Driven Toward A Dream
March 1, 2011
Abbott Uses Trucking Experience as Material for Writing Songs
Trucking and music are two things that Cliff Abbott holds close to his heart, and he’s been combining the two passions for decades. Abbott uses his experiences in the trucking industry as inspiration to write country, bluegrass and gospel songs, and those efforts are beginning to pay dividends.
“Trucking is in my blood, and it’s given me a lot of material.” Abbott stated. “I’ve been writing songs about as long as I’ve been in trucking, which is almost 30 years.” Abbott spent 13 years on the road as a professional driver before moving into a fleet management. Currently, Abbott is the Director of Driver Development for Southern Cal Transport, a 600-truck fleet based in Birmingham, AL that was recently acquired by Transport America. The majority of his time is spent managing Southern Cal’s driver recruiting team, but Cliff continues to write songs when he isn’t doing his “day job”, which also includes training drivers or conducting orientation.
A former employer still uses one of Cliff’s songs in their advertising campaigns and as their on-hold message, and he’s had several songs recorded by Maggie Mae of RFD-TV’s Midwest Country, a program that has taken care to preserve traditional country music.
Abbott has also collaborated with “Big Al” Weekley, a fellow truck driver who has dedicated his life to bringing together his love for trucking and music in one place. Weekley is also a radio host on KRVN in Lexington, NE and for the Dispatch Me Home internet radio program. In 2007, Weekley released an album entitled Always In It For The Long Haul, which featured a song written by Abbott and three more that were co-written.
More recently, Abbott and Weekley wrote a song called Lines On The Highway, which has been recorded by his biggest artist thus far – Bluegrass pioneer Larry Sparks. Sparks is an original, one-of-kind musician whose unique sound has carved a niche in bluegrass and gospel music for almost a half-century. Sparks has spent the past 42 years with his own band, The Lonesome Ramblers, and they are still going strong. Sparks was named Male Vocalist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2004 and 2005, and was nominated for Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year for I Just Want to Thank You Lord in 2010.
There have been ebbs and flows in Bluegrass’ status over the years, but it is gaining in popularity because of crossover artists like Alison Krauss and Ricky Skaggs, and actor/comedian Steve Martin. When asked if he envisioned Lines On The Highway as a bluegrass tune or some other genre, Abbott said he thought the song could be recorded several ways. “It depended on the style of artists, but I wanted to emulate some of the early country performers like Dave Dudley and Red Sovine who had some trucking tunes.” Lines On The Highway was written three years ago and Abbott later went to a studio to record a ‘demo’. “I sent it to Larry Sparks, and it was an honor to have a song recorded by him,” Abbott said. Lines On The Highway will be on Sparks’ new album, Almost Home, which will be released by Rounder Records this month. The album can be ordered at www.rounder.com.
One on the lines in the song is “lines on the highway take me where I want to
go.” Driving Force asked Abbott where he sees the songwriting hobby taking him. “I would love to earn royalties from the songs I write,” Abbott said. “But, people say if you want to make a million dollars in bluegrass, you have to start with TWO and play until you lose half.”
Hopefully, Abbott can prove that adage wrong. “I’m just glad to contribute something to our industry and its drivers. Music is my dream, but trucking is my life and how I make my living,” Abbott stated. “Some days while driving a truck, you wake up and can’t wait to go; the love of the open road keeps you going.”
Our industry needs more folks like Cliff Abbott, and Driving Force hopes his trucking and songwriting careers keep going for years to come.