The Actual Ashtray That Inspired “I Drive Your Truck”

Spotlight on the 2014 ACM Awards Song of the Year

Before I knew the name of Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck,” I just thought of it as the 89-cents-in-the-ashtray song. Because that’s the lyric that opens the song, and immediately paints a picture of heartbreak so vividly.

In 2014, “I Drive Your Truck” won the Academy of Country Music Award for song of the year, which is awarded to the songwriters, Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, and Jimmy Yeary.

And when I caught up with Alexander recently, she told me the full-length version of the story behind that song.

“Connie Harrington was driving and listening to NPR — which shows you mind of songwriter — and she heard an interviewer ask a man who had lost his son in Afghanistan what he was going to do that day to honor his son,” Alexander said. “And he said, ’I don’t know what else to do but drive his truck.'”

Then when Harrington shared that inkling of an idea with Alexander, things got real real fast.

“Here’s where it gets heavy,” she told me. “Connie writes that idea on a Post-it note, and then divine intervention happens. I just happen to be in the songwriting room, even though I don’t want to be there because I’m pregnant with twins and it’s hot. But when Connie tells me the title, I had a lightning bolt go through my body.

“Because my grandmother was so grief-stricken by my granddaddy’s death when I was ten, that she left his truck parked at our Jackson, Tennessee house. I would get in it as a child just to play. And I’d see the coins in the ashtray and his tool belt in the back seat.”

Filling in the blanks on the rest of the ballad, Alexander said, felt like a cosmic thing was happening.

“I saw that truck. I lived that truck,” she said. “And this song was a chance for me to dig into my soul.”

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