What The Midnight Swallows Whole

by Stephen Simmons



Songs have always come to me from the strangest of places. Song titles, phrases, couplets, melodies, stories & vague outlines have found me whether late at night working a factory job as a teenage college kid, driving down country roads, alone at night fueled by whiskey, daydreaming at a desk job, or listening to another songwriter inspire me on a stage somewhere. I’ve often thought how it’s almost like sometimes someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear: well, this time someone literally did.

The songs on this album are a departure from my normal writing process. Jeff Wickland approached me with the idea of looking at his lyrics to see if I might be able to put music to them back in 2010. I had met Jeff several times over the years at shows I played in his native West Virginia, and later on in Nashville (where he and his wife have since relocated). I made no promises to Jeff upfront, as it is always difficult to predict how the creative process will (or will not) unfold. I was pleased to find very inspiring writing in these rural, gothic tales that harken back to the ones passed down in my family in Southern Central Tennessee: and whose influence on me inspired many of my own story songs and writing style early on. I found it easy to see through the eyes of these characters Jeff had created and to express their words in song with emotions that are very familiar to me. The voices of these characters are of another time, yet their yearnings and desires primordial and timeless. I thought that these songs deserved an audience and teamed up with my longtime musical collaborator Dave Coleman to help bring these songs to life. The three of us hope that you enjoy them.


released March 25, 2014

Words by Jeff Wickland / SESAC / Stone Fence Music
Music by Stephen / SESAC / Shiny Geode Music
Produced by Dave Coleman
Recorded, Engineered and Mixed by Dave Coleman at Howard's Apartment Studio, East Nashville, TN
Mastered by Alex McCollough at Yes Master Studios in Nashville, TN
Cover photo by Stephen Simmons
Design by Adam Pinney

Stephen Simmons: vocals, acoustic guitar
Dave Coleman: electric guitar, mutli-chord guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, violin, organ, percussion, bass
Dave Ray: drums, percussion
Jen Gunderman: backing vocals
Eamon McLoughlin: violin
Jared Manzo: upright bass


all rights reserved



Stephen Simmons Nashville, Tennessee

Stephen Simmons was raised in the small town of Woodbury, Tennessee. As a songwriter and Ten years as a Road Dog, Stephen’s vision has grown to entail more than just reflections of rural America. Stephen’s records (which were compared to everyone from Johnny Cash to Ryan Adams) combine virtuosic songcraft and musicianship with unparalleled artistic honesty. ... more


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Track Name: Red Dirt
Red Dirt

Foster Williams had a farm
At the mouth of Steven’s Run
2000 acres inherited
By his father’s only son

I heard that he was hiring
Room and board was paid
So I rode out on the 2nd of May
A carpenter by trade

Thirteen years younger
Of his wife I’d heard tell
Katy was her name
In time I knew her well

There were the wealthy and powerful
But none as much as he
I saw a side of Foster Williams
That most people never see

A lot of nights he was gone
He never told Katy why
But the nights that he was there
Were the nights I heard her cry

I saw the blood on her clothes
And the bruises on her face
So many times I asked her why
She wouldn’t leave Foster’s place

Foster Williams came back one night
Drinking too heavy to stand
I stood at the corner of the house
With Katy’s pistol in my hand

He leaned against a fence post
And lit a cigarette
I moved a few steps closer
As close as I could get

I wasn’t even shaking
When I pulled that hammer back
Rose up and drew my aim
And I heard that thunder crack

He fell along the fence line
Bleeding heavy through his shirt
He slept the sleep of the dead
Laying in a bed of red dirt

If I’m sinning…….
Then God forgive my soul
I ran up behind the willows
And the midnight swallowed me whole

Stephen Simmons: vocals & acoustic guitar
Dave Coleman: mandolin, organ, percussion
Jared Manzo: upright bass
Track Name: Demise Of Levi Prince
The Demise of Levi Prince

From my younger days I recall
And I’ve remembered ever since
Now history begs me
To retell
The demise of Levi Prince

From Galloway to the Tygart
Truth on High he brought down to men
Slay them in the Spirit
And raised them up
As children born again

But somewhere in his pride
His soul withered overgrown
Even though God still whispered
In the end
Levi’s words were his own

All around him we saw a change
We sensed a turning away
But Levi rode on still
Like a lost shepherd
Leading his flock astray

His intentions lay bare
Neither innocent nor cruel
Through his pride he became wise
And through his wisdom
He became a fool

In a late September dusk
With Levi leading the way
On horseback we rode
Along the Tygart
To the mission at Pilgrim’s Way

The trail was still
And we heard no sound
But Levi’s horse kicked back
In fear raising up
Dropping Levi to the ground

There we stood above him
The ground he rested on
Gave no hint of life
In that September dust
Levi’s last breathe was drawn

As we stood around him
A silent word was prayed
Easiness broke the calm
Inside we knew
No mistake had been made

For the last time in his life
The Truth pierced him like a sword
As we all knew by heart
The scriptures read
“Vengeance is Mine,” saith the Lord
Track Name: Guardian, West Virginia
Guardian, West Virginia

She came from Guardian
The fall of 1902
A school teacher
The friend of a friend
The winter that I helped her through

The next spring we married
Built a house by the riverside
But my restless ways
She couldn’t receive
On another man’s shoulder she did cry

It was nothing she said
But I could see it in her eyes
She did her best
To keep it inside
But in the end she couldn’t disguise

I wasn’t there when I should’ve been
I wasn’t there when she called my name
So if she ran to another man
Then maybe I’m to blame

The word spread around town
The truth they couldn’t hide
I left her that summer
Alone to stand
By the Guardian riverside

A few days later
I heard they were gone
Everyone thought
They boarded the train
And together they moved on

The sheriff came around
Asking what I knew
He looked around
And questioned me
But he never really had a clue

If they’re missing or just moved on
To me it’s all the same
But if they’re never seen again
Then maybe I’m to blame
Track Name: Leader Of Men
Leader Of Men

My brother’s family
Settled on Hacker’s Creek
They lived there in August
Six months and a week

Shawnees raided the camp
We heard there were 16 slain
So we rode out at dawn
In a late September rain

Settlement was burned
And my brother lay dying
But along the water’s edge
I heard a baby crying

I walked over to the creek
I laid down my gun
In the cattails along the water
Lay my brother’s only son

He was seven months old
In this world alone
My brothers first born
So we raised him as our own

For years he worked with me
Down below Arden Ridge
A grist mill along the Tygart
Across the Moatsville bridge

We raised him up right
In the ways of the Lord
With the helmet of salvation
With the Spirit as his sword

Spread the faith from an early age
And we saw he had no fears
In time he grew in wisdom
Well beyond his years

The chosen that path he walked
The road unseen to some
When he turned seventeen
He knew his day had come

From Galloway to the Tygart
He’s been riding ever since
A chosen leader of men
His name was Levi Prince
Track Name: Sid Copley's Shadow
Sid Copley’s Shadow

Sid walks through town
With a shadow on his back
It’s heavy and it’s cold
And no shadow knows
A darker shade of black

His history
The tale of his life
Unknown by many
Can best be told
Through the last words of his wife

She said, “Sid was out drinking
Like he did on Friday night
He came home and found me
Upstairs with a stranger
Under the crescent moonlight

I looked at Sid
He looked back in surprise
But to my right
The greatest fear
Was staring back in my lovers eyes

I ran towards Sid
But he threw me to the floor
He reached for his revolver
Buried down
In our dresser drawer

First he shot my lover
Then he aimed for me
I turned away and prayed he’d miss
But the grace of God
Ignored my plea

Sid carried us both
Down to the river that night
He threw us in and we washed away
Lifeless and cold
In the crescent moonlight

Sid moved on
To another time and place
But everywhere he goes
In everything he does
In every stranger he sees my face

Just like a shadow
I follow him through town
Just like a king
He bears
My bloodstained crown.”

Sid walks through town
With a shadow on his back
It’s heavy and it’s cold
And no shadow knows
A darker shade of black
Track Name: Sinner's Grin
Sinner’s Grin

Courtroom burned
In that late July heat
I sat on the stand
Next to the judge
I was burning in my seat

“Tell us where you were
Last Friday night, Son
When we found your wife
And another man
Shot dead by your own gun.”

“Like I said before
I was working, you know?
I was upstate
Laying rail
For the North Atlantic B & O.”

“Got home the next day
That’s when I heard
Sheriff stopped by
With a deputy
That’s when they gave me the word.”

It was too late by then
Not much I could do
They hauled me in
And locked me up
Said, “Son, we believe it was you.”

The jury came back
The verdict they read
I stood up in silence
But to my surprise
“Not Guilty,” they said

I walked away that day
Free as I could be
Not a man walking today
With a story to tell
Walking as lucky as me

Sitting back on my porch
I’ll never see that woman again
I chuckled to myself
In the cool evening breeze
Smiling that sinner’s grin
Track Name: Old Man And The Traveler
Old Man And The Traveler

I sat on top of the world
On the highest mountain looking down
A crossroad stood before me
To the west I watched the sunlight drown

The first breathe of night filled the sky
But in the distance I saw a light
A Traveler coming
From hidden places, deep in the night

He sat down next to the fire
But he did not ask my name
He said, “I am the Traveler
By nature you know my fame.”

“I can give you life without end
Or any desire of your heart
Streets of gold or a ruler’s hand
Luxury ‘til death do us part.”

He said, “My legions are many
In this time and place
The world I know can be yours
If it’s my road you choose to embrace.”

From the east I saw a light
Walking towards me was an Old Man
He sat down by the fire
Took me back to the road where I first began

He said, “I know this Traveler
On this road he walks a twisted mile
If you decide to follow him
Down on you the shadows will smile.”

He said, “My path is a narrow one
Leave yourself and this world behind
Follow the dirt road less traveled
If it’s the golden road you hope to find.”

I woke up in the morning
Under a misty haze and skies of gray
I was alone by the fire
But two sets of footprints led away

The crossroad stood before me
But I was divided to the core
But the answer before me stood
Much clearer than it had before

The choice was now mine
Two voices called me their chosen ways
With their words echoing in my head
I began walking into the haze
Track Name: Hitchhiker's Blues (Living's For The Dying)
The Hitchhiker’s Blues (Living’s For The Dying)

I pulled my diesel off
To the side of the road
I was checking my tires
I was checking my load

Along the road this guy
Asked to hitch a ride
I said, “No problem, man.”
And he climbed inside

I asked where he was going
I asked where he’d been
Man, I was surprised
When he answered with a grin

He said, “It’s more the going
Than it is the getting’ there
And I figure anywhere’s
‘bout as good as somewhere

I’m gonna look around
And see what I can see
‘Cause man this world
It means nothing to me

I see people looking
Man, when I look around
Seems like there’s more lost
Than there seems to be found

We’re looking ‘round the world
But we won’t find it here
Nothing’ll fill you up
Not gray skies nor clear

We’ll take a step
Then we want one more
We’re just running in circles
Faster than ever before

But there are no endings
No destinations to be found
No shelter from the storm
Just the hope of higher ground

We’re killing ourselves
Without even trying
And if you call that life
Then living’s for the dying.”

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