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.
Spring break 1998 was in full swing for schools across the south.
John and Bill Smith were full time Georgia educators. John taught high school English at Pierce County in Blackshear, Georgia. Bill taught music at Sallas Mahone Elementary in Valdosta, Georgia. Both were elated to be out of the hallways for a week.
In our spare time, the three of us wrote songs together; and, in 1998, we recorded a 12 song CD called Smith, Griffin, Smith and headed to Nashville in early April to peddle our tunes.
With the help of former bandmates, Bill Farris and Mike Clark, we had appointments scheduled at several record companies, including Reba McEntire's Starstruck Records and Curb Records.
All three of us were published songwriters with the late, great Bill Lowery, a giant of a man who headed up a music publishing company in Atlanta, recognized the world over. Through our Lowery publishing contracts, we were affiliated with BMI, the song licensing organization with offices in Nashville. One mention of Lowery's name opened closed doors, giving us more opportunities to at least get our songs heard.
We scoured the phone book and called the number of Paul Craft, a fine songwriter, who wrote “Keep Me From Blowing Away” by Linda Ronstadt, “Midnight Flyer”, recorded by The Eagles, and “Dropkick Me, Jesus”, a big country hit for Bobby Bare.
Meeting after meeting yielded one disappointment after another.
“It's not what we're looking for.”
“It sounds real good—too good for Nashville.”
“We don't hear any song ditties.”
On our last day in Nashville, before we tucked our dejected tails and headed home, we ran into Harlan Howard, the Dean of Country Music Songwriters, sitting on a barstool in a restaurant.
Howard wrote many a great country song, including, “I Fall to Pieces”, “Streets of Baltimore”, and “Heartaches By the Number”. He graciously accepted our CD and told us to feel free to send him anything we wrote in the future.
That evening, we took in the Nashville nightlife, winding up at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, where a group of songwriters were performing on stage. They perked up when we walked in with our sport coats and slightly greying hair, mistaking us three struggling songwriters for record executives. Hah!
The Smith brothers and I woke up on Tuesday, April 7, 1998 in our Nashville, Tennessee motel room to the news of Tammy Wynette's death.
Virginia Pugh was born on May 5, 1942 on a cotton farm in Itawamba County, Mississippi. Before she would become known as the "First Lady of Country Music", she worked as a cotton picker, waitress, barmaid, and beautician.
She was an All-Star on the Tremont High School basketball team; and, a month before receiving her high school diploma, she married for the first time to Euple Byrd.
The marriage crumbled; and, after six years and three children, she left Byrd and headed to Nashville to pursue her dream. Euple's famous last words to her were, “Uh-huh. Dream on, baby”.
Striving to land a recording contract, she was turned down repeatedly until she auditioned for Billy Sherrill at Epic Records. Sherrill signed her, suggested she change her name from Virginia to Tammy, and was a constant force in her career, co-writing many of her hits, including her signature song, “Stand By Your Man”, in 1968.
Tammy Wynette was one of country's biggest-selling female singers of all time, charting 20 times at the Number 1 spot. One of her most-remembered hits was “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, written by the songwriting team of Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, the team who also penned “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, George Jones's monster hit.
In one of country music's most-celebrated unions, Tammy married George Jones in 1969 in Ringgold, Georgia. Their personal relationship was stormy and publicly dramatized over the six years they were married; but, professionally, they were a match made in heaven.
Their duets are among the greatest in country music, with songs like “Golden Ring” and “We're Gonna Hold On”. They held on until their divorce in 1975. Three years later, Wynette was married for the last time to singer-songwriter, George Richey.
Over the years, Tammy Wynette's halting, hesitating, always-honest voice became the landmark for female country singers. She won three Grammy awards, sold over 30 million records, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
On April 6, 1998, at the age of 55, she passed away while sleeping on her couch in her Nashville home. The next morning, before making our rounds on Music Row, the brothers Smith and I stopped for coffee at the restaurant where we had met Harlan Howard.
There, in a booth with his publicist, sat Marty Stuart. With the famous Nashville handshake, we slipped him our CD, and left him alone with his mimosas and his memories of one more of country music's fallen angels.
7th Annual Swamptown Getdown Music and Arts Festival
March 17-18, 2017
Waycross, Georgia Advance Weekend Passes: https://events.ticketprinting.com/event/21700
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