Jim Weatherly, the songwriter behind a string of 1970s hits for Gladys Knight & the Pips, including the destined-for-standard-status “Midnight Train to Georgia,” died Wednesday of natural causes at his home near Nashville. He was 77.
The singer-songwriter’s death was reported by music publisher and friend Charlie Monk to the Nashville Tennessean.
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In addition to “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Weatherly wrote the early ’70s Knight hits “Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye” and “You’re the Best Thing (That Ever Happened to Me).”
“I’m missing Jim Weatherly already,” Knight tweeted. “He was about life and love. ‘Neither One of Us’ and ‘Midnight Train’ – I remember him getting his Grammys for those. We were just made for each other. We grew our lives together. I’m gonna miss him terribly and love him always.”
“Midnight Train to Georgia” became Knight’s signature song, winning a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus in 1974 before being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. The romantic, vaguely mournful ballad would make numerous appearances in film and TV soundtracks over the decades, from The Deer Hunter, Growing Pains and Broadcast News to a memorable family-singalong scene in a 2013 episode of ABC’s Modern Family.
Hollywood’s embrace of “Midnight Train to Georgia” is fitting: The song, with its message of fame and fortune sacrificed for love exemplified in the chorus lyric “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine,” was inspired by a famous Hollywood couple, Weatherly later explained. In the early ’70s, the songwriter phoned his friend, actor Lee Majors, whose new girlfriend Farrah Fawcett answered, saying she was about to take “the midnight plane to Houston” to visit family.
Inspired by the phrase, Weatherly released the originally titled “Midnight Plane To Houston” on his own album, but agreed to a title change when gospel singer Cissy Houston recorded her own version in 1970. Three years later, Knight covered the tune, keeping the Houston changes.
“Midnight Train to Georgia” spent two weeks at No. 1 in the U.S., becoming Gladys Knight & The Pips’ biggest hit. Weatherly received a 1974 Best R&B Song Grammy nom for the track but lost out to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” “Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye” Peaked at No. 2, and “You’re the Best Thing (That Ever Happened to Me)” reached No. 3.
In a career spanning 50 years, Weatherly’s songs were recorded by Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Ray Price, Lynn Anderson, Brenda Lee, Neil Diamond, Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks, among many others.
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