This month’s column features the #1 Gospel-themed song, All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Go, recorded by Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers on their Sacred Memories album for Rebel Records.
Music Row songwriting veteran and Grammy-Award nominated songwriter, Jerry Salley, shares his story of the song’s creation. The now immortal real-life Ruben Potter character in the song truly did exist in Jerry’s family. A childhood memory of Ruben made a huge and lasting impression on the young and impressionable Salley. The description of Ruben the family man, farmer and Beech Nut tobacco chewer portrays a vivid image that comes to life in the song.
I met with Jerry at his Music Row writing office to talk about it.
“Like most writers, I keep pads that I keep song titles on, and of course the old saying is, ‘all dressed up with nowhere to go’, and I thought man, being a Christian and believing with the faith that I have… you know they dress you up when you die and you have a funeral. They put you in a suit and tie and the ladies are dressed to the nines. And I thought when you die you’re all dressed up with somewhere to go – if you believe in heaven.
So anyway, I had the idea for a while. I messed around with it for a while by myself, and there is a lady that I write with named Dianne Wilkinson. Dianne has had incredible success in the southern Gospel world, and she has never had another song recorded outside the southern Gospel genre in her life until this one, so we get together.
She loves bluegrass. I shared the idea with her, and she loved the title. We started working on it. We probably got together 4 or 5 times before I was comfortable with it. I wanted it to be something special that would move people. And Ruben Potter, by the way, was my grandmother’s brother. My granny, Goldie Potter, was one of 13 kids. And she was one of the youngest ones.
I only met Ruben one time. When I was a little bitty boy, we went down to Kentucky and we took my granny with us cause she wanted to see him. He was dying.”
I asked Jerry if he had a melody for the song going into the writing session. He indicated that the words, not the music, were in the forefront of his mind:
“I wanted to paint a picture of an old farmer. I told [Dianne] the story. When you see him – when you think of him – you see him in bibbed overalls. I had that whole thing down, but I didn’t have the lines. And then I said I want to twist it somehow, that it’s really emotional on that last verse about how he wants to look his best for his wife. That was my idea. When he goes on.”
I spoke with Dianne Wilkinson from her home in Dyersburg, TN, and she filled me in on her backstory from the first day she and Jerry got together to write.
“Jerry and I had a writing date at Daywind some time ago, and I arrived first. My publisher at Daywind, Rick Shelton, complimented something I was wearing, and my reply was, ‘guess I’m all dressed up…with somewhere to go’! When Jerry came in, I told him about it, and he had had that same idea long before but had never written it. We started work on the song that day and finished it up a couple of sessions later. I love to write story songs, and Ruben Potter’s is one of my favorites!”
Dianne credits her co-writer for presenting and expressing the song in a way that made the artist want to record it. They have an obvious mutual respect for one another as Dianne tells of the first time she heard Jerry’s voice on the song, “He sings like an angel. When Jerry sang it, I cried. He is so dear to me and a huge talent.” She was also pleased with Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers’ recorded version, “True to the way Jerry sang it, their cut is just gorgeous. I was just thrilled. It was my first #1.”
And that is saying a lot, since Dianne has been writing great songs for many years. She has two Fan Awards for Song of the Year – He Has Risen in 1995 by the Cathedral Quartet, and What Salvation’s Done for Me in 2009, co-written with Rusty Golden, and recorded by the Booth Brothers. She is a top 10 nominee for the overall Songwriter fan award for 2016. Dianne was nominated for a Dove award for Songwriter of the Year in 2015… the only woman among the five nominees.
It was total happenstance that brought All Dressed Up into being. The synchronicity of the same title visiting two different writers, and a simple conversation, was the spark that got them off and running. Both writers are extremely devoted to their Christian faith and to the craft of songwriting. They each enjoy impressive and extensive discographies of original songs that have made it to radio waves and beyond.
Jerry’s family history and experiences brought about much of the imagery of Ruben Potter’s devotion on his way to his final resting place. Like the songwriters themselves, Ruben’s spirituality and strong Christian faith are clearly present here. Faith in God and gratitude for His gifts were very much a part of my conversations with both Jerry and Dianne. They openly credit God the Creator as giving a profound and welcomed “tap on the shoulder.”
Joe Mullins also shared his love and enthusiasm for this wonderful song…
“Jerry and I became friends a few years ago. He liked our delivery on story songs like “Some Kind of War” and “The Last Parade.” The band was on the way to an Opry appearance about two years ago and Jerry called. He and Diane had just finished the song, and he said we were the first band he thought of. I was so grateful. I think everyone can think back on some gentlemen in their life from a previous generation who really made a difference. Whether it be a dad, a grandfather or a special friend who walked tall and with integrity and godliness, we all have memories of someone who loved us and lived life well. We’ve gotten emails and Facebook posts from folks telling us how much the song touches them and lets them recall fond memories. Great job, Jerry and Diane!”
Getting the song to Joe
Jerry considers himself a writer first, though he is also well known as a recording artist and performer. He recorded All Dressed Up for his own album, Gospel From My Grassroots, in October 2015. Jerry knew that Joe Mullins was considering recording the song, so out of respect and courtesy, he called Joe to ask if he would be OK with Jerry recording it as well. Joe told him that he was going to record it no matter what, and that he had no problem with Jerry including it on his record too. That really reveals Joe Mullins’ love and commitment for the song, and in October 2016, his version won the IBMA Gospel Recorded Song of the Year. In true bluegrass fashion, Joe graciously thanked the writers from the stage.
No doubt the two men’s versions are very different. When I asked Jerry his impression upon hearing Joe’s version for the first time, he said, “Oh my gosh, our two recordings are just so different. The first time I heard Joe’s cut, it brought tears to my eyes. They owned it, and Duane sang it great! It was grassier the way they did it. Anyway, I’m just grateful to Joe. I’ve loved Joe’s music for years; the first time he recorded a Bill Anderson song called Some Kind of War, and it is a great song. When I heard that, I thought ‘man that dude loves story songs’ – and this is a story song.”
All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Go
Jerry Salley/Dianne Wilkinson
Ruben Potter farmed 60 acres for 50 years worked the bottom land
He wore his faith out on his sleeve and Beechnut was his brand
This afternoon he packed the church house there’s not a seat left in this place
His trademark was bibbed overalls at least until today
Now he’s all dressed up with somewhere to go
As the people pass him by he wants them all to know
This ain’t goodbye, it’s not the end
It’s just so long until we meet again
You may not recognize him in these clothes
But, he’s all dressed up with somewhere to go
Today he wears the same blue suit and tie that he got married in
And when he said goodbye to his one true love he put them on again
He knew where she was going we all knew his last request
He said when I go to meet my sweetheart I wanna look my very best
If you knew the man without a doubt you’ll know
Today he’s all dressed up with somewhere to go
As songwriters, Jerry and Diane have garnered many awards and accolades. Jerry won SESAC writer of the year in 2003, was nominated for IBMA 2016 songwriter of the year, and has had over 450 of his songs recorded by country music legends, including Loretta Lynn and The Oak Ridge Boys, Grammy Award-Winner Chris Stapleton, Reba McEntire (I’m Gonna Take That Mountain), Toby Keith and Brad Paisley. Jerry’s long list of accomplishments speaks for itself.
You can find more on Jerry Sally’s work and extensive tour schedule online.
Dianne has been writing southern Gospel music since the 1970s. She won SGMA Songwriter of the Year in 2000. The first woman to win this prestigious award, I might add! Her first recorded song was Behold the Lamb by the Song Masters in 1976, which was recorded by many groups including the recent 2001 cut by the Dove Brothers. Dianne started performing at the age of 12 in a Gospel trio with her mother and aunt. She has written over 1,000 songs with 48 making it to radio, 14 of which went #1 on the southern Gospel chart.
Dianne Wilkinson’s list of recorded southern Gospel songs reads like a “Who’s Who” of the genre. Too many to list here, really. Though her early writing career was strictly solo, she just recently started to co-write. She says the Lord has put some great writers into her life.
You can find more on Diane Wilkinson’s work online as well.
So when Ruben Potter broke from the norm of work boots and overalls, little did he know he would be inspiring legendary songwriters, a beloved bluegrass recording artist, fans, and the world alike. He knew where he was going because he clearly had somewhere to go.