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Woodrow Wilson "Red" Sovine (July 7, 1917 – April 4, 1980) was an American country music singer and songwriter associated with truck driving songs, particularly those recited as narratives, but set to music. The most noted examples are his 1965 number one hit "Giddyup Go" and his 1976 number one hit "Teddy Bear".
Sovine was born as Woodrow Wilson Sovine in 1917 in Charleston, West Virginia, earning the nickname "Red" because of his reddish-brown hair. He had two brothers and two sisters. Sovine (whose last name was pronounced So VINE) was taught to play guitar by his mother. His first venture into music was with his childhood friend Johnnie Bailes, with whom he performed as "Smiley and Red, the Singing Sailors" in the country music revue Jim Pike's Carolina Tar Heels on WWVA-AM in Wheeling, West Virginia. Faced with limited success, Bailes left to perform as part of The Bailes Brothers. Sovine got married, and continued to sing on Charleston radio, while holding down a job as a supervisor of a hosiery factory. With the encouragement of Bailes, Sovine formed The Echo Valley Boys.
After a year of performing in West Virginia, Sovine moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where the Bailes Brothers were performing on KWKH-AM. Sovine's own early morning show wasn't very popular, but he gained greater exposure performing on the famed KWKH radio program, Louisiana Hayride. One of his co-stars was Hank Williams, who steered Sovine toward a better time slot at WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama, and toward a contract with MGM Records in 1949. That same year, Sovine replaced Williams on Louisiana Hayride when Williams jumped to the Grand Ole Opry. Over the next four years he recorded 28 singles, mostly following in Williams' honky tonk footsteps, that didn't make much of a dent on the charts but did establish him as a solid performer.
Another Louisiana Hayride co-star who helped Sovine was country music legend Webb Pierce. Pierce convinced Sovine to lead his Wondering Boys band and helped him toward a contract with Decca in 1954. The following year Sovine cut a duet with Goldie Hill, "Are You Mine?" which peaked in the Top 15, and in 1956 he had his first number one hit when he duetted with Pierce on a cover of George Jones' "Why Baby Why". Sovine had two other Top Five singles that year and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. After recording close to 50 sides with Decca by 1959, Sovine signed to Starday Records and began touring the club circuit as a solo act. That same year, Sovine was seriously injured in a car accident that claimed the life of one of his band members.
In 1961, a song copyrighted, in 1955, by Sovine and co-writer Dale Noe became a sizeable hit on the Pop charts. The tune was the ballad "Missing You", arranged in Countrypolitan style and was recorded by Ray Peterson for his own Dunes label. "Missing You" became a #29 Billboard "Top 100" hit. In the fall, it peaked at #7 on Billboard's "Adult Contemporary" chart (see U.S. Copyright Office's website and Joel Whitburn's "Across The Charts, The 1960s"). In 1963, Sovine passed on the helping hand given him by older performers when he heard the singing of minor league baseball player Charley Pride and suggested that he move to Nashville, Tennessee. Sovine opened doors for Pride at Pierce's Cedarwood Publishing, but his own career had stalled: "Dream House For Sale", which reached number 22 in 1964, came nearly eight years after his last hit.
In 1965 Sovine found his niche when he recorded "Giddyup Go", which, like most of his other trucker hits, he co-wrote with Tommy Hill. It is spoken, rather than sung, as the words of an older long-distance truck driver who rediscovers his long-lost son driving another truck on the same highway. Minnie Pearl released an answer song titled "Giddy-Up Go Answer". Sovine's version of the song spent six weeks atop the country charts and crossed over to the pop charts. Other truck-driving hits followed, including:
Sovine was also remembered for his Christmas tear-jerkers, which included "Here It Is Christmas" (a divorcee's holiday lament), "Billy's Christmas Wish" (a dialogue between a poor, sickly, runaway boy and a sidewalk Santa), and "What Does Christmas Look Like?" (a little blind girl asks her father to describe the Christmas she cannot see). He scored another sentimental hit with "Little Rosa" in which an Italian-American railroad employee tells a stranger, in broken English, about getting a bouquet to place on the grave of his small daughter who was killed by a train while he was away.
Sovine was married to the former Norma Searls, who died in 1976 at the age of 57. Together they had three sons, William, Michael (1955-1988), and Roger; and a daughter, Janet. They were also survived by 12 grandchildren at the time of Red Sovine's death.
On April 4, 1980, Sovine suffered a heart attack while driving his 1979 Ford Econoline 150 van near the intersection of Battery and Lealand Lanes in southern Nashville, causing him to run a red light and strike an oncoming vehicle driven by Edgar Primm, 25, also of Nashville, before coming to rest against a tree near the intersection. The crash happened a few miles from Sovine's home on Stillwood Drive.
Sovine, who was alive but unconscious when paramedics arrived, was taken to St. Thomas Hospital along with Primm for treatment. Primm was treated and released for minor facial injuries. Sovine was pronounced dead at 11:47 a.m., shortly after arriving at the hospital. According to a preliminary autopsy, Sovine sustained massive abdominal bleeding caused by a lacerated spleen and liver, and fractured ribs and sternum.
For many years after his death, his greatest hits collection (The Best of Red Sovine) was advertised on television, exposing his music to a new generation of fans.
Sovine performed covers of many truck driving songs made popular by fellow country stars, such as Del Reeves and Dave Dudley, as well as "Why Baby Why", a duet with Webb Pierce originally recorded by George Jones. Other covers include "A Dear John Letter" (Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky), "Old Rivers" (Walter Brennan), "Bringing Mary Home" (The Country Gentlemen), and "Roses for Mama" (C.W. McCall), among many more. Among his many other recitations was a reading of John Berrio's essay "Please God, I'm Only Seventeen," a cautionary tale of safety to newly licensed teen-aged drivers.
His last charting hit in his lifetime, in 1978, was by rock singer-songwriter-guitarist Eric Clapton - "Lay Down Sally." Save for the mid-song guitar bridge, Sovine's version- a No. 70 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart - closely resembled the Clapton original.
Many of Sovine's biggest truck driving hits were covered by artists such as, Del Reeves, Dave Dudley, Ferlin Husky, Boxcar Willie, Tex Williams and Australian country singer Nev Nicholls. Mike Judge covered "Teddy Bear" as Hank Hill for the King of the Hill soundtrack. Some of Sovine's songs were covered by Dutch artists and became big hits in the Netherlands (Teddy Bear, Giddy Up Go and Deck of Cards by Gerard de Vries, Phantom 309 (Stille Willie) by the B B Band, Little Joe (Kleine Waker) by Henk Wijngaard). Tom Waits released Big Joe and Phantom 309 on his 1975 "Nighthawks at the Diner".
|1961||The One and Only||--||--||Starday|
|1962||The Golden Country Ballads of the '60s||--||--|
|1965||The Heart Rending Little Rosa||--||--||Starday|
|1966||Country Music Time||--||--||Decca|
|Giddy Up Go||4||--||Starday|
|The Sensational Red||--||--|
|The Nashville Sound||--||--|
|1967||I Didn't Jump the Fence||--||--|
|Dear John Letter||--||--|
|1968||The Country Way||--||--||Vocalion|
|Tell Maude I Slipped||--||--|
|Sunday with Sovine||--||--|
|Closing Time Till Dawn||--||--|
|Who Am I||--||--|
|Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town||--||--|
|1970||I Know You're Married||--||--|
|1973||Greatest Grand Ole Opry||--||--||Chart|
|1974||It'll Come Back||48||--|
|1975||Phantom 309 (reissue)||--||--||Gusto|
|1977||Woodrow Wilson Sovine||50||--|
|1978||Christmas with Red Sovine||--||--|
|16 New Gospel Songs||--||--||Gusto|
|1977||16 All-Time Favorites||--||Starday|
|16 Greatest Hits||47|
|Giddy Up Go||--|
|Gone But Not Forgotten||--||Castle|
|1986||Sings Hank Williams||--||Deluxe|
|1989||Crying in the Chapel||--||Hollywood|
|1991||Best of the Best||--||Federal|
|2001||Phantom 309||--||Prism Leisure|
|2002||Pledge of Allegiance||--||King|
|20 All-Time Greatest Hits||--|
|1955||"Why Baby Why" (w/ Webb Pierce)||1||--||Decca|
|"Are You Mine" (w/ Goldie Hill)||14||--|
|1956||"Little Rosa" (w/ Webb Pierce)||1||--|
|"If Jesus Come to Your House"||15||--|
|"Hold Everything (Till I Get Home)"||5||--|
|1959||"Yankee, Go Home" (w/ Goldie Hill)||17||--|
|1964||"Dream House for Sale"||22||--||Starday|
|"Class of 49"||44||--|
|1967||"I Didn't Jump the Fence"||17||--|
|"In Your Heart"||33||--|
|1968||"Loser Making Good"||63||--|
|"Normally, Norma Loves Me"||61||--|
|"Tell Maude I Slipped"||33||--|
|1969||"Who am I"||62||--|
|"I Know You're Married But I Love You Still"||52||--|
|1974||"It'll Come Back"||16||--||Chart|
|"Can I Keep Him Daddy"||58||--|
|1977||"Just Gettin' By"||98||--|
|"Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel"||92||--|
|1978||"Lay Down Sally"||70||--|
|"The Days of Me and You"||77||--|
|1980||"It'll Come Back"||89||--|
|"The Little Family Soldier"||74||--|