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Stories - Hillbilly Highway
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Hillbilly Highway
Steve Earle
The Road We're On Steve Earle, Tony Brown, Jimbeau & Brenda
The year was l985 and Noel Fox, my then publisher, had procured a van to haul a group of us down to the Gulf Shores of Alabama on a writing expedition. William Lee Golden had a place down there on Ono Island just waiting for us to christen it with song.

Riding in that van was a lot of history. Noel Fox was at one time the bass singer for the Oak Ridge Boys and now ran their publishing companies. We had been buds since the early seventies. Tony Brown was once a featured act in the Stamps Quartet.

When I met Tony (1971) he was playing keyboards for the Oaks. I was working in the mail room at the Oaks offices and Tony would drag in his cases they sold sheet music out of on the road and we’d fill them up and got to be great friends. Tony left the Oaks to join Elvis in his last years on the road. When Elvis died he went on to work for RCA Records and on the road with Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell among other greats. At RCA he signed Alabama and the Judds. From there he moved to MCA records and at the time of this trip, he was number two man there. Tony also wrote for our publishing company.

Brenda and I had been happily married for five years and together with the aforementioned folks (and many others) we had built Silverline/Goldline Music into one of the leading independent publishing companies in Nashville. The newest member of our entourage was a writer/artist that Noel had just signed, Steve Earle. One of the most gifted and unusual guys I had met in a long time. Steve was a virtual encyclopedia of music trivia. All the way down there we listened to his major influences and heard stories about their lives and back stage myths, and their influences etc… It was an eight-hour history lesson laced with laughs and shared past experiences.

Arriving and spreading out we eventually got our fill of seafood and got around to writing. Tony, Steve and I wrote an up-tempo song called “SURE THANG”. Then we wrote a road song that I really loved, “DOWN THE ROAD”. Tony and Noel left Steve and me alone to write an anthem to country music called, “A COUNTRY SONG”. It would be the basis for a song that we would start but finish back in Nashville.

Steve took a listen to the finished “COUNTRY SONG” and said; “I think I’ve got another angle on this song.” Then he told me of a line he read in Loretta Lynn’s book. COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER. There she had described the trails that wound out of the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee and all points beyond, through wars and on through the industrial age. She called it the HILLBILLY HIGHWAY. It was the same story, but from the road’s perspective…not just the song’s.

I knew exactly what to do with it, lyrically and Steve had come up with the coolest guitar riff. We whipped two thirds of it out before we ran out of steam. It was the end of the trip and we were all tired.

It had been one emotional roller coaster ride. Midway through the trip Steve was getting on Tony’s case about the then current condition of country music. Tony was more than agitated. There were several arguments that culminated in Steve spitting at Tony, “Nobody’s gonna remember these little, fluffy, ear-candy records you’re making! They’ll be forgotten as soon as radio quits playin’ ‘em!” Tony was red faced and on his feet. Steve then added insult to injury, “And besides that…you’re short!”

With that we were all three in a tumble, them going at it and me pushing and pulling them apart! That’s when Tony and Noel left Steve and me to write by ourselves.

Sounds like a disaster doesn’t it? Well wouldn’t you know that by the time we got back to Nashville, Tony put his job on the line and signed Steve to MCA and they immediately recorded his ground breaking Album “GUITAR TOWN”. It got dream reviews from everybody everywhere and I got part of two songs on it. The closing tune “DOWN THE ROAD” and his first MCA single…

Hillbilly Highway Lyrics

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