CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Several generations later, it would be hard for a lot of people to fully understand the kind of poverty or the racism singer/songwriter John Ellison knew growing up in West Virginia.
He just doesn't want people to forget.
Ellison, best known for penning the song "Some Kind of Wonderful," has written an autobiography, "Some Kind of Wonderful: The John Ellison Story." The 71-year-old Montgomery native-turned-Canadian resident said, "People see me and they say, 'Wow, you've accomplished a lot. You've really been blessed,'" and Ellison doesn't disagree, but there's more to him than that.
On the surface, he was the man with the right song at the right time. Recorded in 1967, "Some Kind of Wonderful" has become the third most played song in the world.
"And that's great for me," Ellison laughed. "I own the song. Every time you hear that song, I'm the guy who gets paid."
It's provided him with a comfortable life, but Ellison didn't start that way. He began in almost unimaginable poverty, born on the banks of the Kanawha River in a little house his father built from driftwood.
The second of six children, Ellison and his family moved to McDowell County when he was 8 years old. His father worked in the coal mines.
"As far as poverty, I don't think you could go any further down," Ellison said. "We were very poor. Dad was earning about $600 a year and trying to take care of eight people."
There weren't a lot of extras, but Ellison's father had a guitar, and Ellison learned to play listening to him strum and sing.
In his teens, Ellison starting playing shows with his band, Little Willie and the Rock and Rollers, but in the 10th grade, he took a job at the Carter Hotel in Welch.
"I worked 11 o'clock at night to 7 o'clock in the morning. I'd leave work and catch a bus to Kimble High School, but I found that too hard to do. By noon, I was falling asleep in class."
Ellison quit school in hopes of starting a music career. His first stop was a radio talent show at WELC in Welch that promised a cash prize plus the chance to record in New York.
"I was the only black person who showed up."
He took his turn and sang for the DJs, who seemed impressed.