The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will salute songwriter and "Bakersfield Sound" architect Joe "Red" Simpson later this month when he is the focus of the museum's "Poets and Prophets: Legendary Country Songwriters" event.
According to a Feb. 7 correspondence from the museum's PR reps, the "Poets and Prophets "series, which is sponsored quarterly, honors songwriters who have made significant contributions to country music history.
The Saturday, Feb. 23, "Poets and Prophets" installment featuring Simpson will get under way at 1:30 p.m. with an in-depth interview and performance in the downtown museum's Ford Theater.
Michael Gray, museum editor, will serve as host for the 90-minute program that will be punctuated with recordings, photos and film clips from the museum's Frist Library and Archive.
Admission info: Seating for the program is limited; program passes are required for admittance. However, the series is included with museum admission and free to museum members. Immediately following, the 1:30 p.m. interview/performance, Simpson will sign limited-edition, commemorative Hatch Show Print posters. (Please access the museum website for complete admission and signing details.)
For those who are unable to attend the "Poets and Prophets" event in person, the program will be streamed live at countrymusichalloffame.org.
More about Joe "Red" Simpson
Some call him the "Bard of Bakersfield," report hall of fame reps, and Bob Dylan has called him the "Forgotten Man of the Bakersfield Sound." That said, he's known as Red Simpson, an an important player and ambassador for the West Coast country music scene.
Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, the most well-known pillars of the Bakersfield Sound, recorded more than 40 of Simpson’s original songs. Roy Clark, Alan Jackson, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Wanda Jackson, Johnny Paycheck, Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam and many others have also recorded Simpson’s songs. And Simpson also enjoyed success as a recording artist, but is most famous for his truck-driving songs.
Born March 6, 1934, in Higley, Ariz., Simpson was the youngest of 12 children in a musical family. When he was 3years old, the family moved to California in hopes of finding work as cotton and fruit pickers. At 13, Simpson bought his first guitar — for $6 — with the money he earned picking cotton.
Simpson served on a naval hospital ship—the USS Repose—during the Korean War. In his downtime, he wrote songs and formed a country band called the Repose Ramblers. After his stint in the U.S. Navy, he returned to Bakersfield, and knowing that picking cotton was not the life for him, he set his focus on a music career. He played the Bakersfield honky-tonks, spent some time in Los Angeles recording studios and continued to write songs.
In the early 1960s, Simpson signed with Cliffie Stone’s Central Songs Publishing Company and began co-writing with Buck Owens early in the singer’s career. Their collaboration yielded songs such as “Someone to Love,” “The Kansas City Song,” “Close Up the Honky-Tonks,” “Gonna Have Love” and “Sam’s Place,” Simpson’s first chart-topper.
Merle Haggard himself ,one of country music’s greatest songwriters, also recorded a number of Simpson’s songs, including “You Don’t Have Very Far to Go” and “Bill Woods from Bakersfield.”
By 1965, Simpson had established himself as a prolific songwriter. He had recorded a few singles for a few small labels ,but had not actively pursued a singing career. Capitol Records’ Ken Nelson was looking to get in on the truck-driving trend that was sweeping country music.
However, after Merle Haggard declined to record a trucking album, Nelson called Simpson and offered him a record deal. His album, "Roll, Truck, Roll," included the title track (written by Tommy Collins), “Truck Driver’s Blues” (Ted Daffan) and several Simpson-Owens trucking-themed co-writes. The album reached the Top 10 on the Billboard country album chart.
Throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, Simpson continued to garner recognition for his truck-driving songs—including his most notable recordings, “The Highway Patrol,” written with Dennis Payne and Ray Rush, and “I’m a Truck,” written by Bob Stanton. Simpson left Capitol Records in 1974 and retired from touring in 1984.
In the mid-1990s, Junior Brown charted Simpson’s “The Highway Patrol,” and the pair recorded two duets: “Semi-Crazy” and “Nitro Express.” As he has done for almost 20 years, Simpson continues to perform weekly at Trout's nightclub in Bakersfield.
For more information about Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 222 Fifth Ave. South, please call 615-416-2001.
Video view: To see Simpson perform some of his original music, simply access the clip embedded with this post.