling Stones. In boarding school, he taught himself to play the drums and later guitar, and then quickly switched to the electric bass. He still has the cool Sherwood Green Metallic (the same color Kenworth used) Precision Fender bass guitar he bought back in 1968.
Like most great rock musicians, Duncan doesn’t read music well. After boarding school, he hoped to go out on the road with a major rock and roll band, but reality took him to Philadelphia, to college, to get a degree, instead. Then, it would be on to music. His degree was in radio, television, and film production. When he graduated, he got a job with Clair Brothers Sound Company out of Lititz, PA. They pioneered one of the finest sound reinforcement companies of the time and are still rocking today!
The term “sound reinforcement” describes providing the sound for bands touring on the road. It involves setting up all the speakers, mics, stage monitors, and power for everything on the stage. Clair Brothers was a major company when Duncan started with them in 1975. They had seven tours out at a time and, as the years went by, they continued to grow, adding more bands to their client list. The company had guys set up in crews to work a tour and when the crew worked well together, they tried to keep them together as much as possible. When a band had time off, the crew might split up and go to other tours, where they were needed individually.
Over the years, Duncan did several Elvis tours and the phrase “Elvis has left the building” was said by announcer Al Dvorn, who also just happened to be the head of concessions. Elvis would leave the stage and get in his limo right behind the stage and be gone before the people even knew the show was over. Duncan was with the Elvis tour one night when Elvis, ZZ Top, and Lynyrd Skynyrd were all booked in the same hotel in Memphis, TN – along with a national Girl Scout Convention. Later, during a “Frampton Comes Alive” tour, one night after a show in a small hall in Portland, OR in the hotel bar, the bartender actually carded Peter Frampton and his girlfriend Penny, so the road manager had to go get their passports out of their room. Sometimes Duncan would jam with some of the bands during sound checks and once Kenny Loggins told him, “You should be on this side of the stage and not over there in the wings.”
It was during this time, while out touring, that Duncan learned to drive truck, often driving one of the sound rigs from venue to venue. After doing this for a while, he realized this was not going to be his full-time vocation. His goal was to go back to playing music. After he left the sound company he went back to Philadelphia, played with a couple of bands, then hit the road for Los Angeles, CA. When he got there, it was during the height of disco, and there wasn’t a lot of live music in the local clubs. The “big time” didn’t happen, so he moved back to the Philadelphia area where he met his wife, Jeanette, who was (and still is) an anthropologist.
Getting married in 1981, a few years later Jeanette accepted a job in Ireland. While in Ireland, Duncan joined a couple top bands during the years they were there including Hot Foot, which was a major band there at the time. He played the Guinness Jazz Festival with two different bands in 1988, which is a really big deal there every year. After that, they moved back to Philadelphia for about a year before Jeanette accepted a professor position at Indiana University in Indianapolis, IN. This move allowed Duncan to play with several big local bands in the area, each with their own style and sound, such as Jazz, R&B, Rock and Roll, and Classic Country.
In the early stages of his music career, Duncan also became interested in photography. When he was on the road touring, doing the sound, he would go out on his off time and started shooting trucks. Instead of driving them he “shot” them with his camera. This was another self-taught skill for Duncan. He actually began shooting pictures of trucks and writing for Trucks Magazine back in the mid-80s, and when he and Jeanette moved to Ireland, he got the opportunity to contribute to Trucking International, which was based in England.
When he and his wife moved back to Philadelphia, Duncan continued to write for Trucking International, only now it was about American trucks. He continued writing after they moved to Indianapolis, until the mid-90s, when Trucking International decided to drop the “International” and focus on British trucks. After moving to Indianapolis, Duncan did some cover stories, including one that featured the Penske Racing Team trucks during the 1990 Indy 500. Another cover story he did was about Paul McCartney’s tour trucks during his 1989-90 World Tour.
Our mutual friend Mark Harter, who we wrote about in October 2021, called Duncan about helping him to try to get an ATHS chapter in Indianapolis back in the early 90s. The ATHS chapter never happened, but a great friendship between Mark and Duncan, did. Duncan ended up writing a one-time article for Overdrive about Mark’s wind tunnel science project. Mark’s results were very similar to Kenworth’s actual wind tunnel results when they were developing the T600. Mark won the Indiana State Science Fair, which allowed him to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair held in Nashville, TN in 1993. After meeting and becoming friends, Duncan and Mark would often photograph trucks together.
In 2017, Mark approached Duncan about using some of his pictures for a website he was creating featuring cool photos of cool trucks. Down the road, he started doing “Truck of the Week” and “Truck of the Month” features, which highlighted some of Duncan’s terrific truck photos. You can still look at the website with sample galleries for free while the website is being reconstructed (www.duncanputman.com).
Now retired, Duncan and Jeanette, along with their two black Labradors Claire and Kaylee, live on a small farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Duncan still gets out and occasionally shoots trucks, and also works on music at home, as well. These days Duncan Putman spends some of his time writing down the memories of his time touring and on the road with the big bands of the day in hopes of possibly, one day, self-publishing a book. Now that would be a fun read! Stay tuned.