Big Joe and Phantom 309

Well now, it’s story time again. I’m gonna tell you a story ‘bout a truck driver. This story was written by a guy named Red Sovine, and it’s called the Ballad of Big Joe and Phantom 309.

See, I just happened to be back on the East coast a few years back
I was tryin’ to make me a buck like everybody else
I’ll be damned if times didn’t get hard, and Christ I got down on my luck
And I got tired of just roamin’ and bummin’ around
So I started thumbin’ my way back to my old hometown
And you know, I made quite a few miles in the first couple of days
You know, I figured I’d be home in a week if my luck held out this way
You know, it was the third night, oh and I got stranded
And it was out at a cold lonely crossroads
And as the rain came pouring down, man I was hungry
Yeah, I was hungry, tired and freezin’, caught myself a chill
But it was just about that time
Yeah, it was just about that time that the lights of an ol’ semi topped the hill
You should’ve seen me smile when I heard them air brakes come on
Yeah, and I climbed up into that cab where I knew it’d be warm
At the wheel... well, at the wheel sat a big man
And I’d have to say he must’ve weighed two ten
As he stuck out a big hand and he said with a grin
‘Big Joe’s the name, and this here rig’s called Phantom 309’
Well, I asked him why he called his rig such a name
And you know, he turned to me and said
‘Why son, don’t you know this here rig’ll be puttin’ ‘em all to shame
Nah, there ain’t a driver
No, there ain’t a driver on this or any other line for that matter, that...
That’s seen nothin’ but the taillights of Big Joe and Phantom 309’
So we rode and we talked the better part of the night
And I told my stories and Joe told his
And I smoked up all his Viceroys as we rolled along
Pushed her ahead with 10 forward gears
Man, that dashboard was lit like the old Madam La Rue pinball
Serious semi truck
Till almost mysteriously...
Well, it was the lights of a truck stop that rolled into sight
Joe turned to me, said
‘I’m sorry son, but I’m afraid this is just as far as you go, you see...
You see, I kinda gotta be makin’ a turn just up the road a piece’
I’ll be damned if he didn’t toss me a dime as he threw her in low and said
‘Go on in there son, and get yourself a hot cup of coffee on Big Joe’
I mean to tell you, when Joe and his rig pulled off into the night
Man, in nothing flat they was clean outta sight
So I walked into this stop, well I ordered me up a cup of mud, sayin’
‘Big Joe’s settin’ this dude up’, but it got so deadly quiet in that place
Yeah, it got so deadly quiet in that place, you could’ve heard a pin drop
And as the waiter’s face turned kinda pale
I said, ‘What’s the matter, did I say somethin’ wrong?’
I kinda said with a half way grin
He said, ‘No son, you see it’ll kinda happen every now and then
Cause every driver in here knows Big Joe, son, but...
But let me tell you what happened just 10 years ago out there
Yeah, it was 10 years ago, out there at that cold lonely crossroads
And there was a whole bus load of kids
And then they were just comin’ from school
And they were right in the middle when Joe topped the hill and...
They could’ve been slaughtered except Joe turned his wheels
And he jacknifed, yeah he jacknifed, and he went into a skid
And you know, folks around here, well...
They say he gave his life to save that bunch of kids
And out there at that cold lonely crossroads
Well, they’re saying it was the end of the line for Big Joe and Phantom 309
‘But it’s funny you know, cause... cause every now and then
Yeah, every now and then when the moon’s holdin’ the water
Well, they say that old Joe’ll stop and give you a ride
It seems, just like you, some hitchhiker’ll be comin’ by’
‘So here, son,’ he said to me, ‘you get yourself another cup of coffee
It’s on the house, I kind of want you to hang on to that dime
Yeah, I kind of want you to hang on to that dime as a souvenir
I want you to keep that dime as a souvenir of Big Joe
Of Big Joe and Phantom
Big Joe and Phantom 309’

Words and music by Tommy Faile
©1967 Fort Knox Music (BMI)

Original title: ‘Big Joe... and Phantom 309’
Recorded by Red Sovine on his album ‘I Didn’t Jump the Fence’

Recorded and engineered by Bones Howe at The Record Plant and Heider Recording, Hollywood, July 1975
Assistant engineers: Rick Smith, Ron Marks, Kelly Kotera, Steve Smith, "Big Norm" Dlugatch

Tom Waits: Vocals and acoustic guitar
Jim Hughart: Upright bass

Tracks 16-17 on ‘Nighthawks at the Diner’ 1975
Time (intro): 0.41
Time (song): 6.30

Other live recordings available on these bootlegs:

KPFK Los Angeles, 1973 (Date?)
Ebbets Field, Denver, October 8, 1974
Boot title: Downtown Blues
Passims, Cambridge, November 10, 1974
Boot title: On a Foggy Night
WMMR Philadelphia, 1975 (Date?)
Folk Scene Flashback (Radio show) 1975 (Date?)
McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, January 31, 1975
Ebbets Field, Denver, February 19, 1975
WAMU FM (Live in studio), April 18, 1975 (Town?)
The Faces Club, Dallas, 1976 (Date?)
Bottom Line, New York, December 18, 1976
Boot title: Mainstreet
The Paradise Theatre, Boston, October 5, 1977
The Paramount Theatre, Oakland, February 4, 1996

In the intro, Tom mistakenly attributes the song to Red Sovine. It was actually written by Tommy Faile, even though Sovine recorded it.

Tommy Faile had a number of hit songs, and topped the country charts with a version of Scotty Wiseman’s "Brown Mountain Lights." He was also a member of Arthur Smith’s Crackerjacks, where he, among other things, played the part of "Cousin Phudd" in a comedy routine.

Red Sovine, who was really named Woodrow Wilson Sovine, was a country singer and guitarist from West Virginia who started performing in 1935. He got his first of 29 country hits in 1955. He died in 1980 and, for some reason, had a hit in England one year later, with ‘Teddy Bear’ (which had peaked at No. 40 in the States in 1976, his only Top 40 entry.)
His version of ‘Phantom 309’ can be heard on several CD’s, but ‘The Best of Red Sovine (Deluxe)’ seems to be the ultimate collection.