Tail of the Weak 1.5
Updated: Jan 24
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
In 1954, Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith released a single on MGM Records of a song that was written in 1953, the year I was born. 23 years later, I would shake the hand of the man whose version of the song is the most recognized around the world today. The song's lyrics were written by Edith Lindeman while sitting at home one night, playing with the idea of colors. Carl Stutz, a musician and radio announcer for WRVA in Richmond, Virginia, composed the music. “Red Headed Stranger” details the story of a man who rambles into town, riding a black stallion and leading the bay horse of his dead wife. In a tavern, the stranger meets a blonde woman, who follows him outside and attempts to steal the bay. He shoots her and leaves town after being found not guilty of murder, considering that the woman tried to steal his horse.
Willie Nelson used to play the song, in 1954, on his radio show, The Western Express, on KCNC, Fort Worth, Texas, as a nap time tune at 1:00 in the afternoon for the children in the listening audience. He also sang the song for his daughter, Lana, at bedtime, and on several occasions, he sang it on his own radio show.
His wife in 1974, Connie Koepke, gave him the idea to write a western concept album based on “Red Headed Stranger”. Willie's timeless album, released in May 1975 on Columbia Records, reached number one on the Billboard chart for Top Country Albums. I bought my copy in '75 at Sin City Records, owned and operated by Billy Ray Herrin, in Waycross, Georgia. In October of that year, I started playing music on the road with Eddie Middleton, former lead singer of King David & The Slaves after Randall Bramblett departed.
Our band, at that time, was called Homegrown. Based out of the King of the Road in Valdosta, Georgia, we were a 5-piece band that played a mixed variety of music—from Top 40, r&b, and funk to southern rock and country. Middleton handled the bookings and we traveled around a bit, landing in 1976 at Sonny's Lake Forest Lounge on Lem Turner Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. Located on the south side of the Trout River, its audience was a melting pot of upscale blacks and middle class whites.
A sweet, little waitress that worked at Sonny's—whose name now escapes me—had two tickets for Willie Nelson & Family at the Jacksonville Coliseum on Tuesday, May 18. I was invited and off we went. When we arrived, the floor was only about half-full; still, we navigated into the seats to the right of the stage. Poco was the opening act; and, when they finished their set—much to my surprise—half the coliseum emptied. Yeah, well—I like Poco just fine; but—come on, man, this was Willie! He put on an amazing, intimate performance—a complete retelling of his current hit album, Red Headed Stranger—with sister, Bobby Nelson, on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Jody Payne on guitar, Paul English on drums, and Bee Spears on bass guitar. I procured a Willie t-shirt during the intermission and had it slung over my shoulder as we moved down to the front of the stage for most of his show. When it ended, we were among a small, satisfied handful of fans gathered at the apron of the stage with Willie's personal and undivided attention. It came my turn. He autographed the shirt and looked dead at me as we shook hands; and, without a word, I saw, in his deep, brown eyes, the contented soul of an artist who had just played his heart out for a half-empty coliseum. “There's not a lot I can do about what happened last year. Or yesterday. And there's not a lot I can do about tomorrow. But right now, everything's good.”
— Willie Nelson
19th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival Advance Weekend Passes: https://www.ticketriver.com/event/18870
REFERENCES Wikipedia Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin