Marijohn Wilkin

Nashville songwriter


Marijohn Melson (Marijohn Wilkin), music publisher and songwriter: born Kemp, Texas 14 July 1920; four times married (one son); died Nashville, Tennessee 28 October 2006.

On his startling 1968 album from Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash sang a narrative song about an innocent man who was executed for murder because he did not want to admit he was "in the arms of another man's wife". After singing that line, Cash chuckles and says, "Did I hear somebody applaud?" His playfulness in no way invalidates the intensity of Marijohn Wilkin's song, which ranks among the greatest songs of the 20th century.

The songwriter was born Marijohn Melson in Kemp, Texas, in 1920, but raised in Dallas. Her father played the fiddle and ran a bakery. During the Depression and motivated by a strong faith, he would distribute free bread to the hobos. After his death in 1936, his daughter became a teacher, singing in her spare time. Her husband, Bedford Russell, was killed during the Second World War. She remarried and a son, John ("Bucky"), was born in 1946. The marriage did not last and she married Art Wilkin Jnr in 1950.

In 1955, she became part of Red Foley's touring show and had her first songs recorded the following year - Mitchell Torok's "Take This Heart" and Wanda Jackson's "No Wedding Bells for Joe". She settled in Nashville in 1958. With John D. Loudermilk, she wrote Stonewall Jackson's million-selling novelty "Waterloo" and Jimmy C. Newman's US country hit "Grin and Bear It" (both 1958).

With Danny Dill, she wrote "The Long Black Veil", a US country hit for Lefty Frizzell in 1959 - and later covered by the Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, the Band and Mick Jagger with the Chieftains. At his final recording session in 1960, Eddie Cochran recorded Wilkin's humorous "Cut Across Shorty" - recorded twice since by Rod Stewart. In 1961, Wilkin wrote "I Just Don't Understand" for a sultry Ann-Margret. She wrote two of Webb Pierce's country hits ("Fallen Angel", "Take Time") as well as the heroic "PT 109", a US hit in 1962 for Jimmy Dean.

In 1964, Wilkin formed her own company, Buckhorn Music, and her son provided the first hit, "G.T.O.", for Ronny (i.e. Bucky) and the Daytonas. She was the first to recognise Kris Kristofferson's potential and signed him as a writer. With her fourth husband, the record producer Clarence Selman, she formed the Nashville Songwriters Association in 1967.

After several years of unhappiness, heavy drinking and suicide attempts, Wilkin sought salvation through gospel music. She wrote "One Day at a Time", originally recorded by Marilyn Sellars and a UK No 1 for Lena Martell in 1979. On this she shares the writing credit with Kris Kristofferson, but he told me,

I was in the room while Marijohn was writing it and I might have helped with a line or two, but I think of it as her song and I'm a little embarrassed that she put my name on it. She was paying me back for the songs I'd written for her like "For the Good Times" and "Darby's Castle". She was the first publisher I worked for and she introduced me to everybody in the business.

Spencer Leigh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power