Will Beeley On Trucking And Songwriting

Jul 13, 2019
Originally published on July 13, 2019 11:34 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now here's a guy who's covered a lot of ground.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAILIN' WITH YOU")

WILL BEELEY: (Singing) You grab your strap and your check your grip because you're headed off on a whole new trip.

SIMON: Will Beeley put away his guitar and became a long-haul trucker to help raise his family after he'd released a couple of albums in the 1970s. Four decades later, he keeps on trucking, but he was convinced the time was right to go back into the studio to record a new album, "Highways And Heart Attacks."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEEN A DRIFTER")

BEELEY: (Singing) I've been a drifter. I've been a hobo, a car salesman and a traveler. I've been up on Knob Hill and I've been flat on my back (ph)...

SIMON: You know, it wasn't easy to pin him down during his rambling routes, but he's rolled to a stop in Austin, Texas, and joins our friends at member station KUT there.

Mr. Beeley, thanks so much for being with us.

BEELEY: Well, thank you.

SIMON: May I ask where'd you come in from? What kind of freight are you hauling?

BEELEY: Oh, we haul different types of cryogenics - liquid helium, liquid nitrogen, oxygen, natural gas.

SIMON: Well, let me - let me make that a life question, though. When it comes to life, where do you come from and what kind of freight have you been hauling?

BEELEY: Well, raised in San Antonio, started my music career in San Antonio. A lot of playing was under contract with Malaco. That first cut that you played with was from an album I did with them in '77, "Passing Dream." And when nothing happened with the record, I pretty much had to look for a real job. My wife was pregnant with our second child. And it was time to get a real job.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PASSING DREAM")

BEELEY: (Singing) It was all just a passing dream there for someone else to find (ph).

I had had a songwriting contract that ended in the late '80s, and it was one of those situations where they couldn't place my tunes. I was pretty discouraged. I put my guild in the case, and I locked the case. And there was probably - I don't know - two dozen half-finished songs in that case. And I didn't play it for several years.

SIMON: So what puts you back in the studio recording music?

BEELEY: Well, I told my wife - I said, you know, it'd be a real kick to be able to go back into the studio one more time, kind of a bucket list kind of thing. And Josh Rosenthal, who owns Tompkins Square, the label that I'm - my two albums that I did back in the '70s were reissued on. Josh called me up and said, have you ever thought about doing another album? And I said, man, my voice is gone, dude. I mean, it sounds like a cross between a Budweiser frog and Clint Eastwood.

SIMON: (Laughter) Oh, wait. That's a great sound. But go ahead.

BEELEY: Well, he disagreed. He said, well, I like the way it sounds. And I said, well, I'd love to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE HOMELESS AIN'T JUST HOBOS ANYMORE")

BEELEY: (Singing) There's a family on the highway and a car that won't go home. The staggering reality that kids ain't got a home (ph)...

SIMON: Let me ask you about a, I think, particularly a good song, "The Homeless Ain't Just Hobos Anymore."

BEELEY: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE HOMELESS AIN'T JUST HOBOS ANYMORE")

BEELEY: (Singing) There's a mother and kids living under a bridge downtown in my hometown. And the fear in the eyes of a child of night with the footsteps that's coming around. And the homeless ain't just hobos anymore (ph)...

SIMON: That's a heart-cursing song and makes you understand that you've been seeing things in America a lot of us never see.

BEELEY: Well, I don't know of it's never see or don't want to look at (laughter), you know? There's a lot of people out there that are really hurting. And most folks by no fault of their own it's just the luck of the draw. That's basically what happens.

SIMON: Yeah.

BEELEY: My wife was working in downtown San Antonio and underneath the expressway, the bridge on the expressway, there was a family living there. That's where I got the idea for the song. I wrote this thing in pieces over a period of about 30 years because I got the idea for the song back in the '80s. It was just sad, you know, that these kids don't have a house, you know? Adults, that's one thing, but when it involves children, that's a whole different deal, you know? I guess because I've got three kids and eight grandkids and three great-grandchildren. So...

SIMON: God bless.

BEELEY: (Laughter).

SIMON: What a family. That's wonderful.

BEELEY: Yeah, it's pretty cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINGIN' LULLABIES")

BEELEY: (Singing) Singing lullabies to sleepy eyes how I love those tunes, hickory dock and a mouse and a clock and a man in the moon. Read me that bedtime story one more time. I hope the sandman's coming because I'm running out of nursery rhymes (ph).

In a year and seven months, I believe it is, I'll be 70. And so I'm going to retire from trucking. What I'd like to do is kick back and just write, which is what I had intended to do back in the '60s and '70s. If I can go back in the studio and do another one, I'd love to.

SIMON: Well, it sounds to me like you have a lot to say.

BEELEY: It doesn't take much to get me going (laughter).

SIMON: Will Beeley - his new album after too long a time "Highways And Heart Attacks."

Thank you so much for being with us. Good luck.

BEELEY: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And safe travels.

BEELEY: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "U.S. 85")

BEELEY: (Singing) You keep on driving down that highway down U.S. 85 (ph).... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.