The Joneses in the Hollywood Reporter
American Roots music on stage and screen
From The Glory Road manuscript, here’s a front porch homecoming.
1956: On our way to California we stopped outside Shreveport to visit Daddy’s people.
Paw Paw’s little white house on the banks of the Red River overflowed that summer with kinfolks coming to visit because our Daddy, Raymond, the firstborn of ten, was in town. With his brothers and sisters and their wives and husbands and kids, we took up a lot of room, inside and out. The front steps stacked up with Joneses and their instruments, buzzing with music and storytelling and chicory-coffee and sweet tea and biscuits and ham. Sometime during every visit, Daddy would insist everybody sing, “This World is Not My Home.”
Here are some things these two shows below have in common.
They’re both on Netflix now.
Their soundtracks are outstanding.
Both feature that song recorded by my parents.
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, a movie released last year, has a title that echoes the lyrics. The End Of The F***ing World is a Netflix series. In the first season, the show featured an outstanding soundtrack including vintage tracks from Hank Williams, Rick Nelson, Tom T. Hall, Brenda Lee, my parents, and many more.
Brother Ray and Sister Fern Jones “This World is Not My Home” From the album Fern Jones/The Glory Road
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’sThe 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 his wife, Marge, Brother Ray and Sister Fern are close friends during a time when white people and black people live on different sides of town. Junior comes over every day to work on the house and on this day, he’s trying to persuade 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 new 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 made 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…”
“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”
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 my book, The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life, (Spring 2021 from University of Alabama Press) 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.