Best known for his truck-driving country anthems of the 1960s and 1970s and his semi-slurred baritone, Dudley had a short career as a semi-professional baseball player with the Gainsville Owls when he tore a muscle in his pitching arm. While recovering, Dave dropped by WTMT in Wausau, WI and ended up hosting The Texas Stranger Show. Following a stint at KBOK in Waterloo, Iowa, Dave headed northwest in 1952 to KCHA in Charles City, Iowa. A year later, Dave formed the Dave Dudley Trio which stayed together for seven years. He was one of the earliest artists to record for the National Recording Corporation, with “Where’s There’s A Will” (1959).
In 1960, Dave moved to Minnesota, formed the Country Gentlemen, and joined KEVE in Minneapolis. While packing his guitar away after a performance at The Flame on December 3, 1960, he was seriously injured when a car struck him, setting back his career in music. He first appeared on the Country charts in 1961 with “Maybe I Do,” released by Vee Records. He later moved to Golden Wing Records.
In 1963, “Six Days on the Road” became a hit for Dudley. The song was written by Earl Green and Peanut Montgomery. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. In the original version of the song as recorded by Dudley the lyrics include the words “…I’m taking little white pills and my eyes are open wide…” a reference to the stimulants some truckers used to keep driving (and make their delivery times) when they needed sleep. Some remakes of the song replace these words with a reference to looking at the white lines on the road. Dudley can be heard and seen singing the correct original lyrics in a 1971 performance currently available at YouTube.
In 1963, Dudley moved on to Mercury Records. By the end of 1963, he released his first single from the label, “Last Day in the Mines”. Dudley scored more big hits in the 1960s, including “Truck Drivin’ Son-of-a-Gun”, “Trucker’s Prayer” and “Anything Leaving Town Today”. “Six Days on the Road” has been covered by several artists, including George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Steve Earle, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Sawyer Brown.
Dudley continued to have success into the 1970s, while continuing to record for Mercury Records. He had some Country Top 10s in the 1970s, including “Comin’ Down” and “Fly Away Again.” By the late 1970s, his success on the charts was beginning to fade, although Dudley amassed thirty-three Top 40 Country hits.
In 1978 Dudley’s name became known to the audience in Germany after the most successful German country band Truck Stop had a single Top 10 hit in Germany, titled “Ich möcht’ so gern Dave Dudley hör’n” (“I would like with such pleasure to hear Dave Dudley”).
In the 1980s, Dudley continued to record sporadically, and remained popular in concert. During this time, he was elected to the ‘Nashville Teamsters Truck Drivers Union’, receiving a solid gold membership card from the union. During this time, he also found out that he had a big fan base in Europe, and he decided to try to appeal more to this market. Later in life, Dudley retired to a cabin located on the west side of Staples Lake, near Danbury, Wisconsin. During this period, he was a conspicuous presence at certain local dining establishments. He was known to frequently engage other patrons, stating, “Do you know who I am? I’m Dave Dudley.”
In total, Dudley recorded more than 70 albums. However, he did not manage to reclaim his past success, and neither his single “Where’s That Truck?”, recorded with disc jockey Charlie Douglas, nor the track “Dave Dudley, American Trucker”, recorded in 2002 in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, helped to revive his career. Few of his hits have made it onto CDs and albums, creating a market for his vintage vinyl recordings.