A troubadour for truckers

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I was a driver myself for a while, and people out there just don’t know the sacrifices truckers make to deliver everything we live on. That’s why I want to do a tour for them; to show them some appreciation for what they do every day through music.” –Terry Wooley, singer and songwriter.

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I met Terry Wooley by happenstance at the 2010 Mid America Trucking Show last week, and I enjoyed this lucky coincidence thoroughly.

Despite shivering in the cold (and let me tell you, it only LOOKS like it was warm out in the photo at right!) Terry kept right on singing and picking on his trusty guitar, belting out a variety of tunes he’s penned over the years as an opening act for the likes of the late Jerry Reed, Alabama, Charlie Daniels, and the great Merle Haggard.

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A husband and wife driving team I met a couple of years ago, Dennis and Debbie Zylvitis, introduced me to Terry as they are helping him support his latest musical venture, dubbed Highway Fever.

[In a sad coda to this story, I learned the Zylvitis’ recently lost their wonderful French bulldog Jack when he got hit by a car while playing on a dirt road. Debbie told me the driver, an elderly man, was just as heartsick as they were about the accident. Dennis now has a tattoo of Jack on his left shoulder to honor the memory of their faithful trucking canine. R.I.P. Jack]

Their goal is garner enough sponsors so they can patch together a nationwide tour of truck stops and other trucking locales for Wooley so he can hold free concerts in appreciation of the hard work drivers do every day. “We’re going to play anyplace we can where drivers can attend,” he told me. “We’ll do it until the money runs out.”

[Here’s a clip featuring a minute or so of Terry singing “Alabama Gator Oil” while at Mid America. His guitar work, it should be noted, is awful good for a guy that’s been playing in near 30 degree weather for several hours!]

You might think Terry is off his rocker after reading all of this, but I’ll tell you one thing – he’s got the musical chops to pull it off. With a lean rangy build, classic gravelly voice, and a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, Terry’s been making a living with his knack for penning songs on a wide range of subjects for years now.

He’s focused now on trucking for artistic inspiration not only because he’s been in the driver’s seat, but because he believes it’s an audience that’s long overdue for musical appreciation – echoing the thoughts of not a few of his peers in the country music scene, such as Aaron Tippin.

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Born on a small family farm in central Kentucky, Terry spent his formative years tending to the crops and cattle, all the while polishing his guitar and songwriting talents. With the nearest neighbor almost a mile away, he spent most of his spare time playing music. At the ripe old age of eight, Terry persuaded his parents to allow him to enter a local talent contest – and from then on he dreamed of a career in the big music leagues.

He eventually became a wandering musician of sorts, traveling all over the world playing guitar for many country music legends – his favorite being the great Merle Haggard – as well as performing a lot of sessions work with his guitar, penning songs for others to sing, and being the “opening act” on more than few tours. And Terry likes to say that all musicians know what the “opening act” at concerts is really all about – they provide that final, thorough check that the sound system is working properly before the main act hits the stage!

[As an aside, here's a clip of Merle Haggard back in the day playing I take a lot of pride in what I am, a song you'll hear in the Navistar-funded trucker movie Drive and Deliver.]

He’s also worked a variety of other jobs to pay the bills over the years (including his stint piloting big rigs), which proved to be fertile fodder for his songwriting.

[Here’s one Terry recently wrote in that vein, called Big Boys Toy, sung by a group he’s sponsoring called aly`an, the moniker for Andrea Warner and Alyson Burke.]

Terry also has a unique “style” as he grew up playing and singing a lot of Gospel music, to which he later added a classic country twist. “My ‘style,’ if you will, is a cross between Jimmy Swaggart and the Allman Brothers,” he said with a laugh (I told you he’s got a good sense of humor).

“A part of me, though, goes into every song I write – reflecting my experiences at times,” Terry stressed, turning serious about his craft. “That’s where Highway Fever comes from – a mix of my experience on the road with those of fellow drivers.”

Whether he succeeds in getting his Highway Fever trucker tour off the ground or not, Wooley is content just to have the opportunity to write songs and sing them, both in the recording studio and live on the stage. And that’s all that counts at the end of the day, doesn’t it?

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