Tail of the Weak 2.9
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.
It's as friendly as a faded childhood memory. As warm as that old familiar coat at the first sign of a new winter. As nostalgic as a Dreamsicle from Dot & Duncan's, melting on your bare knee in the back of a pickup truck, down Memorial Drive.
The friendly, familiar, and nostalgic melody, written and whistled as the main theme of The Andy Griffith Show, by Earle Hagen, is firmly embedded in the psyche and soul of all that is good.
Over the years, American sitcoms have come and gone in a flurry of high expectations, one-liners, canned laughter, and live audiences. None have combined plot, character, and comedy as perfectly as that weekly, half-hour visit to Mayberry, North Carolina. A visit that began and ended with a whistle and a finger snap.
Earle Harry Hagen was born in Chicago, July 9, 1919. As a youngster, he moved with his family to Los Angeles, picked up the trombone, and by the age of 16, left home to join the Big Band circuit, playing with Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.
At the age of 20, he wrote “Harlem Nocturne”, a jazz classic that has been covered by groups from every genre and generation since 1939. The song became the theme for the television series, Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, from '58 to '60.
Hagen's work in television was most successful, composing the memorable themes for Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., That Girl, and I Spy, which landed him an Emmy Award in 1968.
“The Fishin' Hole” was the name Hagen gave the famous tune, whistled as Andy and Opie Taylor made their way down a wooded lane to Myers Lake, at the start of every episode.
The Andy Griffith Show was set in the fictional town of Mayberry, in the backwoods hills of North Carolina. Patterned after Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy in NC, the sitcom was as believable as the characters themselves.
The show's southern authenticity to detail was remarkable, given that it was filmed just outside Los Angeles and produced by Sheldon Leonard, Richard O. Linke, and Aaron Ruben, a handful of northern geniuses from New York, New Jersey, and Chicago.
The black and white episodes of the first five seasons—by far the best—introduced so many memorable characters. Aunt Bee, the matronly architect of fine, Southern cooking on the show, couldn't boil water if her real life depended on it.
Opie Taylor, America's every kid, grew up before our very eyes and turned into a fine filmmaker, directing the blockbusters, Cocoon, Apollo 13, and most recently the highly-touted documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years.
A slew of colorful characters, including Andy's sideman, Deputy Barney Fife, Floyd the barber, town drunk Otis Campbell, gas station cousins Gomer and Goober Pyle, and lovable hillbilly Ernest T. Bass, will forever be remembered as the comedic geniuses they are. A few of the episodes stand out in my mind as most brilliant.
“Convicts at Large”, in which Barney and Floyd are hostages to three female escapees from prison. “My Fair Ernest T. Bass”, a hilarious takeoff on Lerner and Loewe's musical, My Fair Lady. “Opie the Birdman”, like so many Andy Griffith shows, injected a lesson in morality that viewers may trace straight to the pages of the Good Book.
The magic of The Andy Griffith Show lies in the intelligent synchrony of comedy, drama, and music, primarily of the folk and bluegrass variety. Andy Griffith was no stranger to the guitar and was a good singer as well. So much so, that the writers worked a musical segment into almost a quarter of the show's 249 episodes.
Barney and Andy, harmonizing in the courthouse as they went about their daily routines, Bobby Fleet and his Band with a Beat, the dysfunctional Mayberry town band, Gomer Pyle's unexpected beautiful baritone singing voice, Andy's peaceful front porch serenades, and the fabulous Darling family, led by father Briscoe on the jug.
When the Darlings came callin', you could rest assured they were bound to stir up a little trouble for Andy; and, the Darling boys were gonna pick and sing some good ol' mountain music.
In reality, the Darling boys were none other than the famed bluegrass band, The Dillards. Guitarist Rodney Dillard, along with brother Doug on banjo, founded The Dillards in 1963. As the Darlings, they were featured in six episodes of Andy Griffith.
In 2011, I was pleased to book Rodney Dillard for the 14th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival. He was amiable and talkative, not at all like Rodney Darling, his reticent character on the TV show.
In “Mayberry on Record”, the 19th episode, an independent record producer came to town in search of local talent. One group who performed on that episode was The Country Boys, featuring a young Clarence White, who would go on to play with The Kentucky Colonels and The Byrds, following Gram Parsons's departure in '68.
Together with Gene Parsons, White invented a guitar accessory that emulates the sound of a pedal steel guitar—the B-Bender—of which he was a master. Tragically, on July 14, 1973, Clarence White was struck and killed by a drunk motorist as he was loading equipment following a gig in Palmdale, California. Gram Parsons paid tribute to him in a verse of his original song, “In My Hour of Darkness”.
Small talk, homespun humor, colorful characters, and down home music were the ingredients for one of the most-revered television shows in American culture.
Television critic Horace Newcomb said, “Peace, love, and laughter are the central virtues of the world of the domestic comedy”.
As a child of the Sixties, I was a big fan of peace and love—and Andy Griffith.
Gon' whistle now.
7th Annual Swamptown Getdown Music and Arts Festival
March 17-18, 2017
Waycross, Georgia Advance Weekend Passes: https://events.ticketprinting.com/event/21700
Kelly, R. (1981) The Andy Griffith Show. John F. Blair.
Harrison, D. and Habeeb, B. (1994) Inside Mayberry. HarperPerennial. Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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