Country Music

Out of all the different kinds of music I listen to, I like country the best. It is the type of music I like the most and it is the type that is most like me. Somebody once defined country music as “three chords and the truth.” I would be hard pressed to come up with a better definition.

Country music is American and it has come a long way in the last hundred years. It’s said to have begun in the 1920’s. At least that is where the commercial part of the genre began. The first popular recordings took place in Bristol, TN and it has spread like wildfire throughout the world ever since.

It’s a type of music that has changed a great deal over the years, and I must admit I don’t always care for the newer stuff. I like it’s simplicity with emphasis on the lyrics. Even though country music does have it’s share of extremely talented musicians and singers, it remains simple enough for a beginners to make their own contributions. It’s the perfect music for sitting around the campfire, the front porch, or a good ole barn dance. After all, that’s pretty well how it all began.

When I think about what I love best about the music, the big elaborate settings of a big stage never come to mind. What I love best is a group of people sitting around a little semi circle with each person trying to play and sing a song. I would like to think out of all the wealthy celebrities that have come about, the origins took place with a small community of working class folks gathering at a church, a community center, or on the front porch.

I really didn’t get exposed to this type of setting until a few years ago in Mena, AR and I really liked it. But I’ve come along a little too late because this old foundation of country music is crumbling away just like so many old abandoned houses in the hills of Tennessee.

Country music is largely conservative with a destain for change. Although I do not share this world view since it’s obvious that change is going to happen whether you like it or not. It doesn’t stop me from appreciating and even missing something I love front he past.

I’m usually one of the youngest people who shows up to these events. Slowly but surely, the old practice is simply dying away. Those who lead them eventually die off and there is nobody to keep it going. The last one I attended I had to drive an hour and half to get to. The old is simply passing away and the young won’t do things the same way. In some ways I guess I’m okay with that, but in other ways I feel something beautiful is dying.

https://youtu.be/HabA-sdw_XI


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Old People

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

One of my deepest regrets was leaving my job, family, and house to take a job as a preacher in Mena, AR. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. The job was doing what I really wanted to do, even felt called to do. My daughter had taken up with a group of the wrong kind and a boyfriend from Hell. Really! He just got out of prison for charges of burglary, domestic abuse, and hard telling what else. There was no sign that he had changed. I was convinced he would either kill her or she would kill herself, if we didn’t get her out of there. The prospect of getting her enrolled in a respectable Christian University really appealed to me, but she wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t taken the job.

My wife and I both hated our job. Her’s was highly stressful, and mine as a local truck driver, was only going to go down in pay as I gained stayed because I was working the dock as well as driving, and that was about to change to just driving.

My main tie to the area was my mother. She was widowed, having severe health problems, and I was the main one to look in on her. I had second thoughts and wanted to pull out of the whole deal, but once a ball is rolling down a hill, it’s pretty difficult to roll it back where it was. We made the move,

I lost the preaching job, after a year or so. I was just to liberal for the real areas of Arkansas especially for a Church of Christ. Now I’m back to driving a truck and it’s over the road instead of local. My mother lives about 600 miles away. I hardly ever get to see her.

Well this weekend, largely tormented by a song by John Prine which is quoted above, I decided I was going to make the truck even though I didn’t have the time or the money to do so. I took my wife and my granddaughter with me on this exhausting trip. We drove over 1200 miles, spent about 300 dollars, and exhausted the three of us, but I made the trip. All for a couple hour visit to my mother in the memory center of elderly home.

Mom was really surprised to see us, especially with our little grand daughter.

My granddaughter was super hyper after being cooped up in a car so long, and she warmed write up to her great grandmother that she has no memory of ever seeing. I wasn’t able to appease my guilt at all. She’s in a very nice place with her with family near by. But I know she gets lonely.

It’s no easy matter getting old, especially when they have problems with their health and mind and have to spouse to stay with them. John Prine’s song, “Hello in there” really captures this difficult phase of life.

Some decisions can’t be taken back. My life is far away and there is no way for me to care for her. I am glad that she has people who care about her who look in on her. Some don’t even have that.

I’m grateful my wife came with me and my granddaughter. It’s been a heartbreaking and exhausting trip. But I hope through it all that a message was sent to my mother that I love her and I’m always thinking about her.

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Family is Family

Family is family in church or in prison
You get what you get, you don’t get to pick ’em
They may smoke like chimneys, but give you their kidneys
Yeah friends come in handy, but family is family
(From the song by Kacey Musgraves)

Kacey Musgraves recorded the song “Family is Family” and even though it did’t have much chart success, I really like the song because it is so true to life. I’m middle aged man, so I’ve been around a while. I’m a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. There’s been times when I’ve been ashamed of the family, and there has been times when I’ve brought shame on the family. We don’t always like ’em, we may try to rid ourselves of ’em, but they are just as much a part of us as the reflexion in the mirror.

My parents were not perfect people. They made all sorts of mistakes and I suffered in the process. I criticize them for their wrongs, and as a young parent I tried desperately to do better. Maybe I did; maybe I didn’t. You see, as a parent I made my own mistakes and my children suffered in the process. In many cases I was trying to do what I was convinced was right, but other times I was just wrong and I knew it. My parents were not perfect and neither was I. I may have thought I was better than my parents when I was younger, but I don’t anymore.

Through it all, the old biblical saying rings true, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” In spite of the imperfections, I was loved. I didn’t always feel like it, but when the chips were down I knew it. I hope my children know it too, and I suspect they do.

I married and so became a part of another imperfect family. Last Saturday, September 22, in the wee hours of the morning, my mother-in-law passed away after a long struggle with ALS. As I write this, the family is preparing for the funeral.

As a former minister, I have guided many families through the funeral process. I have seen the best and the worst in people as they go through this time of grief. The sorrow is often over whelming. Ideally, the family holds hands and supports each other in their grief. But rarely, if ever, is life ideal. There is always some sort of rivalry between siblings and things can get very nasty when a parent passes away. Greed and jealousy usually emerges in some form or another as siblings debase themselves scrounging around for the left behind possessions of the parent. It’s similar to an episode of Jerry Springer. It sickens me, and it always has. As a parent I would be devastated to know my children were fighting over my possessions. Personally, I would rather walk away with absolutely nothing than to tarnish a parent’s memory by family squabbling.

However families do fight. Some fight a lot. It’s not pretty; it’s not proper; but it definately happens. Yet this is where some of the true beauty of family emerges. You don’t always like them, but your still of them. You don’t get to choose them, but still you should love them. Friendships come and go but family is family.

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Inadequate

Yesterday was Sunday so I woke up and did what I do on most Sunday mornings that I’m home. I went to church. Since the late 80’s the church has been a major part of my life. I went to a Christian college, I got a Christian degree, and most of my jobs have been church related. It’s been my life for a long time. But now I feel like such an outsider. I’m no longer the one giving the sermons, teaching classes, and leading prayers. I feel like I have been chewed up and spit out by the people of which I tried to belong. Now when I attend, I feel depressed, withdrawn, and unnoticed; but most of all, I feel inadequate.

I live in Searcy which is kind of a hub for the Churches of Christ. Harding University is here, which is certainly one of our most successful schools. The university permeates the entire town. The congregation I attend is mostly comprised of University employees and their families. I have only met a few people in the congregation who are not tied to the university in some way.

There is an image to be upheld and for the most part it is. From the second I drive into the parking lot in my 20 year old car I begin feeling my own inferiority. Everybody seems so perfect. They have nice cars, behaved children, and nice clothes. Most of them are very attractive. The men are well groomed and confident looking. The women are beautiful with their makeup impeccably applied. It’s like a Hallmark movie.

The image is misleading of course. These people have times of sorrow and pain just like anyone. They are not immune from the tragedies, but they sure are good at hiding it. I’m reminded of Miranda Lambert’s song, “Momma’s Broken Heart.”

Go and fix your make up girl it’s, just a break up run an’
Hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady ’cause I
Raised you better, gotta keep it together even when you fall apart,

Image is everything and that’s always been my own downfall. I’m not very good at hiding my pain. When I’m sad, it’s very hard for me to smile. To me it all seems so fake, but fake is what is wanted and perhaps needed.

I’ve got mixed feelings about it all. I thought the song “Stained Glass Masquerade” by Casting Crowns described the situation very well. Although appearances are nice and even necessary, it prevents people from being real and we need real. At least I think so.

I find myself frustrated trying to belong where I’m not really wanted. Bars are more accepting than churches, but I don’t belong their either. I’m not sure anymore where I fit in, but I really could use some friends. I’m on the road during the week and I don’t have much opportunity to do much else. I’m not really sure how to break down the barriers that are keeping me so isolated.

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My Love for Music

A song lives forever and never ever dies
Sings enemies together and touches so many lives
Words and melody will always be, long after we’re gone
Oh, how I wish I could live the life of a song
–Written by Patrick Jason Matthews, Rebecca Lynn Howard

Performed by Joey and Rory Feek

Like most people, I grew up loving music, but I think I have an even stronger affection for music today. I started learning to play guitar when I was in my mid-forties, and even though I can’t claim to be good at it, I love it. I tried to play drums when I was a child, but I really couldn’t get the hang of it. It’s pretty hard to learn an instrument when you’re being tossed around to a new school system every couple months. Nor can you learn when practicing is always shunned and degraded. The only one to encourage me was a young woman my mother worked with and even though I only saw her a couple of times, she left an indelible impression.

When I had kids of my own, I forced them to take music lesson on an instrument of their choice for at least one year. It stuck. Instruments changed, but both learned to appreciate making music. My wife and I attended all sorts of performing events with the school, but but by far the most memorable was watching my son and daughter on the stage together singing Revelation Song. My children are shy by nature and to see them up there by themselves performing brought a tear to my eye.

Our daughter used to sing quite a bit with the church band.Tabitha at Church. It took her a while to get the hang of it. She was so scared at first that she would look like her best friend had died, but she got quite good. My son would play guitar in the band once in a while too. There were lots of people to encourage them, and they encouraged me as well. I started learning right beside them Me & Tab. I would love to play guitar while my daughter would sing with me.

Perhaps my favorite movie of all times in Mr. Hollands Opus and my favorite seen in the movie is shown in this link: Scene from Mr. Holland’s Opus. It’s a very important question he asked, “Is it any fun?” Then he rightly identifies what’s wrong, They’ve been trying to play notes on the page. There’s a lot more to music than notes on the page. In the movie this is not just a transition for the girl trying to learn an instrument, it is a transition for Mr. Holland as well as he goes from one who hated his job to one that loved it. So often we miss the beauty of things by trying to play notes on the page.

The love of playing music is not something that can be taught. A person can be taught to play notes. He can learn rudiments, scales, and theory but that is not the love of music. Sometimes the love is there before a person learns to play, and the best thing to do is let them mess around with the instrument. Trying to teach a person all the notes and crap just stifles the growing process.

Isn’t it interesting that some of the most famous musicians around can’t read an ounce of music? They learned by ear, they learned by heart, but they didn’t learn notes on a page. Some may have even started out in schools and music classes, but they dropped out. It isn’t true across the board, but I know several who learned to play in school, and it kind of died there. The jump to creativity never really took place. The same happens in other areas of life as well especially with religion. You can learn the words on the page and literally kill the spirit and beauty of spirituality.

I think some of the real joy of music is a person’s own contributions. We may start off playing songs of other people, but hopefully we can start to venture out into our own world. I’ve always made up goofy songs as far back as I can remember. At first they were just parodies, but eventually they became quite original. Most I’ve forgotten because I never wrote them down. One of the big reasons I started learning guitar was to be able to make up my own songs, and it has been a long process.

There is something that music offers that is so indescribable. Music cheers us, consuls us, motivates us, inspires us, encourages us, and in a thousand other ways music touches us. There is something spiritual about it. Some of the most incredible songs came to the writers with very little effort. It’s like a song that had to be written from a source that is beyond our description. Some will require very little effort and everything just kind of falls into place, while others take years to develop.

Rarely, if ever is a song created by just one person. The lyrics and the melody may come from one person, but usually there are a lot of unrecognized contributors who make the song that goes on the radio. I think this is important to keep in mind. A song begins by a thought or perhaps a feeling. Sometimes a person is just fumbling around on a guitar and comes across a sound that sticks out. Sometimes it’s just a line that gets repeated over and over again. If people are consumed by learning other people’s songs, this process can’t take place.

But when we venture out pretty soon a song is born. It’s just like an infant, it must grow and develop. It must be fed, promoted, performed, etc. It’s NEVER an individual effort. There is a lot to it. I think it is tragic what will happen to people in the process of creating music. When song becomes successful, fame also develops along with pride and greed. Together, they kill the spiritual side of the music. The music may go on, but the joy is lost.

I like the humble side of music. I prefer the songs you will never hear on the radio. I like the people who write from their hearts and may only share their songs with a few close friends. I like the goofy songs that come along while playing with a baby in your arms: Playing with Zoe. I love watching a toddler request and dance to song I played for her while sitting in my truck: Grace, My Granddaughter dancing to Monkeys on the bed. I hope to pass on this love for music. Grace singing “Twinkle Little Star.”. I’ve already bought the guitar for my granddaughter. She’s not old enough yet, but one day I’m hoping she will take to it. In my own way, I’m creating memories that will live well beyond me. I don’t have to be good or famous to do that. I can just be me.

There’s an end for me, it’s my destiny
But this song will carry on and it’s just three minutes long
Oh, how I wish I could live the life of a song
Oh, how I wish I could live the life of a song
–From The Life of a Song

 

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Step Dad

Today I had to take a load of Beer up to Mountain View, Arkansas which probably would have no significance at all, if I hadn’t learned a while back that this is where my former Step dad now lives. My mom finally divorced this man around 1980 after he beat the crap out of my younger brother like he used to do to me. She’d left him before after I got beat up while I was sitting at the kitchen table playing solitaire. But she went back, and it was me that ended up leaving every time after that.

My mom never claimed to love the man. She called it a marriage of convenience. She must have been scared trying to make ends meet as a single woman. But the marriage was anything but convenient. I had 3 older step brothers, two older sisters, and then there was me and my younger biological brother. All nine of us lived in a little single-wide trailer at first. But with the combined incomes, we eventually moved into a house. The horrors of my childhood evidently are still with me because as I drove here I started working on a little song. It’s not completed and I don’t know if will ever be, but I thought I would share what I have anyway.

Step Dad

He wasn’t more than 5’6”

But fists felt like a couple of bricks

When they landed on my head

When I was just a child.

A little man can look real big

In the eyes of scared and vulnerable kid

Who’s forgotten what it felt like

When he could smile.

But his fists never seemed to hurt near as bad

As the words he spoke to this little lad

Telling what a worthless loser I’d always be.

His fist could turn me black and blue

But his words cut my heart in two

And those were the wounds that never healed

For me

A man is not a dad at all

When all he does is make a child feel small

(Well, I may come back to it later, but it is now time to get back to driving. )

He must be well over eighty now. Frail and alone in Mountain Home. I wonder what he’s like. I’m tempted to visit, but there doesn’t seem to be much point. All of my step brothers and sister’s have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I believe we have all been hospitalized for various emotional disorders, but not him. I’m not sure about the younger one of my older step brothers, Blake. Both him and my step dad just grew hard and calloused. The military suited Blake while it lasted, but he had the retire and I really don’t know what he does anymore. But I saw him about 7 years ago, and he has the look in his eyes that his father had before him. It’s a sociopathic look. One that says, “I’d just as soon kill you as talk to you.” The oldest one is dead now, the next in line is little more than a vagrant. The two girls struggle by as life goes on, but they are kind people.

I have spent a lifetime trying to repair the damage. I don’t know that I have. But I know my children were not treated as I was. I’m sympathetic knowing that such man not only causes pain, he is normally only reacting to the pain he has received. Now it’s mainly pity I feel for him now and for people like him. Pain makes a lot of people hard and uncaring. I’m thankful it didn’t do that to me.

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Time

My second grandchild was born Friday morning June 15 and as I was driving down the road the song, “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce came into my mind from out of nowhere. Jim Croce was a very talented musician whose career really took off after the birth of his son. This song was written with his son in mind as he struggled with the desire to spend time with the ones he loved, but he was constantly torn away from them because of his career. Unfortunately, Jim died in a plane crash shortly thereafter.

This is a popular subject for song writers and performers. There are a number of songs I could think of off the top of my head dealing with time, or the lack thereof. They are songs of lament and regret over the lost time with loved ones in order to make a living.

It’s been a struggle throughout my adult life ever since college. It was there that I met my future wife. College was very stressful and demanding and some of our biggest fights in the beginning was over the need for time in our relationship. But it didn’t get any easier as time went along. I was a preacher right out of college and I worked hard at my job. I had no supervisor, no clock to punch, but there was a drive to do my job well and there was always something that needed done.

But the preaching thing fell through and I eventually had to resort to driving a truck which gave me even less time for my family. I remember seeing the Adam Sandler movie “Click” which caused me to break down in tears and sob most of the way through the movie. I think the movie was meant to be a comedy, but there is nothing funny about watching life pass by on fast forward. All the moments you can never have back.

Truck driving took me away from the family and even when I was able to be home, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I was overwhelmed by the stress of working long hours and the demands that needed taken care of when I finally got home.

Things got better; then they got worse; then they got better again. Through it all time never slowed down and before I knew it my babies were grown and I was getting old. Now our parents are on their way out and we are next. If we could only save time in a bottle. If we would only make wishes come true. I would also like to save every day till eternity passes away to spend with those I love. But as Croce says, “There doesn’t seem to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them.”

I am grateful that I was right there when my children were born. My daughter was first, followed by my son a couple years later. Becoming a father really changed my world. It wasn’t about me anymore; it was now about them. My job was to provide, to protect, to instruct, and most of all to love them. I may not have done as well as I would have like, but I tried to do the best that I could. Now my daughter is a parent and my boy is a grown man.

Now I have grandchildren. Just like my own children, I was there in the hospital when they were born. As I watched my granddaughter get to hold her brother, I was reminded of when my daughter first held her brother.

My granddaughter looks so much like the little girl I raised that it is very hard for me to separate them in my mind. Where did all the time go.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my first child just days after she was born. Unlike my granddaughter, my daughter never liked my signing.

I guess we all feel the passing of time and try our best to make the most of the moments we have. I have lots of memories. Some of them are really great. I guess I just miss those special moments when my babies were still babies.

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Life Changes

May 5th was my wife and I’s 28th wedding anniversary and we went to one of my favorite parks to spend the weekend together. I usually wake up very early, while it is still dark outside, and I spend some time in solitude before my wife gets up. Dawn is my favorite time of the day and it is even more special when I can spend the time on a majestic overlook.

This morning, I was driving to a spot that I really liked and I heard a song on the radio that instantly struck me. It was a newer country song by a young artist named Thomas Rhett whom I’ve never heard of. The was called “Life Changes” and it was a very appropriate song for a 28th wedding anniversary.

Now I’m not a real big fan of the newer country music. I just prefer the older stuff without all the fancy accompaniment, but it has usually been the lyrics that has attracts me anyway, and when I heard the chorus I fell in love with the song.

Ain’t it funny how life changes

You wake up, ain’t nothing the same and life changes

You can’t stop it, just hop on the train, and

You never know what’s gonna happen

You make your plans and you hear God laughing

Life changes, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, the world, oh no

And I wouldn’t change it for the world, the world, oh no

I really liked the words, “You never know what’s gonna happen; you make your plans and you hear God laughing.” Yep, that is so true! he illustrated the chorus with three verses:

Waking up in my college dorm
Yeah, my life, it was pretty normal
Looking for a date to the spring formal
Wasn’t worried ’bout nothing else
Majoring in undecided
Notebook full of bad songs I was writing
Never dreamed anyone else would like them
Now they’re sitting on a Walmart shelf

I bought a ring and she said “I do”
But everybody else said, “man, you’re twenty-two
“Whatcha trying to prove?”
“Hey why don’t you wait?”
‘Cause I’ve been waiting on her since the second grade yeah
And now she got her own set of fans
She got a blue check mark by her Instagram
And I wrote a little song about holding her hand and now everybody wanna die happy now

I remember the day I told my Daddy and Mama you’re gonna have a grandkid, yep
From Uganda, that’s right, we’re adopting
And she is the cutest little girl that you’ve ever seen
Well I was wrapping my head around being a dad
A bigger ranch got thrown in the plans we thought we’d had
Now Lauren’ showing, got one on the way
Yeah that’s two under two, hey, what can I say?

Now what really struck me about this song is how real to life it seemed. These verses were personal like he was writing about personal experiences. As I shared the song with my wife we started researching, and sure enough, he is not just writing about life, he is writing about his life. I love songs like that.

Well, Thomas Rhett, you just gained a fan. I does my heart good to hear such a young man writing about life changes. I guess younger people adjust to changes a whole lot better than older people who tend to resist change as if it is something from Satan. Yet, everything in God’s creation changes. We don’t always like the changes, but they change nonetheless.

I’ve been coming to this park for years. We started when we were young and our children were just babies. I used to carry my kids up the hills with one on my back and the other in my arms. To think of the changes we have been through over the years. Many dreams have been shattered, and other have taken their place. Friends and loved ones have died and even now are in the midst of dying. We’ve moved a lot. I have traveled the country and seen so many places, but it wasn’t how I thought it would go in my younger years, but it still happened.

I’ve made lots of mistakes and have many regrets, but I also feel like I’ve done some good along the way too. In so many ways, my wife and I have had a rocky marriage. Our differences at times seemed seemed too vast for any sense of unity, yet there is unity. The marriage has held together. Our children have grown. It has never gone like I envisioned it, but it has gone good enough. Our marriage has often times been rocky and full of turmoil and confusion, but the anchor held.

Now we have a grandchild and another one due in a couple months. Watching our granddaughter is like water our daughter growing up all over again. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of that little girl.

Friday night as my wife and I were heading to the park there was a bad accident that caused us to go way out of our way. We knew it was bad, but we didn’t know until last night’s news that a little girl had run out in front of a semi and was killed in the process. My granddaughter loves to run, and in the process she has almost been hit as well. I don’t know how I would handle such a drastic change. My heart goes out to that family, and the driver who hit her too. It was a tragic accident and life for everyone involved will never be the same. I ache as I think about it.

Life does’t go like we expect. If we are lucky, it may go fairly well, but for many of us we search for the nuggets of meaning and happiness in the midst of the chaos. Either way, life is a wonderful experience with all it’s sadness and joy, death and birth, old and new. It all seems to fit together like a majestic piece of art created by God himself.

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A True Friend

A True friend . . .

Accepts you even when you disagree.

Doesn’t think you’re stupid even when you do stupid things.

Believes in you even when you’ve lost faith in yourself.

Listens even when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Loves you even when they hate what you’ve done.

Keeps coming back even when they are pissed off.

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Song: I Drive for Swift

This is a new song I wrote since I started driving a truck again. Anybody who has driven a truck for very long knows that Swift is a company that has a bad reputation for getting into accidents, and it is a deserved reputation. I disputed this until the evidence became overwhelming. Now I have done my own stupid things while driving, so I don’t want this to come across as I think I’m better than other drivers; I am definitely not. It’s just meant to be funny. So here are the lyrics and a short video. Pleaseunderstand, I just started on this, and I’m working from my truck, so the sound is awful and so is my singing ability. The song and the video were done while I was waiting for them to fix my tire. I will try to improve it later and I have some ideas for a video with all the pictures and videos I have collected of Swift, mostly from Twisted Trucker.

I Drive for Swift

Well I just got my CDL

I think I’m ready to go

They gave me a big white Volva Truck

And I’m headed down the road

I don’t know much about driving

But I’ll learn as I go.

Ya’ll better watch out for me

Cause I’ll run you off the road.

I drive for Swift

I drive for Swift

You can usually find me out in the ditch

You see me coming you best beware

You can bet I don’t care a bit

I drive for Swift

If your sitting in the truck stop parking lot

And you see me coming your way

You might want to move or be prepared

I need lots of space.

I don’t know much about backing up

I hope you understand

If I plow into your truck

I’m only doing the best I can.

Chorus

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