Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Remembering Jim Weatherly

By Brendan Galbraith / IMC Major

Photo provided

The only quarterback in SEC history to also be a member of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame passed away earlier this year.

Jim Weatherly left an indelible mark as both a sportsman and musician, and his life story is a fascinating one; marked by passion and perseverance. 

Born in Pontotoc, Miss. in 1943, Weatherly displayed two keen interests in his youth: music and sports. His childhood friend and college roommate Ray Bedingfield recalled that the two often were intertwined. 

“On Saturday mornings we’d go out and play a little sandlot football and Jim would always bring his ukulele,” Bedingfield said. “Always brought the ukulele. It was in his blood early on.”

Heartbreak struck a young Weatherly at the age of fourteen when he lost his father to a workplace accident and was left with his mother to guide and influence his three younger siblings.

In an instant on a crisp autumn Mississippi morning, Wednesday, October 17, 1957, I became the man of the house for Mom, my two younger sisters, and my little brother, who was just a year old.”

-Jim Weatherly

Midnight Train 

  Only four years later, he committed to play football for the University of Mississippi, in large part because of his family’s financial benefit from a scholarship as well as being able to study and compete only 30 miles from home.

In Weatherly Ole Miss found itself a winner. He led the Rebels to their second consecutive SEC Championship in 1963, earning honorable mention All-American honors in 1964.

Instead of pursuing what could have been a fine career in the NFL, Weatherly followed his passion for songwriting and moved to Los Angeles with his band formed at Ole Miss: Jim Weatherly and the Vegas. 

They re-named the band The Gordian Knot and found relative success performing in L.A. nightclubs. Their popularity even led to playing shows for troops in Vietnam as part of a U.S.O. tour with Nancy Sinatra and Jimmy Boyd. 

However, they never found the big break they were hoping for and without animosity the members dissolved the Gordian Knot to go their separate ways. 

Weatherly stayed in Los Angeles to continue working in the music industry as a songwriter. He did not find the work to be profitable at first and struggled with depression as his resolve wavered.

Jeff Roberson, his cousin and close friend, remembered that Weatherly found himself down to just seven thousand dollars, “And if that ran out, he’d move back to Mississippi to coach football.”, Roberson said.

Weatherly received consistent encouragement from his mother to persevere and continue to work towards his musical aspirations. Her inspiration helped Weatherly to stay in Los Angeles and make meaningful connections that led to him achieving his dream.

During a musical career that spanned nearly 50 years, Weatherly is best known for writing “Midnight Train to Georgia”, famously sung by Gladys Knight. However, a plethora of prominent artists enlisted Weatherly to write songs for them, including Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks, Neil Diamond, and Ray Price. 

Both his success and respect gained from his peers was encapsulated when Weatherly was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York City in 2014, at the time one of less than 400 total members (Midnight Train, Weatherly). 

A collection of stories from Weatherly’s life journey were put to paper in Midnight Train, which Weatherly wrote alongside Roberson. 

When he experienced adversity, Weatherly persevered and enjoyed uncommon success with both his passions. He was an excellent field general in football and a hall of famer at creating lyrics.