Tail of the Weak 2.25
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 have a good friend named John Randall Smith. He has walked down this road with me for many a year as a fellow band mate, songwriter, counselor, prankster, and a dear, close friend.
John Smith—so common a name to be attached to so uncommon an individual. An individual possessing a vast array of personalities.
Schizophrenic? No, there aren't any psychological discrepancies in John Smith. His mind is not controlled by some alter-ego.
In fact, most often John Smith is controlling the minds of those around him with his ability to educate and to entertain.
I am convinced that this is what John Smith does best—through no matter which mantle he assumes—be that as musician, comedian, teacher, father, grandfather, or friend.
I first met John on a side street in Waycross in 1970. I was driving home from high school in the ol' Ford station wagon when I came up behind a young man walking, with long hair, fatigue jacket, and trumpet case in hand.
I stopped and asked him if he needed a ride. He hopped in and the first thing that hit me was, “Damn! He looks like Fess Parker at thirteen.”
The next time we met was on a tennis court in Monroe Park. Bruce Surrency, my tennis buddy, and I were already warmed up and welcomed all comers for a casual game of doubles.
John Smith and his pal, Randy Conley, proceeded to intimidate my red-headed, short-tempered partner off the court with a volley of well-placed shots along with a sardonic display of sass mouth unheard of in the gentleman's game of tennis.
“Ready, Eddie? Serve, Merv!”, they drawled from across the net, taunting and relentless.
Four years would pass before I saw John Smith again. “Damn! He looks just like Fess Parker at 18.” It was 1975 and I was playing with Eddie Middleton and Down Home Band. John was drowning in the dregs of his latest musical experiment, Space Gnome, which was falling apart as his older brother, Bill, left to pursue college at Valdosta State.
We were playing in the Red Room at the King of the Road Motor Inn in Valdosta on a Tuesday night when John stumbled in, decked out in a blue, silk cowboy shirt, Levis, and a pair of size 11 pointed-toe cowboy boots—or as he referred to them—“my chain-link fence climbers.”
“Gimme a cole beer,” said he to the waitress. The southern drawl was still there as he took a table directly in front of the stage. Eddie Middleton was wrapping up the night with a soul-stirring rendition of Tom Jones's “She's A Lady” followed by “Hey, Baby” by Bruce Channel, a favorite among the college frat prepsters who were so much a part of Eddie's world.
On several occasions, Eddie would rant about the fly-by-night, pseudo-intellectual, weekend-hippie types, who took the steam out of the beach music scene, replacing it with psychedelic rock and mind-altering substances.
Enter John Smith into Eddie Middleton's realm. “Hey, man, y'all sound purty good. How 'bout buyin' me a cole beer? I know as much money as you make, you can buy me a fuckin' cole beer!” Eddie was not impressed; and, it was to John's advantage that his kidneys react before Eddie did, and render him through the rear door of the Red Room to relieve himself.
Just a few seconds later, Eddie, bass guitarist Wayne Scarborough and lovely wife, Anne, exited the lounge en route to their motel rooms for the night—only to find John Smith—hog dangling in hand—pissing at the moon.
By May of '76, Eddie Middleton and Down Home Band were faced with a dilemma. Our most recent drummer, Mark Yarbrough, had left the group and headed to Nashville as an aspiring songwriter. It was the onset of the summer season and was destined to be a very lucrative one at that. We needed a drummer...badly.
We were downstairs in the Red Room lounge, rehearsing and waiting on Middleton to arrive, when John Smith ambled into the room. We all looked up from the stage at the same time. There's our drummer right there! We asked him up to the stage and threw everything we had at him, including the syncopated, slightly-stuttered beat of the Ohio Players' “Skin Tight”. He nailed 'em all. Then Middleton arrived.
“NO, HELL NO! Absolutely not! John Smith will not play drums in my group!” he screamed at Wayne Scarborough. T. Wayne, calm and business as usual, proceeded to conduce Eddie into agreement.
“Beside the fact that we really need a drummer, he sings a breathy falsetto and plays his ass off.” Reluctantly, Eddie conceded, “Well, I suppose we can try him out; but I'm warning him. He knows he's not one of my favorites!”
Two nights later, on stage at the King of the Road, Eddie Middleton referred to John Randall Smith, reverently and lovingly, as “my godson”. A beautiful relationship had begun.
20th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival Advance Weekend Passes:
REFERENCES Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin