“Miss Lucy Keith”

During the latter half of the 19th century shaped note singing became very popular.  Singing schools were found all though the South, and singing conventions would be held for three days at a time, or even as long as a week.  These events were part of what has been called The Great Awakening in which revivals or camp meetings were held where, along with the preaching, much singing would take place.

This song is about the great-great-grandparents of Lucy Cooper (1980-2015), Cowan “Dusty” Cooper (1843-1925) and Lucy Calhoun Keith (1859-1919).  They were an unlikely match since Cowan was a ne’er-do-well and more than 15 years older, while Miss Lucy Keith was a dignified young lady, the heir to her father’s banking fortune.  But they happened to meet at an opportune moment.

Because Lucy was a somewhat intimidating lady, suitors had never succeeded in winning her hand, and by now seven years had elapsed since she had attained marriageable age.  At the same time, it was 1885, Cowan Cooper had become dissatisfied with his life as an itinerant gambler and con-man and was ripe for change.

After becoming aware of Miss Lucy Keith, and seeing that she was strikingly beautiful, and destined to become rich, Cowan began to make himself available wherever she might be, including one of these camp meetings. Although at first his motives might not have been exactly honorable, that changed rather quickly.

They officially met at a group singing event held by the river in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  As he joined in the singing, Cowan felt himself being born again and from then on he and Lucy Keith began courting seriously. Cowan grew into a proper gentleman and eventually met with the approval of Old Man Keith, who took him on at the bank.

Cowan and Lucy married, raised three children, and lived happily together for 32 years.

Miss Lucy Keith
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

I buried Lucy yesterday
After thirty-two years together
But I am getting ahead of myself
I mean to tell you how I met her

My name is Cowan Cooper
I’d been a grifter my whole life
Made a pretty good living
With cards and dice

I come from Jackson, Mississippi
Born in 1843
But I cared nothing about
Preserving the Union or slavery

While other boys fought and died
I bought myself out of the war
Dealt poker in a Vicksburg saloon
And lived with a whore

I met Lucy in 1885
By then the war was twenty years gone
I was tired of the gambler’s life
But it’s all I’d ever known

Miss Lucy Keith was the talk of Vicksburg
Her flashing green eyes and long red hair
They said she can look right through you
Made you feel like you weren’t even there

I was intrigued by this young lady
And would appear wherever she went
Until one night I found myself
At a camp meeting, under a tent

Now I was raised up in the church
But learned more songs in less sacred places
There was a feeling in that tent
A light radiated from all the faces

I sat down next to Miss Lucy Keith
She kindly indicated to me the hymn
We shared a Sacred Harp
Leaned in close and sang “Jerusalem”

I can’t explain what came over me
The singing mixed with Miss Lucy Keith’s perfume
From the fragile scent of lilac
I felt myself rising up in the room

In the weeks after that night
I was often seen with Miss Lucy Keith
My former friends couldn’t understand
And stared at me with disbelief

I threw away my cards and dice
Having no use anymore for them
A wretch such as I had been saved
When Lucy Keith and I sang “Jerusalem”

So now you’ve heard my story
And it’s all I have to tell
I still own that old hymn book
Somewhere, it sits upon my shelf

Those shaped notes may be old-fashioned
I hope there’s still some power left in them
Save your old Sacred Harps
My life was changed when I sang “Jerusalem”

© 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.

“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 more 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
He 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 bootleg business
Could show Molly a good time
Show Molly a 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 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 …

© 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.

“A River Runnin’ Wild”

This story takes place in the north Georgia mountains, 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 Runnin’ Wild
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Johnny came to Clara’s church that Sunday,
Him on the mountain was a surprise
She’d have to walk right past him
Lord she thought she just might die

She seen the look in his eye
Like there was no one, just them two
Something rose up in her heart
Like a river runnin’ wild busting loose

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

She seen the look in his eye …

Soon as the service was over
Clara felt her face burnin’ red
Johnny took her hand, they went walkin’
She couldn’t tell you a word of what they said

She seen the look in his eye …

© 2018 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.