“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.

“1951”

Luther Lee McLemore was Jake McLemore‘s older brother.  Born in 1951, Luther came of age during the turbulent period of the Sixties.  This song has him looking back on those times in 2019 as a retired mailman living in his hometown, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Luther’s most vivid memories are from his teenage years, living through the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the Vietnam War.  However, Lyndon Johnson had created draft deferments for anyone in college, as well as a variety of minor medical conditions which could qualify as an exemption.  This policy ultimately meant that while most Middle Class young men eligible for the draft had several avenues to avoid service, those from less affluent families were caught up in the war.

Luther was just young enough that his four years in college effectively placed him out of range of the draft, since by 1973 the US was deescalating the war effort, bringing soldiers home instead of sending more over.

After he graduated, Luther worked a number of dead-end jobs, but eventually took and passed the civil service exam.  In 1976 he began working as a postman, which he did for the next forty years, retiring in 2016.  But those forty years seem like a blur, overshadowed by his formative years during the Sixties.

1951
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

My name is Luther McLemore
1951 is the year I was born
It made me who I am
I was taught to say, “no, sir” and “yes, ma’am”

Was eleven in ’63
Saw my mother cryin’ at the TV
Mama said someone shot the president
I didn’t know then what it meant

Was in high school in ’68
The streets were filled with so much hate
They killed Martin Luther King
Then Bobby Kennedy, and a dream

Graduated in ’69
A man from the army tried to get me to sign
I was lucky and got in a university
Plenty of others weren’t lucky like me

’76 I took the civil service exam
A post office in Bossier hired me as a mailman
Loved one woman, we had a couple of kids
But by ’88, we’d hit the skids

I’m retired now, back in Shreveport
Sipping a beer, sitting on my porch
Last forty years seem like a blur
Mostly I think about how things were
Last forty years seem like a blur
Mostly I think about how things were

© 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.

Highway 80 Families

I thought I’d make a list of the nine families and the generations within them in order to create a context for the stories and songs.  Eventually I plan on expanding this list into a narrative for each family line and ultimately merge them into a coherent book.

Under each family there will be their settlements in America, and the prominent members of the family.  Generally these will be successive generations, i.e. parent > child, etc.  However, in some cases there will be a brother and sister notated if that is important for a story or song.

Next to each name is the birth date and sometimes a death date.

Families 1Families 2Families 3

“Mike was a Soldier”

Michael James “Sarge” Broussard (1948-2014) was born and raised in Vivian, Louisiana.  He served in Vietnam (1966-1967) in a transport unit, keeping the vehicles running in the jungle, but on occasion, as necessary, he would go out on patrol.

D.W. Washington was from Detroit, African-American, and he and Mike became friends.  If not for D.W., Mike most likely would have died over there, as had his brother Luke (see songs, “Vivian, Louisiana” and “Shreveport, 1963“).

But they both made it back, and Mike returned to Vivian where he owned and operated a filling station and repair shop (see song, “Sarge“).  D.W. joined him and worked there with him (see song, “Mike and D.W.“).

Mike and his high school sweetheart, Marie, got married and had one child, a daughter Rosalie.

Mike was a Soldier
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Mike was a soldier
He’d just joined up
Off to Vietnam
To work on trucks
Nineteen sixty-six
Just turned eighteen,
Doing his duty
Like his brother done

Just a teenager
Nineteen sixty-five
Mike and Marie
Said their goodbyes
Made some promises
Like getting married
That is, if Mike made it
Back alive

Not like his brother
No, all too often
Families just have the flag
That draped the coffin
And some memories
Of him on a bus
Thumbs up, and laughin’
Just laughin’

Mike was a soldier
Barely breathin’
It was D.W. got him home
To Vivian
After forty years
They ‘re still friends
Down on Main
At the filling station

Mike was a soldier
And a husband
Was a good friend
To dozens
They called him Sarge
And said he was
A pretty good guy
Yeah, Mike, he sure was one

Mike was a soldier
He’d just joined up
Off to Vietnam
To work on trucks

© 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.

“Vernon and Molly”

Vernon Raney was 49 years old when he met Molly Motts, and didn’t need to get married, but that is just what he ended up doing; to a girl less than half his age.

The Raney family were bootleggers, had been making clear whiskey for more than a century before Vernon took over the still (see song, “Lonsom Raney 1828“).  He made a change, though, from the family recipe, he began to age the distilled product in charred oak barrels, turning the clear shine to a golden tobacco color, and mellowing the taste considerably (see song, “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).

Molly Motts, from Delta, Louisiana, just across the river from Vicksburg, was a precocious young woman, who was looking for any way out of Delta when she met Vernon at a party on the Mississippi bank of the river, just outside Vicksburg (see song, “When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney“).

Long story short, Vernon and Molly got married; Molly took over the moonshine business and turned it into a drug enterprise.  With the help of her two sons, they established a distribution network from Natchez to Memphis (see songs, “Louanne in Vicksburg” and “Molly on the Mountain“).

You could say that Vernon never knew what he was getting into when he married Molly, but then again, he was never known to say a cross word about Molly or their life together.

Vernon and Molly
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Vernon had his whiskey business
And his V-8 coupe
But he felt something was missing
He wasn’t sure just what to do
Wasn’t sure what to do

There was a party at the river
Vernon drove by real slow
Molly was tall and slender
He felt something inside let go
Something inside let go

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy
Molly was wiser than her years
She wanted more than what a small town could deliver
Vernon was her ticket out of there
Her ticket out of there

Once a month he went to Memphis
Delivering a load of shine
He did okay with his whiskey business
And showed Molly a real good time
They had a real good time

They were always seen together
Then her belly began to show
Vernon said let’s put it on paper
She said I’m ready, let’s go
I’m ready, let’s go

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy
Molly was wiser than her years
She wanted more than what a small town could deliver
Vernon was her ticket out of there
Her ticket out of there

Molly gave him three kids
Two sons and a daughter
She had plans beyond his
Vernon never fought her
He never fought her

Molly took over the business
Began selling pot and more
Vernon stopped going to Memphis
Spent his time down at the store
Spent his time down at the store

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy
Molly was wiser than her years
She wanted more than what a small town could deliver
Vernon was her ticket out of there
Her ticket out of there

© 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.

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

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

© 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
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

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

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

© 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 way of life, not as part of a larger cause but for fiercely personal reasons.

Ransom Raney
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

This is the tale of a mountain man
Lot of grit, lot of sand
Ransom Raney’s 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 his uniform
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.

“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.