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.
Bette Clair McMurray was born on March 23, 1924 in Dallas, Texas. She was raised up in San Antonio, graduating high school from Alamo Heights. Just before he left to fight in World War II, Warren Nesmith made Bette his bride, and she gave them a baby boy, delivered while he was still overseas. After Warren returned from the war, they were divorced in 1946.
Bette's father passed away in the early 50s, leaving her some property in Dallas. Along with her mother, sister, and son, Bette moved to Dallas and found work as a secretary at Texas Bank and Trust.
She quickly rose to the position of executive secretary; but, still in need of extra money, Bette used her artistic talents in painting the holiday windows at the bank. She took her knowledge of paints and “applied” it to the office environment.
Back in those days, it was extremely difficult to erase mistakes made on early electric typewriters. So, Bette mixed some tempera water-based paint in a bottle, took the solution along with her watercolor brush to work, and used it to paint over her typing errors.
Bette used her white correction paint for five years, making improvements on it with the help of her son, Michael's chemistry teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. She began selling her invention in 1956, calling it Mistake Out. The name was changed to Liquid Paper when she formed her own company, operating out of the family home.
As the product was realizing more and more popularity, she moved the company's production and shipping operation from the kitchen to a small metal building in the backyard. In 1979, she sold Liquid Paper to the Gillette Corporation for $47.5 million.
Sadly, she passed away the very next year at the age of 56, leaving Michael, her only son, half of her $50 million estate. But, before he became a millionaire, Michael was a lot like anyone else born in 1942.
He was an indifferent student, a writer of verse poetry, preferring music and arts to the core curriculum. Dropping out of school, he enlisted in the Air Force in 1960, obtaining his G.E.D. and an honorable discharge two years later.
Michael's mother and stepfather gave him a guitar that Christmas; and, as he learned to play, he started putting his poems to song. In '63, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his songwriting and singing career, landing at the famed Troubador nightclub, performing and acting as hootmaster for their Monday night folk music hootenannies.
It was at the Troubador that Michael befriended Barry Friedman, an associate of Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds. Friedman showed him a press advertisement from The Hollywood Reporter, seeking “Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series”.
Over 400 hopefuls—among them Stephen Stills—tried out to be one of “four insane boys in a fictional rock 'n' roll band”. Fourteen young men were brought back for screen tests; and, the final four were selected. Robert Michael Nesmith was one of them.
The other three were Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork; and, together, they were The Monkees. It was campy TV fare, to be sure; but, at the time, I was only 13 and watched the show every week.
The “(Theme From) The Monkees” was catchy—written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, a prolific songwriting duo of the time—and loosely based on the Dave Clark Five song, “Catch Us If You Can”.
The Monkees had chart hits on the radio and album sales that pushed their debut album straight to #1 for 13 weeks. I recall visiting my cousin, Tim Thrift, in Gainesville, Florida during the Christmas holidays of 1966, and listening over and over to his copy of their first album, The Monkees.
The Monkees, called the Prefab Four by their critics, embarked on a concert tour during the summer of '67; and, remarkably, Jimi Hendrix opened eight of their shows, one being July 8 at the Jacksonville Coliseum in Jacksonville, Florida.
A crowd full of female teenyboppers, with parents in tow, were shocked out of their Bible Belts that evening, when the Jimi Hendrix Experience led off with a set of sexually charged, drug induced music that predated Hendrix's rise to stardom.
My good friends and fellow bandmates for years, John and Bill Smith, were there, and returned home tuned in and turned on musically, never looking back.
Another friend, childhood buddy and next door neighbor, James Cocke, was there on a double date with his older brother, and had this to say in his recently published book, Cocke Tales: Memoirs of a Redneck Hippy:
When we were in the Jacksonville Coliseum with about 16,000 other
young fans, I was all eyes and ears. There was a warm-up band, con-
sisting of this black singer on stage with two other musicians, a drummer and a bassist. The guitarist could really smoke that Fender guitar. But, this was the era just before psychedelic rock. He played and played; but, no one seemed to pay attention. I certainly was impressed; but, not many others were. They were waiting to hear The Monkees. He said, “Hey, Jacksonville, I will be back next year; and, you'll have to stand in line to buy a ticket”! This led to many boos as he left the stage. But, he was right. In a year's time, psychedelic rock had a firm toehold; and, he was its ring leader.
The shelf life of The Monkees TV show was only about a year and a half; but, Nesmith was determined to continue making music. In 1970, he put together Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, considered by some, a pioneering sound in the early country rock movement.
Their second single, “Joanne”, was a moderate hit with a very folky influence, including the talents of session musicians, O.J. “Red” Rhodes on pedal steel guitar and Earl Poole Ball on piano.
Nesmith also dabbled in music video production during the dawn of MTV. In 1983, he produced the video for Lionel Richie's “All Night Long” and Michael Jackson's “The Way You Make Me Feel” in 1987.
His songs were well recognized by other artists, including Linda Ronstadt, who recorded his “Different Drum”, her first hit single in '67, reaching number one in the L.A. market and number 13 across the country.
To this day, he is known as an American musician, songwriter, actor, producer, novelist, businessman, and philanthropist; but, he will forever be best remembered as “Mike”—the Monkee underneath the wool hap...oops! Where's my White Out?
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REFERENCES Wikipedia Cocke, J. (2016) Cocke Tales: Memoirs of a Redneck Hippy. Self-published. Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin