Truck Driving Man was released in 1964 on Arc Records of Canada, and it features the great Roy Penney on guitar (credited as “Roy Penny on Shotgun Guitar”). Bandleader Dick Nolan was a Canadian country artist who released more than 40 albums and was known as the “Johnny Cash of Newfoundland.” Penney was Nolan’s lifelong friend, and the guitarist released three solo records, Boss Guitar in Teensville, Twistin’ the Pick, and Dobro Guitar, also on Arc records. Penney has a great style that is an amalgamation of Chet Atkins and Don Rich, and, at times, he sounds like a restrained Joe Maphis. As I’m a big fan of “truck driving” guitar, it’s a thrill to hear Penney glide through the changes on all 18 wheels.
My personal favorite is the title track. On “Truck Driving Man,” Nolan and company skip the traditional Buck Owens and Red Simpson chord changes, giving the song a primal viewpoint and tribal charm that’s reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s Sun Sessions era. Penney’s playing stands out to the nth degree, as he displays a virtuosic control (certainly oodles more then the wonderfully rudimentary Luther Perkins) that’s a combination of melodicism and flashiness. He gets a hollow, biting sound that is exciting and unforgiving and gives the listener a “driving by the seat of your pants” ride.
One of the stand-out things I learned from Penney was how he’d tune his low-E string down to D (à la Don Rich), which gives the IV chord (D) a feeling of booming resolution. Penney would compound this effect by fingering a D on the fifth fret of the A string, as well as striking the open D on the 4th string to get a droning modal effect that really shook your ribs and vibrated your Adam’s apple.
Truck Driving Man also lists two rhythm guitarists—Mickey McGovern and Bunny Petrie—along with Mark McGivern on bass and Bill Bartlett on drums. The group gives the album the cozy feeling of a great hang that was effortlessly recorded quickly and totally live.