Stone Cold Tradition
Leland Martin never misses a visit to MATS
By Tim Ghianni
A decade after writing and recording a song that saluted the triumphs and sacrifices of a trucker’s life, Leland Martin remains amazed at the love he receives from the men and women who make their livings in big rigs.
“Now, every trucker in the world walks up to me, with tears in their eyes, wanting to thank me for what I say in ‘Stone Cold Fingers,’” he says. “They want it requested at their funerals. Others say they had it played at their daddy’s funerals. It’s become a truck drivers’ anthem.”
The lyrics make a strong point: Keep jammin’ them gears, for as long as I’m here/another million miles it ain’t no big deal/And I’ll give up driving this truck when they pry my stone cold fingers from the wheel…
The song was on his 2001 Simply Traditional album, and was a modest hit along with “If I Had Long Legs (Like Alan Jackson).” Martin harbors no bitterness about those years pursuing mainstream success.
“I never moved to Nashville, but I spent a lot of time there,” he says, from his home in Missouri. “We played Nashville’s game, doing the radio and TV promotion on the singles. Did the videos. But we came at a time when traditional country music was on its way out.”
Soon enough, “Stone Cold Fingers” found a home. It was played on trucking radio shows far more than on mainstream country music stations, so Martin didn’t fully grasp this special audience’s loyalty until he visited the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville in 2002.
“I never realized how big it was until the first truck show I went to, when the truckers were coming up to me and saying ‘You’re the ‘Stone Cold Fingers’ guy, right?’”
It was a mutual love affair that has had him attending as many truck shows as possible, but never, ever missing MATS, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
“Sometimes I just go sit in a sponsor’s booth. Shake the truckers’ hands. The last few I started singing over at the Papa John’s parking lot.”
The 54-year-old singer, who met his wife, Pam, when they both toiled in a shoe factory, knows enough about hard work to appreciate the job his trucker fans have taken on.
“When I was younger, I worked at a saw mill, where I’d stack the lumber and drive a forklift. I could work all day — hard — and play music three nights a week. It would kill me now,” he says with a hearty laugh.
His fans have allowed him to make music his job. He records his albums at home and does concerts in the region. Louisville is close by, and during MATS Martin often performs at charity events. “If it means helping somebody, I’ll do it,” he says. His work has been recognized by the governor, who appointed him a Kentucky Colonel, and by the mayor, who gave him Louisville’s Key to the City.
Fans even got the city’s renowned Louisville Slugger factory to make him a purple baseball bat with “Purple Peterbilt” and “Leland Martin” engraved in gold. The slugger pays tribute to his I’ll Pick The Guitar, You Drive The Truck album, a 14-track collection of trucker songs, including fan favorite, “Royal Purple Peterbilt.” The album is a full-on attempt to salute his core audience.
“I wanted to do an album just for the truckers,” Martin says. His new album, Workin’ Class, sticks with the theme.
The fact that it is found in truckstops rather than record stores suits him fine. That’s where his fans stretch their legs before climbing back into their rigs and cranking up “Stone Cold Fingers” and his other songs honoring the trucker.
“Trucking is not a living to them,” he says. “It’s something that’s in their blood.”
Mid-America Trucking Show
Kentucky Expo Center
March 31-April 2