By Charlie Morasch, staff writer
Trucking journalists get to see the industry’s heroes up close and personal.
We talk on the phone with people they help. We meet trucking Samaritans at truck shows and when they visit Land Line Magazine’s office at OOIDA headquarters. We see good people – some who take the “knight of the road” approach to the max, and those who shrug off the words “hero” but help anyone in need just the same.
For the general public, however, most Americans rarely look closer than the truck driver portrayed in movies or TV commercials – portrayals that typically aren’t favorable.
So when Land Line staffers watched the “Highway Angel” music video recently, we were struck by the song’s larger-than-life Hollywood production that combined good music and images of truck drivers we know.
‘Highway Angel’ video
Visit youtube.com and search for “Highway Angel” and you’ll find a music video performed by Tennessee recording artist Lindsay Lawler, who has made a name for herself in trucking music during the past two years.
The upbeat song, co-written by Lawler and producer Chris Roberts, was commissioned by the Truckload Carriers Association to honor the Highway Angel program. The organization’s program recognizes trucking men and women who show exceptional acts of kindness or heroism.
The video includes a fictional depiction of a young mother being rescued by a truck driver after a car wreck. The woman later takes her daughter to meet her trucking “hero.” Lawler plays the mother in the video.
The song gained more than 14,000 views in its first few weeks.
Lawler said she’s been overwhelmed by the response from truck drivers and trucking companies.
“We’ve already gotten a crazy response from drivers, and companies who want to use it for different purposes,” Lawler told Land Line.
The three-and-a-half minute video includes scenic footage shot over highways in Nashville – footage shot by a crew headed up by video director Seamus Frawley, a California TV/movie director and producer who also happens to be Lawler’s husband.
Lawler said she enjoyed working with Frawley, who many will probably recognize from his role in MTV’s “Jackass” television show and movies.
“It was interesting to work together,” Lawler said. “I was shocked because we didn’t fight at all. We got along the whole time,” she said, with a laugh.
If Lawler’s name or her music sounds familiar, truck drivers might remember her performances at the Great American Trucking Show, the Mid-America Trucking Show and other trucking events.
Lawler, who had played regular gigs at Nashville’s legendary Tootsies country bar for two years, recently finished her second full music album titled “The Long Haul.” The album includes several tracks aimed specifically at truckers and trucking spouses.
“Truck drivers’ lives are pretty similar to musicians,” Lawler said. “You’re on the road, trying to stay healthy and trying to get back to your family.”
Lawler said she has enjoyed getting to know truckers and the trucking industry. She hopes the video will show America trucking’s positive attributes – something not always portrayed in mainstream media.
“Everyone in the industry knows how great truckers are, but we want to try and take the word outside,” Lawler said.
After the video transitions through the wreck storyline, four real life truckers are featured. OOIDA Members Jerry and Doris Speer are seen standing in front of their white and blue 1999 Peterbilt as the song rolls on.
Back to his first love
Being in the video was an unexpected surprise for the Speers. For Jerry, it was a return to Nashville music.
Jerry Speer, a longtime OOIDA member with more than three decades as a truck driver, is a native of Stewart, TN. Stewart is nestled among a collection of Interstates 55, 57, 24, 64, 65 and 40, making Jerry’s hometown convenient for a long-haul trucker.
Not so coincidentally, Stewart is an hour’s drive from Nashville – the “Music City” famous for being host to music stages of all shapes and sizes and renowned for launching music careers.
And it’s music where Jerry, 58, reveals a soft side.
Before he became a driver, and intermittently during his trucking career, Jerry tried to make a go of the music business. His specialty included writing and singing gospel music, as well as songs about family.
Despite giving it two serious tries, Jerry said the music business bore into an artist’s pure intentions more harshly than a bad lease-purchase that bamboozles a trucker.
“I discovered quickly that the music business is the only business I know that has more crooks in it than trucking does,” Jerry said.
As with most youthful dreams, Jerry’s music went by the wayside as supporting a family, paying bills and building his career became more important.
He took time off from trucking to pursue Nashville’s music scene more than 10 years ago. He performed as an opener for Kitty Wells and her husband. He also released a self-produced gospel album in 2001 titled “Faith, hope and love.”
During that last run at music, he said clubs liked his material but wanted him to audition with a band backing him up. Bands, as it turns out, are expensive. The experience didn’t result in a professional career, but Jerry says he learned several lessons.
“Basically, it was all about money,” Jerry said. “I was off the road for more than six months, less than a year. You can only starve for so long.”
Jerry went back to trucking and said he continues to listen to country and gospel music.
Lawler’s producers reached out to include several professional truck drivers in the video, including the Speers, who are mutual friends of trucking radio show host Marcia Campbell.
“My wife and I are honored to have been a part of it,” Jerry said. “The video really makes the song. The song itself is good, but every time I hear the song now I see the video in my mind.”
Jerry said the experience of being in the “Highway Angel” video has sparked the creative juices once again. In between loads, Jerry has spent his free time trying to write lyrics to his own trucking songs.
When not making deliveries and spending evenings with his wife and co-driver, Doris, Jerry has been scribbling and mixing and matching lyrics.
“I’m thinking, ‘How in the world can I portray the life of a truck driver in three minutes,” Jerry says in a booming voice.
Despite the challenge, something in Jerry’s voice reveals a passion rekindled.
Conveying the reality of trucking life in a short song won’t be easy.
But Jerry’s giving it a shot, and the tone of his voice tells you he’s happier for it.
“I really envy Leland Martin and Lindsay because they’re living their dream,” Jerry says. “I can’t think of a better thing for anybody to do than live their dream.” LL