Tail of the Weak 1.9
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
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.
I caught the music bug in 1971 during my senior year of high school. No matter what I listened to, that bass guitar just kept jumping out of the speakers at me.
Billy Ray Herrin, my old neighbor on Mount Pleasant Road, or “Doghill” as my Uncle Vance called it, had been playing guitar for several years already and invited me over one afternoon.
Leaning up in the corner of his bedroom stood a 6-string Silvertone electric guitar with four strings on it. He grabbed it and showed me the bass line for Jimi Hendrix's “Hey Joe”; and, I never looked back.
After we both graduated that June, we left Doghill and headed off to different colleges. I chose Georgia Southern in Statesboro; and, Billy Ray enrolled at South Georgia Junior College in Douglas.
Despite the distance between us, we managed to put together our first band, The Doghill Gang, on weekends in Waycross, rehearsing in a small, empty wood frame house on Doghill. Billy Ray played guitar and handled the vocals, Jake Lee was our drummer, and I played the bass.
We were offered a job in late September of '71 at the local VFW in Waycross. We had no P.A. system; but, we overcame that issue by taping a microphone to a broom handle and cramming the wooden stick into a knothole on the stage floor.
On the afternoon of the gig, we practiced our behinds off, playing everything in our slim repertoire—Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grand Funk Railroad, Kris Kristofferson, and Bob Dylan.
The VFW would give us what we made at the door; so, we asked Garry Keels to be our doorman and proceeded to play to an empty room. Late in the evening, the veterans in the bar next door took pity on us and pooled some money together. We walked out with about $8.33 apiece.
Back in our day, long before the World Wide Web, Google, and Wikipedia, we gleaned as much music news as we could by poring over album covers from front to back, reading Rolling Stone magazine, and the occasional word-of-mouth from friends and strangers.
One weekend in '71, Billy Ray relayed a tidbit of info he had picked up from a dormmate at college. The guy said he had heard that one of The Byrds was from Waycross, Georgia.
At a time in the late Sixties, when psychedelic music ruled the airwaves, Gram Parsons guided The Byrds into a country music direction. Their landmark album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, was celebrated by music critics and largely ignored by the record buying public.
Billy Ray and I didn't yet know of Gram Parsons, the Okefenokee Kid, who left Waycross at age 12, while we were mere 6-year olds, moved to Winter Haven, Florida, got into music, and wound up in California with The Byrds.
The Byrds we knew of—or thought we knew of—were the Dylanesque folk-rockers led by Roger McGuinn. So, we dismissed that information as quickly as we heard it.
By 1973, I had dropped out of college and found a job delivering building materials for Choo-Choo Supply. Billy Ray had followed suit and was working as a tour boat guide at the Okefenokee Swamp Park, located eight miles south of Waycross.
In July '73, I made a run to St. Simons Island with a pickup full of plywood. At lunch, I grabbed a ham sandwich and the latest issue of Penthouse, and sat in the cab of my truck on Mallery Street, down by the pier.
I took a quick peak at the centerfold before turning to the 'New Music' section in the front of the magazine, where I began reading a review of an album called, simply, GP. There was a black and white photo of the artist, Gram Parsons, smiling and handsome.
As I continued, the reviewer stated, “...Much of the music on GP is reminiscent of the country music played on radio stations in Waycross, Georgia, where Gram grew up as a child”.
I ground that pickup into high gear and took the load off fanny, headed back to Waycross and Billy Ray's trailer with the news.
From that day forward, our lives were transformed. Sleepy little ol' Waycross was home to a bona fide musician. Not just any musician. This guy's artistic vision had created a new musical direction that, unknowingly, we had already subscribed to, as groups like The Eagles and Poco were presently on our turntables at home.
We both started buying up Parsons's catalog, from International Submarine Band's Safe at Home, through The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, and all the way up to GP.
On September 19, 1973, Gram Parsons passed away in room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn, succumbing to a lethal mixture of alcohol and morphine. He was just 26 years old. In a mere period of two months, we had found our musical visionary, then lost him.
Billy Ray Herrin immediately took upon the task of finding out who Gram Parsons, the Waycross boy, was. He interviewed everyone who knew him, from childhood friends to workers at Snively Groves Box Factory, the business Gram's daddy managed.
Having all this knowledge, Billy Ray has been interviewed for several biographies on Parsons's life and the BBC documentary, Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel, directed by Gandulf Hennig. In 1999, Billy Ray wrote a letter to the Governor of Georgia which led to Parsons's induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
Personally, with a lot of luck and some cosmic influence, I founded the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival in my backyard in 1998. Nineteen years later, it still stands as one of the best little outdoor music festivals you've never been to—but you still have time.
It will be goin' on next weekend, September 23-24, at the Okefenokee Fairgrounds in Waycross, Georgia. And on Saturday at 6:25 pm, Billy Ray Herrin and I will take the stage and once more, pay musical tribute to Gram's legacy—a legacy stumbled upon in the pages of a Penthouse magazine.
19th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival Advance Weekend Passes: https://www.ticketriver.com/event/18870
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin