While discussing Jim Weatherly's recording Midnight Plane To Houston with a musician pal recently, I was surprised to find that he thought Weatherly's song was a cover of Gladys Knight's mega-selling hit with a slightly altered title. In fact, Midnight Train To Georgia was actually a version of Weatherly's original from the tunesmith's largely overlooked self-titled 1973 debut LP for RCA which has never been reissued on disc.
So the story goes, back in the early 70s, Weatherly – an All-American quarterback with Ole Miss during the Rebels' early 60s dominance of the SEC – used to play flag-football for kicks in Los Angeles with Lee Majors. One night while trying to reach the Six Million Dollar Man at home, Majors' significant other Farah Fawcett answered the phone instead and mentioned she was going to catch the midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. The phrase stuck with Weatherly and he wrote a song around it thinking it could be right for Glen Campbell.As it turned out, few people ever heard Wetherly's Midnight Plane To Houston, apart from Sonny Limbo, a record producer who happened to be cutting an album in Atlanta with Cissy Houston (Whitney's mom) and needed another song. Limbo thought Weatherly's tune might work for the former Sweet Inspirations singer if it had more of an R&B feel. So Limbo called Weatherly and proposed changing the title to Midnight Train To Georgia. The veteran writer famously fired back "change anything but the writer and publisher." Houston took a crack at it but the single went nowhere. However, Gladys Knight heard it and liked what Houston did with Weatherly's song enough to cop the clever vocal arrangement for her slightly funkier and more uptempo revision which shot to the top of the charts in 1973.
Just a few months later Weatherly was enjoying Songwriter Of The Year bragging rights courtesy of the Nashville Songwriters Association International and went on to compose Knight's Grammy-winning smash Neither One Of Us Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye as well as You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me. But after all these years, Midnight Plane To Houston remains his biggest miss.
Here's a clip of Weatherly performing his song the way he wrote it:
Midnight Plane To Houston by Jim Weatherly
Midnight Train To Georgia by Gladys Knight & The Pips
Midnight Train To Georgia spoof w/Jack Black, Ben Stiller & Robert Downey Jr.