Daddy – 1937. Newlywed. Newly ordained preacher, Reverend Raymond D. Jones. “Brother Ray.”
The oldest of ten, he’d already helped raise his brothers and sisters, picking cotton, tending gardens, plowing fields and cooking for his family when he should have been in school, riding his motorcycle, drinking too much, honky-tonking on the weekend and dancing with the teenage singer who became his wife. She was the rose. He remained the gardener. After my brother and I came along, she was the performer. He was the teacher.
He taught us how to plant potatoes, how to cook them, how to make biscuits and gravy, and the behavior required of Southern preachers’ kids in all kinds of situations. Example: Because he came up poor and was always conscious of someone else’s lack of funds, when we had supper with members of the congregation and were offered second helpings, he asked us to say,
“Much obliged, but I have had sufficient.”
We were eager for stories of his wild days but he only told us bits and ended every telling with,
“Course I’d-a never done that if I was a Daddy then. That’s not how a Daddy ought to do.”
All his people sang parts and played instruments and studied shape note singing at a country church out in the woods. He believed in music to spread The Word, but he didn’t care much about having a featured role. His part was usually singing harmony and playing rhythm guitar.
When The Joneses’ music, recorded in the 1950’s, was re-mastered and released a few years back, the only song on the album featuring Daddy’s voice on lead was soon heard all over the place. He’d have been surprised. I can see his grin and hear his drawl.
“Well, I never!”
In honor of Father’s Day, click the picture and hear Daddy’s distinctive hill country lead on “This World Is Not My Home.”
See those rhinestone clips on Mother’s dress in the picture? She snuck them into the studio for this 1940’s publicity photo of “The Joneses” and they weren’t seen again. She promised Daddy she’d give up makeup and jewelry when they took a church to pastor but her love of all things shiny remained undiminished.
Gramma K told Leslie Ray and me Mother’s necklines were a lot lower before she found Jesus. Gramma never forgave her daughter for leaving a promising music career to follow a country preacher around the South.
Here’s a rhinestone excerpt from my book, The Glory Road.
– – – – –
Glendale, California 1955
When we set out on this trip it was with a dual purpose. First, because Gramma K lived in California, we visited when we could, and second (or first, depending on who was making the list) Mother would be performing . She was booked on the bill with several Country and Southern Gospel stars at El Monte Legion Stadium, where Cliffie Stone broadcast his Hometown Jamboree.
Daddy said yes to the show, even though it was on television because his wife was using her music to testify. And also because he was crazy about her. Since they’d found Jesus, their agreement was that no matter where she sang she would carry forth the banner, witnessing by singing only gospel. She’d already stepped in front of cameras when she sang over at Brother Daly’s Tabernacle in New Orleans.
Raising his wife required all the reassurances Daddy could muster and so far it was taking up a good deal of his time on this trip. Gramma was thrilled her daughter would be singing on television in California but no amount of church music was going to be enough for her. Gramma said gospel would never make Mother famous.
Mother was wound up tight about the TV show and that was no small problem. She was high-strung during the best of times. Added pressure sent her spinning off. Her latest concern on this trip seemed to be what to wear.
Since becoming a preacher’s wife, Mother’s sweetheart necklines were raised a bit higher. She brought out one of the dresses under consideration to show Gramma and hung it on the back of the door. Too plain for television, said Gramma, who plunged into a jewelry box on her vanity table and pulled out rhinestone clips.
The two of them continued picking through all the sparkle. Mother grabbed an especially large piece and attached it to her dress, using the clip to gather the fabric downward to a greater dip. She looked in the mirror and said,
“Could you just D-I-E!”
Gramma held out matching earrings. Big earrings with so many stones they would tax the earlobes of a timid woman. As soon as she saw the earrings in Gramma’s hand, Mother snapped,
“Mother! You know I can’t wear jewelry. I gave Raymond my word.”
“You’re not dressing for church right now. You’re singing on a program where a lot of stars wear custom outfits. I guaran-damn-teeya every woman there will have on something like this.”
There was no denying how much Mother wanted to wear them. Here was my thinking. What I’d have done in her place. I’d have taken that jewelry with me and clipped them on just before singing. Then anybody who wanted to say something about it could just go ahead. It’d be too late. Mother didn’t do that.
– – – – –
Mother often sang this with gospel quartets backing her.
‘I Am A Pilgrim And A Stranger”
Fern Jones with the Sunshine Boys from the album Fern Jones/The Glory Road (Numero Group)
This version was recently featured on NBC‘s new show, AP Bio.
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.
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