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Trains, Planes and Changing Directions

“On that midnight train to Georgia …”

This song is part of history.

This song is part of history.

That song, as recorded by Gladys Knight and the Pips, is listed in the Grammy Hall of Fame. You hear the Pips’ train whistle, don’t you. But have you heard the story of the original tune?

Songwriter Jim Weatherly wrote the song after chatting with Farrah Fawcett who was preparing to go visit her parents. “Midnight Plane to Houston” was written and soon recorded by Weatherly’s own band. He knew that it was special and sent it publishers, one of whom gave it to Cissy Houston. Legend says that when Cissy heard it she said, “I’ve never been on a midnight plane to Houston but I have taken a midnight train to Georgia.” The song moved again to Weatherly’s preferred artists Gladys Knight and the Pips (who hailed from Georgia.) The group recorded it next and the rest is music history.


Jim Weatherly began writing songs at 12.

The Mississippi born songwriter intended his music to have country flavor; that’s the way the words sounded to him. Then he heard Gladys sing it. In an interview with the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame he describes how he felt.  “I was absolutely amazed when I heard it. I always thought it was the kind of song Glenn Campbell might cut … But when I heard “Midnight Train to Georgia” the way Gladys’s did it, with all the background parts, I felt blessed!  That’s the only way I can put it.” 

Flexibility is critical to success.

Weatherly’s original plans for his words were far exceeded when he worked with other experts and trusted their suggestions. What if he’d dug his heels in to stick to his plans of a country tune or wouldn’t change the title? The writer would have missed the chance to see and hear his words sung by generations of artists, family reunion attendees and karaoke stars. There would have been no Pips train whistle! It may have sold some records, but it would not have been woven into the fabric of U.S. music history the way it is now. No way.

Think about your business as that song and your plan as the original words on that song sheet.

Just as critical as that flexibility is humility. In a recent business hangout, Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson said that business owners must share the burdens of building an enterprise. “Don’t feel that you’re the only person who has the answers,” said the successful entrepreneur. Successful companies blend a founder’s vision with expert suggestions. Founders actually listen and incorporate the expertise of others. They begin with a plan but make changes necessary to growth, even when the times are tough.

Know what you will and won’t change.

Weatherly agreed to change the destination and mode of transportation in his famous song but stuck to the core. He mandated that the rest of the tune remain the same. Knowing what’s important and integral to your endeavor is key and provides the foundation for all negotiation. Being flexible does not mean conceding on every point.

You’ll get where you’re going.

Weatherly trusted the process and found himself, to use his word, “blessed.” The collaboration between Weatherly and Gladys Knight & The Pips produced two other incredible hits, “Neither One of Us” and “The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” His words and her voice combine magically on those tunes but there’s nothing like that midnight train. Music lovers are just happy they found each other no matter how they go there.


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This entry was posted on 08/13/2013 by in All About the Business, Cup of Coffee.
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