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 had heard such sounds before, heard them as a little boy lying in bed in the wiregrass country of south Georgia, heard the sounds of animals crying far off in the woods, heard the sounds the black woods hands made having what they called church, far off in the woods, the all-night drums, like the heartbeat of the dark swampy woods, boomdada boomdada, and heard the sounds I could not identify – the really frightening ones. I had not been so frightened since I was a boy lying slender and white and frail in the dark bed, finding a sound in the night, losing it, waiting for it again, a soft sighing sound that might have been the wind easing through the tops of the long-needle pines, or might have been cattle lowing a long way off, but always came back to sounding most like a simple human exhalation right outside the rusty screen of my bedroom window, the quietly released breath of a man standing quietly, just watching, waiting. I loved the woods but for years I lay awake at night fearing that sound.”
— Rythm Oil: An Introduction, Stanley Booth
It was a pleasant autumn afternoon in 1992 that found myself, Billy Ray Herrin, Gary Griffin, and Larry Purdom headed to Sterling, Georgia—a small community just west of Brunswick along Highway 341—to the home of Stanley Booth. Larry and my older brother, Gary, both employees of our local newspaper, the Waycross Journal-Herald, were there to interview the former Waycrossan, who had gone on to fame and some fortune as a notable author and journalist.
Stanley Booth's brick home was very nondescript at first sight—just a standard Sixties-style, small family dwelling. Once inside, it was cozy and cluttered, music memorabilia scattered here and there, cassette tapes from wall to wall and floor to ceiling in one room that may have once been used for dining or sleeping.
Our host, small in stature with a headful of salt and pepper hair, invited us to sit and let the questions begin. Larry asked the first question and 30 minutes later, asked the second one.
Stanley is a word man.
His answers took us on an entertaining journey through music history, Hollywood trivia, south Georgia euphemisms, and the blues—he loves him a mess o' the blues.
Irvin Stanley Booth, Jr. was born on January 5, 1942 in Waycross, Georgia. His mother, Ruby, a local school teacher, no doubt inspired his ambition towards literature. His grandfather ran a turpentine company in Cogdell, set in the swampy, country woods southwest of Waycross, where he and his family lived for much of Stanley's childhood.
He came to love the black workers and their families, who stayed in the shotgun shacks and worked the woods for his grandfather's company. His introduction to blues music was as real as the yodels and slave-code shouts he heard in the predawn fog of Cogdell, Georgia.
By the time he was 16, the family upped and moved to Macon, where he graduated from Sidney Lanier High School for Boys. After graduation, they moved again to Memphis, Tennessee, home of Beale Street and home to the blues.
In '62, Booth graduated from Memphis State, where he studied art history, then went on to graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans, returning to Memphis without a degree. His love was still writing; and, most often, he wrote about the blues.
Returning to Memphis, he met Furry Lewis, an old blues singer with a prosthetic leg, who was sweeping streets for the Memphis Sanitation Department and still playing the occasional gig on Beale Street. During this time, Booth wrote “Furry's Blues”, an article published in Playboy magazine, winning him the honor of Playboy's best nonfiction writer in 1970.
He went on to write for Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, and other journals, and publishing a collection of his magazine articles in 1991 titled Rythm Oil: A Journey Through the Music of the American South. His life as a writer has led him to meet some incredible people—The Rolling Stones, Gram Parsons, Al Green, Spooner Oldham, Dan Penn, Jerry Wexler, ZZ Top, and Otis Redding.
As a matter of fact, Stanley happened to find himself in Stax recording studios, with Otis Redding and guitarist Steve Cropper, on the afternoon that they wrote “Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay”. Two days later, Otis was killed in a plane crash.
His most heralded achievement, in my opinion, is his detailed biography of The Rolling Stones, who he traveled with extensively in 1969. The book, Dance With the Devil: The Rolling Stones and Their Times, republished as True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, was released in 1984 by Random House Publishing.
Switching chapter by chapter, from the past to the present 1969, he told the Stones's story from the beginning, weaving in his account of the death of original member, Brian Jones, meeting former Waycrossan Gram Parsons,and culminating with the Sixties-ending outdoor music festival-gone-wrong at Altamont Speedway.
The fact that he and Gram Parsons were both from Waycross and met for the first time at the Rolling Stones's California rental house is remarkable. Booth was already aware of, and loved, The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo and had written a review of the Flying Burrito Brothers' cosmic American classic, Gilded Palace of Sin.
According to Stanley:
“One of the others, with dark hair frosted pale gold and a classic country
western outfit from Nudie the Rodeo Tailor, I remembered seeing on the
television and record covers—he was Gram Parsons—and he came, so I
heard, from my hometown—Waycross, Georgia—on the edge of the
I had no idea he knew the Stones. Seeing him here, finding another boy
from Waycross at this altitude, I sensed a pattern, some design I couldn't
make out, and I got up to speak to Gram Parsons, as if he were a prophet and I were a pilgrim seeking revelation.”
I loved reading this book for the first time in 1992; and, I have loved rereading it over the years. It was my go-to favorite on the night I had to spend in jail for a DUI offense back in 2007.
To borrow from Stanley Booth:
“I had not been so frightened since I was a boy lying slender and white and frail in the dark bed”—dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, surrounded by a criminal element that was both frightening and foreign to me.
I was not messed with—left alone—reading my copy of Dance With the Devil, a well-written book, by a wonderful Waycross wordsmith—Stanley Booth.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
Booth, S. (1991) Rythm Oil: A Journey Through the Music of the American South. Jonathan Cape.
Booth, S. (1984) Dance With the Devil: The Rolling Stones and Their Times. Random House.
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