John D. Loudermilk performs his classic "Tobacco Road"
Legendary country and pop singer-songwriter John D. Loudermilk, who died a year ago at 82, wrote such classic songs as “Tobacco Road” (a British Invasion hit in 1964 for the Nashville Teens), The Casinos’ “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (1967), Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Indian Reservation” (1971), Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo” (1959), Johnny Tillotson’s “Talk Back Trembling Lips” ( 1963), Dick & Dee Dee’s “Thou Shalt Not Steal” (1964), George Hamilton IV’s “Abilene” (1963) and “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” (1956), and Sue Thompson’s “Norman” (1961), “Paper Tiger” (1964) and “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” (1961).
Many of these songs were covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver during A Tribute to John D. Loudermilk, a concert staged on March 24, 2016 at the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville—with the ailing Loudermilk in attendance.
Hosted by songwriter and music historian Peter Cooper, the concert was recorded and is now set for an album release via Vector Recordings on Sept. 15, with corresponding video to be aired in a forthcoming PBS concert special. Filmmaker Dixie Gamble, whose background includes Nashville music business executive roles in management and publishing, organized the concert, co-produced the album and is overseeing production of the PBS program.
“I was introduced to John D. and his wife Susan in 1984 and knew instantly I had met kindred spirits,” says Gamble. “As a music publisher I was deeply fascinated with the depth and breadth of his writing diversity. As a student of human nature, I fell in love with his iconic eccentricity. We were mates joined at the soul, but over the years I learned my soulmate’s career had not garnered the accolades of some of the pure country writers who had not achieved nearly his level of success. So 15 or so years ago I started asking him to let me produce a tribute album. He was evasive, not, according to Susan, because he didn't trust me, but because he didn't quite trust the industry.”
From Susan, Gamble learned in January, 2016, that John D.’s health prognosis was dire.
“I was determined that he would no longer be lacking in accolades—though it was no small feat talking him into allowing his peers to honor him,” continues Gamble. “After 20 minutes of trying to convince him to let the many writers and artists who stood on his giant shoulders to reciprocate, he fell silent. Then the next day Susan called and said, ‘We’re on, but we need to do it quickly.’"
A Tribute to John D. Loudermilk was then conceived and produced in less than two months, with Grammy-winning guitarist John Jorgenson serving as musical director--and performing--along with producing the concert album.
“After meeting the larger-than-life John D., I’d be amazed with each social interaction to accidentally find out that he’d written another iconic song I'd known my whole life,” says Jorgenson.
“But he never spoke about his writing or achievements, and was quite humble. To have the chance to honor him--and give back even a fraction of the joy I’ve had listening to and playing his songs over the years--was such a great gift for me.”
Jorgenson only regrets not being able to have enjoyed A Tribute to John D. Loudermilk from an audience perspective.
“It must have been amazing live, with hit song after hit song delivered with love and respect by a diverse group of amazing artists,” he says. “I wish I could have been observing it all at the same time that I was in the middle of it all! But I was lucky enough up get to re-live the event many times over as I mixed and edited the album, and what a treat it was to intimately get to know this killer catalog of iconic songs. I hope that all who listen to the album will feel the care, love and magic of that evening.”
Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976, Loudermilk’s songs have also been covered by the likes of the Allman Brothers, the Animals, the Everly Brothers, Petula Clark, Perry Como, George Jones, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Willie Nelson, James Brown, Nina Simone and Kanye West.
All artist royalty proceeds from A Tribute to John D. Loudermilk will be donated to MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s health fund benefiting the music industry.