—Story by Bill Hudgins, special correspondent
Joey and Vicky Holiday still own the beat-up bread truck in which they launched his career as a singer-songwriter of trucking music. The ‘62 white panel truck sits under a tree near their comfortable home – a double-wide with basement rec-room and recording studio, about 30 miles outside Nashville.
The van serves as a reminder of that time a decade ago, when they had literally just a dream that music about and for truckers would provide their daily bread.
Chances are, you’ve seen Joey Holiday perform at a major trucking convention or at one of their many truck stop shows. Prematurely gray at 42, Joey’s face wears the mile markers of a road musician’s life; he has the restless energy of a man who’s lived long with the hum of tires. Vicky, on the other hand, seems younger than 37 and serene, yet she listens and observes intently.
Both have CDLs and belong to OOIDA. Their CB handles are Music Maker and Prize Lady. Vicky does most of the driving, as well as scheduling appearances, handling the business, tweaking lyrics and making a home. She’s even responsible for his trademark footwear – mismatched Western boots.
He was late getting ready for a show one night and asked her to grab his boots. Without looking, he thrust his feet into them and ran onstage. In the middle of the set, he looked down and saw one red boot and one navy one. It was different, so he kept the look.
A struggling musician who doesn’t accumulate great stories isn’t trying very hard. Seated in their pin-neat, comfortable kitchen, that bread truck visible through the window, the Holidays spin story after story.
The stories find their way into his songs. So do the tales he hears from truckers. High fuel, low freight, lost wages, lost loves, lost lives. “It’s rock and roll, comedy, gospel and country,” he says, although a better term might be truckabilly. Whatever you call it, his music speaks to today’s drivers while honoring the trucking songs of the past.
Joey hits the onramp
Born in Montgomery, AL, Joey grew up in the Fort Lauderdale, FL, area. His father variously drove trucks and worked in construction trades. Both parents played musical instruments, but it was a bunch of friends jamming to Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman” that set him on the music road. “Up to that point I was thinking I was going to be a truck driver,” he says.
He begged his mother to buy him an electric guitar. She bought an acoustic instead.
“I was so mad when I got that acoustic guitar that I threw it against the wall and broke it,” he says. “She told me she wasn’t going to pay to fix it or buy another one, that I was just going to have to deal with it.”
He repaired the guitar, and his mother taught him three chords. He got good enough to teach others to play guitar – a talent that would later prove crucial. Eventually, he got enough nerve to audition at a local club owned by tennis player Bobby Riggs, who hired him.
At age 18, Joey married his first wife and found work as a trainee electrician. He played clubs at night and worked as an electrician during the day. The marriage ended, although he remains close to his daughters and his three grandchildren.
In 1988, Joey met Vicky, who was born in Pennsylvania and had recently moved to Florida to pursue a degree in the hospitality industry.
“I was on a date with a guy who was going to see Joey about learning to play guitar,” she says. “I met Joey and we started dating shortly after that.”
Adds Joey: “When she came in that door, I said to myself, I’m gonna marry her.”
By 1990, Joey wanted to pursue country music full-time.
“Vicky said she would come with me to Nashville, and that gave me the guts to try,” he says. From a talent show judge, they learned an important lesson – in the music biz, who you know is often more important than how well you play. “I had thought it was like Loretta Lynn – you make a record, put it in your truck and go sell it,” he laughs.
Nashville is a hard town to crack. They lived in tough neighborhoods and pawned stuff to buy groceries. Friends and total strangers showed unexpected generosity. Vicky worked day jobs and did accounting part-time, while Joey played for $5 an hour and tips at honkytonks, rubbing shoulders with then-unknowns like Kenny Chesney, Travis Tritt and Tracy Lawrence.
By 1996, he had risen from playing smoky, third-rate ‘tonks and dives to playing smoky, second-rate casinos and bars.
“I moved up to a better class of losers,” he says, referencing Randy Travis’ hit.
Like the hitchhiker Big Joe picks up in Phantom 309, Holiday found himself out on the road, lost at a personal and professional crossroads. Bored, missing Vicky, and too wound up after six sets to call it a night, he killed time gambling and drinking. One night in a casino near Philadelphia, MS, with his pay in one pocket and the band’s money in the other, he started playing blackjack.
“I was up $700. It was blackjack and Jack Black, and before long I lost all my own money. So I went into the other pocket. You can guess where this is going — I lost the band’s money, too.”
Scared and shaken, he went back to his room and started praying.
“I told God I was very sorry, I didn’t want to lead that lifestyle anymore, to be without my wife, to sing in casinos six nights a week and six sets a night. God has always answered my prayers. He’s always helped me — although not always in the way I thought I wanted.”
The answer came in a dream a couple weeks later while he was again on the road: Do songs about truckers and trucking. His reaction could be summed up in one word: “Huh?”
Although trucking was in their families, Joey and Vicky had no direct experience. And trucking music wasn’t in vogue.
“At the time, I thought trucking music was just part of country music, I didn’t think of it as something separate. But when I started looking into it, I realized there was a void of trucking songs between the ‘70s and the ‘90s.” He thought they could fill this void with songs that spoke to a new generation of trucker.
The Holidays formed Truck It Records and Entertainment, or TIRE for short. They bought a bread truck and converted it into a touring coach, of sorts. Appropriately, he wrote his first trucking song, “She Loves My Peterbilt,” while “rolling down I-65 to Yazoo, MS.”
The Joey Holiday bandwagon was rolling, but where was it headed and how would it make money?
They first tried promoting the music through Trucking USA magazine. The editor liked the two songs they had at that point, and told him to call again when he had a full album. It took them a year, but when Joey drove to the magazine’s offices in Tuscaloosa to deliver the tape, the magazine had gone out of business.
Devastated, he remembered hearing about the Interstate Radio Network, a Chicago-based late-night AM radio show for truckers. The managers were coming to Nashville and agreed to meet with the Holidays.
Gene Davis, IRN’s on-air host, and John Schaller, the general manager, loved the songs. They invited the Holidays to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville to help promote a safety tour and truck giveaway. Today, Joey is one of several singers who regularly perform at Mid-America and other conventions. But in the mid-1990s, his act was a novelty. It clicked with the drivers, and he sold nearly all the tapes he had.
On the tour, he and Vicky often slept in the bread truck.
“They made us park way out in the back so people wouldn’t know we were with the tour,” he says. Things looked as bright as the Las Vegas Strip, but fortune frowned when the tour arrived in Sin City. IRN had been acquired, and the Holidays were off the tour. “John told us, ‘You can do this on your own, you can make it without IRN.’”
Although the prospect scared her, Vicky took charge of the business.
“At first, I let people run over me, just tell me no. But I got over that,” she says with a quiet smile. Thanks to dogged persistence, their work began to pay off.
After a few years, they acquired a small used semi-trailer that doubled as stage and on-road living quarters. Transport America agreed to sponsor a tractor, but the Holidays needed a CDL holder to drive it. They tried several arrangements that didn’t pan out. The crisis came when a hired driver abruptly quit, stranding them in Connecticut.
Transport America helped them get the rig home. But the Holidays were tired of depending on others to drive.
“We asked Transport America if we could go through their driver training program and get CDLs so we could drive it ourselves,” Vicky says. “We passed on the last possible day.”
Joey’s brother, Tommy, has also been a boon companion on this long road. Although he fills the roles of marketing and sales manager, Tommy also emcees the shows, swapping jokes with Joey and the crowd between numbers. Tommy also earned his CDL with Joey and Vicky, and takes turns driving their rig.
For the past two years, they’ve toured with their own rig – the tractor donated by an anonymous admirer and the trailer, by Manac. One side of the trailer opens and lowers like a drawbridge to reveal a vintage Reo cab that serves as the stage.
They’ve also built a recording studio in their basement to produce his music as well as record for others. This dramatically reduces their expenses and allows them to make the most of their limited time at home.
But they back away from any suggestion that they’ve made it. They don’t have a major record company deal, so the larger truck stop chains won’t carry the music – nor sponsor many concerts. So they have to rely on the smaller chains and independent truck stops for sales and concert venues. This year, they added online purchasing to their Web site,www.joeyholiday.com.
In May, the couple sponsored a two-day show in Nashville that included show trucks, judged by a local Trucker Buddy class, professional music acts and a talent show for aspiring singers. Admission was free, Averitt Express donated several hundred free meals, and Roll-Tite Tarps helped bring performers such as Red Simpson to the show.
“These days it seems like everybody is trying to get a piece of the trucker, and it’s especially hard on owner-operators and independents,” Joey says. “We wanted to give something back to them for all they have done for us. We couldn’t do what we’re doing if it weren’t for them.”
The Holidays exchange one of those married couple glances that speaks volumes, then he adds softly, “Without Vicky Holiday, there wouldn’t be a Joey Holiday.”