Meet Ralph Emery.
THE "DRUG STORE TRUCK-DRIVING MAN"
Here's a true story from an engineer who was there:
On the condition of anonymity, here's what happened, as best as I remember it... keep in mind, this was the late sixties and I was there so accuracy is optional. I was a staff engineer at one of the bigger commercial/industrial studios in NYC and had contact with lots of record company folk, producers, musicians, writers, other engineers...some famous, some wannabes.
Apparently the Byrds were recording somewhere, and one of my studio rat friends told me about a song he was working on with them about this red neck DJ on the Grand Ole Opry radio station in Nashville. It was just one of those quick little stories that fly through a recording session. Some years later, I was free-lancing at a company that produced syndicated radio programming for various formats. This day for me it was "The Ralph Emery Show", playing C/W music. Ralph would fly in from Nashville, do a four hour session of voice intros and outros, and then some underpaid assembler/mixer (in this case me) would playback his voice track and roll the tunes. I cued up this track by the Byrds and rolled it after his intro. I cued up his out and waited til the end of the song, just after they say, "This one's for you, Ralph". I rolled his voice track and howled with laughter...I missed my next several cues. I laughed and stomped and caused such a commotion in the little production studio that people came in and wanted to know, "What's the happs". I asked if Ralph, who was long gone back to Nashville until next week, if good ol' Ralph Emery knew the Byrds song about this red neck all night DJ, was about him? Within hours, I heard that Ralph was suing the Byrds. I don't know the outcome of that but it's great song though! "He's a Drug Store Truck driving man, he's head of the Ku Klux Klan, when summer rolls around, you'll be lucky if he's not in town. He don't like the young folks I know. He told me one night on his radio show. He's the only DJ you can hear after three!" Probably never got played on Ralph's show again.
Opry Almanac starring Roger Miller & Charlie Louvin
The full hour on WSM-TV 6am March 8, 1966 with host Ralph Emery ... also appearing Jerry Allison of "The Crickets"
Jimmie Colvard: Guitar
Thumbs Carlisle: Guitar
Beggie Cruiser(Adair): Piano
Bobby Dyson: Fender Bass
Buddy Rogers: Drums
He is “the man” according to the likes of country music’s hard-knocks and outlaws.
He’s “the man” in the pejorative sense, not the complimentary sense, as witnessed in “you da man. No, you da man” exchanges.
In 1968, Gram Parsons (International Submarine Band, The Byrds) lambasted Emery as everything antithetical to the true spirit of country music.
After an unpleasant, on-air tiff with Ralph Emery, The Byrds wrote "Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man," in which they accuse Emery of everything from racism to your classic case of white, southern douchebaggery.
You’d never guess it from the casual, friendly nature of this episode, but there was a storm brewing in the world of country music.
In 1966, the tension was gathering, but it had yet to break.
The 1960’s was so much about “change” it would’ve made Barack Obama nauseous.
Maybe Vietnam was to blame for a lot of it. Or was it the music?
After a while, it sort of turns into a chicken/egg impasse. In the news bulletin toward the end of this episode, Vietnam’s inevitable, looming presence creeps into an otherwise cheerful affair.
The announcement of the war’s most devastating air attack on North Vietnam is a chilly reminder of world events that sits uneasily in the good ole boy, just hangin’ around feel of the show.
Whatever the case may be, Ralph Emery was determined to keep rock and roll out of country music.
When asked what exactly typified the “Nashville sound,” Chet Atkins reportedly jangled his pocket change and said:
“It’s the sound of money.”
As head of RCA’s country division in the 1950’s, he took the twang out of country music, and replaced it with croon.
Roger Miller and Tex Ritter enjoyed long periods of wild popularity and chart-topping sales.
The Nashville sound sold like crazy. It continued to hold steady throughout the 1960’s as the nation’s conservative listeners disdained the new ethics of rock and roll and sought to hold onto the purified pop of yesteryear.
Despite the commercial sensibility, the elitist attitude of the Nashville sound, and Ralph Emery himself, I have to admit that I enjoyed watching this television episode.
The improvisational feel and cigarette-smoking is worlds away from the Regis and Kelly kind of morning show I’ve grown to expect and avoid.
And for all the change-jangling and sound of money – the music really isn’t half bad either.
It reminds me of happy, sun-shiny days, minus an overwhelming load of idiocy.
I can dig it.
Okay, maybe Gram Parsons had a point about Emery’s elitism. (what? - ed.)
And maybe the Nashville sound had to die to give way to a new breed of outlaw characters (Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson etc.) who better typified a new American ethos. But there is something to be gleaned from country’s pop days – something wholesome and good.
Another composition recorded during the October 1968 sessions was the McGuinn and Gram Parsons penned "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man". The song had been written by the pair in London in May 1968 before Parsons' departure from the band and was inspired by the hostility shown towards The Byrds by legendary Nashville DJ Ralph Emery when they appeared on his WSM radio program. The song's barbed lyric contains a volley of Redneck stereotypes, set to a classic country 3/4 time signature and begins with the couplet "He's a drug store truck drivin' man/He's the head of the Ku Klux Klan."
The song was subsequently performed by Joan Baez at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and dedicated to the then governor of California, Ronald Reagan. Baez's performance of the song also appeared on the Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More album.
An acetate version of Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, dated October 16, 1968 and containing a seven-track programme for the album is known to exist. At this point the album consisted of the songs "Old Blue", "King Apathy III", "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" and "This Wheel's on Fire" on side one, with "Your Gentle Way of Loving Me", "Nashville West" and "Bad Night at the Whiskey" on side two.
The album's title, along with the back cover photo sequence, which featured the band changing from astronaut flight suits into cowboy garb, illustrated the schizophrenic nature of the album's material. The psychedelic rock of "Bad Night at the Whiskey" and "This Wheel's on Fire" sat alongside the Bakersfield-style country rock of "Nashville West" and "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man". Despite containing only ten tracks, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde is The Byrds' longest single album, clocking in at approximately thirty-five minutes in length. Only the double album (Untitled) is longer.