Tail of the Weak 2.26
Updated: Jan 23
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.
In January of 2006, I was well into my fourth year working for Paul Lee at Crosstown Music in downtown Waycross, Georgia. We sold everything from Martin guitars and Korg keyboards to kazoos and G-strings. Oh how painful it is when you break a G-string while performing! Just ask any guitar player or pole stripper.
Ol' Jimmy Stratton, Nashville photographer and music lover, called me on the phone and posed to me an idea for a song with fate as its theme. He then proceeded to tell me the story of a woman who was an ecological activist in her hometown.
In the name of progress, the town's oldest oak tree was scheduled to be cut down. Facing off the bulldozers, the lady chained herself to the tree in an act so cavalier that the city caved and reversed its decision. She laughed and cried and rejoiced inside knowing she had saved that old tree's life.
Months later, while out for a ride on a rainy night, the lady lost control of her automobile, crashed into the same oak tree and died instantly. The story seemed spectacular and dripped with irony; but it got the gears turning in my right brain lobe, and I wound up with a song I called, “Standin' on a Corner”. The chorus went like:
We're standin' on a corner ~ and little do we know
From the time that we are born ~ we just choose a path and go
Sometimes we're rewarded ~ sometimes we're denied
All the time we never know ~ we just take a chance and ride
Fate, chance, and irony have always been interesting and thought-provoking subjects to me as a historian of music. Billy Ray Herrin, my Waycross songwriting buddy and fellow Beatles fan for many years, threw this out for conjecture one afternoon.
Young John Winston Lennon was only four years old when his father, Alfred, a merchant seaman, and mother, Julia, were divorced. Around the time little John turned six, Alf paid a visit, taking his son to Blackpool, fully intent on squiring him away to New Zealand.
John's mum, Julia, intervened, making sure the plan was quashed, thus insuring that The Beatles, as we came to know them, would be born, providing generations with the joy and timeless genius of their music. A trivial moment in the grand scope of life rendered hugely momentous through the hindsight of history.
A few years later, a fateful decision lay in store for young 21-year-old Waylon Jennings, who had been hired by Buddy Holly to play bass guitar in his group during the Winter Dance Party Tour, beginning January 23, 1959 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The tour also featured J. P. Richardson, aka The Big Bopper of “Chantilly Lace” fame, Richie “La Bamba” Valens, and Dion and the Belmonts.
The buses, hired to transport the musicians from town to frozen, Midwest town, were not heated and proved prone to breakdowns, forcing Holly's decision to charter a small plane on the night of February 2, which he, Waylon, and guitarist Tommy Allsup would use to fly to their next stop following that evening's show, in Clear Lake, Iowa.
The Big Bopper, suffering from the flu, asked Waylon Jennings for his seat on the plane. Tommy Allsup lost his seat to Richie Valens in a coin flip. On February 3, 1959, the Beech-wood Bonanza aircraft crashed in a frozen cornfield just outside Clear Lake, killing everyone on board. The date was memorialized as “The Day the Music Died” by singer-songwriter Don McLean in his 1971 hit, “American Pie”.
I'm sure Waylon and Tommy Allsup scratched their heads and wondered why it was they who were spared while others had died. I'm reminded of and reassured by the beautiful and plaintive chorus in the Southern gospel song, “Farther Along”, written in 1911 by the Reverend W. A. Fletcher as he was traveling by train to the Indian Territories.
Farther along we'll know more about it
Farther along we'll understand why
Cheer up my brother ~ live in the sunshine
We'll understand it all by and by
20th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival
Advance Weekend Passes:
YouTube Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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