Tullison Monroe Tate (1866-1948)

Tullison Monroe “Tully”Tate was the direct descendant of the major landowner and planter of Perry County Alabama, Thomas William Monroe but was not considered an heir because he was an illegitimate offspring.  Tully was just another cotton sharecropper, on his grandfather’s land with no more status than any other black farmer  in Alabama around the turn of the 20th century.  The reason he was not acknowledged as a true Monroe heir was not simply because he was born outside of marriage, but more importantly, because his grandmother was a slave whom Will Monroe had impregnated in 1844.  The result of this miscegenation was Tully’s mother Celsie Monroe.

Celsie was briefly married to a white man, Joshua Tate, and Tully was their only child before separating. Josh Tate was unusual for that time, he was sympathetic to the plight of negroes and his marriage to Celsie was one of love.  After the war the years of Reconstruction were hardly less violent than the war itself. Joshua Tate wished to see the local political power elites toppled and sought to help the Republican elect suitable progressive candidates, including whenever possible negro men.  And he was shot down in 1867 at one of these elections when he confronted a mob that was attempting to control who was allowed to vote.

Tully was a cotton farmer whose status within the community was complicated by the fact of his heritage, which everyone knew, calling him Monroe’s Tully (see song “King Cotton“). After leaving Tully’s father, Celsie would go on to marry Mingo Harper, also a former slave, and they would have four other children, two of whom would play a not insignificant role in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s.

Tully Tate would marry Pearl Robison, the daughter of Ruby Robison and Levi Motts resulting in the birth of Hazel Tate.  Hazel would in turn marry Virgil Raney, descendant of Lonsom Raney producing a son, Vernon Raney, husband of Molly Motts. This created the complicated reality that Tullison Monroe Tate’s mixed blood ran through the various strands of the Tate, Raney, Motts and Robison families.

Almost exactly one century later there would be another Tully Tate, the son of a country singer in Louisiana.

“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)

Ronnie Raney (1962-2004)

Ronnie Raney (1962-2004).  Middle son of Vernon and Margaret “Molly” Raney in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Married to and murdered by Louanne Borden (Raney).  His brother Lonnie is sheriff of Warren County.  He has a younger sister, Ginny.

Ronnie works for his mother distributing drugs and in general running the business.  He started out dealing at University of Mississippi where he meets and seduces Louanne.  They begin living together in a shotgun house in Vicksburg and as Ronnie becomes more and more responsible for the operations of the Raney drug enterprise, Louanne also becomes involved in running a bar and trailer when her girls turn tricks.

Ronnie is a basically a “good ol’ boy” and means well, but has trouble controlling his temper. Because he feels intimidated by Louanne’s intelligence and background (she comes from a well-to-do Dallas family) he often resorts to threatening behavior, and even physical violence, when he is at a loss for any other way of controlling a situation.

After suffering from this kind of behavior for years, in 2004 Louanne kills Ronnie for continuing to get drunk and raise his hand to her. She was tried and convicted of second degree murder (unjustly) and was sentenced to twenty years at the Mississippi state penitentiary for women (see song, “One Time Too Many“).

“One Time Too Many”

One Time Too Many
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

She’d like to fix up her dinette
Yellow wallpaper with nosegays
A hard wood floor would do the trick
Those stains’ll take more than paint

A buzzer spoils this daydream
Lights out and the bars clang shut
It’ll have to wait twenty years
This cell is where she’ll stay put

She’d had enough
Taken too much
He treated her rough one time too many
She did the crime
She’ll do the time
Regrets? No, she don’t have any

She brought him his beer and a slice of pie
Then shot him with his deer gun
It was worth it just to see him surprised
Once he realized just what she’d done

She’d had enough …

His brother was sheriff of Warren County
There was no doubt the fix was in
A jury of his peers showed no mercy
But if she could she’d do it again

She’d had enough …

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