Jim Weatherly, the country singer-songwriter who penned the Gladys Knight and the Pips hit “Midnight Train to Georgia,” among other hit songs, died Wednesday at his home. He was 77. Music publisher and family friend Charlie Monk, “the Mayor of Music Row,” confirmed Weatherly’s death to the Tennessean. No cause of death was provided.
Weatherly was a celebrated, championship-winning quarterback at Ole Miss before abandoning football to start a music career in Los Angeles. It was there that Weatherly first recorded his best known track as “Midnight Train to Houston” — the song was inspired by his friends Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett, the latter of whom told Weatherly she was taking a “midnight plane to Houston” — before the song caught the attention of soul singer Cissy Houston, who changed “Houston” to “Georgia” before recording it in 1973.
Soon after, Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded their signature version of “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which became a Number One hit in October 1973. Their version would also win the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus, and would later land at Number 438 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond, Garth Brooks and dozens more would later record their own versions of the Weatherly-penned classic.
While pursuing his own musical career — he released nearly a dozen studio albums over the past 50 years — two other Weatherly-penned tracks became hits for Gladys Knights and the Pips: “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” (originally recorded by country singer Ray Price).
Weatherly, whose biggest solo hit was 1974’s “I’ll Still Love You,” moved to Nashville in the 1980s, and was ultimately inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. 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”), Vince Gill (“If I Didn’t Have You In My World”) and more.
“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 Wednesday. “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.”