“We Build the Trucks” (how Toby Keith almost recorded my song)

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It’s August and I’m in Detroit.

I spent about 20 Augusts in Detroit during my tenure as evening anchor at WXYZ TV Channel 7. Which means I spent twenty Augusts perched on a stage next to Woodward Avenue for the annual Dream Cruise broadcast. For those of you who have never heard of the Dream Cruise it is billed as the largest classic car show on earth. It can also be described as the largest traffic jam of old cars on earth.

Carolyn Clifford and me, anchoring coverage of the Dream Cruise

Imagine thousands of cars from the early half of the 20th century stuck in gridlock on a hot August day. Their radiators didn’t work all that well in the 40’s and 50’s…the passage of time hasn’t improved that situation much.

Still, the Dream Cruise does evoke memories of days gone by when Detroit steel and muscle ruled the roads of America.

I bring this up as a segue into the song I wrote about Detroit’s resilience…both the city’s and the auto industry that made Detroit famous.

It was 2009. The economy was circling the drain and Detroit’s auto industry was going under. I was assigned the job of interviewing the CEO’s of the Big Three; Rick Waggoner from GM, Tom LaSorda from Chrysler and Alan Mulally at Ford about the impending economic disaster.

It was no surprise that Waggoner and LaSorda were in a foul mood, neither one optimistic about the future. They sounded like guys who were about to declare bankruptcy! The surprise came when I met Mulally, who had just taken over at Ford. During our interview he could not have been more optimistic about the future. The economic downturn, he told me, was the perfect opportunity to return Ford’s focus (pardon the pun) to making Fords…to getting back to what made Detroit and Ford great.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally with Carolyn Clifford and me

I was so impressed by his optimism, I went home and wrote “We Build the Trucks”. The song speaks to the toughness of Detroit…”tough like our trucks”…”Ford tough”.

We Build the Trucks

I emailed the song to Mulally and thanked him for his optimism. He called back within hours, my song cranking on full volume in the background. He told me the song was going to be emailed to every Ford employee on earth. Then I was contacted by Ford’s marketing department about writing a :60 second version for country music superstar Toby Keith to record. He was the Ford Truck spokesman at the time.

I heard a rumor, that I have never been able to confirm, that Toby had recorded my song and they were working on an ad campaign centered on “We Build the Trucks”. Then….nothing. Not a peep. And as time dragged on the economy slowly began improving. I finally reached someone at Ford marketing who told me the campaign planning had been going well right up ’til the economy improved and they decided they didn’t need to rehash the bad old days.

So now, as I see the old cars and trucks getting dusted off and backed out of their garages for the Dream Cruise I think of that song, and of its message of hope and resiliency. Then I see those old trucks, steam billowing from their radiators, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on Woodward and think of how my song ended up stuck right there with them in that traffic jam.

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