Tail of the Weak 2.50
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
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.
Lee “Pine Room” Newell, Down Home Band's keyboard player between January and June of 1976, had turned in his notice, promising to stay until our young, Waycross piano wizard, Ricky Alderman, returned to the band following his graduation from high school.
“Pine Room”'s plans would take him to Nashville, Tennessee in pursuit of a songwriting career and we would miss him—but how could we miss him if he wouldn't leave?
To be fair, we'd just been booked in early June to play the Sheraton-on-the-Beach, Panama City Beach, Florida, where the girls were plenty and pretty—and the liquor flowed from a never-ending stream of well-dressed, well-wishing customers, who always made sure we weren't lacking—and, to carry on with the “well” analogy—well—why would he leave?
We were booked there for two weeks. The plan was to work young Ricky Alderman back into the band after the first week, during which he sat at the bar—directly in front of the left side of the stage where “Pine Room” was perched—observing and taking fastidious notes on which instrument was being played on what song.
Week one turned into week two; and, “Pine Room” was still there—in his baby blue, double-knit suit ensemble and trimmed goatee, looking like a younger, inebriated version of Wolfman Jack—drawing snarly jabs from our lead guitarist, Joe Shear, who was more than ready for the change of the guard. Finally, Eddie Middleton, our lead singer and bossman, had to pull “Pine Room” to the side and remind him that Nashville was where he belonged.
Down Home Band had just hired Waycross drummer, John Randall Smith, a few weeks earlier; and, upon Ricky's return, we became a full-fledged, Waycross, Georgia backup band.
After Panama City Beach, we returned to our home away from home, the King of the Road lounge in Valdosta, Georgia, to ready ourselves for our first visit to fabled Macon nightclub, Uncle Sam's.
Uncle Sam's was a big, sprawling barroom set back off the Gray Highway heading out of Macon. Unless Charlie Daniels was in town, recording at Capricorn Studios, we were always put up directly across the highway at the funky, retro-style Courtesy Court Motel.
Inside Uncle Sam's was a long stage that covered the rear wall of the club; and, as in most hot spots in the Seventies, there was a DJ booth tucked along the side wall. Inside this booth worked a DJ who had spent his entire life worshiping at the shrine of Elvis Presley, playing his records and deifying the “King” to everyone he met, whether they listened or not.
The next time we returned to Macon, he had took to packin' his shirt down inside a huge, gold-buckled wrestling belt—continuing to morph into his idol, as we returned through the subsequent months and well into 1977.
The last time I saw him, he had dyed his hair jet black and was sporting a hearty pair of porkchop sideburns and rock star sunglasses. In reality, he looked like a pudgy, little hobbit with bad teeth—but, in his mind, he was most assuredly the King of Rock and Roll—thank ya vur'much.
Following the breakup of the Allman Brothers Band in '76, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, bass player Lamar Williams, and drummer “Jaimoe” Johanson, along with guitarist Jimmy Nalls, formed a jazz/rock/r&b fusion band, calling it Sea Level—as in C. Leavell—and signing on with Capricorn Records in Macon.
By 1977, Sea Level were prepping for their second studio album, Cats on the Coast, and had added guitarist Davis Causey and singer-sax-keyboardist, Randall Bramblett, two former members of King David and the Slaves, a rhythm and blues horn band made up of late-60s University of Georgia students, which also included Down Home Band's bassist, T. Wayne Scarborough, and lead vocalist, Eddie Middleton.
We set out on a pleasant Saturday afternoon from the Courtesy Court Motel, heading to a Macon neighborhood where Chuck Leavell's home was located. I knew we had to be in the right place as we descended the basement-turned-rehearsal room staircase, flanked by Gold record after Gold record by the Allman Brothers, hanging ceremoniously on the wall.
Sea Level were working on the songs which would make up the soon-to-be-released Cats on the Coast—so dialed in to their rehearsal they didn't even seem to notice the Down Home boys—standin' hip-deep among Macon, Georgia's Rock-Rhythm & Blues Royalty.
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