Tail of the Weak 1.13
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.
There was a time when I was young and life was full of wondrous possibilities. Dreams were catchable and music was always playing.
Billy Ray Herrin and I had been playing and writing songs together ever since he signed my 1971 senior yearbook, “We have seen many suns set together and we will see many more”.
He sounded more like a great Seminole Indian chieftain until, “I wish you would go to SGC next year so we could put our record collections together”.
Well, college never worked out for either of us. Music was far more important. So, we set out together to find our muse.
Waycross, Georgia was a hot spot, as I figure many towns across America were, after The Beatles burst into our consciousness. Garage bands sprang up in every neighborhood; and, local teen dances were a Friday night tradition. In Waycross, we had a radio deejay by the name of Johnny Bee, who promoted local dances and bands. Along with him was a Waycross High teenager-turned-promoter by the name of Greg Haynes, who wrote a fine, big book about his exploits, called “The Heeey Baby Days of Beach Music”.
I didn't pick up a guitar until I was a senior in high school, thus missing out on all of the fabulous, sweaty Sixties teen dances at the Rec Center, Waycross City Auditorium, and the National Guard Armory. Bands were everywhere, with names like The Changing Times, The Fauxpas, Back Street Society, The Riots, Our Gang, and The Wandering Souls.
By 1974, Billy Ray was married to Becky Campbell, a beautiful girl whose father was a rambling musician and a painter with a gypsy spirit. Jim Campbell could play a guitar and had a lot of stories to tell, having played with Conway Twitty and the like.
One afternoon that year, we sat in Billy Ray's trailer, dreaming about the band we were going to put together. Jim Campbell's gold top Les Paul was laying on the bed. I picked it up and played a little lick from “Ramblin' Man”, at which Billy Ray espoused, “You'll be our lead guitar player”!
I'm about as much of a lead guitarist as Bruce Jenner is a woman. But, these were the days when dreams were real; and, nothing seemed impossible.
We chose the name, Sweetbriar, after a rose that grew wild in the Okefenokee Swamp, a vast muggy wilderness that loomed large just outside our little town of Waycross, Georgia.
Billy Ray's mama, Mae Herrin, loaned us the money to outfit ourselves; and, we drove to Paulus Music in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, returning with a Kustom P.A. system, two Kasino guitar amps that you could set up house in they were so big, and a Fender Stratocaster for each of us.
After we added a couple pipefitters from Plant Hatch, the nuclear facility near Baxley, Georgia—Danny Altman, a classmate of ours from Ware County High, on drums, and Harry “Tank” Tankersley on bass guitar—Sweetbriar was complete.
There was a little block building behind Billy Ray's trailer that we used for rehearsals. The neighbors were more than supportive until we pushed the envelope a little too far, late one night, when James Thornton showed up in his boxers, with his pillow hair, wielding a flashlight that he would have used on us if we didn't pull the plug.
By October of '74, the band had grown with the addition of Joe Shear, a true lead guitar player with spectacular vocals, and 16-year old Ricky Alderman, a self-taught piano player who we begged not to sing!
Ricky's father managed a local business, and found an old upright piano in a warehouse he had purchased. He brought it home, tuned it, and Ricky turned it into an afterschool obsession, channeling Chuck Leavell and Keith Emerson, until he was quite proficient and worthy of the Waycross music scene.
We printed up some business cards, used the services of a regional booking agent, and began harvesting the fruits of our labor. Many of our early and only bookings were staged in Alma, Georgia, a town known for its delicious blueberries and dubious sheriffs. From high school homecoming dances to small town civic parties, we began to build a small following.
Eventually, we found ourselves looking for a new bass player and drummer. Tom Amendola, local high school Algebra teacher, and Monnie Carden, son of a Blackshear dentist, were pulled into the fold.
Drummer Monnie Carden was a seasoned veteran of The Henchmen, a Waycross garage band managed by Judy Seymour, a young Waycross teen and future wife of Lynyrd Skynrd's singer, Ronnie Van Zant. Tom Amendola had never played a lick of bass guitar in his life. He was accomplished on a 6-string acoustic though; so, we taught him. He memorized the bass part to every song in our repertoire and did a damn, fine job of it.
Bands are much like marriages; but, instead of being wed to one person, you're wed to three or more. And, like marriages, sometimes you look at somebody wrong—or kick your snare drum across the room—and eventually part ways.
From 1974 to 1975, Sweetbriar was the first country-rock group out of Waycross.
“We were playing a New Year's Eve party, at the Alma Exhcange Club building, when I saw the colorful Christmas lights in the far, dark corner begin to tremble and shake. Out of the darkness and under the stage lights whirled a human tornado of fists and boots. As two Bacon Countians beat each other slap into 1975, we just kept watching and playing “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by The Eagles”.
— Uncle Dave Griffin
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
REFERENCES Wikipedia http://southerngaragebands.com/promotersvenues.html Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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