“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.

“Hit the Road”

In 1973 Pearl Robison was born in Conyers, Georgia but we first meet Pearl when she is managing a dollar store in Macon.  One January day in 2010, sitting in her car before opening up, she decides to leave town and head west on U.S. 80 (see song, “Between Here and Gone“).

She ends up in Shreveport, Louisiana, when she stops at an all night diner and Jake McLemore enters her life.  They live together for five years before Pearl’s wanderlust overtakes her again and she leaves, this time heading for Fort Worth (see song, “Pearl + Jake“).  She does not know at the time that she is pregnant, but when she discovers this fact, she choose to not tell Jake that he is going to be a father.

She gives birth in 2015 to a baby girl whom she names Sadie Jones Robison, after her parents, Jason Jones Robison and Sadie Boone.

Hit the Road
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Last five years been a good run
She hates to see it end like this
She can tell it’s coming undone
Can’t say just why that is

It’s the longest she’s stayed in one place
This leaving feeling is one she knows
She don’t want to see the hurt on his face
Best thing for her to do is just go

Gonna hit the road
It’s what she knows
When her back’s against the wall she goes
Gonna pack it in
Once again
When that old feeling grows
It’s time to hit the road

Got a sister in Fort Worth
Been years since she’d seen her mama and them
‘Bout three hours from Shreveport
She sure hates to run from him

Gonna hit the road …

© 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.

“Barrow”

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker captured the imagination of Depression era America.  Although their actual success at crime was a far cry from the myth, people were starving to be distracted from the dire reality of the dust bowl and economic devastation.

For about three years, 1931-1934, the “Barrow Gang” traveled Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri attempting to rob banks but more often small grocery stores or filling stations.  Clyde was blamed for murders he didn’t commit. Criminal masterminds they were not, but the newspapers built them up into larger-than-life characters; publishing photographs of the couple that had been found at an abandoned hideout.

The portrayal in the press of Bonnie and Clyde was sometimes at odds with the reality of their life on the road, especially for Bonnie Parker. She was present at 100 or more felonies during the two years that she was Barrow’s companion, although she was not the cigar-smoking, machine gun-wielding killer depicted in the newspapers, newsreels, and pulp detective magazines of the day.

In May 1934 Frank Hamer, a legendary Texas Ranger, assembled a well-armed posse around Gibsland, Louisiana on Louisiana SR 154, not far from US 80, and they put over a hundred slugs into their bodies, bringing an end to their short but exciting run.

Barrow
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

He grew up a poor boy in Texas
A little smarter than the rest, and restless
He looked around and didn’t see no justice
The cards were stacked against a poor man
Said, he’d not be poor again

She had honey golden hair and was so cute
Got away with anything she’d do
Loved the movies and said she’d be in some too
The dreams of a poor girl ain’t free
Nothin’ could dent her belief

He stole cars and robbed grocery stores
Then bigger crimes that could not be ignored
Killed a lawman, when they sent him down he swore
They’d not take him alive again
He’d die before he went back to the pen

She was workin’ for tips at the diner
Ain’t the place her prince would find her
She wants to leave it all behind her
And live in a big house someday
Like the movies, make a getaway

When she met him she sure liked his flash
For a time they ran wild and fast
But even they knew it couldn’t last
A Texas Ranger was on their trail
Said he’d chase ’em all the way to hell

Blamed for crimes they did not commit
Magazines ’n’ newsreels reported it
Didn’t matter if the facts didn’t fit
The law was closin’ in
Was just one way it could end

In 1934 folks had so much trouble
They were rootin’ for the fugitive couple
The Ranger staked ’em out with a lot of muscle
They never really had a chance
Those bullets sure made ’em dance

© 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.

“Missouri”

During the 1920s and ’30s the boll weevil devastated the cotton crop in several Southern states along the Highway 80 corridor.  Many farmers gave up and left their farms since the weevil appeared to be impervious to all attempts to drive it out or kill it off.  Ironically the thing that finally caused the weevil to move on, was a widespread drought in 1930, which farmers did not see as much of a savior.  After the drought the Great Depression caused the remaining farmers who had managed to survive the weevil, as well as the drought, to be threatened yet again with economic collapse.

The West offered a virgin land, a territory full of promise.  The allure was irresistible for some men who uprooted themselves and often their entire families to try their luck “out West”.

Missouri
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

There’s land in Missouri
I’ve heard tell it’s rich and dark
Ain’ nothin’ for me ’round here
I’d like to make a brand new start

Boll weevil killed my cotton
What drove him off was a drought
I’ve had enough of Texarkana
I’m thinkin’ hard of movin’ out

To Missouri – I’ll head west
Where a man can start fresh
I won’t rest until I’ve left
To Missouri I’m bound

Ol’ man Taylor thinks I’m lazy
Says soon it’s bound to rain
I should stick it out and make a crop
No matter where I go it’ll be the same

Since my Julie took sick and died
I’ve got no reason to stay
Texarkana is for Taylor
As for me, I’ll move away

To Missouri – I’ll head west …

© 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.

“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.

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

She nursed that bottle all across Texas,
But she was sober when she crossed the Georgia line, in fact
Lord, she cried those first few weeks
But she 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 was a relief
First time in a long time she didn’t feel like dirt

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

It was a matchbook she’d found in his jeans
There was 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). 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.