TUPELO • Jim Weatherly was more than a songwriter to Gladys Knight. They were musical contemporaries who achieved success at the same time and whose careers paralleled each other.
Knight and her group, the Pips, rose to fame in the early 1970s by singing tunes written by Weatherly — especially the memorable “Midnight Train To Georgia.” She was among many who expressed her adoration for the Pontotoc native and celebrated songwriter, who passed away Wednesday.
“I’m missing Jim Weatherly already,” Knight wrote Thursday on Twitter. “He was about life and love. …. We were just made for each other. We grew our lives together. I’m gonna miss him terribly and love him always.”
Weatherly, who was a standout quarterback at Ole Miss before pursuing a career as a singer/songwriter, died Wednesday at his home in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood, Tennessee. He was 77.
Shan Weatherly of Tupelo announced his brother’s death Wednesday night through a Facebook post. No cause of death was given.
Jeff Roberson, an Oxford journalist and a cousin of the Weatherlys, said he enjoyed a phone chat Monday with Jim Weatherly
“It was a regular conversation,” said Roberson, who aided Weatherly in the writing of his autobiography, “Midnight Train,” in 2018. “He called me to talk about life, books, football and music, just like always.”
In nearly 50 years as a songwriter in Los Angeles and Nashville, Weatherly composed songs that became pop and R&B classics, but also crossed over to country, gospel and jazz. He was enshrined into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014.
“Midnight Train to Georgia” — the iconic story of a man returning home to his love in Georgia after struggling in Los Angeles - reached No. 1 for Gladys Knight and the Pips on both and pop and R&B charts in 1973 and won a Grammy Award.
“Midnight Train to Georgia” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2001, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America selected the 365 Songs of the Century (1900-2000), with “Midnight Train to Georgia” making the list at No. 29. The song also made Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 songs of all time in 2003.
Weatherly wrote 13 songs for Knight and the Pips. “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” reached No. 1 on the pop and soul charts and won a Grammy while “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” was a No. 1 R&B and No. 2 pop hit.
“‘Neither One of Us’ and ‘Midnight Train’ — I remember him getting his Grammys for those,” tweeted Knight.
“Neither One Of Us” and “You’re The Best Thing” were also country music hits. Ray Price scored a No. 1 with “You’re The Best Thing,” and Bob Luman had a top-five hit with “Neither One of Us.” Price went on to record 38 Weatherly songs.
Weatherly, who moved to Nashville in the 1980s, continued his hit-making success with songs like “A Lady Like You,” a No. 1 for Glen Campbell, and “Someone Else’s Star,” which topped the charts for Bryan White.
Weatherly was a prolific writer whose songs were recorded by a diverse group of artists, including Vince Gill, Charley Pride, Reba McEntire, the Spinners, Kenny Rogers, Etta James, Garth Brooks, Andy Williams, The Oak Ridge Boys, Hall and Oates, Dean Martin, Tanya Tucker and the Rev. James Cleveland.
“RIP Jim Weatherly,” tweeted singer B.J. Thomas, who recorded a Weatherly song. “One of the great ones. Wrote some beauties. Love to family.”
In addition to being a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Weatherly was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2011. He received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Music from the state of Mississippi in 2014.
“Seems as though we are losing all the great ones,” tweeted Greenville singer-songwriter Steve Azar. “My heart goes out to the loss of our Jim Weatherly! What a Mississippi and worldly legend. Blessings to he and his family.”
Weatherly had his own recording career, releasing seven albums. His 1974 single, “The Need To Be,” reached No. 11 on the pop charts and No. 6 on the adult contemporary charts. He also had a top-10 country single, “I Still Love You,” in 1975.
Weatherly began writing songs while growing up in Pontotoc. He had his own bands in high school and college and played dates throughout the South until he moved to Los Angeles with his rock band, The Gordian Knot, in 1966. After meeting Larry Gordon, who became his publisher and manager, Weatherly’s songwriting flourished.
Weatherly also fought for fellow songwriters in the courts. Claiming he was underpaid royalties for “Midnight Train to Georgia,” he filed a lawsuit against Universal Music Publishing Group in 2002. It’s considered a landmark case in the entertainment industry, allowing artists to cite the court’s decision to support independent claims that they had also been underpaid royalties.
Weatherly is one of the musical artists from Pontotoc County honored on a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in his hometown.
On the football field, Weatherly was an all-star quarterback for Pontotoc High School. At Ole Miss, he won All-Southeastern Conference and honorable mention All American honors in 1964.
He was a backup on the only unbeaten and untied team in Ole Miss history, which won a share of the 1962 national championship. The 1962 and ‘63 Rebel teams also won SEC championships. Weatherly was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame in 2011.
“From his days as a quarterback at Pontotoc High School and Ole Miss, to his decades of writing chart topping hits across several different genres, he has always been a standout talent - a favorite son - of whom we could all be proud,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, also a Pontotoc native, in a news release.
Weatherly is survived by wife Cynthia, daughter Brighton and son Zack. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.