“A River Busting Free”

This story takes place in Conyers, Georgia, early 1933.  Clara Sprague Robison (1911-1993) sees her future husband, Johnny Campbell (1905-1944), at church one Sunday.  Clara had met Johnny before, but only briefly, and she knew he lived off the mountain. The fact that he came to her church as opposed to the one he regularly attended was significant to her, letting her know that he made the trip specifically to see her.  Clara is the great-grandaunt of Pearl Robison. Clara and Johnny would have three children, Marcus, Nora and Emily before Johnny is killed in WWII.

A River Busting Free
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Johnny came to our church that Sunday,
Him on the mountain was a surprise
I’d have to walk right past him
Lord I thought I might die

I seen the look in his eye
Like there was no one but him and me
Something rose up in my heart
Like a river runnin’ wild busting free

Johnny touched his new wool cap
As I hurried past him up the steps
All through the preachin’ I felt his eyes
On the back of my neck

I seen the look in his eye …

Soon as the service was over
Goin’ outside filled me with dread
Johnny took my hand, we started walkin’
I couldn’t tell you a word of what we said

I seen the look in his eye …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“King Cotton”

It’s July 1899 and Tullison Tate (1866-1938) is sitting in his wagon, loaded with cotton, in line waiting for it to be ginned.  The Monroe family has owned most of this Perry County, Alabama, town’s businesses including the gin. Tully’s grandmother was a slave from a neighboring plantation, Jessie “Crawford” (1828-1905), who was impregnated by Thomas William Monroe (1812-1909), producing a mixed blood daughter, Celsie in 1844, Tully’s mother.  Tully’s status in the community is as complicated as his blood.

King Cotton
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Line of wagons filled with cotton
Moving up one by one
Line ends at Tommy, Jr.
Ol’ man Monroe’s son

Monroe owns the gin, an’ smith
The bank, an’ the store
It’s been a Monroe town
Since before The War

Heard ’em say cotton is king
Well, I ain’ seen one yet
The more I work, all it seems
The more I get in debt

Price of cotton keeps fallin’
Soon it won’t make sense to plant
Most are still plantin’ and pickin’
A few walked off their land

Sittin’ in a wagon of cotton
Won’t get ginned ’til ‘roun’ four
Tommy says what I got comin’
Less my bill at the store

Heard ’em say cotton is king …

They call me Monroe’s Tully
Makin’ sure I know my place
Tom Monroe is my granddaddy
But my grandma was a slave

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“Feel Like Dirt”

Ruby Jones Robison (1955) is Pearl Robison’s aunt, her father’s sister. Ruby met Darrel Haynes (1951) at Texas Tech in Lubbock, TX, and they were quickly married settling into a house in Midland in 1977 where Darrel had gotten a job at Baker Oil right out of college. They were happy for a few years, but when they lost their first child, a girl, it broke the marriage up. Ruby was 32 in 1981 when she decided to leave Darrell and go back to Conyers, Georgia, her hometown. This song encapsulates a conversation she had with her sister, Ruth Ann, told in both of their voices, several years after the events.

Feel Like Dirt
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

She got on the Greyhound with her suitcase
And her little patent leather bag
Had two Cokes, a package of peanuts,
And a fifth of Ancient Age

“I nursed that bottle all across Texas,
But I was sober when I crossed the Georgia line, in fact.
Lord, I cried those first few weeks
But I didn’t look back; couldn’t look back.”

“It was either kill the man or leave
Killin’ was more trouble than he was worth
Gettin’ on that bus made sense to me
First time in a long time I didn’t feel like dirt”

She left everything in the house
And nothing of herself behind
She dropped her keys on the kitchen table
Along with the reason why

It was a matchbook she found in his jeans
A heart with a phone number inside
All those loads of laundry
The dreams she compromised

“It was either kill the man or leave …

She got on the Greyhound with her suitcase
And her little patent leather bag
Had two Cokes, a package of peanuts,
And a fifth of Ancient Age

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). (Hat tip to Dorothy Allison for the image that inspired this song.)

“My Pocketknife”

It took a couple of years longer than in other towns, but The Great Depression finally hit Oil City, Louisiana in 1932.  The price of oil plummeted and work ground to a stop.  They capped the wells and hauled the rigs away, to wait for better times.  In 1934, out of all other options, Lee Allen McLemore and his thirteen year old son Charlie hit the road looking for work, and like many others head west to California.

My Pocketknife
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Charlie and his father crawl up the embankment
Hidden by the bend they crouch and wait
The train’ll have to slow down maybe just enough
With any luck they’ll grab that freight

Charlie and his father left Oil City at dawn
Somethin’ called The Depression had arrived
Work was for the takin’ out in California
Pickin’ cotton under sunny skies

Long as I have my pocketknife
I’ll be alright, be alright
I can make it through the coldest night
Long as I have my pocketknife

Charlie and his father join a migrant army
Ride the rails with tramps an’ hoboes
Tent camps were jungles, danger everywhere
Do your best to hang on to your coat

Charlie and his father dodge a railroad bull
Hidin’ in the tender ’til he’s gone
A man was crumpled in the corner, frozen overnight
It’s a damp and cold L.A. dawn

Long as I have my pocketknife …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“Oil City”

Charlie McLemore, Jake’s father, talks about growing up in his hometown of Oil City, Louisiana. During the first decades of the 20th century oil was discovered in Texas and Louisiana and until the Depression forced the speculation to pause, fortunes were made and lost. Oil City and the McLemore family were a small part of that history.

Oil City
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Oil City is my home
Ain’ pretty but I belong
Grey and gritty, right or wrong
Oil City is my home

Aught-five oil came from the ground
Oil City was a wildcat town
Wooden sidewalks and hitching posts
Boom towns ain’ got no ghosts

Aught-six grandpa McLemore
Had a little money but wanted more
Oil City was where grandpa came
Gamblin’ on the big oil game

Oil City is my home …

Few years pass and the fever died
Were other towns, other strikes
1917 it almost burned down
The whores all left town

Dad went to work at J.M Guffey
We stayed in Oil City
Grandpa went broke in the Depression
Kept chasin’ oil, died in Odessa

Oil City is my home …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“A Rusted Plow”

Jed Phelps describes life after his Pa died:  His sister Nellie marries a Texas rancher who brings them all to his ranch and puts sixteen year old Jed to work.  However, after a few years Jed doesn’t take to ranchin’.  He’d heard heroic stories about the Texas Rangers and joins up.  When that isn’t all he dreamed it’d be, he decides to go back to their farm in Tennessee only to find something less than he expected.

A Rusted Plow
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

After Pa died Nellie married Bob Dorsey
Brought us to Texas to the biggest ranch I seen
Had me punchin’ cows and breakin’ horses
I joined the Rangers when I turned nineteen

I’d heard about the Indian Wars
But by then the Kiowa were off the plains
We were so good they don’t need us no more
‘Cept to chase off a few fence cuttin’ gangs

Things won’t be how you remember
The truth ain’ what you want to hear
Leave the past behind you, it’s better
Than seein’ what’s waitin’ there

1888 I went to Tennessee
Wondered how the ol’ homestead looked now
Rode for a week and what greeted me
Was a crow sittin’ on a rusted plow

I found the block where I split wood
The barn was all but fallin’ down
Squattin’ on my heels, chewin’ a cheroot
Thinkin’ how Pa had been so proud

Things won’t be how you remember …

Went around back, found th’ graves
Cleaned them up as the sun sank down
A part of me wished I had stayed
But back then I couldn’t wait to get out

Spose I got what I came for
It’s sure all that’s here to be found
I’ll ride away to return no more
Not for any crow sittin’ on a rusted plow

I’ll ride away to return no more
Not for any crow sittin’ on a rusted plow

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“Levi Motts Is My Name”

Levi Motts is My Name
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Levi Motts is my name
Come from Northwest Louisiana
I joined up with Colonel Gray
He said be ready to march today
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Ruby Robison is my gal
Keeps a room down in the bottoms
We talked of gettin’ out of there
Make a new life anywhere
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Ruby wrote me a letter
We were waitin’ outside Mansfield
Wrote there’s a baby on the way
We fought the Yankees April Eighth
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Levi Motts is my name
Come from Northwest Louisiana
Lead ball went through my neck
That afternoon I bled to death
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Continue reading “Levi Motts Is My Name”

“Fannin Street”

Fannin Street
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street
There’s a room upstairs for the men she meets
She’s not theirs and never was,
Just what she does
On Fannin Street

There was one boy, fine and sweet
Not like the rest of Fannin Street
He was all she ever loved
In the room above
Fannin Street

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

The boy he said he’d take her away
From the life she led one day
He left for Mansfield to the restless beat
Of Marching feet
In columns of grey

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

In her room alone Ruby Robison
Heard that the Rebels had won
She went to Mansfield but there she cried
For the baby inside
And the boy who was gone

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“Levi, Ruby & Cole”

Levi Motts and Coleman Broussard were cousins, and each one loved Ruby Robison and she loved them both, as well.  Levi and Cole were Confederates, and fought at Mansfield.  But Levi died that afternoon, leaving Ruby and Cole to carry on together.

Levi, Ruby & Cole
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Cole was strong and steady
Straight as a rail
Levi was born ready
Always raisin’ hell
Ruby loved Levi all the way
But Cole was who she chose
Levi might grow up some day
But, who knows

Ruby knew Cole loved her
But Levi charmed her heart
Cole was down to earth
Levi sparkled like a star

The War broke this trio up
Only one came back home
Ruby had two loves
Levi and Cole

Cole knew he and Ruby
Would never have
The kind of magic love
She and Levi had
Just taking care of her
For Cole, it was enough
He ain’ the apple of her youth
But theirs was also love

Ruby knew Cole loved her …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“Lonsom Raney 1828”

Lonsom Raney 1828
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

1828 Lonsom Raney was born
Had a copper still and made clear corn
His great-granddad brought it from Scotland
Hid it in the hills on this Georgia mountain

Help’d his daddy make likker, Lonsom told
When he wuddn’t but nine years old
They’d load the wagon right at the still
Run that shine all through those hills

Let me be, my sons and me
I’m just doing what I can
Let me be, the boys ‘n’ me
I’m just livin’ off the land

He made it himself when his daddy died
Drank corn whiskey every day of his life
Claimed moonshine was what kept him alive
Lonsom Raney lived to ninety five

Let me be, my sons and me …

Five generations have used that still
From Ransom to Royal, then Virgil
Lonsom died in nineteen twenty-three
Now it’s Vernon’s time with the recipe

Let me be, my sons and me
I’m just doing what I can
Let me be, the boys ‘n’ me
I’m just livin’ off the land
I’m just doing what I can
Lemme be free Mr. Gov’mint man

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)