Thirty-nine years ago today (July 9, 1983) was a memorable day for Ricky Skaggs: It was on that date that the singer soared to the top of the charts with his single “Highway 40 Blues,” from his No. 1 Highways & Heartaches album.
“Highway 40 Blues” was written by veteran songwriter Larry Cordle, but Skaggs changed one line from “My eyes are filled with bitter tears / Lord, I could use could an ice-cold beer” to “My eyes are filled with bitter tears / Lord, I ain’t been home in years” to accommodate his devoutly Christian parents. In his autobiography, Kentucky Traveler, Skaggs says that he never wanted to record a song he wouldn’t have felt comfortable singing in front of them.
Highways & Heartaches became Skaggs’ first platinum-selling album and spawned two other No. 1 singles, “Heartbroke” and “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could.”
Skaggs once performed “Highway 40 Blues,” along with “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could,” on the syndicated TV show Hee Haw. He also included the song on both 2000’s 16 Biggest Hits and his 2011 double disc, The Essential Ricky Skaggs; he then later re-recorded it for his Country Hits Bluegrass Style album.
This story was originally written by Gayle Thompson, and revised by Annie Zaleski.
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