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?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Careers Advisor

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Controller

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an experienced Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / New Business Development / Full or Part Time

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global Events and Exhibiti...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for someone wi...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific