DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (23)
March 10, 2023
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of favorite Country singles from the Sixties (1964–1973). Series edited by Josh Glenn. BONUS: Check out the DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist on Spotify.
DICK CURLESS | “A TOMBSTONE EVERY MILE” | 1965
Every state in the union has a stretch of road like the Haynesville Woods, a highway up north in Maine that’s never ever seen a smile. Diesel smoke and dangerous curves are a fact of life for truck drivers, a fact established during the 1960s, when the interstate highway system began to bind America together. “A Tombstone Every Mile” — the 1965 single that gave Dick Curless a country Top Ten hit and, in turn, a career that hummed along for a decade — doesn’t document the endless miles of gray ribbons that induces the tedium chronicled so well on “Six Days on the Road,” the Dave Dudley hit from 1963 that effectively kickstarted the truck driving country phenomenon of the 1960s. “Tombstone” is all about danger, specifically danger as duty. The truckers that travel that stretch of road aren’t daredevils, they’re hauling potatoes from Maine to Boston to make a living.
Though Dick Curless drove trucks when he served during the Korean War, he was a journeyman country singer looking for a break when copywriter Dan Fulkerson brought him “A Tombstone Every Mile,” an ode to the fabled Highway in the singer’s home state. Songs about trucks were all the rage, and Johnny Cash was just wrapping up his hot streak on the charts — leaving space for an imposing figure warning about the perils of the road. Curless doesn’t precisely mirror Cash but the resemblance is undeniable: the booming baritone, the obsession with folklore, the unfussy arrangements. Where Cash concerned himself with American myths, Curless focused on local legends, spinning tall tales of a road known to all in Maine but which could be a fantasy to the rest of the world.
The song captures not only that dangerous passage in the northeast but a specific point in time, the moment when country music raced to meet the modern era. “A Tombstone Every Mile” can’t be mistaken as folk, as so many Cash records can. Gusts of wind open the record, ushering in a sinewy, propulsive rhythm that echoes the twang drifting out of Bakersfield — but the sound isn’t nearly as clean or sunny as the music made by Red Simpson, a Buck Owens associate who would soon be crowned king of truck-driving country. Though Curless sounds foreboding, the single itself glides easily, a lean and dynamic record designed to leap out of jukeboxes and AM radio — the very places where truckers would congregate.
Fulkerson’s song is sturdy enough to withstand the decades — country-rocker Bill Kirchen cut a rampaging version years later — but “A Tombstone Every Mile” is best appreciated as an artifact of the 1960s. It captures a specific moment when American highways and airwaves opened up for all the big and burly men who roll the trucks along.
DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | David Cantwell on Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s WE FOUND IT | Lucy Sante on Johnny & June Carter Cash’s JACKSON | Mimi Lipson on George Jones’s WALK THROUGH THIS WORLD WITH ME | Steacy Easton on Olivia Newton-John’s LET ME BE THERE | Annie Zaleski on Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E | Carl Wilson on Tom T. Hall’s THAT’S HOW I GOT TO MEMPHIS | Josh Glenn on Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s BACK TO TENNESSEE | Elizabeth Nelson on Skeeter Davis’s I DIDN’T CRY TODAY | Carlo Rotella on Buck Owens’ TOGETHER AGAIN | Lynn Peril on Roger Miller’s THE MOON IS HIGH | Erik Davis on Kris Kristofferson’s SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN | Francesca Royster on Linda Martell’s BAD CASE OF THE BLUES | Amanda Martinez on Bobbie Gentry’s FANCY | Erin Osmon on John Prine’s PARADISE | Douglas Wolk on The Byrds’ DRUG STORE TRUCK DRIVIN’ MAN | David Warner on Willie Nelson’s WHISKEY RIVER | Will Groff on Tanya Tucker’s DELTA DAWN | Natalie Weiner on Dolly Parton’s IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS (WHEN TIMES WERE BAD) | Charlie Mitchell on Stonewall Jackson’s I WASHED MY HANDS IN MUDDY WATER | Nadine Hubbs on Dolly Parton’s COAT OF MANY COLORS | Jada Watson on Loretta Lynn’s DON’T COME HOME A DRINKIN’ (WITH LOVIN’ ON YOUR MIND) | Adam McGovern on Johnny Cash’s THE MAN IN BLACK | Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Dick Curless’s A TOMBSTONE EVERY MILE | Alan Scherstuhl on Waylon Jennings’s GOOD HEARTED WOMAN | Alex Brook Lynn on Bobby Bare’s THE WINNER. PLUS: Peter Doyle on Jerry Reed’s GUITAR MAN | Brian Berger on Charley Pride’s IS ANYBODY GOING TO SAN ANTONE.
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