|Mike Dariano||Aug 29, 2019|
Jim Weatherly was a struggling songwriter. It was the late 60’s Los Angeles. One night he called college-football-teammate Lee Majors for advice. Majors wasn’t a musician but he was at least in show business and might be able to offer helpful advice, connections, or at the very least a sympathetic ear.
Lee wasn’t home.
His girlfriend was though, she told Jim that Lee was out but that she could take a message. They made small chat for a minute, then the girlfriend she had to go. She was packing for a midnight flight to Houston. ‘Thanks,’ Jim said. He recalled in an interview years later:
“After I got off the phone, I grabbed my guitar and wrote ‘Midnight Plane to Houston’ in about forty-five minutes—the music and lyrics. The line ‘I’d rather live in her world than live without her in mine’ locked the whole song.
It wasn’t Jim’s first time writing a song quickly but this song was good. A couple years later he signed with an agent and sold the song to Crissy Houston who “loved it right away.” Well, she loved most of it.
Midnight plane to Houston didn’t have the same resonance. I mean, who takes a midnight plane to Houston besides Farah Fawcett, the woman who answered Jim’s call years before? Crissy was from Georgia and in Georgia they took trains, so the lyrics changed.
Fast forward slightly more and the song ends up in front of Gladys Knight. She loved it too, but again, not completely. The song needed more soul, a lot more. Gladys and her brother added horns, keyboards, and other instruments and the ad-libbed section at the fade.
Midnight Train to Georgia was a hit, reaching #1 on Billboard’s pop and soul charts. But it only got there after a lot of people paid attention and tweaked their observations.
Farah gave Jim the line, Jim wrote the words and lyrics, Crissy gave it character, and Gladys made it whole. That’s how all ideas are, mutated, borrowed, and riffed until something new and better comes out. That doesn’t mean that mutations, borrows, and riffs always work, but that they’re part of everything that does.