“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.

“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.

“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.

“I’m Still in Love with You”

Mike Broussard has never come to grips with his wife Marie’s suicide. Part of it is because she chose to confide in his friend D.W. and not him. Part of it is the fact that she most likely would have lived some months longer, giving him more time to accept her passing. But the suddenness of her death left him with feelings he can’t quite get a hold of.

At first he blamed his friend for helping her, but then he got mad at her. They had never gone to bed angry and were always able to talk out their differences.  But left alone like this, he feels betrayed and can’t accept her loss.

I’m Still in Love with You
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

I want to forgive you
But I cain’t
I want to forget you
But I ain’t
I’m still in love with you

I want to hate you
But I don’t
Move on and replace you
But I won’t
I’m still in love with you

If you were still around
We would talk it out
And set it right as the sun came up
But I’m here all alone
Staring at a cold headstone
And then I’ll climb back in my truck

Someday I’ll forgive you
But I ain’t ready yet
I’ll never forget you
Long as I draw breath
I’m still in love with you

© 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.

“Mike & D.W.”

Mike Broussard and D.W. Washington met and became lifelong friends during the Vietnam War. Actually, it was more than that, if not or Mike, D.W. would not have come home from Vietnam. D.W. never forgot the debt he owned Mike, but their relationship took a tragic turn after more than twenty years of friendship.

After the war, Mike returned to Vivian, Louisiana, where he owned and operated a filling station and repair shop. D.W. followed when he was discharged and worked there with Mike for decades. The only thing that came between them was how Mike’s wife, Marie, handled her late stage cancer, and the role D.W. played.

Mike & D.W.
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

D.W. Washington worked for Mike Broussard
Mike was his sergeant back in the war
They been best friends since 1965
But ain’t spoke a word since Marie died

Mike owned a filling station and repair shop
Mike worked on the cars, D.W. worked the pump
D.’d go to Bossier Fridays and get a little drunk
Monday mornin’ Mike’d roll by and pick him up

Marie was the only love of Mike’s life
D.W. was her friend, but she was Mike’s wife
They weren’t romantic but she and D were close
She’d tell things to him she’d never want Mike to know

As the cancer took its toll Marie made up her mind
She had D.W. swear to help her if it came time
Marie hid from Mike what was in her heart
But made sure that D.W. would do his part

Mike never forgave him for his role at the end
He didn’t blame Marie, no, he blamed his friend
Mike wanted every minute there was with Marie
D.W. robbed him just like that disease

Thirty years went by without a single word
Then D.W. got “old-timers”, was what Mike heard
Mike set aside his pride, set aside the past
Two old friends shared a bottle and a few laughs

Marie was the only love of Mike’s life
D.W. was her friend, but she was Mike’s wife
They weren’t romantic but she and D were close
She’d tell things to him she’d never want Mike to know

D.W. Washington worked for Mike Broussard
Mike was his sergeant back in the war

© 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.

“My Anabel”

The memory of his wife, Anabel, is kindled by an old friend’s letter that Owen McLemore has kept all these years.  Alone and peering into the West Texas prairie he relives the grief of his wife’s passing, and friends and a life lost to time.

My Anabel
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

It’s a cold December day
The light is slowly sinkin’ away
What I feel I can’t hardly tell
Oh Anabel, my Anabel

Holdin’ a letter from an old friend
Golden leaves dance in the wind
Somethin’ broke in me, aw hell
Oh Anabel, my Anabel

Piece of paper creased and soft
Watery lines almost worn off
Raindrops spittin’ in an empty well
Oh Anabel, my Anabel

That dusty road is still the same
The prairie wind still carries a name
The tolling of a distant steeple’s knell
Oh Anabel, my Anabel

© 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.

“Out on Cross Lake”

Mike Broussard and Jake McLemore were friends with D.W. Washington.  Today they are out at Cross Lake, just outside Shreveport, drinking, fishing, and remembering D.W. after burying their friend earlier that same day.

Out on Cross Lake
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Out on Cross Lake rain is fallin’ down
Out on Cross Lake rain is fallin’ down
Today we laid D.W. in the ground
Out on Cross Lake rain is fallin’ down

Ol’ D.W. was a pretty good guy
Ol’ D.W. was a pretty good guy
No one can tell me why he had to die
Ol’ D.W. was a pretty good guy

Out on Cross Lake passin’ a bottle around
Out on Cross Lake passin’ a bottle around
Today we laid D.W. in the ground
Out on Cross Lake passin’ a bottle around

D.W. worked for Mike forty year
D.W. worked for Mike forty year
Mike’s lookin’ in the tub for another beer
D.W. worked for Mike forty year

Out on Cross Lake th’ sun is goin’ down
Out on Cross Lake th’ sun is goin’ down
Today we laid D.W. in the ground
Out on Cross Lake th’ sun is goin’ down

Now D.W. was a good ol’ boy
Yeah D.W. was a good ol’ boy
Even if he was born in Detroit
D.W. was a good ol’ boy

Out on Cross Lake rain is startin’ to pour
Out on Cross Lake rain is startin’ to pour
Might as well go in, they ain’ bitin’ no more
Out on Cross Lake rain is startin’ to pour

© 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.

Ruby Jones Robison (1955)

Ruby Jones Robison is Pearl Robison’s aunt, on her father’s side. Ruby was also from Conyers, Georgia and for whatever reason, wanted to get as far away as she could. She chose Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas when she went off to school, over 1,100 miles away.

She was a freshman when she met Darrel Haynes, a senior and with his wiry frame, Restitol hat and slow Texas drawl, he swept her off her feet. He was an engineering student and had a job in hand upon graduation at Baker Oil in Midland, Texas.

Ruby just managed to graduate before marrying Darrel in 1977.  An engineer at Baker Oil makes good money, and compared to her upbringing, Ruby felt like she was rich.  They lived in a 3,000 square foot house, to her a mansion, and she drove a Mercedes Benz. They had a good life and were happy for the first few years, but things started to sour when it became obvious that marriage was not enough to keep Darrel from succumbing to the attractions of single women in the local bars.

When Ruby lost their first baby, a little girl, and Darrel’s reaction was crudely insensitive, the next piece of evidence that she found of his cheating pushed Ruby over the edge and out the door. It took some courage for Ruby to walk away from the kind of life she had, but she was made of strong stuff.

She rode a bus the entire 1,000 mile journey back to Conyers, nursing a bottle of bourbon the whole time. By the time she got back home she had pretty much put Darrel behind her. What she grieved over more than anything was the loss of her little girl, whom she named Catherine Jane after her mother and grandmother.

Ruby stayed in Conyers and went to work for an attorney, who later proposed, and remained a close confidant to Pearl. Eventually Ruby told the story of the failure of her first marriage to her sister Ruth Ann Robison long after the fact (see song “Feel Like Dirt“).

 

“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)

“Mildred’s House of Values”

Mildred’s House of Values
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Mildred’s “House of Values,” on a corner lot
A price tag hung from every table and chair
Things for sale like any other shop
But it was Mildred’s home and she still lived there

Her son Levi would come by and do odd jobs
Help his momma with what she needed done
Rustin’ on blocks, a ’68 Dodge
Levi never could get to run

A person does all they can do
Full time job just gettin’ through
Rise in the morning, close your eyes at night
In between, try to get it right

Mildred was widowed nineteen-seventy-five
Leon Hooper was a good man
Price tags went up, year after he died
Life don’ turn out nothin’ like we plan

The ’68 Dodge, last car Leon bought
Rest of his stuff, sittin’ in a shed
You can see in Levi, Leon’s walk
Are the ones we love ever really dead?

A person does all they can do …

Mildred’s “House of Values,” on a corner lot
From every stick of furniture a price tag hung
A ‘68 Dodge rustin’ on blocks
Levi never could get to run

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