Longtime Tennessean songwriter John D. Loudermilk, who died Wednesday, will be remembered for his best-known songs including "Tobacco Road" and "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," which, his life-long friend Bobby Braddock, also a songwriter, called "one of the best love songs ever written," in a Facebook post.
Loudermilk's music was honored during a tribute concert earlier this year at Tennessee's Franklin Theatre by artists including Mr. Braddock, Emmylou Harris, and Rodney Crowell. While he did perform his own music, Loudermilk was most successful as a songwriter.
"His lyrics were very direct, and they always matched up with these wonderful melodies. He was really tuned into what people wanted to sing," Pat Alger, chairman of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, where Loudermilk was inducted in 1976, told The Washington Post.
His most famous song,"Tobacco Road" has been covered nearly 200 times, according to Rolling Stone. Its best year was in 1964, when a British Invasion group the Nashville Teens landed a No. 11 pop hit with it. Most recently recorded by Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle, the tune describes a poor, orphaned child who dreams of a brighter future.
Over his 60-year career, Loudermilk's songs have been recorded by a wide range of musicians: from George Hamilton IV to David Lee Roth, as The Tennessean reports. "His uncommon brain was filled with amazing words and powerful music – or vice versa," Braddock wrote in a tribute on Facebook Thursday.
Besides induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Loudermilk also was a member of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, and has been honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's "Poets and Prophets" series for work that has made a significant impact on the genre. He received a Grammy Award in 1967 for best liner notes for his album "Suburban Attitudes in Country Verse."
The artist was born March 31, 1934, in Durham, N.C. He learned how to play guitar as a boy and later in his childhood discovered the work of poet and writer Kahlil Gibran, which inspired Loudermilk to start writing. One of his early poems was called "A Rose and a Baby Ruth," which he set to music and performed on the radio. George Hamilton IV, a college student in North Carolina, recorded the song in 1956. It became a Top 10 hit on the pop charts, according to The Tennessean.
Rock 'n' roll singer Eddie Cochran a few months later recorded Loudermilk’s "Sittin' on the Balcony," which the songwriter had written and recorded under the name Johnny Dee. Loudermilk's version made it to the Top 40, while Cochran broke the Top 20.
Loudermilk released his music through small labels until 1958, when he signed with Columbia. But he ultimately decided to focus on writing instead of performing.
"I could stay home with my family, and it was a wonderful thing," he said in 2007, reports the Post. "So I chose to do that, and I've always prided myself in making a good decision."