John D. Loudermilk–An appreciation

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee John D. Loudermilk, whose compositions included such pop classics as “Tobacco Road” (a British Invasion hit in 1964 for the Nashville Teens), The Casinos’ “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (1967), and Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Indian Reservation” (1971), died Sept. 21 at 82.

“So, so sad to hear of the death of great songwriter John D. Loudermilk,” tweeted Rosanne Cash. “’Then you can tell me goodbye…’”

By email, she added: “He was just a teddy bear. The sweetest guy in the world. Hard to conceive that the guy who wrote ‘Tobacco Road’ was the same guy who wrote ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’, but he contained multitudes.”

Loudermilk, who also sang, also penned such classic pop and country hits as Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo” (1959), Johnny Tillotson’s “Talk Back Trembling Lips” (1963), Dick & Dee Dee’s “Thou Shalt Not Steal” (1964), George Hamilton IV’s “Abilene” (1963) and “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” (1956) and Sue Thompson’s “Norman” (1961), “Paper Tiger” (1964) and “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” (1961).

“John D. Loudermilk was deserving of wider public recognition,” says veteran performing rights executive Jim Steinblatt. “He was a craftsman with range: He created memorable ‘fluff’ like ‘A Rose and a Baby Ruth’ and ‘Norman’ and searing songs of social significance like ‘Tobacco Road’ and ‘Indian Reservation.’ While the average music lover never knew his name, performers knew he was a source of great material–Lou Rawls, Marianne Faithfull, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Linda Ronstadt, to name just a few. Loudermilk was a stalwart American tunesmith–a vanishing breed.”

“John D. Loudermilk had the songwriting market cornered,” says music historian John Alexander, singling out Johnny Cash’s version of Loudermilk’s “Bad News.”

“He could write a heartbreakingly beautiful ballad just as easily as he could a clever novelty gem. Johnny Cash’s rendition of Loudermilk’s ‘Bad News’ is certainly one of Cash’s most animated performances. He takes on the part of the ornery outlaw with a full-throated laugh and no apologies for all the horrible things he’s done.”

Loudermilk, adds Alexander, “could then turn around and write the visually stunning ‘Abilene’ for George Hamilton IV, and one of the Everly Brothers’ greatest songs of all, the haunting and tragic ‘Ebony Eyes.’ That song alone would rank Loudermilk among the finest of songwriters of his generation, not to mention dozens of other classic compositions that crossed all genres from pop to folk to country to the blues.”

Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow cited in a statement Loudermilk’s “uncanny ability to create songs that crossed genres and to draw fans in with captivating stories.”

“’Tobacco Road,’ one of his best-known tunes, has been covered nearly 200 times and remains a testament to John’s ability to connect with audiences through authentic lyrics,” noted Portnow. “John came from humble beginnings. The first instrument he learned to play was a ukulele made from a cigar box, but it proved to be the start of a career that included a Grammy win and many hits. He is a reminder that talent can come from anywhere and music must be nurtured.”

In memoriam, 2014

Once again I’m looking back at the little “appreciation” pieces I wrote in 2014 and recall those who moved me then and now–here, however, on a more personal basis.

The sad dates of the year began early, January 3, with the passing of Phil Everly. I met Phil once, briefly, at a Nashville Songwriters Association Awards banquet in Nashville. But I was lucky enough to see the Everly Brothers live twice. Whatever their personal relationship, on stage they remained perfection.

A week or so later Amiri Baraka, too, was gone. I had his classic 1963 book Blues People: Negro Music In White America, published under his former name LeRoi Jones. But aside from his influence, it should also be noted that he was accused of racism and anti-Semitism, and was in fact a 9-11 truther. At the other end of the humanitarian spectrum was Pete Seeger, whom I knew a bit, as did probably a million others. I had his phone number, which I used on occasion. A few weeks after he died, Leo Kottke told a wonderful and representative story of how Pete had drawn a map to his house for him, he was that accessible.

Frank Military was another great guy, a music publisher and song-finder for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. I sat with him and Tony when the New York chapter of the Recording Academy presented him with a “Heroes Award.” Tony was on my right, Ahmet Ertegun, who was presenting the same award to Tom Silverman, on my left. Always drawing, Tony drew a portrait of Ahmet, handed it to me to pass to him. Ahmet was thrilled.

I didn’t know Christian music A&R luminary Norman Holland, but everyone in that end of the business loved him. Much loved, too, were rock photog Leee Black Childers and singer-songriter Jesse Winchester.

And I didn’t know Loudilla Johnson well, but a lot of old-line country stars like Loretta Lynn did, since Loudilla and her sisters Loretta and Kay, set up her fan club operation, and then IFCO, the International Fan Club Organization.

Jerry Vale, of course, was a quite well known 1950s pop vocalist, while Herb Jeffries, “the Bronze Buckaroo,” was a rare black country singer and actor, who also sang jazz with the likes of Duke Ellington. Calypso singer Maya Angelou I did know, but as Dr. Maya Angelou—thanks to Ashford & Simpson, with whom she recorded, performed, and emceed the poolside entertainment at their fabled July 4th “white parties.”

I used to say hi to my favorite pedal steel guitarist Weldon Myrick at the Grand Ole Opry, where he was part of the house band. I never met Gerry Goffin, but I did meet his ex-wife/writing partner Carole King. And Cajun country/Opry star Jimmy C. Newman was a dear friend, for whom I wrote CD liner notes.

Bobby Womack and Tommy Ramone were both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, and the latter was a friend, in fact, of all the Ramones, he was probably the nicest and most respectful of me—having been a friend of the band since the beginning of my writing career and author of the first book on the band. I stayed in touch with Tommy throughout his later career as a bluegrass musician, and can’t get over the fact that all four of the originals have now passed on.

I met Elaine Stritch once. When I told her I was a writer, she immediately demanded that I write something about her, which I did the day she died. Shortly after seeing Johnny Winter’s last birthday performance at B.B. King’s, I wrote about him, too, with help from my friend Jon Paris, who played bass with him for many years.

I knew the beloved country music agent Don Light, but not the great rock ‘n’ roll songwriter/producer Bob Crewe, who died the same day as New Orleans studio owner and recording engineer Cosimo Matassa. Opry star George Hamilton IV I knew very well as one of the nicest guys, like Jimmy C., that you could ever hope to meet.

I met the Indian mandolin maestro U. Srinivas, but not Howard Stern Wack Packer Eric the Actor—though I was an equal fan of both. I never met Paul Revere, but know Raiders’ lead vocalist Mark Lindsay and put them all into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon. And I never met Jan Hooks, but was a huge fan of hers since she was the breakout star of Atlanta Superstation WTBS’s Tush—the great Bill Tush being a dear friend.

Studio musician, projects coordinator and freelance A&R Ann Ruckert, too, was a dear friend, not just to me but to probably everyone in the entire New York music scene, and for decades. I didn’t know the great Morells/Skeletons bassist/vocalist/songwriter Lou Whitney well, but always loved talking to the “the elder statesman of rock ‘n’ roll in the Midwest,” who was also very much loved by fellow musicians. I think I met Manhattan Transfer founder Tim Hauser, and definitely met Cream’s Jack Bruce—both extremely important in their respective pop-jazz vocal and rock genres.

I was a huge fan of Mr. Acker Bilk, England’s esteemed “trad jazz” clarinetist, whose 1962 pre-Beatles instrumental “Stranger On the Shore” was the first British recording to top the charts in the rock era. I liked Motown’s Jimmy Ruffin of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” fame better than his younger brother David Ruffin of The Temptations. I was inspired to write about Ray Sadecki, who won 20 games pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals when I was 12, when it made me reconsider my youth and own mortality.

I wrote about Claire Barry, who with younger sister Merna were the Yiddish pop singing duo the Barry Sisters, because I knew they influenced Neil Sedaka, who gave me a quote. Likewise, I knew Stanley Rashid of Brooklyn-based Arabic music/video supplier Rashid Sales could say a few words on “incomparable” Lebanese singer of Arab pop, classical and folk music Sabah.

Most everyone knew rock greats Bobby Keys and Ian McLagan—both of whom I met—who died within a day of each other in December. Most everyone should have known about Dawn Sears, Vince Gill’s wonderful backup signer, who also sang in Nashville swing band the Time Jumpers.

I loved “Wind Beneath My Wings” co-writer Larry Henley, but more so for his “Bread and Butter” falsetto screech as lead singer of ‘60s vocal group The Newbeats. And we all loved Joe Cocker, who died on Dec. 22. I’m glad I got to interview him and meet him.