Jim Weatherly was best known first as a University of Mississippi soccer player and then as a hit songwriter.
And his love of the game led to his greatest musical success, involving first a young Farrah Fawcett and finally a legendary recording of his melody “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Weatherly, who also wrote songs for Ray Price, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, and others, died Wednesday at his home in Brentwood, Tennessee, near Nashville, family friend Charlie Monk told Tennessean newspaper.
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He was 77 years old and his family told Monk that Weatherly died of natural causes.
Weatherly was born in Mississippi and played in an undefeated 1962 season, an SEC championship, and a national championship on the University of Mississippi soccer team. The next year, he was the starting quarterback when the Rebels rebels as SEC champions.
After college, he decided to play music instead of soccer. Years later, Weatherly was playing flag football in Los Angeles with a group of friends, including television actor Lee Majors of “The Six Million Dollar Man” called back during an interview with the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
One day Weatherly Majors called home and the actor’s girlfriend, who would become Charlie’s Angel star Farrah Fawcett-Majors, answered. She said she would take “the midnight plane to Houston” and visit her family.
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“A little bell went off,” Weatherly told the NSAI. “It sounded like a song title to me.”
He wrote “Midnight Plane to Houston” as a country song and never thought it would be an R&B hit. By the time it hit Gladys Knight & the Pips, the title and style had changed, and it became a # 1 Grammy-winning classic.
“I’m amazed it took the way it took,” Weatherly told the NSAI. “It’s a timeless record.”
Knight and the Pips also had hits with the Weatherly songs “Neither One of Us” and “The Best That Ever Happened to Me”.
On Friday, Knight tweeted, “I already miss Jim Weatherly. He was about life and love … We were only made for each other. We grew our lives together. I will miss him terribly and will love him forever.”
As a performer, Weatherly had a pop and adult hit with “The Need to Be” and a country hit with “I’ll Still Love You,” according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. It was recorded in 2014. “Midnight Train” is one of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all time.