Lonsom Raney (1828-1923)

Lonsom Raney is the son of Scots-Irish immigrants to this country in the early 18th century.  Originally the family spelled their name “Rainey” but Lonsom chose to drop the “i” and spell his name “Raney”.

The Scots-Irish were transplanted (literally the “Plantation” by King James I in 1608-1609) Scots in Ulster, then Ulster Scots in colonial America, they became known as the Scots-Irish, settling in and often moving on through Pennsylvania, and later Virginia and all through the Appalachian mountains.  The Raineys moved into the North Georgia mountains.

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.

In Colonial America, a whiskey-making tradition came ready-made with the arrival of Scots-Irish settlers from Northern Ireland’s Ulster region, beginning in the 1700s. They brought with them their taste for the drink and an understanding of how to make it.  Lonsom Raney’s grandfather had always made his own whisky back in Scotland, and brought his still with him wherever he moved: first to Ireland then across the ocean to Virginia.

When Lonsom was a child, moonshine doubled as a cough suppressant and sore-throat treatment. To get little ones to tolerate whiskey, adults added something special to the cup: “It was pretty common with everybody in the mountains to put the old-fashioned peppermint-stick candy in it,” says Vernon Raney, Lonsom’s great-great-grandson (see song, “Lonsom Raney 1828“).

Lonsom claimed to drink corn whiskey nearly every day of his life, often telling anyone in his vicinity, that moonshine was the only thing that kept him alive. He started making it while still a child. “I went to helpin’ my daddy make likker when I wuddn’t but nine years old,” he told Vernon. “My daddy just let me go to the still with him and I watched him and learnt it myself.”

Over the years, the law mostly left the Raneys alone.  But Lonsom wasn’t always lucky.  On at least four occasions, he served time in jail and in prison for violating liquor laws and evading taxes.  But as it turned out, being locked up wasn’t bad for business. “That’s a good place to get customers,” Vernon said of his great-great-granddad’s time behind bars. “He would just take orders and fill them when he got out.”

Lonsom Raney died in 1923 at the age of 95.   He had four descendants who carried on the Raney whisky tradition: Ransom (son), Royal (grandson), Virgil (great-grandson) and Vernon (great-great-grandson).  Vernon would marry Molly Motts, who would later transition their bootlegging business into a drug enterprise.

“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)

Margaret “Molly” Motts (1937- )

Margaret “Molly” Motts Raney (1937- ).  Half-sister of Mildred Motts Hooper; aunt of Levi Hooper; wife of Vernon Raney; mother of Lonnie, Ronnie and Ginny Raney.

Delta_Farms_signMolly 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, nearly 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“).  After all, bootleg whiskey was going out of style since by the mid-‘60s, liquor by the drink was legal and there was little demand for bootleg whiskey except out of nostalgia.

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 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 Borden, and Lonnie was killed in a violent stand-off with 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.

“When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney”

When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

From her bedroom in Delta, Louisiana
Molly Motts could see the Vicksburg lights
She thought they looked like stars in the River
A just out of reach paradise

About two hundred people lived in Delta
Vicksburg had a hundred times more than that
Molly would close her eyes and dream her future
Leaving Delta and never lookin’ back

Home is a place that’s supposed to be safe
And not what you have to run from
But when home is the place that you must escape
Then it’s just where you come from

When Molly Motts married Vernon Raney
Vern was nearly fifty years old
He was Lonsom Raney‘s great-great-grandson
The first to age the Raney clear to gold

Molly was two months along with little Lonnie
Vern was glad to finally be a dad at last
Molly sure won’t miss that Delta bedroom
Or her step-dad and what her momma never asked

Home is a place that’s supposed to be safe …

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

Vernon Raney (1911-1997)

Vernon was the first Raney to grow to adulthood in Mississippi, the rest of the Raney family settled in north Georgia as early as 1748 when Thomas Rainey, Lonsom’s grandfather was born (Lonsom would later change the spelling, dropping the “i” from the name).

The first Raney, Lonegan, a Scots-Irish immigrant, entered colonial America in 1743 at Virginia as an indentured servant. As soon as he was released from his labor, five years later, he traveled, with his pregnant wife, through the Appalachian mountains eventually settling in the north Georgia mountains.  His first son, Thomas, was born in a small log cabin in December 1748.  The Raney family always made whiskey and in fact the copper bowl still they used was brought to America by Lonegan (see song, “Lonsom Raney 1828“).

Vernon made one major change in the moonshine, he began to age it in oak barrels, producing a more refined product which he sold to Memphis big shots at a premium price.  Vernon remained a bachelor until the age of 49 when he married Molly Motts, just 23 years old, and pregnant with their first son, Lonsom, or Lonnie as he was known.

gettyimages-109913282Molly Raney was an ambitious young woman, seeing that the bootlegging business was doomed as liquor laws were repealed making it easy to purchase whiskey.  She also realized that the younger generation was interested in marijuana and other recreational drugs.  Her oldest, Lonnie, became the county sheriff, the other son, Ronnie became Maggie’s right hand man in their drug distribution business.  Molly oversaw the entire distribution network as Ronnie handled the day-to-day operations.  They moved large amounts of pot and meth all through Mississippi and Memphis, with Lonnie responsible for insulating the enterprise from law enforcement (see song, “Louanne in Vicksburg“).

Over the decades from 1957 through the ‘70s Vernon became more and more detached from day-to-day reality, turning a blind eye to Molly’s drug business while he continued to make small batches of his whiskey and selling a little but mainly giving it away to a group of his old friends who would gather at his old mountain cabin drinking, playing cards or dominoes; smoking cigars or spitting tobacco juice on pot-bellied stove and telling tall tales (see song, “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).

In the spring of 1997, at the age of 85 Vernon Raney died in his sleep after producing the last of his tobacco gold whiskey.

“’57 Fleetwood to Memphis”

’57 Fleetwood to Memphis
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Vernon took pride in his small batch corn whiskey
Made it in his great-great-granddaddy‘s copper bowl
He would age it five years in oak barrels
It came out tobacco gold

He sold it to Memphis judges and politicians
Hundred dollar bottles in back alley deals
Come a long way from his great-great-granddaddy
And those Ulster hills

On and on and on and on it goes
They are tryin’ to get somewhere
On and on and on and on it goes
They just know they ain’ quite there

1741 his people came to Virginia
Indentured servants just tryin’ to stay alive
Seven long years they learned one hard lesson
Do what you have to: survive

On and on and on and on it goes …

Vern drove a ’57 Fleetwood to Memphis
Tailgate riding low with gallon cans and Mason jars
Coming back empty he’d open up that Caddy
Just to hear the V8 roar

On and on and on and on it goes …

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

Louanne Murphy Bowden (1967- )

Louanne Murphy Bowden (1967- ) comes from an old Texas family, descendants of Thomas Bowden (1802-1836), one of The Old Three Hundred and the first Bowden to live in Texas.  The Bowdens became quite wealthy during the first decade of the 20th century when Louanne’s great-great-grandfather, Jonus Caldwell Bowden (1860-1914), struck oil on his ranch, before dying of a stroke.  The ranch and oil wells went to his son, James Neal Bowden (1889-1961), who proved himself more than a competent steward of the family’s burgeoning wealth.

By the time Louanne was born the family had been living for decades in Dallas, the “old-money” part of town, Highland Park.  As was true for many kids who grew up during the Seventies, of privilege, Louanne’s idea of rebellion centered upon hanging out with kids from “the wrong side of the tracks”, and in general, frustrating her parents’ ideas about whom she ought to date, i.e. a nice boy from the club.  When it came time for Louanne to go off to college, she chose the University of Mississippi in Oxford because she had heard from some friends in Baton Rouge that it was an even bigger party school than LSU (see song, “Louanne in Vicksburg“).

In her first semester at Ol’ Miss, Louanne met a good-looking fellow, Ronnie Raney, who definitely was not a boy from the club, and not even enrolled at the university.  His main preoccupation appeared to be selling quality weed to fraternity boys.  One thing led to another and soon Louanne and Ronnie began dating, ending up with Louanne unofficially dropping out of school and moving to Vicksburg with him.

Louanne did not fully appreciate what she was getting into, since unbeknownst to her, Ronnie’s little pot business was only the tip of the criminal iceberg run by Ronnie’s mother, Molly Raney.  The Raney family led by Molly had a strong hold on the political and judicial levers of power in Warren County, and in fact, exerted influence and received protection from prosecution from Natchez to Memphis.

Shotgun House VicksburgFor a while Louanne partnered with Ronnie in the marijuana distribution enterprise, but her main occupation was managing the bar owned by the Raney family.  However, after few years, even getting married to Ronnie, she got tired of Ronnie’s habit of becoming violent when he’d had too much to drink, which was often.  She finally found the nerve to shoot him while he sat at their dinner table eating a slice of chess pie with a beer (see song, “One Time Too Many“).

She did not even attempt to flee the jurisdiction nor avoid prosecution for this crime.  She was well aware that Ronnie’s older brother, Lonnie, sheriff of the county, would make sure that her justifiable homicide defense at trial would not convince the jury.  In short order Louanne was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to twenty years to be served at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

While at CMCF, Louanne developed an exemplary record of good behavior including mentoring several other young female prisoners.  For example, about half way through her sentence, a young woman, Lucy Cooper, was sent to CMCF on a drug charge, given eighteen months.  Lucy was a funny, bright, and street smart but fragile woman who simply could not do the time for her crime.  Despite being taken under Louanne’s wing, Lucy became increasingly more and more despondent, eventually suiciding from an overdose – within weeks of her release (see song, “When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison“).

LouannePSNot long after this tragedy Louanne’s case was reviewed by a judge who ruled that hers was a case of justified homicide and her sentence was commuted to time served. These events coincided with the death of her grandmother in 2015, when she was released after serving about 60% of her original sentence.  She returned to Texas for her grandmother’s funeral and remained there with her mother, to live once again in Highland Park, however, now in somewhat reduced grandeur (see song, “A Waxahachie Funeral“).

“Louanne in Vicksburg”

Louanne in Vicksburg
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Louanne came from Dallas money
A mansion in Highland Park
Brought julips to her daddy on the veranda
While fireflies flickered in the dark
A summer of magnolia ‘n’ mimosa
Sweet perfume on the heavy August air
Louanne left for college, Oxford Mi’sippy
Ronnie Raney was what she’d find there

When you don’t hear what momma says
And don’t think daddy knows best
If nothin’ is all they’re owed
You’re headed down your own road
You’re headed down your own road

Ronnie Raney was the perfect antidote
For Louanne’s Highland Park innocence
They traded Ol’ Miss for a shotgun house in Vicksburg
With no thought to consequence
Molly Raney was Ronnie’s mother
His brother Lonnie was shurf
The Raneys sold drugs from Natchez to Memphis
You get in their way, you got hurt

When you don’t hear what momma says …

November and an iron sky
Fields of skeleton cotton and corn
Louanne was tryin’ to drive back to Dallas
To the one she was when she was born
At a Pak-a-Sak this side of Waskom
Standing at the Texas line
Drizzlin’ rain fallin’ steady since she left Monroe
She ain’t ready to leave Vicksburg behind
She ain’t ready to leave Vicksburg behind

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

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Vicksburg is the only city and county seat of Warren County, Mississippi, United States. It is located 234 miles (377 km) northwest of New Orleans on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and 40 miles (64 km) due west of Jackson, the state capital. It is located on the Mississippi River across from the state of Louisiana.

The city has increased in population since 1900, when 14,834 people lived here. The population was 26,407 at the 2000 census. In 2010, it was designated as the principal city of a Micropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with a total population of 49,644. This MSA includes all of Warren County.

“Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man”

Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster man
A staunch Presbyterian
Sold his labor for a six week voyage
With a wife and two small boys

Traced his line to 1621
To his great-great-grandad Tristan
They came to Ulster from County Galway
Nathaniel Knox will sail away

It was a small thing that he took
A list of names in a holy book
Every Knox that’ll come along
Will write more names of his own

Nathaniel Knox went to Carolina
With a grandson Jeremiah
Who was the first Knox American-born
In seventeen seventy-four

It was a small thing that he took …

It ain’ rained for six weeks now
Jeremiah watched his fields turn brown
One minute he’s cooking molasses from sugar cane
Then everything he’s built goes up in flames

Matthew Knox was Jeremiah’s grandson
He left Carolina for Meridian
Mississippi soil is rich and dark
Matthew Knox has an Ulster heart

It was a small thing that he took …

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