Fern Jones, my mother, a transplant from juke joints and honky-tonks, was the wife of a small town preacher in Arkansas when she started writing gospel songs. She married In her teens, got religion and turned her church songs into rockabilly.
In a story from The Glory Road,my book-in-progress, Johnny Cash heard a song she wrote and sang it for his audition at Sun Records(performed in the movie Walk The Line by Joaquin Phoenix.) Though Sam Phillips at Sun recorded the song, he didn’t take to gospel at the time and didn’t plan to release it until he got Johnny to sing some grittier stuff first.
Johnny became a star who sang what he wanted to sing. He performed I Was There When It Happened everywhere throughout his career and included it on several albums, so this one song Mother wrote was recorded by a big ol’ bass-singing country boy on his way up and it changed everything for her.
Watch Johnny and the Tennessee Twoperform I Was There When It Happened on the Town Hall Party TV show in Los Angeles in the 1950’s.
Here’s how The Glory Road book became a play first. I began writing the book years ago, put it aside and turned to short stories. A Los Angeles broadcast buddy, Don Barrett, introduced me to estimable literary agent, Carol Schild, who suggested I make the stories into a play. Entertaining friends got together and we put on a show.
Multiple talents made up the casts, offering suggestions all along. There were revisions and more revisions, all valuable lessons for a first-time playwright. I was new to it. They weren’t.
Both directors, David Atkinson and Greg (North) Zerkle, (accomplished actors and directors – and boy can they sing!) are friends I met at church in Los Angeles. The casts for each show started in our congregation and kept extending out to performing friends of friends. The church we had in common was Little Brown Church in Studio City which grew into Church Of The Valley, Van Nuys. These two congregations were (and still are) populated with singers and musicians and dancers and writers and actors and radio and television and movie and Broadway babies.
I keep rewrite notes attached to each of these script versions in the picture above. Once the new book is launched, I hope to see The Glory Road onstage again, full throttle, lots of music and our show’s Southern Gospel quartet in matching jackets, beautiful harmony, Ray and Fern and their big love story and big conflicts.
Here’s a version of the song we opened with onstage. Our quartets rocked! Written in the 1950’s by Lee Roy Abernathy, this version of “He’s A Personal Savior” is performed by the Gaither Vocal Band.
Bonus – another Lee Roy Abernathy song he’s most famous for. Performed here by The Blackwood Brothers. Originally titled “A Wonderful Time Up There,”it quickly became known as “Gospel Boogie.”This one’s made for a bass singer. This version is by Brian Free & Assurance.
While Daddy was a young man attending shape-note singing lessons taught in a country church by traveling sheet music salesmen, Mother was lying about her age to sing in honky-tonks. When they got together, things got interesting. They mixed her Saturday night and his Sunday morning sound and made a whole new thing. After WWII they moved their music out of churches and took it on the road.
I hope you’ll follow along each week as I post updates from The Glory Road projects. It began with short stories and essays, next a stage play (a story for another day) and now a book manuscript. My goal is to help preserve the music and these glimpses of American history.
Early recordings blended Mother’s honky-tonk alto with Daddy’s hill country tenor. Years later, their recordings have been re-mastered, re-released and are heard everywhere, on television, in movies, on the radio, on streaming services and everywhere music is available.
Here’s an excerpt from the book manuscript.
All Day Singing With Dinner On The Grounds.
Kousin Karl took the stage and the crowd shook off their post-dinner torpor, ready to be entertained. He welcomed everyone back and made a few announcements, ending by reminding us there’d be plenty of food left out there at suppertime. After the crowd rustled and scraped and quieted some, he hollered,
“Ladies and gentlemen – THE JONESES!”
Daddy called out the key to the pickup band. A piano player started off and the crowd laughed as they caught on to what was happening. Brother Janway eased in from the side, chasing the first piano player away. He bounced around, playing some boogie woogie first, then slid into the intro to the familiar song Daddy and Mother were about to sing.
Daddy paced and grinned, guitar strap slung over one shoulder, strumming as he walked over to the piano shaking his head, pretending to be shocked at Brother Janway’s antics. The two buddies always had fun up there and their schoolboy foolishness had everyone smiling.
When Mother joined Daddy onstage, he moved over next to her and leaned in so close it looked like he was about to kiss her, then he stepped away again, always in motion before returning to share the mic with her. They started off on one of Daddy’s favorites, with Mother taking the lead and him singing harmony.
By and by, when the morning comes
All the saints of God are gathered home
We will tell the story, how we’ve overcome
And we’ll understand it better, by and by
Daddy was always a crowd-pleaser yet it appeared to be accidental. He never held onto a note any longer than he had to. When she sang she laid every ounce of emotion she could muster into a note before sending it out to the audience.
Here are Sister Fern and Brother Ray singing “By & By” from their first album, “The Joneses Sing,” recorded in the 1950’s.
On lead guitar, fellow evangelist, Brother Gene Thompson
My brother and I were not happy little harmonizers on The Glory Road. Daddy was following his calling to preach, Mother followed her calling to sing, but we two believed our true calling was to amble down a country road somewhere that led to a house of our own, a school we’d go to every day, and friends who’d know us from one year to the next. Just because you can sing harmony it doesn’t mean you always want to.
We were on the tent revival circuit, booked for months in advance and from time to time the family needed to refresh our presentation. Daddy said we’d best practice before we get to Amarillo. He enticed us into learning our parts by singing songs we liked on the radio. We started off with The Sons Of The Pioneers’ Tumbling Tumbleweeds and when we had our parts down on that one, he switched to What A Friend We Have In Jesus in the same key.
Long stretches of Route 66 through the Deep South offered nothing to look at except tumbleweeds, giant puffs of them rolling free on the highway or stuck to a fence. Daddy played a game with them.
A huge tumbleweed clump was minding its own business somewhere in Texas and as we got closer it loomed about half-a-car size. The motion of our big old sedan invited it to dance. It floated up and plopped on the windshield, covering the view. Leslie Ray said, Daddy you better stop but Daddy said, watch this.
Instead of stopping and freeing the thing, his game was to keep driving and speed up, then brake quickly trying to get it to release itself. Man against nature. It wasn’t safe, but not much about car travel was back then.
Here are The Sons Of The Pioneershelping two young Gospel Gypsies learn harmony.
The Glory Road is where I spend most of my time these days, immersed in the book manuscript. Interested parties ask, why aren’t you blogging about that? Starting with this week’s post, I’ll share some of the process while putting together this multi-media project about the life of my family.
We traveled the Deep South in the 1950’s, carrying songs from then to now. Today the music Mother and Daddy recorded, much of it written by Mother, Sister Fern Jones, is heard everywhere. Brother Ray Jones (Daddy) added harmony and rhythm guitar.
I’ll add photos and music from time to time and if you want a reminder about each week’s post, you can sign up on this page where it says “Subscribe to blog via email.”
Here are a couple of paragraphs from The Glory Road book manuscript:
Daddy was the sheriff of Mayberry with a deep Southern drawl and a Bible in his hand. Tall and good looking and enormously likable, he was in possession of both the strength and the patience of a natural leader. Mother was a pretty and provocative teenaged honky-tonk queen turned into a preacher’s wife and gospel singer.
We were gospel gypsies, short on money, heavy in equipment, stopping to perform at Singings, at churches, under revival tents and at radio stations. We spent much of the 1950’s in our old sedan, traveling the Deep South wherever his calling to preach and her calling to sing took us. The front seat made the decisions while the back seat waited to see where we’d be living for the next few weeks….
Here’s gospel-to-rockabilly in one song, “Keeps Me Busy” from the album “Fern Jones, The Glory Road.” Re-mastered by Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering in Boston and released by Numero Group out of Chicago. The original was recorded in the 1950’s at the Bradley Brothers’ famous Quonset Hut in Nashville. Guitar licks from legendary Hank Garland. While recording this album, all the studio musicians were also working with Elvis over at RCA.
Music hath charms. YouTube helps me find them. Here’s the full quote.
“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
…William Cosgreve, British poet, playwright.
Some days we’re the rocks, other times the knotted oaks. William, you would have loved YouTube.
Do you ever hear a song that’s not about anything you’re doing but it catches your attention and by the time the song ends, you’ve been lifted? The shift is not quite definable, not quantifiable, it just is.
I respect artists who post their work on You Tube where the world can share it. I’ve met excellent musicians there. Sometimes I go to YouTube in search of a particular song for a project and while I’m there, I meet musicians I haven’t heard before. That’s how I met Chris Whiteman.
Beautiful guitar, beautiful songs. I say hey to him in the comments section on his Instagram or Facebook or YouTube accounts and let him know his music seems to arrive at exactly the right time.
I’ve never met him in person. Don’t need to. There’s a piece of his soul in the music he makes and that reminds me I should always do the same – put the personal into the product. Please do meet Chris online and from time to time I’ll pass along links for others I find and listen to and love. I hope you’ll do the same. Here’s a favorite – and below, a link to Chris’ YouTube account where all the videos he posts are available.
Naked Ladies show up in the oddest places in Northern California in July and all through August. Clumps of them, pink and fragrant, with up to a dozen beautiful blooms on each leafless stem. They’re energetic. They’re sturdy. They’re random.
They scatter all over the countryside in Napa and Sonoma and Marin in places where no one would have thought to plant them. All of a sudden comes this magic in a distinct shade of pink, from a bed of weeds, a crack in a sidewalk, along fences, lining a country road, and in no particular formation. You have to smile at their tenacity and because critters don’t like them, they stay around a while.
There’s something mysterious and charming about them so I had to look it up. Read on if you want to know too.
They’re in the lily family, starting life as a bulb. During the winter a plant with leaves appears, looking like any other plant. Then the leaves die away and you can easily forget about them. A few months later during hot weather, up pops a bare stalk then another and another.
I wanted to know how they get scattered all over the place. Turns out they drop seeds which insure surprise sightings in years to come. Once a bulb’s planted, you’ll never know how many will show up next season.
People say Naked Ladies are practically indestructible, but I assumed I’d lost the ones in my yard in Mill Valley a few years ago. A tree had to be removed right next to where the Naked Ladies bloomed the summer before. Along with the tree and its roots, everything went. Only dirt was left.
Then came the summer and overnight one bare stalk started pushing up, then another, beautiful and fragrant and naked.
Jane Austen’s last novel, Sanditon, (in progress when she died) is coming to TV. Masterpiece/PBS will film an 8-episode adaptation of the story.
It’s impossible to imagine how many thousands of pages she created sitting right there. A goose feather could meet no nobler purpose than to become one of the quill pens she dipped in endless bottles of ink.
Filming begins in spring, 2019. Never too early for eager Jane Austen fans to start getting excited.
Here’s the official press release:
RED PLANET PICTURES, ITV AND MASTERPIECE TO BRING JANE AUSTEN’S UNFINISHED FINAL NOVEL, SANDITON, TO LIFE
RED PLANET PICTURES, ITV AND MASTERPIECE TO BRING JANE AUSTEN’S UNFINISHED FINAL NOVEL, SANDITON, TO LIFE.
We are delighted to announce our new drama, based on Austen’s final manuscript, Sanditon, developed by Emmy and BAFTA-Award winning writer Andrew Davies.
Executive produced by our Creative Director, Belinda Campbell (Death in Paradise, Dickensian, Hooten & The Lady) and MASTERPIECE’s Rebecca Eaton, Austen’s original 11- chapter fragment has been extended into a sumptuous 8×60 minute drama series by acclaimed screenwriter Andrew Davies (War & Peace, Mr Selfridge, Les Misérables, Pride and Prejudice).
ITV’s Head of Drama, Polly Hill commented: “It’s a rich, romantic, family saga built upon the foundations Jane Austen laid. There is no one better to adapt her unfinished novel than Andrew who has an incredible track record for bold and original adaptations. We’re delighted to commission Sanditon from Belinda Campbell and her team at Red Planet Pictures.”
Andrew Davies added: “Jane Austen managed to write only a fragment of her last novel before she died – but what a fragment! Sanditon tells the story of the transformation of a sleepy fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort, with a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress, and quite a bit of nude bathing. It’s been a privilege and a thrill for me to develop Sanditon into a TV drama for a modern audience.”
Belinda Campbell commented: “Andrew Davies’ compelling scripts bear all the hallmarks of the biting social commentary and realism that makes Jane Austen one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Sanditon’s themes of class divide, ambition, powerplay and matters of the heart are as relevant today as they were in the early 19th century and we can’t wait to bring this incredible adaptation to life for ITV audiences to enjoy.”
We’re watching Gilmore Girls again. And again. The youngest person in the house is now exactly the right age to find Lorelai and Rory fascinating. Everything about their relationship, their town, their troubles and triumphs, their fast-talking search for wisdom – all of it – watched and discussed right here.
Writers/producers, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino are creative past any point I can imagine. Because of the quirky charm of Gilmore Girls (now available on Netflix) I followed them to their next shows, Bunheads (haven’t found it streaming yet) and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon.
When my blogging buddy, Dave Williams and I were both on the radio in Los Angeles, he spoke often of his devotion to the show. I came to it later thinking, if Dave’s so crazy about this, I’ll give it a try.
Now, thanks to the magic of streaming, we have the opportunity to re-visit the town of Stars Hollow and share interesting conversations at home with the resident teen.
I’ve spent a lot of time driving I-5 from Northern to Southern California and back. During summer the center of the state bursts with flavors. I know all the nooks and crannies, the truck stops, the rest stops, and the bounty of good regional food sold at specific convenience stores along the way. Maybe someday there’ll be a song about I-5. After all, Route 66 had to wait a while before Bobby Troup sang about it.
I-5 parallels the West Coast from Mexico to Canada. There are long stretches without much to look at but signs point to quick side trips, if you’re inclined. I’ve been on this road so often I can direct you to everything from salad to dessert.
This month, a short trip off I-5, it’s the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Gilroy named itself the Garlic Capital Of The World and nobody disputes it.
When you drive I-5 you learn when crops are planted and harvested. Ahead of me I spy two crucial ingredients for great spaghetti sauce. One truck rolls along carrying garlic, followed by another with tomatoes, home-grown and soon to be shared in markets everywhere. If you’re on I-5 during summertime you don’t need to wait. There are enough roadside stands on your way home to provide everything you need for supper.