“That Night in Columbus”

Sonny Tate (1936-2003) was born in Opelika, Alabama and displayed musical talent at an early age. He could mimic Hank Williams and would stand on his father’s bar and entertain the patrons who were delighted with the youngster’s uncanny ability. Sonny would later go on to have something of a professional career as a country singer but never making it really big.

The events of this song took place in 1999 when Sonny Tate was 63 and living in Columbus, Georgia. A serious thunderstorm had hit the town leaving most of Columbus without power. That night, a local bar decided to go ahead and open up despite not having power: They put a case of beer on ice and set candles on each table, and Sonny entertained the regulars with his guitar until power was restored.

That Night in Columbus
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Sonny had his guitar and was singing the blues
It really hit the spot for us
The power had gone out from a storm that passed through
That night in Columbus

They opened up that bar and let us in
Some beer was iced down in a wash tub
It sure felt good getting out and seeing friends
That night in Columbus

A lot of rain, oh boy, the wind sure did blow
But we were all right in that dark club
Listening as Sonny sang in the candle glow
That night in Columbus

It could have been worse, least nobody died
As it was the storm just hurt some stuff
We passed the time safe and dry inside
That night in Columbus

Bad weather comes and then it goes
Go ahead shake your fist and cuss
Made you feel a little better I suppose
That night in Columbus

Sonny’s packing up, his guitar’s in the case
The lights are on, but we ain’t in a rush
The storm turned that old bar into a sacred space
That night in Columbus

© 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.

“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.

“Meridian”

The lineage of Crawford Harper and the Donald and Vern Raney, is a little complicated.  They were distantly related to each other, although they did not know it at the time of the events described in this song.  In order to set the stage we have to go back to Alabama, before the Civil war.

Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936) was born into slavery but was freed by Will Monroe, her father, a wealthy white planter, in 1863 as a result of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Celsie’s mother, Jessie Crawford (1828-1905), was a slave from a neighboring plantation of whom Will Monroe had grown quite fond. Monroe made sure Jessie was provided for and also insisted that she be freed in 1863 by paying off her owner Carson Crawford.

Celsie was what was called a “yellow gal”, and quite beautiful. Once she was freed at age 19, Celsie began seeing a white man, Joshua Tate (1828-1867), and their relationship developed into a common law marriage, although the possibility of such a union being recognized was not possible at the time.  They had one child, a son, Tullison Tate, “Monroe’s Tully” (see song “King Cotton“).

In 1872 Celsie’s first actual marriage was to a African-American man, Jesse Harper (1850-1922), and Celsie and Jesse enjoyed a long and happy union, raising four children, seven grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. However, Celsie’s oldest child, Tully, was raised by his spinster Aunt Ruth, his father’s sister.

Donald and Vernon Raney were distant descendants of Tully Tate, his daughter marrying Virgil Raney, whose son Vernon was Donald and Vernon’s grandfather.  Their father Lonnie Raney, had been a crooked Warren County sheriff, who was killed in a shootout with U.S. Marshalls, during a drug raid. The Raneys were descendants of Lonsom Raney, longtime moonshiner in North Georgia (see song “Lonsom Raney 1828“).

Lonnie’s generation of Raneys had become major players in the drug trade stretching from Memphis to Natchez, with Lonnie’s mother Molly Motts Raney acting as matriarch of the family drug enterprise (see songs “When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney” and “Louanne in Vicksburg“).  Donald and Vernon were Molly’s grandchildren, who were trying to carry on the family business, albeit on a much smaller scale, in Meridian, Mississippi.

One of Celsie Monroe’s great-grandchildren, William Crawford Harper (1942-2001), had marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 (see song “Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge“). Crawford Harper was Willie’s grandson, and this song describes the events of Crawford’s first summer home from college, when he visited his grandpa in Meridian, Mississippi.

Meridian
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Crawford Harper was in Starkville
Mississippi State
He’d be the first in the Harper family
Who might graduate

His Grandpa Willie lived in Meridian
Crawford spent the summer, wanting to earn
He’d heard about two fellas with a business
That’s how Crawford met Donald and Vern

The Raneys were from North Georgia
Moonshiners back in the hills
When they came down off that mountain
They were selling pot and pills

When Crawford met up with the Raneys
Vern gave him a duffle bag full of meth
Told him how much money to deliver
Crawford could keep the rest

One night Grandpa Willie found his stash
Asked him, “where’d you get this money?”
Crawford said, “don’t worry, old man,
I got it working for somebody”

Willie Harper had marched at Selma
Five miles from the same plantation
Where his ancestor had been a slave
Going back six generations

Willie asked, if that somebody
Might be named Donald and Vern
Crawford grabbed his duffel bag
Told him, “it ain’t none of your concern”

But see, Willie’d had a visit
From the Raneys late one night
Crawford owed them money
That had to be made right

Willie Harper was a welder
Vern said, “you’re gonna have a partner”
Willie looked at him with stone cold eyes
Said, “only name on that sign is Harper”

Under his welding gloves
Willie kept his service forty-five
He told Vern, “if you think I won’t use it,
You’re in for a surprise”

When Crawford came home, his grandpa told him
“The Raneys won’t be ‘round no more”
He took that duffel bag and torched it
Into a pile of ashes on the floor

Crawford Harper was back in Starkville
Mississippi State
He was the first in the Harper family
To graduate

© 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.

“James”

Rosalie Broussard found her self pregnant a week after turning sixteen (see song “Jenny or James“).  Though her boyfriend wanted her to have an abortion, and even offered her the money, she refused, because Rosalie had a naive understanding about what having a baby really meant, and also because she just didn’t like the idea.  However, she eventually realized she couldn’t handle the responsibility and when James was three she handed him over to her father and his second wife, MaeAnn.

When Rosalie was twenty she left Vivian, Louisiana and married Tully Tate, a man she met while waitressing at a truck stop.  They had twin girls and lived in Mobile, Alabama.  But Rosalie never could make peace with domestic life and would run off from time to time, ech time Tully would find and bring her back home (see song “What Tully’s Done“).  But eventually he grew tired of chasing after his runaway wife and Rosalie finally left that family as well (see song “Rosalie“).

Mike and MaeAnn dearly loved James since they saw that his mother had not shown him the natural love of a mother.  But James still felt an emptiness which was only relieved when he played catch with his grandpa.

James
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

James was Wednesday’s child, full of woe
His mama left when he was just three years old
Rosalie was only sixteen when she had him
Left him with her parents; he was raised by them

James grew up wondering if he’d done something wrong
That made his mama leave him at his grandpa’s home
His father was a shadow, a name that wasn’t said
But Mike and MaeAnn did their best

When James played catch with Mike
For a little while everything seemed alright
A peaceful feeling settled in with the dimming light
On those summer days when James played catch with Mike

He overheard bits and pieces about his mama’s life
She was living in Mobile, a truck driver’s wife
At Christmas she might visit but wouldn’t stay too long
Gave James some toy he’d long ago outgrown

MaeAnn said he had twin sisters in Mobile
James really hoped that they had a better deal
But soon Rosalie would run off from them too
It seemed that’s all his mama was cut out to do

When James played catch with Mike
For a little while everything seemed alright
A peaceful feeling settled in with the dimming light
On those summer days when James played catch with Mike

© 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.

“Rosalie”

Rosalie Broussard Tate has a history of running away from any relationship she is in.  This time she has run from her marriage leaving her husband Tully Tate and their twin girls at home.

Rosalie
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

In a cocktail lounge in Mobile
Just about closing time
Empty shot glass on her table
Rosalie shuts her eyes

Tully would always find her
Bring her home in the past
Rosalie looks around her
Guess he gave up at last

Anytime anyone loves her
Soon she’ll be gone
To the dim lights of a barroom
Where she feels she belongs
Mistrusting human kindness
She’d rather be alone
Telling herself she’s free
Rosalie, ah, Rosalie

She’d like to kick the habit
Always choosing to run
Since she was sixteen
It’s what she’s relied upon

There’s a devil lying to her
Whispering in her ear
She wants to ignore it, but
It’s the strongest voice she hears

Anytime anyone loves her …

© 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.

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.

“King Cotton”

It’s July 1899 and Tullison Tate (1866-1938) is sitting in his wagon, loaded with cotton, in line waiting for it to be ginned.  The Monroe family has owned most of this Perry County, Alabama, town’s businesses including the gin. Tully’s grandmother was a slave from a neighboring plantation, Jessie “Crawford” (1828-1905), who was impregnated by Thomas William Monroe (1812-1909), producing a mixed blood daughter, Celsie in 1844, Tully’s mother.  Tully’s status in the community is as complicated as his blood.

King Cotton
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Line of wagons filled with cotton
Moving up one by one
Line ends at Tommy, Jr.
Ol’ man Monroe’s son

Monroe owns the gin, an’ smith
The bank, an’ the store
It’s been a Monroe town
Since before The War

Heard ’em say cotton is king
Well, I ain’ seen one yet
The more I work, all it seems
The more I get in debt

Price of cotton keeps fallin’
Soon it won’t make sense to plant
Most are still plantin’ and pickin’
A few walked off their land

Sittin’ in a wagon of cotton
Won’t get ginned ’til ‘roun’ four
Tommy says what I got comin’
Less my bill at the store

Heard ’em say cotton is king …

They call me Monroe’s Tully
Makin’ sure I know my place
Tom Monroe is my granddaddy
But my grandma was a slave

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

Tullison “Tully” Tate (1967-2013)

Tullison “Tully” Tate (1958-2013, Opelika, Alabama).

Ancestors: Jonathan Tate (1758-1833, Ulster, Ireland) Scots-Irish immigrant to colony of New York.  Joshua Tate (1828-1904, Perry County, Alabama).  Tullison Tate (1852-1924, Perry County, Alabama).  Hazel Tate (1886-1963, Linden, Alabama).  Joseph “Sonny” Tate (1946-2003, Opalika, Alabama).

Tully’s father was country singer Sonny Tate.  Tully married Rosalie Broussard (born Vivian, LA; father, Mike “Sarge” Broussard) who was an unstable woman and runs off repeatedly from the family home.   Initially after his marriage Tully and Rosalie lived in Mobile, Alabama but then they moved with their twin girls to Hosston, Louisiana. There he works at the Springhill pulp paper mill driving a timber truck and reconnects with his boyhood friends the Broussard and Thibodaux families.

Tully is a decent, hard-working, family man but who also likes to drink and party on occasion.  His primary worry in life is his wife, Rosalie, who will disappear from time to time, leaving the twins unsupervised.  For a while, Tully would track her down and bring her back home until, finally, he gives up and let’s her go (see song “What Tully’s Done“).

Although his job in Springhill ended when they shut down the paper mill, he and his girls remained in Hosston until his death in 2013 after a short illness (see song “Hosston to Bastrop“).

“What Tully’s Done”

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What Tully’s Done
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Tully left the girls at his sister Ruth’s
Took off for Baton Rouge
Barked the tires in all four gears
Their mama’s gone and run off again
Third time Tully’s seen I-10
And each time it’s a little more weird

Oh no, don’t you know
When she leaves he’s bound to follow
Least that’s what Tully’s done
Oh no, don’t you know
One damn day when she goes
Tully’s just gonna let her run

But today’s that ain’t where he’s at
He’ll track her down and bring her back
Hope she ain’t a mess
She left eggs frying in the pan
Tully waitin’ for that call again
From a stranger with a question and an address

Oh no, don’t you know …

Tully says, “Doc, what makes her be like that?”
Doc just looks away and gives his head a scratch
Tully says,”if it was just me I wouldn’t care,
Those kids need their mama there”

Oh no, don’t you know …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Electric Mule Music/Warner Music (BMI)