Musical tribute honors country music legends, local landmark and small town life

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Luverne native Bobby Tomberlin joined forces with country music icons to produce a heartfelt and timeless single that bridges generations, titled “The Country I Grew Up With”. Co-authored by Tomberlin, Bill Anderson, and Lance Miller, the song showcases Anderson as the lead vocalist, accompanied by the distinctive voices of Vince Gill, Jimmy Fortune, Bobby Bare and Willie Nelson.

The track pays homage to a cherished bygone era of country music, commemorates the spirit of small-town life and rural America and also mentions the iconic Luverne restaurant, the Chicken Shack.

Owned by Michael Money, the Chicken Shack has stood as a pillar in the city of Luverne and its neighboring communities since 1968. The song features lyrics that honor this hometown landmark, firmly weaving the establishment into the rich tapestry of Luverne’s history.

Money expressed his appreciation for the restaurant being mentioned in the song, noting Tomberlin’s deep-rooted devotion to his small-town roots and unwavering support for the community that so profoundly shaped the identity of both Tomberlin and Money.

“It means a lot to have the Chicken Shack acknowledged in a song recorded by such legendary artists,” Money said. “I’m thankful Bobby did this. It puts a smile on my face, and you know, Bobby has done some big things, but he is very down to earth and always has time to talk to me.”

Bill Anderson, the longest-serving active member of the Grand Ole Opry, orchestrated this musical reunion,bringing together Country Hall of Famers to paint a vivid portrait of this the nostalgic era of country music.In an interview with Tina Benitez-Eves of The American Songwriter, Anderson expressed his pride in the collaboration.

“So far as I can determine, this is the first country record in history featuring five members of the Country Music Hall of Fame performing on one song,” said Anderson. “I am so proud that Willie and Vince and Jimmy and Bobby wanted to join me in taking this nostalgic look over our collective shoulders. I just hope it stirs up fond memories for everyone who hears it.”

During an interview, Willie Nelson also expressed his reflections on the song.

“Being a part of ‘The Country I Grew Up With’ is like taking a trip down memory lane,” said Nelson. “I’m proud to be a part of this musical tribute to the country we all grew up with.”

The carefully crafted lyrics intricately weave a narrative of simpler times, evoking memories of days spent in Sunday school, visits to county fairs and shared experiences at the local co-op, sipping bottled cokes. The melody, laden with nostalgia and a touch of melancholy, explores both the warmth of cherished traditions and the challenges of the evolving present.

For Tomberlin, the son of Hubert Tomberlin of Luverne and the late Betty Tomberlin, the success of the song is a testament to his country music journey. As a boy, he learned how to play the guitar on his grandparents’ porch in the small Crenshaw County community of Bradleyton and it was on that porch where he wrote his very first songs.Tomberlin dreamed of Nashville, but said he never imagined such a remarkable assembly of country music greats would collaborate to bring to life a song he co-wrote.

“Hearing Bill Anderson and Bobby Bare mention the Chicken Shack is amazing,” Tomberlin said. “When Bobby (Bare) says ‘that’s the country I grew up with’ with the way he delivers it, it almost brings tears to my eyes. I’ve been blessed to have many of my heroes record songs I have written, but five members of the Country Music Hall of Fame recording a song about the co-op and the Chicken Shack, a song I helped write, I don’t know if it can get any better than that.”

Recalling the genesis of the song, Tomberlin emphasized the significance of integrating elements from his roots, ensuring the authenticity of his intended message and preserving a genuine connection to his upbringing throughout the song.

“I was writing with Bill Anderson and another great writer Lance Miller,” Tomberlin said. “We found ourselves in a conversation about ‘the way things used to be’ and talked about how country music stars, including Bill, had their names on the side of their tour buses. I told them about the time I was headed to work at the radio station in Luverne one afternoon after school and I saw Loretta Lynn’s bus that said ‘The Loretta Lynn Show’ on the side parked at the Chicken Shack. You know, I just couldn’t believe what I saw that day, and then in the blink of an eye, what do you know, there we were, writing this song.”

The lyrics touch upon themes of love, unity, and reflection, resonating with audiences, according to Tomberlin.

“I am proud of this song, and I’ve been shocked at how many stations are playing it,” Tomberlin said. “Sometimes you wonder if people want to hear a message like this, and they do.”

Tomberlin said that the song is not only about nostalgia but serves as a tribute to artists like Porter Wagoner, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Loretta Lynn, preserving their memory in the lyrics.

“When I was just a kid, my eyes would be glued to the television to see Porter Wagoner in his Nudie rhinestone suits and Dolly, Buck Trent, Speck Rhodes and the Wagonemasters,” Tomberlin said. “I never thought I’d write songs with Porter but we began writing together a couple of years before he passed away. One of our songs was recorded by Joe Nichols and I love keeping Porter’s memory alive in the song. The opportunity to forge close and precious friendships with legends like Porter Wagoner and Little Jimmy Dickens was an extraordinary blessing and now to have those legends sung about and their memory preserved by these legends; It’s something that I could never imagine in my wildest dreams.”

“The song also has a patriotic element with lines about the flag,” Tomberlin said. “For as long as I can remember, there’s been a flag flying high in front of my parents’ house in Luverne, and the Chicken Shack has been serving the best food around for as long as I can remember.”

The Chicken Shack, honored as Alabama’s Best Fried Chicken by Simply Southern TV, holds significance beyond profits for Money, who practically grew up in the restaurant. It’s a family legacy and for Money, it is an honor to play a solid role in the community.

“It really is all I know, and it’s a huge blessing,” Money said. “It’s a blessing to be an active part of the community and an honor to help write the story of Luverne. We love catering community events and getting to be a bigger part of this great community with each event we cater.”

First opened in 1968 by Nick and Dot Nichols, the restaurant has always been part of Money’s life. His late father, Henry Money, began managing the establishment around 1970, before Michael was even born and ran the business for about 30 years before he purchased it from the Nichols family. Money, who started washing dishes at 15, assumed ownership around twelve years ago and carries on his father’s legacy with help from his family. His wife Teysa, brother Drew and children, Will and Gracie, have become integral contributors to the restaurant’s enduring heritage. Longtime employee, now manager Maricia Lewis Brown, is an anchor on the restaurant’s team as well. Both longstanding employees such as Jane Horn and recent additions, who are all more like family, collaborate seamlessly to ensure the restaurant operates with efficiency.

“The Country I Grew Up With” reflects on societal issues with a line that says “there’s not enough love and there’s too much hate and too much anger on everyone’s plate.” In a world often overshadowed by discord and negativity, the Chicken Shack not only delivers crispy perfection to your plate but also serves up heaping portions of southern hospitality, unique charm and the values that make the South special.

The Chicken Shack’s hours are 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Guests can dine in, call in, or order at the walk-up window. The restaurant also caters and has a private dining room for special events.