Jim Weatherly, ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ songwriter, dead at 77

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jim Weatherly, the country singer-songwriter who penned Gladys Knight & the Pips’ hit, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” died at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday. He was 77.

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Jim Monk, a family friend, confirmed Weatherly’s death to The Tennessean, saying the singer died of natural causes.

In addition to “Midnight Train,” Weatherly also wrote “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” for Gladys Knight & the Pips, Billboard reported.

Weatherly, whose music career spanned five decades, also released nearly a dozen studio albums and had one hit as a solo artist, “The Need to Be,” Billboard reported. The song reached No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100, the website reported.

Born March 17, 1943, in Pontotoc, Mississippi, Weatherly began writing songs as a teenager and played in bands while attending the University of Mississippi, The Tennessean reported. He played quarterback for Ole Miss from 1962 to 1964, throwing for 1,890 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 11 more.

Weatherly led the Rebels to a national championship in 1962 and back-to-back Southeastern Conference titles in 1962-63.

After college, Weatherly focused on his music, moving to Los Angeles, Billboard reported. He recorded with Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney, the website reported. However, it was his partnership with Knight and her group that brought him the most fame.

According to The Washington Post, Weatherly got the idea for “Midnight Train” during a 1970 telephone call with Farrah Fawcett.

Weatherly was calling Lee Majors, his friend and fellow flag football player, the newspaper reported. Fawcett was Majors’ girlfriend at the time.

“Just during the course of the conversation, she mentioned she was packing her clothes and she was going to take the midnight plane to Houston to visit her family,” Weatherly told the Post. “‘Midnight plane to Houston’ got kind of stuck in my mind in bold letters. When I got off the phone, I wrote ‘Midnight Plane to Houston’ in about 30 to 45 minutes.”

Weatherly’s publisher got a call from Sonny Limbo, an Atlanta producer who wanted to record the song with soul singer Cissy Houston, the mother of Whitney Houston, the Post reported.

The title and the lyrics would be tweaked, however.

“My people are originally from Georgia and they didn’t take planes to Houston or anywhere else,” Cissy Houston told The Wall Street Journal in 2013. “They took trains.”

The lyrics were revamped, and the song topped the charts in 1973, winning a Grammy Award in 1974, Billboard reported. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and was ranked No. 438 among Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all time.

“I’m missing him already,” Knight said in a statement to the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi, on Thursday. “I love him and always will. He was about life and love and he wrote it so simply, he grew my love for country music. When we were with him it was like we’d always been together, we fit together. He started playing his guitar, and I started humming and it was magic.

“His music propelled us to a whole different level. I loved him and his music, he was a sweetheart and so gentle.”

Weatherly was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. His songs were also recorded by Glen Campbell (“Where Shadows Never Fall”), Charley Pride (“Where Do I Put Her Memory”), Kenny Rogers (“Until Forever’s Gone”) and Vince Gill (“If I Didn’t Have You In My World”), according to Rolling Stone.

“When I inducted Jim into the Songwriters Hall of Fame I said, ‘This may be the most honorable human being I’ve ever known,’” Monk told The Tennessean. “He never had a cigarette in his mouth, he never had a taste of alcohol, he didn’t chew (tobacco), he didn’t cuss. The only cuss word I ever heard him use was ‘Foot! Charlie.’ He probably was one of the top five most talented songwriters to ever drop into this town.”

Weatherly was also ASCAP’s Country Songwriter of the Year in 1974. He also is in the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame.

“He probably was one of the top five songwriters to ever drop into this town,” Monk told The Tennessean.

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