Tail of the Weak 1.21
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.
Growing up, in the Sixties on Doghill (Mt. Pleasant Road) in Waycross, Georgia, was idyllic in every aspect—good neighbors, close friends, lots of dogs, and one TV station—WJXT Channel 4—a CBS affiliate out of Jacksonville, Florida.
After a long day of playing outside with our friends, at just around twilight, Mama would call me and my older brother, Gary, in for supper. After a fine meal, we would all gather in the den, under the watchful CBS eye, and escape into the world of Rod Serling, Allen Funt, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, and Marshall Dillon.
The prime time westerns—Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Wanted: Dead or Alive—were all a young boy could ask for. Then there was Rawhide, with its bullwhip-infused theme song, sung expertly by Frankie Laine, starring a young actor by the name of Clint Eastwood.
I loved him as Rowdy Yates; but, years later, I came to idolize him in The Outlaw Josey Wales, in my opinion, one of the greatest movies ever released. Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the movie, which was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
My old songwriting buddy, Billy Ray Herrin, loved the film too—so much so, that he wrote a song, based on the movie, called “The Grey Rider”. The song was published in the late Eighties by the Lowery Music Group in Atlanta.
William James Lowery, Jr. was born on October 21, 1924 in Leesville, Louisiana. His daddy was a railroad conductor; and, his mother occasionally sang gospel music.
At age 16, Lowery began working as a disc jockey across the South and Midwest. He relocated to Atlanta in the early 1950s, where he was voted the top country music disc jockey in America.
In '51, after being diagnosed with cancer—which he subsequently beat—Lowery began publishing music, on his own, through the Lowery Music Company. The company's first hit was “I Have But One Goal”, a gospel song written by Joseph “Cotton” Carrier, who went on to become Lowery's right hand man in the publishing business.
Three years later, the Lowery Music Company published its first million seller, “Be-Bop-a-Lula”, recorded by Gene Vincent. “Young Love”, written by Atlantans, Carole Joyner and Ric Cartey, was published by Lowery in '57, and remains his best-selling song, recorded by Sonny James, Tab Hunter, and Donny Osmond.
The 60s brought great success to Bill Lowery's company, landing a slew of hits across multiple genres like:
“Ahab the Arab” “Harry the Hairy Ape” “Santa Claus is Watching You”, Ray Stevens
“Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am”, The Tams
“Cherry Hill Park” “Down in the Boondocks” “I Knew You When”, Billy Joe Royal
“Don't It Make You Wanna Go Home” “Games People Play”, Joe South
“Hush”, Deep Purple
“Mr. Moonlight”, The Beatles
“Dizzy” “Everybody” “Sheila” “Sweet Pea”, Tommy Roe
“Spooky” “Stormy” “Traces”, Dennis Yost and the Classics IV
“Walk On By”, Leroy Van Dyke
Through the 70s, Lowery collaborated with the Atlanta Rhythm Section, as well as Lynn Anderson (“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”), Alicia Bridges (“I Love the Nightlife”), Bertie Higgins (“Key Largo”), Sammy Johns (“Chevy Van”), and Starbuck (“Moonlight Feels Right”).
By the Eighties, The Lowery Music Group was just beginning to land hits for country artists, Waylon Jennings, John Conlee, Travis Tritt, and Wynonna Judd, when Billy Ray called me in to collaborate with him on some original songs.
He had scored a publishing contract with Lowery for “The Grey Rider” in the late 80s; and, a couple years had passed with no further luck. We set to work in his recording studio on Doghill and got our first two demos published immediately.
We co-wrote a total of about 14 songs, landing publishing contracts with Lowery on half of them. Once a publisher takes an interest in your songs, a contract is signed. Acting as a go-between to the recording industry, the publisher then attempts to place your songs with established recording artists. At that point, some money stands to be made in the form of royalties.
I accompanied Billy Ray to Mr. Lowery's Atlanta offices twice. Located in Northeast Atlanta on Clairmont Road, you would turn down a steep driveway and park outside the back door leading into the bottom floor of the building.
Inside that back door sat Cotton Carrier, Mr. Lowery's old friend and A&R man. If you could get past Cotton and gain a trip upstairs to see the big man, you were really doing something. Cotton's job was to weed out the wheat from the chaff.
His favorite question was, “What do you do for a living?” If your answer was, “Mobile home salesman”, he would respond, “you need to stick with that!” Many a faint heart were turned away from their dream right then and there; but, Billy Ray Herrin never let it deter him. On this occasion, Cotton told us we needed to go upstairs.
The walls upstairs held dozens of gold records, supporting Bill Lowery's success as the largest independent music publisher in the world. It was intimidating to say the least.
Once inside his office, we took chairs across from his huge desk. He popped our demo cassette into his personal sound system on the wall behind him, jacked the volume up to LOUD, and sat looking at us—waiting for the song to overwhelm him.
When he first heard our original demo of “You”, he sat back, rocking in his big chair with his eyes closed. At the end, he jumped up and proclaimed, “I like it! This could be a big hit for Conway Twitty”!
Conway didn't see it that way. Unfortunately, he passed away before he ever had the opportunity to say “Yes” or “No”.
Twice, we were invited to Lowery's Atlanta recording studio, Southern Tracks, to cut four of our original songs under the name, Hickory Wind.
“You” / “The Love in You” was the first Southern Tracks' release to radio stations, in a CD format. The songs were sent to radio stations across the country, and did very well out west, particularly in Oregon. We even got some airplay overseas in Europe, which yielded a fat royalty check in the amount of $6.28—apiece!
Bill Lowery passed away in June, 2004. He has done more for Georgia's songwriters, musicians, and music business than anyone in the last century. Lowery was one of three inductees into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in its first year, 1979. The other two were Ray Charles and Lena Horne. A few months after his death, his children sold his entire publishing catalog, with our seven songs in it, to Sony/Tree Publishing in Nashville, Tennessee. Lately, we discovered that Sony/Tree sold the Lowery catalog to Bicycle Music Publishing in California. Those songs have traveled further west than I have. At the time of this writing, our songs have never grabbed the attention of anyone in the business; but, I am proud to have been recognized, along with Billy Ray, by the late, great Bill Lowery. On one of our visits, Mr. Lowery recounted the story of the great Joe South original song, “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden”. The song was written in the early Sixties and had lay dormant for many years, until Lynn Anderson recorded it in 1971. It went to No. 1 on the record charts nationwide. Lowery told us, “Just remember, boys, the cream always rises to the top”. To that I would like to add, “But you have to keep milkin' the cows”!
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
Brooks, T., Marsh, E. (1979) The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows: 1946-present. Ballantine Books.
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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