Introduction

Highway 80 is a stretch of road that ran at one time from California all through Georgia and was once part of the early auto trail known as the Dixie Overland Highway.

However, the entire segment west of Dallas, Texas, has been decommissioned in favor of various interstate and state highways. Currently, the highway’s western terminus is on the Dallas–Mesquite, Texas city line. Highway 80’s last stop is Tybee Island, Georgia, just past Savannah.

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My focus will be the stretch from Dallas to the other side of Macon, Georgia.  I will weave a fictional narrative revolving around nine families and many secondary characters going back to when they first came to America. More specifically, when and how they got to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia. In the process the vicissitudes of American history will be the context for the lives, the successes and losses, of the characters in these stories and songs.

Although the stories and songs are based on real events and typical experiences of the people who settled the southern United States, all the characters and stories are fictional.

“Terrell”

The stories of Jake McLemore and Pearl Robison are told in a group of songs that describe their lives before and after they meet and then their relationship together.

Jake is introduced with the song “McLemore’s“, which tells about his bar in Nashville and describes his character as seen through the eyes of young man.  At the end of the song, Jake has sold his bar and moved outside Shreveport, Louisiana.

The song “Between Here and Gone” is our first exposure to Pearl, when she is in Macon, Georgia, contemplating leaving a dead end job.  She travels west on Highway 80 to Shreveport where she stops at an all night diner and Jake McLemore enters her life (see song, “Pearl and Jake“) .

They live together for five years before Pearl chooses to leave when their relationship stagnates.  She heads further west on 80, this time heading for Fort Worth to camp out with with her sister while she attempts to get back on her feet (see song “Hit the Road“).

The songs “The River and Jake” and “The Red River Flows” address Jake’s confusion and sadness after Pearl’s seemingly unexplained disappearance.

When she leaves Shreveport, Pearl is not yet aware that she is carrying Jake’s baby, but while she is living with her sister it soon becomes obvious.  She ends up getting her own place and prepares for the baby’s arrival, but chooses not to inform Jake immediately.

Pearl gives birth in 2015 to a baby girl whom she names Sadie Jo, after her parents, Jason Jones Robison and Sadie Boone.  About two years after leaving Shreveport Pearl calls Jake and, in her first contact since she left, tells him he is a new father.

Pearl and Jake get married in 2018 and raise Sadie Jo McLemore together.

Terrell
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

All Pearl knew, she was heading to Texas
When she packed up and left Shreveport
She didn’t know then she was pregnant
When she landed on her sister’s porch

Six months later, Myrna asked if she’d thought about
How she planned on raising this baby alone
Her brother-in-law said it was time for her to move out
Pearl needed a place of her own

Terrell, Texas
Where Pearl calls home
Terrell, Texas
Where Pearl lives alone

Year later, Pearl was working at the Donut Hole
Which made her think of Jake
Sadie Jo’s his, he deserves to know
Not telling him was a mistake

That weekend Pearl prayed for the courage
And help to find the right words to say
Knowing Jake, he might speak of marriage
And Pearl just might say okay

Terrell, Texas …

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Molly on the Mountain”

Molly Motts was born in Delta, Louisiana, a tiny hamlet at the Louisiana-Mississippi border,  just across the river from Vicksburg.  Because of a difficult home life, she often dreamed of getting out of Delta.  Vicksburg just across the river looked like a dream garden to her and she thought she’d do anything to get there.  She did: marrying Vernon Raney, bootlegger, more than twice her age; but a good husband to her (see song, “When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney“) .

They had three children, Lonnie, Ronnie and Ginny.  Molly was an ambitious girl and decided early on to piggy-back a drug distribution business onto Vernon’s already prospering bootlegging enterprise (see song, “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).

Despite the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, many states continued to outlaw alcohol for several more decades.  But bootleg whiskey began going out of style in the mid-‘60s, by which time liquor by the drink had become legal in most states, and there was less and less demand for moonshine except out of nostalgia. Transitioning,  first, to marijuana and then harder drugs, seemed to make good business sense to Molly.

Molly got her oldest son, Lonnie elected sheriff as a way to offer protection to her and her second son, Ronnie, as they operating the drug business with little interference from law enforcement. This they did and quickly established a lucrative distribution network of dealers from Natchez to Memphis (see song, “Louanne in Vicksburg“).

Molly lived to see both of her sons die violent deaths: Ronnie was murdered by his wife, Louanne Bowden, and Lonnie was killed in a stand-off with U.S. Marshalls and DEA agents.  As the drug network wound down, Molly grew into her role as grandmother to Ginny’s children, living a quiet life in Vicksburg.

The second summer after they were married, Vernon built Molly a small cabin in the north Georgia mountains, on a section of the old Raney homestead (see song “Lonsom Raney 1828“).  Molly would often go there as a retreat.  This song describes her last visit there, when she looks back on her life and contemplates the impact on her family of the choices she has made.

Molly on the Mountain
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Molly was at her cabin on the mountain
Thinking ‘bout her life, and all she’d done
A jelly glass of Vernon’s tobacco whiskey
Sparkled in the late October sun
She thought back to the day she married Vernon Raney
Not yet 21, June of ‘58
Three months pregnant, walking down the aisle
To a man more than twice her age

Molly on the mountain, don’t wanna come down
Molly on the mountain, don’t wanna be found
Molly on the mountain, gonna leave it all behind
Molly on the mountain, knows it’s time

The cabin had a chill, she built a fire
With the last of the wood Lonnie’d split
Lonnie’s gone, his brother Ronnie too
Molly blamed herself for all of it
She’d grown harder through the years from that life
Harder, than she could describe
The pot and drugs, the men she fought, some she killed
All she’d ever done was survive

Molly on the mountain …

Ginny was the one who turned out okay
Molly sure loves those three grandkids
She made sure to keep Ginny away from it all
That’s one good thing that she did
Lonnie’s Donald and Vern, went to East Mississippi
Took off when things got hot in Vicksburg
They’re selling pills and meth to the kids at Starkville
That’s what they learned from her

Molly on the mountain …

Molly’s great grandma, Mamie, was a conjure woman
She knew plants for curing or killing dead
Mamie passed it down to Molly’s grandpa Motts
That’s where Molly got it, was what they said
Molly pressed the jelly glass against her cheek
It was time to drink that whiskey down
She looked into the woods, found that old maple tree
Watched a yellow leaf drift to the ground

Molly on the mountain …

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Meridian”

The lineage of Crawford Harper and the Donald and Vern Raney, is a little complicated.  They were distantly related to each other, although they did not know it at the time of the events described in this song.  In order to set the stage we have to go back to Alabama, before the Civil war.

Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936) was born into slavery but was freed by Will Monroe, her father, a wealthy white planter, in 1863 as a result of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Celsie’s mother, Jessie Crawford (1828-1905), was a slave from a neighboring plantation of whom Will Monroe had grown quite fond. Monroe made sure Jessie was provided for and also insisted that she be freed in 1863 by paying off her owner Carson Crawford.

Celsie was what was called a “yellow gal”, and quite beautiful. Once she was freed at age 19, Celsie began seeing a white man, Joshua Tate (1828-1867), and their relationship developed into a common law marriage, although the possibility of such a union being recognized was not possible at the time.  They had one child, a son, Tullison Tate, “Monroe’s Tully” (see song “King Cotton“).

In 1872 Celsie’s first actual marriage was to a African-American man, Jesse Harper (1850-1922), and Celsie and Jesse enjoyed a long and happy union, raising four children, seven grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. However, Celsie’s oldest child, Tully, was raised by his spinster Aunt Ruth, his father’s sister.

Donald and Vernon Raney were distant descendants of Tully Tate, his daughter marrying Virgil Raney, whose son Vernon was Donald and Vernon’s grandfather.  Their father Lonnie Raney, had been a crooked Warren County sheriff, who was killed in a shootout with U.S. Marshalls, during a drug raid. The Raneys were descendants of Lonsom Raney, longtime moonshiner in North Georgia (see song “Lonsom Raney 1828“).

Lonnie’s generation of Raneys had become major players in the drug trade stretching from Memphis to Natchez, with Lonnie’s mother Molly Motts Raney acting as matriarch of the family drug enterprise (see songs “When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney” and “Louanne in Vicksburg“).  Donald and Vernon were Molly’s grandchildren, who were trying to carry on the family business, albeit on a much smaller scale, in Meridian, Mississippi.

One of Celsie Monroe’s great-grandchildren, William Crawford Harper (1942-2001), had marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 (see song “Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge“). Crawford Harper was Willie’s grandson, and this song describes the events of Crawford’s first summer home from college, when he visited his grandpa in Meridian, Mississippi.

Meridian
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Crawford Harper was in Starkville
Mississippi State
He’d be the first in the Harper family
Who might graduate

His Grandpa Willie lived in Meridian
Crawford spent the summer, wanting to earn
He’d heard about two fellas with a business
That’s how Crawford met Donald and Vern

The Raneys were from North Georgia
Moonshiners back in the hills
When they came down off that mountain
They were selling pot and pills

When Crawford met up with the Raneys
Vern gave him a duffle bag full of meth
Told him how much money to deliver
Crawford could keep the rest

One night Grandpa Willie found his stash
Asked him, “where’d you get this money?”
Crawford said, “don’t worry, old man,
I got it working for somebody”

Willie Harper had marched at Selma
Five miles from the same plantation
Where his ancestor had been a slave
Going back six generations

Willie asked, if that somebody
Might be named Donald and Vern
Crawford grabbed his duffel bag
Told him, “it ain’t none of your concern”

But see, Willie’d had a visit
From the Raneys late one night
Crawford owed them money
That had to be made right

Willie Harper was a welder
Vern said, “you’re gonna have a partner”
Willie looked at him with stone cold eyes
Said, “only name on that sign is Harper”

Under his welding gloves
Willie kept his service forty-five
He told Vern, “if you think I won’t use it,
You’re in for a surprise”

When Crawford came home, his grandpa told him
“The Raneys won’t be ‘round no more”
He took that duffel bag and torched it
Into a pile of ashes on the floor

Crawford Harper was back in Starkville
Mississippi State
He was the first in the Harper family
To graduate

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Hit the Road”

In 1973 Pearl Robison was born in Conyers, Georgia but we first meet Pearl when she is managing a dollar store in Macon.  One January day in 2010, sitting in her car before opening up, she decides to leave town and head west on U.S. 80 (see song, “Between Here and Gone“).

She ends up in Shreveport, Louisiana, when she stops at an all night diner and Jake McLemore enters her life.  They live together for five years before Pearl’s wanderlust overtakes her again and she leaves, this time heading for Fort Worth (see song, “Pearl + Jake“).  She does not know at the time that she is pregnant, but when she discovers this fact, she choose to not tell Jake that he is going to be a father.

She gives birth in 2015 to a baby girl whom she names Sadie Jones Robison, after her parents, Jason Jones Robison and Sadie Boone.

Hit the Road
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Last five years been a good run
She hates to see it end like this
She can tell it’s coming undone
Can’t say just why that is

It’s the longest she’s stayed in one place
This leaving feeling is one she knows
She don’t want to see the hurt on his face
Best thing for her to do is just go

Gonna hit the road
It’s what she knows
When her back’s against the wall she goes
Gonna pack it in
Once again
When that old feeling grows
It’s time to hit the road

Got a sister in Fort Worth
Been years since she’d seen her mama and them
‘Bout three hours from Shreveport
She sure hates to run from him

Gonna hit the road …

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“James”

Rosalie Broussard found her self pregnant a week after turning sixteen (see song “Jenny or James“).  Though her boyfriend wanted her to have an abortion, and even offered her the money, she refused, because Rosalie had a naive understanding about what having a baby really meant, and also because she just didn’t like the idea.  However, she eventually realized she couldn’t handle the responsibility and when James was three she handed him over to her father and his second wife, MaeAnn.

When Rosalie was twenty she left Vivian, Louisiana and married Tully Tate, a man she met while waitressing at a truck stop.  They had twin girls and lived in Mobile, Alabama.  But Rosalie never could make peace with domestic life and would run off from time to time, ech time Tully would find and bring her back home (see song “What Tully’s Done“).  But eventually he grew tired of chasing after his runaway wife and Rosalie finally left that family as well (see song “Rosalie“).

Mike and MaeAnn dearly loved James since they saw that his mother had not shown him the natural love of a mother.  But James still felt an emptiness which was only relieved when he played catch with his grandpa.

James
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

James was Wednesday’s child, full of woe
His mama left when he was just three years old
Rosalie was only sixteen when she had him
Left him with her parents; he was raised by them

James grew up wondering if he’d done something wrong
That made his mama leave him at his grandpa’s home
His father was a shadow, a name that wasn’t said
But Mike and MaeAnn did their best

When James played catch with Mike
For a little while everything seemed alright
A peaceful feeling settled in with the dimming light
On those summer days when James played catch with Mike

He overheard bits and pieces about his mama’s life
She was living in Mobile, a truck driver’s wife
At Christmas she might visit but wouldn’t stay too long
Gave James some toy he’d long ago outgrown

MaeAnn said he had twin sisters in Mobile
James really hoped that they had a better deal
But soon Rosalie would run off from them too
It seemed that’s all his mama was cut out to do

When James played catch with Mike
For a little while everything seemed alright
A peaceful feeling settled in with the dimming light
On those summer days when James played catch with Mike

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“The Red River Flows”

Jake McLemore had owned a bar in Nashville, but sold it and bought a parcel of land between Shreveport and Vivian, Louisiana (see song “McLemore’s“). The Red River flowed through his land, and he built a small cabin there. In this song, Jake is contemplating life in the wake of the failure of his latest relationship.

The Red River Flows
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

I’m out on the porch
It’s around ten to four
The Red River flows
It just goes rolling on

Dickel is what I sip
A Lucky on my lip
The Red River flows
It just goes rolling on

There was a woman, but she left
Wasn’t the worst, wasn’t the best
No note, no goodbye
I don’t wonder why

A rain softly falls
Mourning dove softly calls
The Red River flows
It just goes rolling on

I guess I’ll go to work
Might as well change my shirt
Life goes on I suppose
While that Red River flows

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Water Fountains”

During Mike Broussard’s early childhood, his family lived in Shreveport, Louisiana, but later he moved to Vivian where he owned a business and lived out the remainder of his life.  The experience described in this song, when Mike was twelve years old, affected his attitude towards race relations from then on.

One of the oldest movie theaters in Shreveport was The Strand.  It had different entrances for blacks and whites and water fountains marked for the different races, as well.

During the ’60s, most southern cities had two simultaneous phenomena: demographically a significant percentage of the population was African-American (Shreveport was about 60% black) and as a consequence whites and blacks unofficially interacted a lot.  The other aspect was a policy of official segregation. This manifested itself in a myriad of ways beyond the obvious, e.g. separate drinking fountains and different entrances to movie theaters.  However, relationships between whites and blacks could be warm and friendly despite official segregation.

Into the demographic mix were other ingredients.  Louisiana had a relatively large number of Italian Americans, mostly Sicilians.  These immigrants also experienced some discrimination, and in general did not share the otherwise pervasive white attitudes about African-Americans.

When Mike Broussard served in Vietnam he met an African-American from Detroit, D.W. Washington, and they became life-long friends.  Mike and D.W. talked about their plans when their tours were over, and D.W. went back to Vivian with Mike and they operated a filling station and auto repair shop for more than forty years.  D.W. was Mike’s closest friend (see songs “Sarge“, “Mike & D.W.” and “Out on Cross Lake“).

Water Fountains
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

It was 1960, I was twelve years old
My brother and me went to the picture show
My mother dropped us off gave us each a dollar
To see John Wayne in “The Alamo”
Outside The Strand were two water fountains side by side
One was marked “Colored” the other “White”

I didn’t know Bobby Ghio all that well
He’d just moved to Shreveport that year
He was Sicilian, from New Orleans
And was different from the kids ‘round here
He went to the wrong fountain, he didn’t want to wait in line
My mouth was wide open, it kind of blew my mind

It was exceptional
Incredible
To question what we thought was unquestionable
Exceptional
Like climbing a mountain
Or just drinking from a water fountain

Big Mama raised three generations of Broussards
She seemed to me as old as Moses
Taught me right from wrong, and a lot of other stuff
She was black but I didn’t seem to notice
It was an age old line that Bobby Ghio crossed
But when he did it a light bulb went off

It was exceptional …

It was 1960, I was twelve years old
My brother and me went to the picture show

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.