“Midnight Train to Georgia” Writer Jim Weatherly Has Died

He could have been a star in the NFL. Instead Jim Weatherly chose to become a songwriter. The football world’s loss was the music world’s gain, if for no other accomplishment than the Pontotoc, Mississippi native wrote the iconic Southern anthem “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which became a #1 and Grammy winner for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1973. But his contributions to the country music canon were just as grand. And now he’s gone, passing away at 77 at his home in Brentwood, TN on February 3rd.

James Dexter Weatherly was born in March 17, 1943, and became an all-star for the Pontotoc High School football team. Following his passion to the University of Mississippi, he was the Ole Miss backup quarterback during the university’s legendary undefeated season in 1962. He moved to starter in 1963 where the team successfully defended their SEC championship, and he received honorable mention All-American honors the subsequent year.

But Weatherly decided to pursue music full time after he graduated, and was an active songwriter for over 50 years. Though it was a pop/R&B song that is regularly associated with his name, Weatherly contributed some 50 compositions to the catalog of Ray Price, and wrote songs for Brenda Lee, Lynn Anderson, Glen Campbell, and Kenny Rogers. His career lasted so long, he was around to also contribute songs to the likes of Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney, and was active well into the later stages of life.

Much of Jim Weatherly’s output was centered around specific artists that he would work with closely, like Ray Price, who he penned the #1 “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” for, as well as “Just Enough to Make Me Stay,” “Storms of Troubled Times,” and “If You Ever Change Your Mind” among others. Gladys Knight recorded a total of 13 Weatherly songs, including further hits “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” Country or otherwise, if it captured that Southern soul, Bill Weatherly was into it.

Weatherly started writing songs when he was as young as 13, and after college, moved to Nashville with a rock band he formed, but they didn’t find much favor, so they continued on to L.A., making their recording debut as “Jim Weatherly & The Vegas” in 1965. Short lived, Weatherly then formed The Gordian Knot, which released albums through Verve Records and RCA. He was then offered a solo contract in the 70’s through Buddah Records after “Midnight Train to Georgia” took off, releasing a couple of records through them as well, and scoring Top 10 hits with “The Need To Be” and “I Still Love You.”

But songwriting was ultimately Weatherly’s most lucrative pursuit. He also helped make precedent for his fellow songwriters when he took on the Universal Music Publishing Group to court for underpaid royalties, and won in a landmark case. Previously, contracts stipulated that songwriters could only look back one, two, or three years in royalty disputes. After Weatherley’s win, those limitations were lifted.

Jim Weatherly was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014.

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