John D. Loudermilk and “Bad News”

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From the picture on the back of The 12 Sides of John D. Loudermilk, the singer-songwriter hardly looks like bad news, but he wrote some of the baddest outlaw tunes around. Our favorite is this 1963 single, which, like many of his songs, has been covered pretty widely over the years. Country fans likely know it as through Johnny Cash’s recording, and more recently it became a sort of signature tune for Whitey Morgan and the 78s.

Paul Revere and the Raiders had the biggest hit from a cover of one of Loudermilk’s songs with “Indian Reservation” in 1971. He wrote the song after a family of Cherokee Indians took him in when he was stranded in a blizzard, and they asked him to write a song about the plight of their people.

Historian Dee Brown calmly describes the period following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (and the subsequent Cherokee Removal Act of 1838) as “a bad time” in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The Cherokee people have long called it “The Trail of Tears,” as nearly their entire nation was forced to march more than a thousand miles with minimal supplies in one of the most shameful chapters in our nation’s history.

When telling the story of “Indian Reservation” to the Viva! Nash Vegas radio program (here), Loudermilk says that after being awarded a medal by the Cherokee nation, he was asked to read from a ledger from the Cherokee Trail of Tears and was shocked to find the names of his great grandparents, who were ninety-one years old when forced by the US Military to leave their home.

A small number of Cherokee escaped the forced removal and remained, and they now have a reservation as The Eastern Band of the Cherokee, not far from Loudermilk’s hometown of Durham, North Carolina. He wrote a song about his childhood there called “Tobacco Road,” which was also a hit after it was covered, this time by the Nashville Teens and later Eric Burdon and the Animals. The song has since become a standard and probably the most commonly covered of Loudermilk’s songs.

John D. Loudermilk passed away two years ago. He is one of our favorite songwriters. In fact, last winter we posted a novelty song he recorded in 1957 without even knowing it was one of his songs (here).

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