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.
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
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