DEAR JERRY: I was born and raised in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia's third largest city and possibly its hippest pop culture area in the 1960s.
During those years, our Top of the Pops charts were about half U.S. releases, with most of the rest being UK and Australian.
One big hit then by a girl is about two young lovers sneaking out of town in the middle of the night, presumably to elope. They may have been on a Greyhound bus heading to, or from, one of the Carolinas.
No one I know in the UK is at all familiar with such a song, so it may not have been popular there.
Unfortunately, I hit the same dead end in the U.S. It's as though this tune never existed.
Can you help?
Amy Goodell, Milwaukee
DEAR AMY: Yes, because you provided enough of the story to make a positive I.D.
John D. Loudermilk, one of our greatest songwriters, wrote “Midnight Bus” in early 1959. By March, Billy Graves had the record out (Monument 404), and it did become a regional hit of sorts.
Somehow they quickly got wind of the track in Germany, and a version by Audrey Arno (Polydor 24080) came out there titled “Der Letzte Bus” (translation: “The Last Bus”).
The following year, Loudermilk released his momentous classic “Tobacco Road” (Columbia 41562), and his version of “Midnight Bus” became the B-side. Both sides are inspired by real life events known to the Durham-born Loudermilk.
Neither side charted stateside for John, but “Midnight Bus” spent four weeks in the Brisbane Top 40 in the summer of '60.
It's interesting you don't recall his recording, though it may have been a shade too early for you.
Both sides of this single would later be huge hits for other artists, the next of which is Betty McQuade.
Though born in Scotland, McQuade recorded “Midnight Bus” in Melbourne, backed with one of that area's popular bands, the Thunderbirds (Astor 7014).
Betty's “Midnight Bus” ride not only topped the charts throughout Australia in 1961, it remains a fixture on Australia's all-time favorites list. Her's is the recording you recall.
Oddly, McQuade's biggest hit went completely overlooked in her UK homeland.
In 1972, “Midnight Bus” became a hit again in Australia, this time by Johnny Chester (Fable 140). His rendition is very similar to McQuade's, but with more emphasis on the percussion.
Regarding the storyline, the young couple board the midnight bus not identified as a Greyhound in Durham, N.C., heading for anywhere in South Carolina.
The lure is South Carolina's lower age to legally marry, reportedly 14 at the time.
Long time Durhamites say the 150 mile trip to the border, usually Dillon or Bennettsville, S.C., was once quite common among young elopers.
Before the reaching their destination in “Midnight Bus,” the wheels come off of the relationship that is, not the bus. After “a falling out and an awful fuss,” he or she (depending on the singer's gender) gets off in the middle of nowhere, suitcase in hand, and begins walking.
Neither party is ever heard from again.
John D. Loudermilk wrote or co-wrote over 600 songs, many of which became hits if not for John then for someone else.
Here are 32 of his best known compositions, the top-selling artist for each, and the year. What a terrific compilation album this would make:
“A Rose and a Baby Ruth” (George Hamilton IV, 1956).
“Amigo's Guitar” (Kitty Wells, 1960).
“Angela Jones” (Johnny Ferguson, 1960).
“Blue Train (Of the Heartbreak Line)” (John D. Loudermilk, 1964).
“Boo Boo Stick Beat” (Chet Atkins, 1959).
“Break My Mind” (George Hamilton IV, 1967).
“Callin' Doctor Casey” (John D. Loudermilk, 1962).
“(He's My) Dreamboat” (Connie Francis, 1961).
“Ebony Eyes” (Everly Brothers, 1961).
“Everything's Alright” (Newbeats, 1964).
“Fort Worth, Dallas Or Houston” (George Hamilton IV, 1964).
“I Wanna Live” (Glen Campbell, 1968).
“Indian Reservation (Lament of the Cherokee)” (Raiders, 1971).
“James (Hold the Ladder Steady)” (Sue Thompson, 1962).
“Language of Love” (John D. Loudermilk, 1961).
“Midnight Bus” (Betty McQuade, 1961).
“Norman” (Sue Thompson, 1962).
“Paper Tiger” (Sue Thompson, 1965).
“Road Hog” (John D. Loudermilk, 1962).
“Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” (Sue Thompson, 1961).
“Sittin' in the Balcony” (Eddie Cochran, 1957).
“Stayin' In” (Bobby Vee, 1961).
“Talk Back Trembling Lips” (Ernest Ashworth, Johnny Tillotson, 1961).
“The Great Snow Man” (Bob Luman, 1961).
“Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (Casinos, Eddy Arnold, 1967).
“This Little Bird” (Marianne Faithfull, 1965).
“Thou Shalt Not Steal” (Dick & Dee Dee, 1965).
“Tobacco Road” (Nashville Teens, 1964).
“Top Forty, News, Weather and Sports” (Mark Dinning, 1961).
“Torture” (Kris Jensen, 1962).
“Waterloo” (Stonewall Jackson, 1959).
IZ ZAT SO? What's in a name?
Two of John D. Loudermilk's older cousins, Ira Lonnie Loudermilk and Charles Elzer Loudermilk, became huge stars in the Country music field but not as Loudermilks.
They adopted the stage name Louvin, making their mark as the Louvin Brothers.
For John D.'s first hit, “Sittin in the Balcony” (1957), he also dumped the family name and became just Johnny Dee.
From 1958 on, he returned to being John D. Loudermilk.