“Lowndes County”

This song takes place in 1933, during the depth of the Depression in North Alabama. Lamar Hooper, Levi Hooper’s grandfather, was born on Sand Mountain and when he was in his early 30s chose to go south to look for work. He walked to the nearest road and then put up his thumb hoping for a ride.

It wasn’t long before a truck picked him up and brought him all to way to Lowndes County in the central part of the state. However, that night he got into a little trouble in Lowndesboro, a small town on Highway 80.

 

Lowndes County
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Sand Mountain’s where I’m from
Traveling south on my thumb
Until I heard a jail door slam
In Lowndes County Alabam’

I’d just been there a week or two
What they said I done, I did not do
They picked me up Saturday night
Charged me for damage and a fight

I told them it was self-defense
What I said made no difference
Had to hold me over for trial
“Be a few days,” they smiled

The Judge was deaf to my plea
“Son, you look guilty to me”
Thirty dollars or thirty days
Up to you, it’s all the same”

“Thirty dollars I ain’t got
I might as well sit in jail and rot”
Just came south looking for work
Never thought things’d be worse

Teenage girl brought me a plate
Then sat and watched as I ate
A biscuit and slice of ham
She even gave me some strawberry jam

Slipped the fork back through the bars
Said she’d come around after dark
If I could get myself free
She just might run away with me

Sheriff came to check my cell door
Said, “One day done, 29 more
Get some rest tomorrow you’ll work
Shoveling Lowndes County dirt”

They call this place Alabam
But Hell is surely where I am
Don’t know why I chose to come
Never should’ve left Sand Mountain

© 2020 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.

“That Night in Columbus”

Sonny Tate (1936-2003) was born in Opelika, Alabama and displayed musical talent at an early age. He could mimic Hank Williams and would stand on his father’s bar and entertain the patrons who were delighted with the youngster’s uncanny ability. Sonny would later go on to have something of a professional career as a country singer but never making it really big.

The events of this song took place in 1999 when Sonny Tate was 63 and living in Columbus, Georgia. A serious thunderstorm had hit the town leaving most of Columbus without power. That night, a local bar decided to go ahead and open up despite not having power: They put a case of beer on ice and set candles on each table, and Sonny entertained the regulars with his guitar until power was restored.

That Night in Columbus
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Sonny had his guitar and was singing the blues
It really hit the spot for us
The power had gone out from a storm that passed through
That night in Columbus

They opened up that bar and let us in
Some beer was iced down in a wash tub
It sure felt good getting out and seeing friends
That night in Columbus

A lot of rain, oh boy, the wind sure did blow
But we were all right in that dark club
Listening as Sonny sang in the candle glow
That night in Columbus

It could have been worse, least nobody died
As it was the storm just hurt some stuff
We passed the time safe and dry inside
That night in Columbus

Bad weather comes and then it goes
Go ahead shake your fist and cuss
Made you feel a little better I suppose
That night in Columbus

Sonny’s packing up, his guitar’s in the case
The lights are on, but we ain’t in a rush
The storm turned that old bar into a sacred space
That night in Columbus

© 2020 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.

“Jess Harper Returns to Macon”

Jess Harper (1949) and Dooley Johnson (1949) grew up in Macon, Georgia in the 1950s.  During this decade the civil rights movement was gathering momentum, but it would still take a decade or more before a change in consciousness, especially in the South, would coalesce and the culture would begin to change.  This process was helped along by the participation of progressive Southern intellectuals, like the family that produced Dooley Johnson, who offered their support to African American leaders by writing editorials, raising money and pressuring local elected officials.

Dooley and Jess met in grade school and grown up together forming a close friendship which by the time they were teenagers deepened into a romantic relationship.  However, interracial dating was considered taboo, particularly in Macon, Georgia, in the Sixties.

Jess was 18 in 1967, the Summer of Love, and had heard about all the exciting things going on in California, Haight-Ashbury, and elsewhere.  She desired to escape the claustrophobic racism of Georgia and the lure of California was strong. Despite her young love for Dooley she reluctantly began to believe that their relationship was doomed and chose instead to try her luck in San Francisco.  This song is a flashback to the day she left Macon soon after graduating from high school.

Dooley who had been interested in history as a small child, reading about the early settlement of Georgia and forming a critical opinion about the treatment of Native Americans as well as the racial reality of his state.  Dooley remained in Georgia where he pursued a degree in history eventually earning a doctorate and becoming a tenured professor of history at Mercer University in Macon.

Jess spent two years just hanging out in San Francisco until she learned that the University of California-Berkeley had created an African American Studies program.  She realized that this is what she wanted to do with her life and enrolled in 1970.

She kept up on news from Macon through her mother, and when she learned of Dooley’s death in 2007 she made the long trip back to Macon for his funeral.

Jess Harper Returns to Macon
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Jess Harper threw some clothes into a suitcase
Took what she could but left a lot behind
She’s been thinking ‘bout leaving Macon
Got an early start ‘fore she changed her mind
She didn’t tell nobody not even her mama
Just got on 80 heading west
She’ll try and call Dooley from Alabama
The first chance that she gets

Her mama said they were asking for trouble
She could love a black boy just as easy as one who’s white
Plenty of Georgia don’t like to see a mixed couple
Jess began to think her mama was right

Jess met Dooley Johnson in first grade
They’ve been best friends ever since
He opened up her mind to new things
Like no other boy ever did
When Dooley was sixteen and had his license
He took Jess to see the Indian mounds
Left there by the great Mississippian people
A thousand years before the white man was around

Many nights Dooley told Jess stories
About the Choctaw and the Creek and their fate
Dooley’s family’s been in Georgia for generations
Jess knows Dooley’ll never leave this state

Jess pulls off the highway at Columbus
Stands at the river as a warm rain starts to fall
Her destination remains undecided
Dooley never did get that call
Forty years will pass before Jess returns to Macon
From California back to the land of her birth
In his Georgia drawl Jess hears Dooley talking
As they lower his body into the blood-red earth

 

© 2020 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.

“Tybee Island”

Ruthann Robison (1951) was a paternal aunt of Pearl Robison (1973) but instead of Conyers, Georgia, Ruthann grew up in Savannah.

This song describes a weekend in the summer of 1968 when a seventeen-year-old Ruthann and her boyfriend Billy Wainwright spent a romantic night on Tybee Island.  Ruthann and Billy would go on to marry and have three kids, Pearl’s cousins.

Depending upon your orientation, Tybee Island is either the terminus or starting point of Highway 80, which at one time ran continuously from Tybee Island to San Diego, California.  During the 1960s, US 80 was decommissioned west of Dallas.

Tybee Island
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Billy Wainwright was from Savannah
Ruthann Robison was his girlfriend
July ’68 they took East 80
And drove to the highway’s end

Billy built a fire near the lighthouse
As shadows began to grow
They shared a bottle of Mateus
And sang songs like “Ode to Billy Joe”

On Tybee Island, Tybee Island
The waves sparkle like diamonds
The sand on the beach
The salt and the sea
Billy picked a Georgia peach on Tybee Island

Ruthie spread out the tattered blanket
That Billy kept in that old truck
They talked underneath the starlight
Until the sun came up

On Tybee Island, Tybee Island
The waves sparkle like diamonds
The sand on the beach
The salt and the sea
Billy picked a Georgia peach on Tybee Island

Ruthann said she wanted ten children
Billy told her all his deepest dreams
They kissed and the world stopped spinning
That’s how love is when you’re seventeen

On Tybee Island, Tybee Island
The waves sparkle like diamonds
The sand on the beach
The salt and the sea
Billy picked a Georgia peach on Tybee Island
The sand on the beach
The salt and the sea
He picked a Georgia peach on Tybee Island

© 2020 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.

“Robert Dodge”

Of the approximately twelve million Africans brought to the Americas, as few as 350,000 came directly to the territories that would become the United States.  Virtually all of those slaves were brought to the East Coast, primarily to Virginia and the Carolinas.  Among them were the ancestors of Winnie Mason (1845-1930) and Charles Dodge (1841-1912), whose ancestors had been given their freedom prior to the Civil War.  Charles and Winnie moved from Virginia to Mississippi as free persons of color.

Winnie had given birth to nine children, but only five survived to adulthood.  Robert Dodge (1884-1932) was the youngest and last to leave home.  The events of this song took place roughly from 1880 to 1920.

Free blacks in the South were not uncommon.  In 1810, there had been over 100,000 free black persons there, and by 1860 more free blacks lived in the South (261,918) than in the North (226,152).  Forty percent were mulattoes, and for the most part they had been released from slavery through manumission (formal acts of emancipation by their slave-owners). That had been the case for the Dodge family, whose mixed-blood ancestor had fought in the Revolution and been granted his freedom as a result.

After receiving their freedom former slaves often moved from the upper to the deep South, as did the Dodges who went from Virginia to Mississippi. For the most part, such movement was instigated by the possibility of money to be made in the Lower South’s cotton industry.

Robert Dodge was not like his father, who was a hard worker and entrepreneur. While Robert was blessed with musical talent he was cursed with a lack of discipline and need for instant gratification. He never settled in any town long because of his wanderlust and wherever he went trouble was not far behind.

Robert was one of many songsters who traveled around Mississippi singing and playing for house parties in what were called jukes or juke joints.

Robert Dodge
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Robert was born on a plantation
Charlie Dodge’s youngest son
The Dodges lived in Albemarle
Six generations before Charles

A Dodge had fought with Washington
That’s how their freedom was won
Charles left Virginia for Mississip’
He’d heard there was cotton to pick

Charles was good with his hands
He set up a blacksmith stand
Put his money in a crockery pot
Til he had enough to buy his own spot

In the year nineteen-aught-one
Robert wanted his own freedom
He didn’t like plantation work
Picking cotton made his hands hurt

He got a guitar by trading his shoes
Started making money playing blues
He was known in all the juke joints
From Clarksdale to Friars Point

When he was living in Greenville
Took up with a gal named Lit’l Lil
Til her husband found them both in bed
And he hit Lit’l Lil upside the head

He came at Robert with a knife
Robert ran for his life
Shouting, “I don’t mean a thing to her
I’m just a poor songster”

He ran to Memphis, Tennessee
Found a hoodoo shop on Beale Street
A conjure woman sitting at a boiling pot
Said her concoction would bring him luck

She gave him a bag made of jute
Filled with graveyard clay and snakeroot
Added some cat’s teeth and colored glass
Would make him play his guitar fast

He found his way to New Orleans
His fingers flew across his guitar strings
There was a train would take him North
To Chicago and Detroit

Robert was born on a plantation
Charlie Dodge’s youngest son
The Dodges lived in Albemarle
Six generations before Charles

© 2020 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 Cobb 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 Cobb’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 had grown 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 Cobb, she fell in love with the irresponsible but dashing son of a Texas family whose roots went 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 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 his 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 Cobb’s upcoming wedding day
She spent the night before crying in her room
That 1916 Saturday in May

A great-aunt on her daddy’s side
Sat with her, they talked the night away
“I’ll tell your father to call this wedding off”
“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 had set her eye on
Her father refused the one she held dear

So she cried for the good times that would be no more
For the names that had filled her dance card
For all the twilight parties and the one
Who lives still in her heart

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

© 2020 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.

“Riding Shotgun in Phenix City”

Josh Tate, Tully Tate’s nephew, the son of his sister Ruth, was born in 1985 in Phenix City, Alabama.  This song is a coming of age story, describing Josh’s first two loves: his girlfriend Sally Anderson and his car, a 1978 Chevelle.

Josh and Sally met in high school and were best friends which developed into their first experience with love.  As soon as he could Josh saved up and bought a 1978 Chevelle, which he worked on and got running.  With his new drivers license in hand he and Sally would go driving on Highway 80 outside of Phenix City.

Until the summer night that changed Josh’s life

Riding Shotgun in Phenix City
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Phenix City, Alabama
We were in high school
Talked like we were slick
Walked like we were cool

I got my drivers license
Summer of 2001
Bought a green ’78 Chevelle
You rode shotgun

Didn’t know how brief
Our time would be
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me

We rolled the windows down
Laughin’ in the wind
I’ve never loved anyone
Like I loved you then

Never knew what hit us
80 at Evans Road
A little cross stands at that corner
The Chevelle was sold

Didn’t know how brief
Our time would be
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me

Phenix City, Alabama
We were in high school

© 2020 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.