By Anita Miller
Don and Gladys Johns Scaife wrote many songs, both together and with others. They were musicians, singers, songwriters and some think “major under-discovered talents.” Some of their songs include “Call of the Wild,” sung by Frankie Laine, “She’ll Leave You For Someone Else,” sung by Hal Kennedy, and “Where Love Likes to Live.” From Arkansas, they were parents of notable singer/songwriter Ronald (Ronnie, later in his career spelled Ronny) Scaife.
“They were humble and didn’t keep up with the Joneses,” their grandson Nathan remarked. “Granddad was a truck driver for Mohawk tires until he retired. He liked to hunt and fish. They drove an old truck. Neither of them pushed for big careers in music. I wish I’d been more into [their music careers].”
Don was a WWII Army veteran, and he and Gladys bought a farm to call home in 1976 in Waynesboro. Ronny lived there at times, as well as in Hohenwald. The parents were successful singer/songwriters throughout their lives and continued to write while living in Waynesboro. In later years, Don and Gladys wrote with Ronny and Phil (Feel) S. Thomas, who was married to Don’s daughter. They co-wrote “Me & the IRS,” which was recorded by Johnny Paycheck and included in his album, 16 Biggest Hits.
The Scaife genes brought music careers to others in the family. Don was brother to Cecil Scaife, a well-known music producer. Cecil went to Broadway to perform following college graduation, before rising to prominence in the music business when he was recruited by Sam Phillips of Sun Records. Cecil Scaife was a major figure in promoting the music business program later known as the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University. Throughout his life, Cecil also appeared in numerous films. His son, Joe Scaife, became a music producer and engineer for many stars: Montgomery Gentry, Dr. Hook, Gretchen Wilson, K.T. Oslin, Billy Ray Cyrus, Alabama, Toby Keith, Van Zant, Sammy Kershaw, George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea and others.
Ronny played country and blues, or what his son Nathan describes as “Memphis country.” Ronny lived for several years in Memphis and played in the area, including Memphis in May. He played, wrote and recorded with the band Shylo for twenty years.
Ronny wrote and co-wrote over two hundred songs, with many in the top ten, top forty, and top one hundred. In 1979, the Memphis Songwriters Association named Ronny Songwriter of the Year. He co-wrote “Hardin County Line” with Mark Collie, which is the title song on Mark’s noted Hardin County Line album. “The Whiskey Ain’t Working” and “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” were both awarded Gold Records.
Don, Ronny and Phil also wrote a Gold Record song for Montgomery Gentry. “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” sung by Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart in 1998, was awarded a Grammy for Best Duo. “Anything,” sung by Randy Travis, went platinum. “Alabama Clay,” sung by Garth Brooks, went platinum also. Ronny played lead guitar on the double platinum Alabama Fireworks album. He has written for Kenny Chesney, Charlie Daniels, Bob McDill, Mel McDaniel and many others. He has 650 songs written and demoed in the BMI catalog.
Hunting, fishing and car racing were among Ronny Scaife’s hobbies. He raced at the Highland Park Tennessee Speedway, which is a dirt track. Nathan recalls, “He’d rather be working on a car. He was a down-to-earth guy.”
Ronny told his young son Nathan, “If you learn this song (“Blackbird” by Paul McCartney), I’ll give you this guitar.” And he did. Nathan recollects meeting B.B. King when his father opened for King, meeting The Highwaymen and having front row seats for a Johnny Cash performance. Nathan’s two brothers, Cody and Jake, also have a band. They signed a contract with Cal 4 and wrote a catalogue of music with Don and Ronny.
Phil wrote the moving “Standing in the Shade” and sang it at Ronny’s funeral in 2010. John Connelly recently recorded the song.
“One of Ronny’s favorite songs was “Blackjack Fletcher & Mississippi Sam.” The name Mississippi Sam was substituted for a Wayne County man who was shot after a poker game,” commented Phil.
Hohenwald celebrates Ronny’s birthday on November 1st with Ronny Scaife Day on the WMLR station, where folks call in and tell Ronny Scaife stories and request favorite Ronny Scaife songs.
Anita Miller is an Ambassador with the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce researching the musical history of Wayne County.