Introducing Tupper Saussy

It’s painful to have to label myself “artist” or “composer” or “writer” or “musical director.” […]

Mockingbird / 6.23.15

It’s painful to have to label myself “artist” or “composer” or “writer” or “musical director.” Yet I was gifted with abilities to do what these persons do. Can’t I do the things without taking the names? One day the answer came in a letter from a Texas student of my works: “I’m not attracted to your uniqueness. I am attracted to the Substance of your uniqueness which is ‘Christ in you.’ It’s His workmanship that attracts me.” -Tupper Saussy

neon-philharmonicWell, I lived his music, back in the late ’60s, but I didn’t understand the music.

I’m talking about Tupper Saussy, who was a kind of wild man Southern gentleman who was also an extremely gifted composer and keyboard player who was also a unique and visionary Christian. Moreover, he was a graduate of Sewanee and cherished his roots.

What I lived was Tupper Saussy’s music, composed and produced under the name “The Neon Philharmonic”. (Don Gant was the singer.) Remember “Morning Girl”? It was our college theme song for the lush Spring of 1969. It was a romantic, lyrical, indelible pop classic, and it wasn’t lame! It was a little like Brian Wilson — tho’ almost no one understood about him yet — and the lush strings were all right. They added to and did not detract from the hook of the Song.

Saussy’s “Neon Philharmonic” followed up with “Morning Girl, Later”. “Morning Girl, Later” is unbelievable. (See attachment below.) You’ve got to hear it! Her ring is on the wrong hand, and “it’s hard to find your man in a woman’s world”. Poor kid! Moreover, “Catherine’s getting up, and I’ve got things to do.” (Where did ‘Catherine’ come from?)

By the way, Saussy’s whole album, entitled “The Moth Confesses”, was completely inspired, or almost completely inspired. Every time the arrangements threatened to drown the lyrics, he would put in some perfect horns or a throbbing, arresting bridge.

But wait, this is Mockingbird. Let’s add a few facts:

Tupper Saussy came from an ancient Huguenot family, with Savannah roots, but didn’t understand the true anchor that that gave him until a teacher of his at Sewanee explained the origin of the name “Saussy”. (It’s like the origin of “Dabney”).

When you listen to Saussy’s early piano jazz, which he recorded when he was in college, you’ll hear a rare blend of sophistication and soul. Then, when you get to 1969 and The Neon Philharmonic, you’ll wonder, Where did this inspired artist come from?

Later, Saussy turned into a kind of visionary “nut”, who refused to pay U.S. income tax on principle, and ended up in prison — after being a fugitive from federal agents for ten years. He also embraced his Christian and Protestant heritage big time, writing a book that basically blamed all of America’s problems on the Vatican. He even ghost-wrote, we are told, the autobiography of James Earl Ray.

When Saussy was betrayed by a fellow fugitive in l997, he said that his Christian faith comforted him: “A Christian is honored by betrayal.”



After he came out out of prison, where he had become music director of the chapel, Tupper Saussy returned to Nashville, and recorded an album of songs he had written, sung and accompanied by himself. He died in 2007, two days before the release of that album. He was buried at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal).

The reason I introduce Mockingbird readers to Tupper Saussy is that his Neon Philharmonic is a titanic and optimistic pop achievement. Moreover, Saussy’s commitment to the Lord is striking and even odd. We ought to celebrate this kind of original Christian and artist. Have to admit I appreciate his air of refinement, too, and the way he dressed. Reminds me of our late friend Page Grubb, genius composer, pianist, and wit, who also… went to church, and loved God.