Artists and their bands typically traveled by car in the early ’50s. Meeting packed itineraries required high speeds. I got a taste of such breakneck travel, probably in 1951 or ’52 when I was around seven years old.
Red Sovine and his band had been visiting us in Texarkana one cold, winter day but had to leave for a distant show somewhere in Arkansas. Mother and dad were going to be there, too, so Red had an idea.
“Davey,” he said, “you want to go with us?”
I lit up. “Yes, sir!” I said. To me, Red Sovine was like one of those what-the-hell, fun-loving uncles who would allow a kid nephew to risk parental damnation by taking a secret sip of ice-cold beer and laugh about it.
My parents granted permission. When it was time to go, I climbed into the back seat of Red’s sedan with a couple of the band members. Another sat up front. With Red at the wheel, we shot down the street – not slow and easy like dad drove. Then we were sailing out of town along the highway, and darkness closed in.
I couldn’t believe how fast we were going – faster than I’d ever gone in a car (dad never exceeded 55mph), so fast that it frightened me.
But Red and his band members seemed fine as we sped along. They talked loudly above the roar of the car, planning the show and rehearsing songs for it. To warm up, they belted out, a capella, “Eatin’ ham and eggs, eatin’ ham and eggs (something, something, something), eatin’ ham and eggs.”
Red never seemed to slow down for highway curves. When we took them, I’d get slung to one side or the other against one band member or another. I remember the woods were a blur as we rocketed along. Then we were there at a school where the show was being set up, and it was nighttime, and I was asking for mom and dad.
I don’t remember what happened next or the show, but I’ll never forget that ride. As much as I loved Red, I never rode with him again.
Looking back, I think of how more than a few artists like Johnny Horton lost their lives in wrecks on the road to somewhere important. It’s a miracle so many survived and continue to survive on the road