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Allen Boyer: Review of “Midnight Train” by Jim Weatherly

Editor’s Note: Jim Weatherly, author of “Midnight Train,” will be featured on Thacker Mountain Radio, broadcasting live from the Lyric in Oxford, on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. The broadcast will air live on WUMS 92.1 FM (Oxford) and will subsequently air on Mississippi Public Radio and Alabama Public Radio on Oct. 27. Weatherly and co-author Jeff Roberson will sign copies of “Midnight Train” at the Lyric before the show from 5-6 p.m. and afterward at 7 p.m.

Cover of “Midnight Train” by Jim Weatherly. Photo courtesy of Yoknapatawpha Press.

Jim Weatherly is probably the only author who played football for Johnny Vaught, went on a USO tour of Vietnam with Nancy Sinatra, and wrote one of the greatest pop rhythm-and-blues songs of all time, “Midnight Train to Georgia.” In his memoir “Midnight Train,” Weatherly supplies a lively account of a career that rambled from the Deep South to Los Angeles and back again.

Born in Pontotoc in 1943, Weatherly grew up listening to AM stations from Memphis and playing guitar. His family owned an appliance store in Pontotoc, Roberson’s Electric Supply, and his first amplifier was made from an old Philco radio, with the guitar cord soldered direct to the radio speaker.

A standout football player for Pontotoc High School, Weatherly went on to Ole Miss, where he played on two SEC championship teams – starting with the 1962 season, in which the Rebels football squad, unbeaten and untied, fought their way to a championship across the desolate landscape of the riot-torn campus.

Author Jim Weatherly was born in Pontotoc in 1943. He grew up listening to AM stations from Memphis and playing guitar.

After college, Weatherly moved to Los Angeles with his rock band. With the poetic, unlikely name of the Gordian Knot, they performed steadily for several years. At one party, Natalie Wood told them not to mingle with the guests; Robert Mitchum, on the other hand, reminisced with them about his time in Oxford, filming “Home from the Hill.”

Other names drop, too – but with significance. Meeting Jim Webb inspired Weatherly in a new career, as songwriter, and Jim Nabors gave him a start with work on his variety show. (Nabors also showed a rare, princely generosity in giving Weatherly copyright to songs he had written for the show.) After a casual phone call with Farah Fawcett Majors, who talked about visiting her family in Texas, Weatherly’s mind focused on a phrase: “midnight plane to Houston.” But it would be Gladys Knight (who had turned Weatherly’s C&W ballad “Neither One of Us” into an R&B anthem) who made the final version of that song a classic.

Weatherly tells his life story with humor and irony, and he is ably assisted by Jeff Roberson, a North Mississippi sportswriter (and his cousin). This is a book in which North Mississippi readers will find many echoes and connections. Not the least of which is the recollection of a passenger train that, not so long ago, used to leave Memphis and stop at Pontotoc at 11:25 each Friday night, and then head on – to Mobile or New Orleans, or maybe some other destination.

MIDNIGHT TRAIN: An All-Southeastern Conference Quarterback’s Ride from the Football Fields of the South to Enshrinement in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York . By Jim Weatherly with Jeff Roberson. Yoknapatawpha Press. 324 pages. $27 hardback, $22 paperback.

Allen Boyer is the Book Editor of HottyToddy.com.

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