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.

“Down 80 East”

Upon hearing of Lucy Cooper‘s death while in prison, Levi Hooper went on a bender.  Getting in his truck and driving through Mississippi: Greenwood, Greenville, Vicksburg and even into Louisiana.  He drank until drunk in small bars along the way (see songs, “When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison” and “Levi After Lucy“).

This behavior was certainly unusual for Levi, normally a down-to-earth, church-going man who spent much of his spare time helping his mother, Mildred Motts Hooper,  with her house and business.  She had turned her home into a thrift shop a year after her husband passed on (see song, “Mildred’s House of Values“).

This drinking road trip only lasted a little over a week, but it was enough for Levi’s mother, to become concerned.  So it was with relief that he finally came home, and things returned to normal without Levi offering up any explanation as to the reason for his absence.

Down 80 East
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Levi woke up on the wrong side of the road
Sitting on the side of 80 East
Last thing he remembered was stumbling out that old church
Pressing a wrinkled twenty on the priest

Time to go back, runnin’ wild has run its course
He can’t run away from the grief
He needs a shave, a strong cup of coffee
Time to go back, down 80 East

He don’t understand why Lucy did what she did
She was so close to getting her parole
But this drinking and running has gone on long enough
What he’s looking for ain’t down this road

Time to go back, runnin’ wild has run its course …

All along Levi thought it too good to be true
Doubted he and Lucy would last
But it looked like she was headed in the right direction
In the end she just ran out of gas

Time to go back, runnin’ wild has run its course …

© 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.

“Ready for Change”

Lucy Cooper and Levi Hooper met in Jackson, Mississippi when they lived across the street from each other (see song “Levi and Lucy”). They became involved in a relationship, something of an attraction of opposites: Levi was a church-going, salt of the earth type, whereas Lucy was a hell-raising rebel, who was no stranger to a variety of mind-altering substances.

However, Lucy had begun to feel that she had reached a dead end with her life, and was looking, most likely subconsciously, for new direction, one which seemed to be provided by Levi.

Unfortunately, Levi came along too late for Lucy, who was overtaken by the momentum and trajectory of her past life. One of her marijuana customers offered her name as his dealer, in exchange for a suspended sentence for simple possession. Lucy was arrested and convicted for distribution and sent to prison, where after a year into her 18 month sentence, she succumbed to depression and committed suicide (see song, “When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison”).

Levi was left to pick up the pieces as best he could in the wake of this aborted relationship (see song, “Levi After Lucy”).

Ready for Change
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

When Lucy and Levi met
Lucy wasn’t ready yet
To turn over a new leaf
But she really wanted to
To do what she had to do
Her life had mostly brought her grief

The mirror Lucy looked in
Showed her where she had been
But not where she wanted to go to
Levi was steady, Levi was strong
Someone Lucy could rely upon
Change ain’t what you want but what you do

Lucy wasn’t sure how to start
But something was cooking in her heart
Pushing her past the life she had known
Levi was the catalyst
Even so it was hit or miss
All he could do was cheer Lucy on

The mirror Lucy looked in …

It’ll take some time
For Lucy to leave behind
The people and things holding her back

The mirror Lucy looked in …

© 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.

“Love in the Afternoon”

Lillian Cobb’s marriage to Walter Murphy was not a happy one. It is not surprising since from the outset, Lillian reluctantly married Walter, her father’s choice, while at the time being in love with William MacLachlan, the prospective son-in-law her father would never accept (see song, “The Butterfly of Tyler”).

Walter Murphy was a successful businessman, parlaying his law degree into a series of successful business ventures with some of his clients. He had built a large mansion in Waxahachie, Texas, for his wife and children: Peter his oldest son born in 1917, Nora in 1920 and his youngest Andrew in 1928, following two miscarriages in between the last two.

Walter did not know that his wife Lillian, after ten faithful years, had ultimately been unfaithful to him, with William MacLachlan, with whom she had remained in love since the outset of their marriage.

Things got worse for Walter and Lillian when his fortune was devastated in the Great Depression. With their wealth gone, Lillian and Walter could no longer sustain the fiction of their marriage, and it happened that during one of their many arguments Lillian flung Willy MacLachlan in Walter’s face.  They were divorced in 1931, Lillian retaining custody of their three kids.

Lillian and Willy had a small private wedding without delay, but ironically, without the excitement that their illicit affair had produced, the routine of day-to-day married life had the effect of cooling their romance somewhat.  However, they remained married since there was always warm affection, and they had two children, in addition to Lillian’s three from her former marriage.

Love in the Afternoon
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

They’d meet in the house her husband built
But never in her bedroom
She didn’t second-guess, felt no guilt
Love in the afternoon

Told herself she’d earned this happiness
She didn’t choose her husband, he was her father’s groom
After ten faithful years she had a dalliance
Love in the afternoon

It happened by accident
On one of her trips back home they fell together
Eyebrows were raised, there were comments
But it was no surprise those two were lovers

Her marriage had grown cold over the years
The papers were drawn up very soon
Down the road for her it was crystal clear
Love in the afternoon

The lovers cast their lot in the marriage game
But sadly the blush was off the bloom
Their life became routine and was not the same
As love in the afternoon

It happened by accident
On one of her trips back home they fell together
Eyebrows were raised, there were comments
But it was no surprise those two were lovers

They’d meet in the house her husband built
But never in her bedroom
She didn’t second-guess, felt no guilt
Love in the afternoon

© 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.

“Butterfly of Tyler”

In the early decades of the twentieth century, upper class Southern families, in many ways, still lived by a code of behavior that reflected antebellum values.  Young men and women socialized at the frequent balls and dinners held at the large homes among the wealthy Southern families. Lillian Murphy was often the prettiest girl there and enjoyed the attention of most of the eligible young men, who would crowd around her, filling her dance card. She was described by some as a butterfly, flitting from partner to partner.

A vestige of what was a 19th century value system, fathers controlled whom their daughters saw socially and ultimately married.  It was unusual for a daughter in her early twenties, or more likely eighteen or nineteen, to defy her father in her choice for a husband.  Lillian Murphy’s father was no different, and she was a product of a culture which strictly prohibited her from choosing a romantic partner from outside her family’s social strata or someone whose reputation had been seriously tarnished.

In the 1910s and 1920s, prior to the Great Depression, this society was peopled by men who did not inherit their wealth but gotten rich in industry or one of the professions, doctor or lawyer.  This was especially true for East Texas towns such as Tyler, where much of the new wealth came from oil and gas production. But there were still the old money families, and these two classes, the newly rich and the old guard, made up one upper social class.

In the case of Lillian Murphy, she fell in love not with the irresponsible but dashing son of a Texas family whose roots were deep, back before statehood.

William MacLachlan was the second oldest son of Andrew MacLachlan, patriarch of an old family whose money derived from huge land holdings and cattle.  Andrew had never allowed oil drilling on any of his land, considering it a blight on the landscape.  Cattle were living things, warm bodies which you raised from birth and fed and took care of for several years.

Andrew’s son William, Willy his friends called him, was a Romantic youth, whose mind was filled with the poetry of John Keats and Robert Browning, and ideas about manhood coming out of novels of Walter Scott.  He had aspirations to write, himself, and filled composition books with his poetry.  A couple of times Willy bound these poems into folios, adding some ink and watercolor drawings, which he then gave to Lillian as he form of courtship.

Willy had dropped out the University of Texas, living off his family without any clear direction for earning his own way, or plans for the future other than bumming around Europe.  Willy was known to drink copious amounts of whiskey, something else which would not endear him to any of the Tyler aristocracy.

William MacLachlan was just the kind of boy Randolph Cobb, Lillian’s father, would never approve of for his daughter. And he did every thing in his power to thwart any ideas of marriage between his daughter and Willy MacLachlan.

By contrast Walter Murphy was in his final year at University of Texas law school, with a promising future assured.  Lillian might have been in love with the dreamy Willy, but her father knew to whom he was going place his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Lillian Cobb (1894-1986) married Walter Murphy (1889-1966) in 1916, gave birth to Peter Cobb Murphy (1917-1999). Peter C. Murphy was father to Helen Haynes Murphy (1947), Louann Bowden’s mother.

Butterfly of Tyler
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

There had been a round of parties
For Lillian’s upcoming wedding day
The night before she was crying
That 1916 Saturday in May

A great-aunt sat beside her
They talked much of the night away
“I’ll tell your father to call this wedding off”
“No, you mustn’t do that; it’s too late.”

The butterfly of Tyler
Flitting on her careless wings
Young men would crowd beside her
A vision fading into a dream
A vision fading into a dream

Any other girl would have been thrilled
Walter Murphy was the catch of the year
But he was not who Lillian wanted
Her father refused the one she held dear

So she cried for the good times no more
And for the names that filled her dance card
For those twilight autumn parties
And for one who lives still in her heart

The butterfly of Tyler …

© 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.

“Ransom Raney”

Ransom Raney (1848-1905) was the oldest son born to Lonsom Raney (1828-1923) and was the first child born to the Raney family on their new mountain home in North Georgia after moving from southwestern North Carolina. Originally from Scotland the Raneys were one of many families who were encouraged to move from southern Scotland to northern Ireland, the Ulster region.

These people have been called Scots-Irish and made up a significant number of the immigrants to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. They brought with them much of their way of life, including distilling whiskey in copper stills, with the idea that this was their right, one for which they would not tolerate any infringement from government.

Scots-Irish tended to be impetuous and hotheaded, having been marginalized back in Ulster, they defied any easy definition. In fact, they bristled at others’ labels for them—”Irish,” “Irish Presbyterians,” “Northern Irish,” or even “Wild Irish.”  Already twice transplanted, they had acquired a migratory habit. Once acquired, such habits are liable to persist; when the constraints of government caught up with them, these wayfarers often chose to move on.

This trait did not evaporate once they were in America and often they would keep moving west, keeping just ahead of civilization and legal constraints on their way of life.

This song is about three things: 1) the resilient nature of the Scots-Irish of the Appalachian mountains, 2) making whiskey and in general living off the land, and 3) fighting to preserve their independence, but being loyal to their way of life instead of any abstract sense of patriotism.

Ransom Raney
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

This is the tale of a mountain man
Lot of grit, lot of sand
Ransom Raney his name
From Scotland his people came

He was Lonsom Raney’s oldest son
1848 he was born
Stood at his daddy’s right hand
Taught to be a mountain man

Keep your mouth shut, your head down
Live off what comes from the ground
Make your shine, dig ginseng root
Live your own truth

When he was fifteen he went to war
Butternut was what he wore
Fought for what he could understand
Get the blue basterds off his land

Chickamauga; Second Vicksburg
Mansfield was the call he heard
But Ransom slipped away
From the fighting of the blue and grey

His year was up so he went back home
Grateful to get through it whole
In the winter of ’64
Ransom Raney was done with war

Back at the farm what he found
It had been burned to the ground
His daddy rebuilt the barn
While the ground was still warm

Lonsom had buried his copper still
Set it back up on same hill
The first batch after the war
Was his best he swore

The Raneys are a real hard bunch
Won’t be stopped, not by much
A war ain’t nearly enough
The Raneys are a hard bunch

Ransom Raney loved one wife
She gave his seven children life
He taught his two eldest sons
To do what their grandpa done

He lived long enough to see
A brand new century
He was satisfied
In 1905 he died

Ransom Raney stood alone
But he could be counted on
When you needed a friend
Against flatlanders or gov’mint men

© 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.

“Sadie Jo”

Jake McLemore’s father, Charlie McLemore, was mid-level executive at the J.M. Guffey Petroleum Company of Oil City, Louisiana where Jake was born in 1959 and where he spent his early life.  Charlie moved the family to Shreveport in 1968 after he got a job at United Gas Corporation.  Shreveport would be Jake’s home until he graduated high school, and went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jake decided to stay in Nashville after graduating from Vandy with a degree in Business Administration.  After investing in several businesses, he came to own a bar, which he had won in a poker game.   He promptly changed the name and settled down as proprietor of McLemore’s Bar in 1985 (see song, “McLemore’s“).

By that time Jake had already married and had a son, Lee, in 1983. But Jake’s happiness and home were shattered when his wife, Amelia, was killed in a car accident when a drunk driver ran a red light, leaving Jake to raise his son alone.  Soon after graduating from high school, Lee McLemore enlisted in the army and was deployed to Iraq.

But before he left for Iraq, in July 2003, Lee’s girlfriend Ellen Brewer gave birth to a son whom they named Charles after his grandfather Charlie McLemore.  Lee and Ellen secretly married shortly before Lee shipped out for Iraq that December.  Jake knew nothing of this son and lost touch with Ellen Brewer.  It was only much later that, largely out of curiosity, Charles looked Jake up and established contact.

On March 31, 2004, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a large IED on a road a few miles outside of Fallujah, one of the soldiers who died that day was Lee McLemore.

Jake kept the bar going for several years after Lee died but ended up selling it in 2007 and bought some land outside of Shreveport, Louisiana not far from Oil City.  He had fond memories of fishing on Caddo Lake with his father and settled into that kind of life again.

It didn’t take long for Jake to become bored with retirement, and he bought a diner in Shreveport where Pearl Robison happened to enter one day in January 2010 (see song, “Pearl + Jake“). For five years Jake and Pearl had a turbulent romantic relationship,  before Pearl took to the road again (see song “Hit the Road“), heading west on U.S. 80, leaving Jake heartbroken at 56  (see songs, “The River and Jake” and “The Red River Flows“).

Unbeknownst to him Pearl was pregnant when she left, and gave birth to a daughter, Sadie Jo Robison.  Pearl initially had no intention of letting Jake know about this child, but she eventually did tell Jake (see song “Terrell“), however, nearly two years after she had left Shreveport.  Jake immediately proposed to Pearl, and they got married and moved back to Shreveport to raise Sadie Jo together.

Sadie Jo
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Sadie Jo, I love you so
For the rest of my days, I’ll keep you safe,
Watching you grow
Your mama, Pearl, and my baby girl
Everything is brand new since you
Entered my world

Lost my first wife
To a damn drunk
He blew through a light
In a rusted out truck

I lost my son
In a pointless war
What your mama done, she gave me a someone
To love once more

Sadie Jo, I love you so …

I’m a tough old cob
To be a new daddy now
Wanna do a better job
This time around

A new baby and wife
Were not in my plans
I thank God every night for blessing my life
With this second chance

Sadie Jo, I love you so …

© 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.

“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.