Tail of the Weak 2.15
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.
I wouldn't trade anything for growing up in the South Georgia Bible Belt. We were raised up to know the difference between right and wrong. Sunday School, Training Union, and Wednesday night Prayer Meeting—my family was regular attendees at Calvary Baptist Church.
I was baptized in November of 1964 by Reverend Howard Grimes, in that cold, blue baptismal pool, situated directly below the Jordan River mural and just above the heads of the Calvary choir—Billy Beverly, Junior Martin, Willis Mancil, and Marilyn Martin.
These days, I will gladly listen to a sweet rendition of “Church in the Wildwood” or “Softly and Tenderly”, sung plaintively in that good ol' Baptist hymnal style, rather than the repetitive Praise and Worship stuff, digitally flashed on a big screen during modern church services. Like everything in life, from art to music to literature, it just don't roll if it ain't got soul.
As we grow older, lines blur between what we know to be right and what just plain feels right. I was into rock and roll from the first time I heard Elvis sing “Hard Headed Woman” on the King Creole album. During that same time, we had 45 rpms of Presley with the Blackwood Brothers, a southern gospel quartet, that we listened to religiously.
From Elvis to Gram Parsons and Aretha to Ray Charles, southern black and white artists that I grew up listening to often struggled with the biblical beliefs they were raised with and the looser morals of the road, the juke joints, and everything that went with them.
Despite the conflict, I loved secular music just as well and was elated upon discovering that some of my favorite songs were written with Jesus in mind. I suppose it lent some validity to “my” music, which didn't always sit well with the older generation.
Many of the songs' meanings were quite evident, as in Norman Greenbaum's 1969 hit, “Spirit in the Sky” or “Jesus is Just Alright”, an out-and-out gospel tune written by Arthur Reid Reynolds in '66 and later recorded by The Byrds and The Doobie Brothers.
From Cat Stevens's 1971 album, Teaser and the Firecat, came “Morning Has Broken”, a Top Ten song and popular Christian hymn, first published in 1931 and written by English author, Eleanor Farjeon.
There were others in that early Seventies period, like “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas and Electric, “Put Your Hand in the Hand” from Ocean, “I Can Feel Him in the Morning” by Grand Funk Railroad, and “Day by Day” from the cast of Godspell, the Broadway musical composed by Stephen Schwartz.
The 1970 rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, stirred up a lot of controversy around the world and in small towns across the South, Waycross included. The album was first released in September of '70, generating the radio hits, “Superstar” and “I Don't Know How to Love Him”, sung beautifully by Yvonne Elliman, who portrayed Mary Magdalene on the recording.
It was truly a rock opera. Jesus's part was played by Deep Purple's multi-octaved lead singer, Ian Gillan. Lead guitarist Henry McCullough had already performed at Woodstock with Joe Cocker's Grease Band; and, following Superstar, he went on to play with Spooky Tooth and Paul McCartney's Wings, adding his solos to the hits “Live and Let Die” and “My Love”.
It was in 1972 that the live touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar came to the Jacksonville Coliseum, finding me, along with a pile of rock-loving, church-going Waycross teenagers in the seats.
Jesus Christ Superstar ended up being the best-selling album of 1971, meaning that a lot of teenagers bought it. To the best of my memory, a contingent of local pastors held a public panel of discussion regarding the controversial record.
I remember being proud of Calvary's pastor at the time, Vernon Vaughan, saying something to the effect that “if it causes conversation and provokes thought among our youngsters, then at least they're talking and thinking about Jesus”.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
YouTube Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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