Originally created 04/01/04

Ramblin' Rhodes: Songwriter's 'Tobacco Road' was in his home state



It may come as a surprise to some Augustans, but John D. Loudermilk was not inspired by Erskine Caldwell's book Tobacco Road to write his multi-million selling hit song of the same name.

Mr. Loudermilk based his song on a rough area of tobacco warehouses in his hometown of Durham, N.C., where he delivered telegrams to frequently drunk and mean local residents.

Some of its lyrics go: "Grew up in a rusty shack, All I owned was hangin' on my back. Only you know how I loathe This place called Tobacco Road."

Mr. Loudermilk, an inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Foundation Hall of Fame, will likely sing his signature song when he performs at 8 p.m. Saturday with Shawn Mullins and Larry Jon Wilson in the Imperial Theatre.

Mr. Loudermilk marked his 70th birthday on Wednesday.

He has penned numerous hits for others and has released many albums himself, but he earned his only Grammy Award in 1967 for the liner notes for his 1967 album Suburban Attitudes In Country Verse.

Tobacco Road is probably Mr. Loudermilk's most-recorded song, originally released by himself in 1960 on a Columbia Records album. It was Lou Rawls' 1963 version and the Nashville Teens' 1964 version that led to it being recorded by diverse artists including Jefferson Airplane, Ramsey Lewis, Bobby Gentry, Edgar Winter, Eric Burden, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Jimi Hendrix, David Allan Coe, Dan Seals, David Lee Roth, Roy Clark, Bruce Springsteen, Hank Williams Jr. and even Miami Vice TV star Don Johnson.

Mr. Loudermilk's songs continue to pop up each year on other musicians' CDs, including his song Blue Train (Of The Heartbreak Line), which earned song of the year honors for 2003 from the International Bluegrass Music Association for Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver (who performed March 28 at the Imperial).

For '60s pop rock star Sue Thompson, Mr. Loudermilk penned hits including Norman, Paper Tiger and Sad Movies (Always Make Me Cry).

His first major hit, which launched the career of Grand Ole Opry star George Hamilton IV, was A Rose and a Baby Ruth in 1956. It became a No. 1 pop hit as well as a country crossover hit.

Mr. Loudermilk's first big hit after moving to Nashville, Tenn., was Waterloo, co-authored with Marijohn Wilkin and turned into a 1958 chart-topper by native Georgian Stonewall Jackson. He also wrote Ernie Ashworth's signature song, Talk Back Trembling Lips, and The Everly Brothers 1961 weeper Ebony Eyes.

One song that had a strange rebirth was Mr. Loudermilk's The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation, known to Paul Revere & The Raiders fans simply as Indian Reservation.

It was one of the first songs to deal with the Cherokees being forcibly uprooted from Georgia by the U.S. government and herded on the "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma.

That also led to many members of the tribe settling in Mr. Loudermilk's home state of North Carolina.

Louisiana native Tim McGraw later tagged part of Mr. Loudermilk's Indian Reservation onto the end of his single Indian Outlaw, which led to national protests from American Indians over Mr. McGraw's sincerity about tribal issues.

But nobody could doubt John D. Loudermilk's sincerity in writing about what he knew about in North Carolina first-hand.

DON RHODES HAS WRITTEN ABOUT COUNTRY MUSIC FOR 32 YEARS. HE CAN BE REACHED AT DON.RHODES@MORRIS.COM.