Spring’s arriving a little early.

By Anita Garner

It’s pure joy to see the listing for my memoir, “The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life” along with the editorial reviews on Amazon.   That means it’s really happening.  Spring will arrive if Amazon says so.  You can order right now for April delivery.

Everything accomplished this year feels like a miracle and I’m celebrating each step. The Kindle version and audio books  are coming soon and when that happens, I’ll probably have another piece of pie.  By the time we hold this book in our hands I’m going to be one round little writer.

Here ‘s the publisher’s (University of Alabama Press) description, followed by reviews.

“Stories and songs from a childhood spent in a vanished world of revivals and road shows

Anita Faye Garner grew up in the South—just about every corner of it. She and her musical family lived in Texarkana, Bossier City, Hot Springs, Jackson, Vicksburg, Hattiesburg, Pascagoula, Bogalusa, Biloxi, Gulfport, New Orleans, and points between, picking up sticks every time her father, a Pentecostal preacher known as “Brother Ray,” took over a new congregation.

In between jump-starting churches, Brother Ray took his wife and kids out on the gospel revival circuit as the Jones Family Singers. Ray could sing and play, and “Sister Fern” (Mama) was a celebrated singer and songwriter, possessed of both talent and beauty. Rounding out the band were the young Garner (known as Nita Faye then) and her big brother Leslie Ray. At all-day singings and tent revivals across the South, the Joneses made a joyful noise for the faithful and loaded into the car for the next stage of their tour.

But growing up gospel wasn’t always joyous. The kids practically raised and fended for themselves, bonding over a shared dislike of their rootless life and strict religious upbringing. Sister Fern dreamed of crossing over from gospel to popular music and recording a hit record. An unlikely combination of preacher’s wife and glamorous performer, she had the talent and presence to make a splash, and her remarkable voice brought Saturday night rock and roll to Sunday morning music. Always singing, performing, and recording at the margins of commercial success, Sister Fern shared a backing band with Elvis Presley and wrote songs recorded by Johnny Cash and many other artists.

In her touching memoir The Glory Road, Anita Faye Garner re-creates her remarkable upbringing. The story begins with Ray’s attempts to settle down and the family’s inevitable return to the gospel circuit and concludes with Sister Fern’s brushes with stardom and the family’s journey west to California where they finally landed—with some unexpected detours along the way. The Glory Road carries readers back to the 1950s South and the intersections of faith and family at the very roots of American popular music.”

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This is a story so central to the origins of country music: the marriage of Saturday night and Sunday morning, and the literal marriage of two musicians, sometimes at odds with each other creatively and personally. The song written by Fern Jones ‘I Was There When It Happened’ was performed around the world by my dad and the Tennessee Three, became the title of the memoir of Marshall Grant (the bass player in the Tennessee Three), and was revived yet again when I performed it every night on a recent tour I did with Ry Cooder. Anita Garner was ‘there when it happened,’ and her book tells us what we ought to know.”
—Rosanne Cash
The Glory Road takes us to an important cultural crossroad of America––where gospel met rockabilly, and Saturday night collided with Sunday morning in the late 1950s in the Deep South. It’s also a very personal family story of a deeply religious preacher, Raymond Jones, whose wife, Fern, had a big voice and even bigger musical ambitions. Anita Garner’s recounting of her parents’ lives––their tensions and travails on the ‘gypsy road’ of tent revivals and recording studios––echoes one of her mother’s most famous songs: ‘I Was There When It Happened.’”
—Dayton Duncan, writer/producer of Ken Burns’ Country Music

The Glory Road touches several bases: southern culture, family life, the evangelical ethos, commercial music, migration, and spousal relations. It will appeal to both a general and specialized audience.”
—Michael T. Bertrand, author of Race, Rock, and Elvis

“I’ll admit I didn’t know the music of Sister Fern and The Joneses until now. So, The Glory Road has introduced me to some exciting and important music. But, even more than that, the story itself will stick with me. I don’t expect to forget these characters.”
—Burgin Mathews, coauthor of Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man

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L.A. Radio Guest Columnist – I’m it today.

Anita Garner

Our esteemed host, Don Barrett, invited me to tell the story about one more media person’s memoir – mine.  It’s been in the works for a while and now it’s in the “Coming Soon” category.  Here’s the cover.

Turning the tables on Don, I should let you know that he’s been part of this project from way back.  We met when he was writing his first book, “Los Angeles Radio People” in the 90s.  Thousands of people from around the world visit his site, laradio.com, every day.  Click his artwork above to join them.

Don was conducting one of his thorough interviews about my time on the air and we bonded over the fact that both of our mothers had ALS and we were caring for them.

I showed him a short story, material planned for a someday book about my gospel-singing family and our life in the Deep South during the 1950s.  He sent the story to a friend in the movie industry whose wife was an agent. She liked the material and asked if I’d adapt it for the stage. I did and we had play readings in Los Angeles, so though I haven’t been steadily working on this book since the 90’s when I met Don, pieces of it did exist back then.

I knew I needed to finish telling the stories I’d begun, so I set myself the task of finishing a book manuscript by a certain date in 2017, pulling out reams of stories and rough chapter outlines and notes on scraps of paper and putting in long days and nights until it was ready.

I submitted to a university press in the Deep South. The Glory Road:A Gospel Gypsy Life, is a first-person memoir, but it’s more like a novel about some colorful characters I’m related to, singers and songwriters and musicians, with American music history woven through.  It takes place during times of enormous change in music and religion, when Saturday night came to Sunday mornings, when my family’s gospel music merged with rockabilly and church became entertainment.

My brother and I sang harmony with the family and lived much of our lives on Route 66 moving from tent revivals to radio stations to All Day Singings to churches and just about any place a microphone and amplifier and speakers were set up. I wanted this material and the music the family made to become part of Southern history. I learned that many university presses keep their books in circulation and keep printing for years into the future. That matters to me.

What does this have to do with radio?  Just about everything.  Without radio, my parents’ music wouldn’t have been heard by people who eventually recorded it, and who later offered Mother her own recording contract. We appeared on radio stations where the studio was in the antenna shack outside of town and other stations located in fancy hotels. My first radio appearance was on WDAK, Columbus, Georgia, at age three.  No adjustable booms.  Stand the little girl on a chair stacked with stuff until she can reach the mic and she’ll sing her part.

After my parents passed, a record label re-issued their music and it appears everywhere these days – movies, TV shows, downloads, wherever there’s music. I’ll post a couple of links that’ll take you to a current Netflix show soundtrack where my mother, Sister Fern Jones is singing and a wayback link to Johnny Cash singing a song she wrote.

My book releases April 21, 2021.  Here’s the publisher.

And here’s a nice thing someone said about them.

“University presses have long been key in the literary ecosystem when it comes to issuing original, risky work, and ’Bama’s is one of the most innovative.”

Just this week, the contract arrived from my audio book publisher. Media people, especially voiceovers, tend to record their own manuscripts. I’m not doing that. I want to sit back and listen to someone else tell these stories.

I write a new blog about once a week here at this site Dave Williams (KLIF/Dallas) and I share.  I write often about The Glory Road and sometimes I include excerpts from those days.

Here’s a song from Sister Fern.  You can find others on You Tube.

And here’s a song she wrote, recorded by Johnny Cash with the Tennessee Two

Johnny Cash - I Was There When It Happened

 

Thanks, Don, for the invitation.  It’s good to visit laradio.com.  I do it every day.

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Gospel Gypsies Adapt

By Anita Garner

Early publicity tour
The Joneses traveling The Glory Road
Oklahoma 1950

That’s my family on the road, stopping at every radio station to sing a couple of songs and let people know we’d be coming soon to an All Day Singing or a tent revival near them.  Our parents, Brother Ray and Sister Fern Jones, made it through the 1950’s with limited-to-no resources, touring with a car full of musical instruments and harmony-singing kids. We were the advance team  driving from town to town with Leslie Ray and me mailing homework back to schools where we registered before leaving again.

When I signed a book contract last year  I already had a publicity tour planned. I was eager to get going.  The ways authors tell people about their books today keep expanding, but even with the boost from social media, the path to book sales still includes suitcases and planes and stops in many towns.

The publisher has two catalogs a year, Fall and Spring.  I hoped my book would make the Fall, 2020 edition.  I thought, oh yeah I can do that, get all my tour stops confirmed and hit the road by then.  Two things became clear.  1) I knew little about the process and 2) Authors would not be hitting the road in the second half of 2020.

Getting a book into the world via a University Press is a much longer process than I knew. Having now been through acquisition, vetting, peer review, board review, editing, design and working on marketing plans while moving into production, Spring, 2021 makes sense. Today I feel a pang for every writer who worked long and hard on a manuscript and counted the days til their Spring 2020 or Summer 2020 or Fall 2020 release.

I’ve now received more release details. The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life arrives in April, 2021 from University of Alabama Press, 232 pages, 22 photos and lots of stories.

April, 2021 is soon enough.
We have stuff to do.

Everything we’d planned for publicity is being retooled. There’ll now be a different kind of launch, one I’m excited about.  There will be guests. There will be music. How could there not be music?

I don’t accomplish this by myself.  My part of the marketing plan for The Glory Road involves many people.  Thank God for talented friends.  We’re right this minute creating the ways we’ll share this show. If Daddy and Mother could see all this communications magic, they’d immediately adapt to using everything at their disposal. I saw them do that many times.

At the end of my book, there’s a list entitled, Gospel Gypsies Know.  In light of the events of this year so far, the caption above, Gospel Gypsies Adapt feels more appropriate.

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California sports car, part of our Southern migration on The Glory Road

By Anita Garner

Leslie Ray’s first sports car, 1960s
Glendale, California

This is my brother outside Gramma K’s house on Raymond Avenue in Glendale, with the Verdugo hills rising in the background.  Gramma was the first of our Southern clan to move to California.  Leslie stopped by to show her his latest car.

During his rebellious period in the late 50s, Leslie left our house in Louisiana to live with our mother’s mother.  It wasn’t just teenage rebellion that brought him west.  The car she promised to buy him had something to do with it.  There was a great deal of bargaining between Gramma and our parents,  who were always in motion, traveling the Deep South in their evangelist/pastor/gospel performing circles. Their nearly-grown son objected to every part of our life and threatened to run away from home.

This is not the car she bought.  That first one was an old Pontiac that got him through Hoover High School, through plenty of traffic tickets and a months-long ban from Bob’s Drive-In.  When the rest of our family joined him in California, Leslie taught me terrifying freeway merging lessons in that Pontiac.

The yellow car was many vehicles later,  one of several sports cars he bought on his own and drove too fast.  Then there was a plane, then motorcycles he raced.  Nothing slowed him down.

This next picture was years later when we all gathered at Gramma’s for one of our Sunday suppers.

Leslie Ray is reacting the way he always did
when Gramma scolded.

She’s re-telling the story about how many times she took his car keys away during high school and hung them on a nail in the kitchen.  She confiscated the keys after each infraction and threatened to leave them there, but he always knew he could charm her into giving them back.  When the nail wasn’t displaying my brother’s car keys, it was holding her  beloved Vidalia onions.

All of us who traveled Route 66 back and forth from the South to California brought her Vidalias when we could get them.  Gramma added a thick slice of sweet onion to her morning biscuits,  her Southern tradition continuing in Southern California. To hang onions from that nail, she dropped an onion into the toe of an old stocking, tied a knot, dropped in another one and kept knotting until she had a pearly Vidalia necklace.

I’m working on a collection of stories and essays and while the dramatic milestones, the setbacks and the triumphs get much of the attention, every now and then one of these small moments nudges, wanting to be heard. Today I’m thinking of my tall and charming, silly and stubborn brother.

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The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life – book cover is here!

By Anita Garner

University of Alabama Press moves forward with production of my book  scheduled for Spring, 2021.  This book still feels like a miracle,  considering how many decades the story waited for me to finish writing it.

Book publishing is a long process.  It’s complicated and sophisticated stuff and for me every stage is exciting.  I plan to keep enjoying it.  I can’t think of a different way to say “uncertain times” “unprecedented” or “challenging” so let’s just say everything about book tours, appearances and marketing in general continues to shift.  The new approach may be a marathon rather than a sprint.

My heart goes out to writers whose books were released earlier this year, who had extensive appearances confirmed, then, poof, all gone.  I have heaps of admiration for authors who bestirred themselves to find ways to connect with people who really want to read what they write.

Who knows how we’ll meet readers in 2021? However we decide to connect to discuss The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life, I’m looking forward to it.  Meanwhile, I’m going to keep enjoying this cover.*

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*Lori Lynch, Senior Designer, University of Alabama Press

 

 

Nashville 1959 – Ryman Auditorium – WSM – Smiles Before The Storm

By Anita Garner

Sister Fern Jones (Mother) with a fan

Mother’s dream had several parts.  Write songs.  Get somebody famous to record them.  Get a recording contract.  A pink Cadillac.  A mink stole. Sing at Ryman Auditorium.

Most of these had come true by the time this picture was taken at Nashville’s Deejay Convention in 1959. She appeared on Wally Fowler’s All Night Singing, originating from Ryman Auditorium, broadcast on WSM, standing alongside many Southern Gospel greats.  See her in the lineup in photos below. But the next part of the story was a storm of her own making.

When this picture came back from restoration, I was reminded of how much this looks like Fern’s happy ending, but indeed it was not.  It was just the start of her battles with the head of her record label, legal wrangling, waiting for a single from the album to be heard on radio, and the greatest  deterrent to a long tour, being away from Daddy.  She was nearly paralyzed without him nearby.

I’m in the editing process of my book, now called The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life, which will be released early next year from University of Alabama Press. This is the part where old pictures are restored to go into the book while I spend the next two weeks on the final, final pass through the manuscript.  When I send this version back to the Press it moves into copyedit, design, legal permissions (lots of songs quoted) and all the rest.

I’ll be right here with updates about my own dream, which includes telling family stories with a few songs attached.

 

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Sending a child to do a grownup job on The Glory Road

By Anita Garner

Brother Ray Jones and Nita Faye 1950’s

They had me singing on the radio in Columbus Georgia at the age of 3.  No adjustable microphone.  I stood on chairs or sometimes boxes or crates stacked up in front of a tall boom microphone. The mic faced the disc jockey/announcer/sometimes station owner operating the controls on the other side of the glass.

By the time I was 7 or 8, Daddy chose a new repertoire for me, deciding which songs would help him put across the message he was about to preach.  He taught me to sing  one of his favorites, a song with dramatic lyrics and a big buildup.  From the start it didn’t feel like something I’d ask a little girl to sing, but I performed it for years because he asked me to.  In this picture from the 1950s I’m singing “Then Jesus Came.”  Daddy’s playing steel guitar over there beside me, every now and then saying “Yes Lord” the way people in our churches worshipped out loud.

I didn’t grasp the story told in this song the way it could be until I heard George Beverly Shea sing it on one of Billy Graham’s early radio shows.  Oh that’s how it’s supposed to sound.  I announced to Daddy I didn’t want to sing it anymore.

A voice like this is what the song requires. This is Larry Wayne Morbitt singing at a Gaither Gospel TV show. Larry toured with Phantom of the Opera.  He can hit those notes.

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