The Teddy Bear Mystery Revealed! By Mike White. Woodrow Wilson "Red" Sovine was born July 17, 1918. This native of Charleston, West Virginia was a regular on the "Grand Ole Opry" and became known as "The King of Trucker Music...
Woodrow Wilson "Red" Sovine was born July 17, 1918. This native of Charleston, West Virginia was a regular on the "Grand Ole Opry" and became known as "The King of Trucker Music." As the old commercial for "Red Sovine’s Greatest Hits" used to say, "Red Sovine means as much to trucking as CBs and hot coffee."
Unlike other Trucker singers such as Dave Dudley or the similarly-named Red Simpson, Sovine was known more as a storyteller than a crooner. While Sovine could belt out gear-jamming tunes like "Six Days on the Road" or "Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel" with the best of them, he is best remembered for his maudlin epic poems such as "Little Rosa" or "Phantom 309." The most famous Sovine song is his experiment in rhyme couplets, "Teddy Bear." Here the tale of a wheelchair-bound boy and the loss of his father are related in tear-jerking detail.
The most perplexing song in Sovine’s oeuvre, "Little Joe," has the song’s narrator experiencing his own 18-wheel hardship before being saved by a puppy (the title character) and being reunited with a miraculously walking Teddy Bear. The reason for Teddy Bear’s ambulatory nature doesn’t exist in Sovine’s song catalog. This unexpected turn requires looking at the life of Teddy Bear outside of the songs
Written by Sovine, Tommy Hill, Dale Royal, and Billy Joe Burnette, "Teddy Bear" is said to have sold over a million copies in six weeks, climbing the country charts to the top slot faster than any other song to date in 1976. The song also crossed over to reach number 40 on the pop chart. With such popularity, record executives demanded another "Teddy Bear" tale to cash in on the phenomenal success. Yet Sovine was uninterested in narrating "the continuing adventures of Teddy Bear."
A decade earlier, when Sovine claimed the Trucker Song throne with his song "Giddy-up-go," he and co-writer Tommy Hill penned an answer song to this hit for country legend Minnie Pearl. Simply called "Giddy-up-go Answer," this song tells nearly the same story as Sovine’s tale of a young trucker reuniting with his father, but this time, from the mother’s point of view. Rather than an answer song to "Teddy Bear," singer Diana Williams recorded the morbid Dale Royal and Billy Joe Burnette-penned lament, "Teddy Bear’s Last Ride," which killed off the handicapped tyke.
Told from the point of view of the best friend of "Momma Teddy Bear," the song portrays Teddy Bear’s slow, sad, downward spiral. Dying of unknown causes, "He talked less often on the old CB / And there were times when he’d hardly talk with me." Eventually, "They never did catch Teddy Bear again / ‘Cause late one night the Angel came. / And the last thing he said before he died / Was, ‘Tell all my trucker friends how I enjoyed the rides.’"
Apparently, Sovine was incensed. His beloved Teddy Bear was needlessly slaughtered. Moreover, Williams’s single was climbing the charts. Rather than commenting on the "Last Ride," Sovine (via songwriter Moe Lytle) came back with "Little Joe." Here we learned that not only was Teddy Bear alive but he could walk. Essentially, the disrespect of Diana Williams was "the miracle that made Teddy Bear walk again."
Little Joe would not have been able to save Sovine from the wreck of April 4, 1980, when the singer had a heart attack behind the wheel of his vehicle and crashed. He died due to the injuries sustained, but left behind an undying musical legacy.
TEDDY BEAR’S LAST RIDEBy Dale Royal & Billy Joe Burnette
I was there that day and saw her cry
When Mama Teddy Bear said, "Ten-four and goodbye."
She turned off the old CB and just looked at me,
And her heart overflowed and her tears ran free.
And the gratitude in her face shone like the sun
For all the things those big tough truckers had done.
A handful of change and a few dollar bills,
But most of all, a little crippled boy’s dream fulfilled.
I guess I was Mama Teddy Bear’s best friend.
I lived next door to her and little Teddy Bear since I don’t know when.
And that’s why now, before my memory grows old,
The rest of this story just has to be told.
I’d come over and sit with Teddy Bear while his mama was away
And play little games to help him pass the day.
In the afternoon he’d wheel that chair
Over by the radio and he’d go on the air.
And one by one he’d break ‘em all.
I never knew a trucker not to answer his call.
He’d just grin and asked me not to tell his mom,
But I was pretty sure she knew what was going on.
But time has a way of taking its toll,
And much too fast, Mama Teddy Bear was growing old.
I watched as the silver touched her hair,
And her one aim in life was Teddy Bear.
And then I saw another change take place,
Little Teddy Bear was slowly losing the race.
I knew it, and his mama knew it too,
And there was nothing in this whole world either one of us could do.
He talked less often on the old CB,
And there were times when he’d hardly talk with me.
He took to sitting in the window and watching the road
And the big eighteen- wheelers rolling by with their loads.
Finally he was too weak to get out of bed,
And one day he looked at me and said,
"Would you turn on the radio and go on the air,
And tell all my trucker friends what’s happened to Teddy Bear."
Well, the hardest thing I’ve done in my time
Was to pick up the mike and say, "Break one-nine...
"This is for all you truckers who care.
"I’m calling for your little friend Teddy Bear.
"He says to tell you he misses you all,
"And he’s awful sorry he can’t answer your calls."
They all came back and joked with me,
And said they’d catch him later on the old CB.
They never did catch Teddy Bear again,
‘Cause late one night the Angel came.
And the last thing he said before he died
Was, "Tell all my trucker friends how I enjoyed the rides."
Mama Teddy Bear couldn’t tell ‘em, and neither could I,
‘Cause each time we’d look at that radio, we’d both start to cry.
The funeral was preached at the chapel, and
Little Teddy Bear started on his last ride.
As the procession rounded the little city square,
The sounds of a hundred engines filled the air.
The truckers had dropped their trailers back somewhere behind,
And one by one they fell in line.
They all tried to comfort Mama Teddy Bear,
And it seemed like the warmth of God just filled the air.
Slowly they formed a circle ‘round the little grave, and a lot of big men cried
That day as they paid their last respects on Teddy Bear’s last ride.LITTLE JOE
By Moe Lytle
Some time ago I was sippin’ on some coffee and havin’ some ham and biscuits when a motion caught my eye through the truck stop window. It was a little lost puppy; half-starved and shakin’ from fear. Well, I just had to make friends with him so I picked him up and put him in the cab. And, buddy, he took to that truck like he was born there. Well, I named him Little Joe and as I watched him sleep on the seat beside me that’s when I knew that Little Joe would be with me for a long, long time.
Well, a few months later I was talking to my old friend Teddy Bear on the old CB and not paying much attention to my back door. Little Joe started barking up a storm. I looked up and saw a Smokey in the mirror and I slowed my rig down just in time. But, you know something, Teddy Bear heard Little Joe barking and he said, "Hey Big Red, let me talk to your partner!" And I said, "You’ve got it, good buddy."
"How’s the old Smokey situation, Little Joe?" And Little Joe said, "Rough (Ruff)." Aw, that just tore him up and the next two hundred miles just flew by ‘cause everybody on that CB wanted to talk to Little Joe.
Well, one night we were headed through the Smokies in East Tennessee and Little Joe started acting real (sic) nervous. I heard the sounds of lightning (sic) on the old CB and suddenly we were in the worst storm that I’d ever seen. All at once I saw headlights coming straight at my rig! Someone was blinded in the rain! So I swerved fast and just barely missed a camper full of kids. But the shoulder gave way and we crashed over the side of the mountain. And when I woke up my truck was on fire and I couldn’t move. But, somehow, Little Joe grabbed me by the collar and pulled me away from that burning rig.
Well, I was in the hospital the next time I woke up and the doctor was there to break the bad news. The accident had taken my sight. Oh, God, now I can’t even drive! And that’s when I realized how helpless Teddy Bear must have felt before the miracle happened that made him walk again. And then I thought, we-we-we-where’s Little Joe? No-ain’t nobody said anything about LittleWhere’s LiOh, I was so sad. ‘cause I figured Little Joe had given his life to save me.
Well, my brother asked me to come live with him and when he opened the door to my new room I heard an old CB just a-blarin’ away. Well, I couldn’t wait to grab that mic and the first voice I heard was my old buddy Teddy Bear, ratchet jawin’ in the distance. So I broke for him, and he came right back to me. Why, it was almost like old times again. Teddy Bear was a-yackin’ away, unloading all the latest new on me and getting louder and louder. But all of a sudden the sound of an engine seemed to drown Teddy Bear out. And I said, "Hey, what’s going on?" Teddy Bear said, "Open your front door, good buddy, I’m just outside." Lord, the roar of engines seemed to rock the house. And, all around me I could hear familiar voices and slammin’ doors. Aw, I couldn’t hold back the tears. All my friends were there.
And then I heard something I couldn’t believe. Little Joe? That bark? Why, it had to be Little Joe. And no sooner than that he was all over me. And I put my arms around my old partner and the tears were streaming down my face. And then I felt something strange. Little Joe hadn’t worn a collar before. And attached to the collar was a handle. A hush fell over my friends. And I realize, Lord, my new eyes were standing at my feet... Little Joe.
Back to Issue 15