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.
After the departure of our young keyboard player, Ricky Alderman, and drummer, Bruce Wood, Homegrown and Eddie Middleton had to pull some strings in late 1975 in order to keep the shows going and the money rolling in.
Eddie's first move was to call on an old friend and drummer, Mark Yarbrough, his former band mate in the Seros, a Sixties band from Albany, Georgia. Mark was a hulking, bearded man who dwarfed over his small drumset, laying into the snare drum with a heavy hand.
He beat that drum kit mercilessly, with a solid, funky vengeance that was reflected in his facial expression—no-nonsense...no smiles—which led Eddie and he to many conversations about stage presence and projecting positivity to the crowds we were entertaining. Smile or no smile, we carried on.
Word had gotten back to us that our old Blackshear, Georgia friend and musician, Warren Ratliff, was leaving his Nashville, Tennessee gig with SSGT Barry Sadler of “The Ballad of the Green Berets” fame. Warren was married, at the time, to a beautiful Waycross girl and a dear friend of mine, Becky Bagley. They were expecting and saw our offer to join the band as a welcome opportunity to get closer to home.
The little family rolled into the King of the Road on a cold, December night, pulling all their belongings behind in a tiny trailer, housing Warren's money-making machine, a Fender Rhodes 88-key electric piano. In his defense, Warren has always been an excellent keyboard player; but, after a week, Eddie Middleton pulled another Albany man into the fold and we bid a sad goodbye to the Ratliffs.
Lee “Pine Room” Newell was a veteran of the Albany club scene. He had become such a fixture at the Pine Room, locals just took to calling him by the same name. “Pine Room” played a combination of piano and Hammond organ, with a beautiful tenor singing voice that defied his Pillsbury Doughboy physique. After joining up with Homegrown, one of the highlights of our dinner set was his stirring version of the Jimmy Webb-written, Glen Campbell-sung classic, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”.
With new members rounding out the band, Homegrown and Eddie embarked on a 13-week stint at the King of the Road. Sometime in the midst of that marathon streak, the band's name was changed to Down Home with Eddie Middleton. While Eddie was a consummate vocalist, his abilities as a front man and entertainer were unparalleled.
Our charismatic lead vocalist and employer was always about entertaining the audience. Give them a show they'll remember. Engage them. Make them laugh. Dance their butts off. Smile at them—Mark!
He likened his vision of our show to a down home, laid back, family-friendly gathering—in the spirit of James Brown, Willie Nelson, Sly Stone, Tom Jones, Brook Benton, and Freddy Fender—a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural display of music that allowed the audience the chance to forget about the bills, the jobs, and the everyday trials of mid-Seventies life.
It was a good model to learn from; and, I put it to use through the years in many bands like The Keepers, The Naturals, and Rhythm Oil. Club owners loved it too. A happy, dancing crowd is one that will spend money and come back weekend after weekend.
By the end of our 13 weeks, I'm sure we were all getting just a little bit King of the Road-weary. Mark Yarbrough, still funky and not smiling, put in his notice to leave in April. He would move on to Nashville and do session work with Kim Carnes, who ended up warning us about that girl with Bette Davis eyes. “Pine Room” would soon follow, leaving the original core of Down Home Band once again in need of a drummer and a keyboard player.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns
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Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin