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 don't know whether I chose art or it chose me. All I do know is I'm glad it happened. Playing music has created a lifetime of friends and some rare opportunities to meet several high-profile associates. This is the story of one such encounter.
In 1977, Down Home Band and frontman, Eddie Middleton, returned to the soul food city of Macon, Georgia. Our home away from home for a couple weeks was a big club located out the Gray Highway called Uncle Sam's.
Directly across from Uncle Sam's was the funky, old Courtesy Court Motel, the favorite lodging facility of Charlie Daniels whenever he came to town to record at Capricorn Studios.
That's where we laid our heads every night. During the day, we would most often eat lunch in downtown Macon at the celebrated H and H Restaurant, home of Mama Louise, owner and genteel lady that the Allman Brothers hired to cook for them on the road.
By '77, the Allman Brothers Band was no more. They fell apart in 1976; and their members were off in different musical directions. Gregg Allman (Rest in Peace, Sir) formed the Gregg Allman Band; Dickey Betts started up Great Southern; and Chuck Leavell, “Jaimoe” Johanson, and Lamar Williams formed Sea Level.
Uncle Sam's was a big club. The stage stretched all the way across the back wall with a dressing room positioned down in the right corner. Looking out from the stage, the room was filled with a huge dance floor, tables and chairs, a long bar down the right side, and a little DJ booth tucked in on the left side.
We had some times there. Once we shared the bill with the White Knight of Soul from Thomaston, Georgia—Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders. Mr. Cochran was a real showman; and his biggest claim to fame is having written the morbid teenage death song, “Last Kiss”, a big hit for J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers and later, Pearl Jam.
Another soulful night was the time we split sets with Percy Sledge and his band. When he struck out on “When a Man Loves a Woman”, Uncle Sam's dance floor turned into a pool of flesh and sweat. Percy was one of several legendary soul singers from the South and a fine gentleman too.
But the night of nights took place in the early winter months of '77. We were nearing the end of our third set that night when an entourage strolled in, led by Dickey Betts. He walked up to the lip of the stage and Middleton leaned down to shake his hand. Eddie knew a lot of folks in the business.
I was immediately in a little bit of awe; but what struck me the most was how short he was. What he lacked in altitude though, he made up with attitude.
Forrest Richard “Dickey” Betts was born December 12, 1943 in West Palm Beach and raised up in Bradenton, Florida. His family instilled in him the music of Country and Western Swing and bluegrass. He played guitar in several rock and roll bands before forming the Second Coming in '67 with future Allman Brothers' bass player, Berry Oakley.
The Allman Brothers Band came together in 1969 in Macon. Dickey was responsible for writing several of their well-loved songs: “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, “Ramblin' Man”, “Jessica”, and “Blue Sky”.
In '74, Betts released a solo album on Capricorn Records, Highway Song, which featured the legendary fiddler, Vassar Clements, Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and award-winning southern Gospel group, The Rambos, on background vocals.
The entourage Betts strolled in with that night included his new band, Great Southern. Along with them was one Steve Popovich, founder of Cleveland International Records, a subsidiary of Epic Records, where he was responsible for signing and launching the careers of Boston, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Joe Tex, and Dave Loggins, who as far as I know, still wants her to come to Boston. Popovich was down in Macon, Georgia that night trying to get Dickey and Great Southern to sign with his new label.
Down Home was used to covering the Brothers' songs; so, this seemed like the perfect time to invite Dickey to join us on “One Way Out”. After that, the two bands convened in the dressing room as we introduced ourselves; and, after a short break, it was decided that Great Southern would perform the final set of the night.
The music ended but the party was just getting started. Uncle Sam's bartender poured us a big box of quart-sized to-go draft beers before we all headed across the street to my motel room at the Courtesy Court.
The next several hours were spent gettin' loose as a goose and fit to be tied—high point of the night being when Dickey sat down on the bed to play a couple songs off his solo album on my Takamine acoustic guitar.
I glanced over and saw Steve Popovich, pinned in the corner of the motel room by Eddie Middleton, who was selling himself as hard as he could. Before the night was over, Middleton was the new artist Popovich ended up signing to his new label.
About four in the morning, we were all seeking nourishment and set off for the south side of Macon to Hodge's Carousel Lounge, the all-night soul food shack immortalized in Wet Willie's song, “Red Hot Chicken”. The place was a dive made in heaven, with a formica-topped bar counter where we ordered up plates of chicken, potato salad, and greens, listened to funky rhythm & blues on the jukebox, and shot pool in the middle of the room surrounded by cheap tables and ladder-back chairs.
The magical night finally wound down; and, as we were making our way to our vehicles, Dickey walked up to his expensive sports car and kicked the crap out of the door with his biker boots. I thought it was kind of dumb; but nonetheless, it was his car—and he was Dickey Betts, lead guitarist for the Allman Brothers—and what he lacked in altitude, he sure made up for with attitude.
20th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival
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YouTube Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin