Red Simpson, songwriter and Bakersfield Sound architect, will take center stage of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s quarterly series, Poets and Prophets: Legendary Country Songwriters, which pays tribute to songwriters who have made significant contributions to country music history.
Hosted by museum editor Michael Gray, the program will take place February 23 and feature recordings, photos and film clicks from the Museum’s Frist Library and Archive. Red will sign limited edition, commemorative Hatch Show Print posters following the program.
Known as the ‘Bard of Bakersfield,’ Buck Owens and Merle Haggard recorded more than 40 of his songs. Artists including Roy Clark, Alan Jackson, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Wanda Jackson, Johnny Paycheck, Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam and many more have also cut his songs. In addition to his songwriting, Red also had success as a recording artist, most famous for his truck-driving songs such as “The Highway Patrol” and “I’m A Truck.”
Born March 6, 1934 in Higley, Arizona, Joe ‘Red’ Simpson was the youngest of 12. When he was three, his family moved to California in search of work as cotton and fruit pickers. At 13, he bought his first guitar for $6.00 with money he’d earned picking cotton.
Red served on the Naval hospital ship USS Repose during the Korean War and wrote songs and formed a country band, the Repose Ramblers, in his free time. After he left the Navy, he returned to Bakersfield and set his focus on a music career, playing Honky Tonks and spending time in Los Angeles at recording studios and writing songs.
In the early 1960s, Red signed with Cliffie Stone’s Central Songs Publishing Company and began co-writing with Buck Owens. The pair wrote such songs as “Someone to Love,” “The Kansas City Song,” “Close Up the Honky Tonks,” “Gonna Have Love” and “Sam’s Place,” Red’s first No. 1.
By 1965, Red was a well-known songwriter. He recorded a few singles for small labels but hadn’t actively pursued a singing career until Capitol Records’ Ken Nelson, looking for an artist to help the label get in on the truck-driving trend in country music, offered him a record deal. His album, Roll, Truck, Roll, reached the Top 10 on the Billboard country album chart.
Through the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Red continued being recognized for his truck-driving songs, including “The Highway Patrol,” written with Dennis Payne and Ray Rush, and “I’m a Truck,” written by Bob Stanton. Red left Capitol Records in 1974 and retired from touring in 1984.
In the mid ’90s, Junior Brown charted his take on Red’s “The Highway Patrol” and the pair recorded two duets. Red has continued to perform weekly at The Trout nightclub in Bakersfield for almost 20 years.
Poets and Prophets: Legendary Country Songwriters with Red Simpson will include an in-depth interview and performance and is included with museum admission and free to museum members. It will also stream live at countrymusichalloffame.org.