Memories and music stick together.

Mother was our scrapbook keeper, saving stories about us and our evangelist and musician friends during the 1940’s and ’50’s. These books were much too big to travel in the car on The Glory Road.  They stayed on a shelf in the apartment we rented in Texarkana while we toured the South.

When we made a quick stop before hitting the road again, she tucked  clippings inside, often adding handwritten captions. Something about watching her work with them set her apart for a few hours from the mostly unsentimental person we knew.  Always nocturnal while the rest of us were early risers, you’d find her at the kitchen table long after we’d gone to bed, still drinking strong coffee, adding stories with her scissors and tape.

Every time I turn a page now, edges crumble, leaving a trail of scraps on the floor.  I’ll preserve these using whatever technology works best.

 

 

The Glory Road – From Louisiana to HBO’s The Leftovers

Mother believed her music would travel and it did, long after she was gone.  Her song, Let Tomorrow Be, recorded in Nashville in the 1950’s. traveled to HBO’s The Leftovers.  The show made poignant use of it with Fern singing over the credits. From my book, The Glory Road, here’s an excerpt about the song’s beginnings.

The setting:  Bogalusa, Louisiana, 1956. Junior is helping build a new house for the preacher and his wife. He and Reverend Ray and Sister Fern are close friends during a time of volatile  segregation in the Deep South.  Junior comes over to work every day from the other side of town where only black people live. He’s trying to get Fern to make up her mind.

**********

“Miz Jones, You got to pick a color today for the outside.  I brought some more samples.”

She glanced at them.

“Not any of these.”

“The painter’s needin’ to get started.  Once he gets here, we got to pay him for the whole time every day. Can’t bring him all the way over here and…”

‘I know, but these aren’t right.  I want the house to be this color.”

She patted the chaise.

“Pink?  Miz Jones, I mean the outside.”

“Yes, the outside.  Pink outside, and a sparkly white roof, you know the kind?”

“I’ve seen them.”

“So pink outside and a white roof, okay?”

“Okaaaay. That’s a whole lotta pink.”

“Pink’s the most important color today, Junior. Everybody’s wearing pink and black.  Elvis Presley had his picture made in a pink shirt and black jacket that looks exactly like an outfit I designed to sing in. Junior can I tell you a secret?”

“You like pink?”

“Yes I do but this is something else. I just finished writing a new song. I’m gonna tape it and send it around to people and see if somebody famous will record it.”

“Miz Jones, you oughta be recording your songs your own self.  Nobody sings like you do.  I oughta tell you what my Margie sez.  No I better not.”

“Oh yes, you better.”

“She heard you sing on the radio Saturday morning over at WHXY and she sez, Margie sez to me…”

“What?”

“She sez, Junior, that’s Rev’s wife on the radio.  I sez yes I believe it is and Margie sez, Miz Jones sings like a man.  And then she sez…she sings like a colored man.”

“No!  She did not!”

Mother put her hand over her heart.

“Junior, please tell her I am honored. Do you want to hear my new song?”

“Course I do.”

“I got the idea from my mother.”

She picked up her guitar, strummed and sang,

Don’t try to cross that river that you cannot see
Don’t try to tunnel through that mountain that may not be.

She stopped to explain the arrangement she heard in her head.

“And then backup singers come in behind me and then,”

For by tomorrow all your fears
May up and slip away
All the clouds of darkness
May turn to day
For all the trouble you have feared
You’ll find there’s grace to borrow
So let tomorrow be until tomorrow

Junior, always an active listener, said,

“Uh huh.  You tell it.”

“What do you think?”

“It’s a good one. You sure do turn a song into a lesson.”

“It’s the way my songs come to me. Back when we were gettin’ our last baby
and I was so sick, I called up my mother and she was upset that I was
expecting again but then when I told her I was scared about it she said, ‘Don’t borrow trouble.  Let tomorrow be.'”

“I don’t know how you do that.  Write a new song good as any on the radio.”

“It’s my gift from the Lord, Junior.  All my songs will be on the radio.  I know they will.”

********

Here’s Fern’s recording of Let Tomorrow Be from the 1958 album
Fern Jones/The Glory Road
Featured in
The Leftovers HBO Season 2, Episode 1, “Axis Mundi”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzNRpKeEfPI

 

On The Glory Road – Johnny Cash changes things.

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 Two perform  I Was There When It Happened on the Town Hall Party  TV show in Los Angeles in the 1950’s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pp70V6a8r00

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks, NBC for playing my parents’ music.

Thanks, NBC, for featuring The Joneses’ songs, recorded 60 years ago. And thanks A P Bio producers, Seth Myers and Lorne Michaels and the show’s music supervisors. Credit is due also to the team that keeps The Joneses’ music playing.  Numero Group, Bankrobber Music, and Secretly Distribution.  Two albums are now combined into one package called The Glory Road.

We started watching A P Bio because it’s clever.  When the first episode began, we were surprised to hear Mother (Fern Jones) singing her rowdy version of  “I Am A Pilgrim And A Stranger.”  Click the album cover to hear the song.

 

 

 

 

The most recent episode featured a duet from my parents’ 1958 album, “The Joneses Sing,”  especially poignant because it features Daddy’s hill country tenor on “I Don’t Care What The World May Do.”  He didn’t record often.  Both songs were a perfect fit for the show –  says their daughter, without a lick of prejudice.

Click the album cover below to hear the song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The contrarian teacher is played by Glenn Howerton, the principal is Patton Oswalt and the classroom is populated with talented, quirky students.

 

Great-Grandma rocks.

What’s cool like the fifties? Watching TV with my granddaughter and up pops my mother – aka Sister Fern Jones – singing in the middle of the show. it was nice to say, “That’s your great-grandmother.”

She was a rockabilly pioneer and she still rocks today, 60 years after this song was recorded. (The picture’s a screenshot. Click the link below to listen.)

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0vJJ0fojLtc