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.
From the first time I set foot on stage at the Steak House Lounge in Waycross, Georgia, I opened myself to performing the music of my idols and set into motion an informal education that would carry me through life.
The names of the clubs themselves—The Red Room, Sonny's Lake Forest Lounge, Man O' War, Checkmate, Cockpit Lounge, Uncle Sam's, Bananas, The Foxtrap, Expresso, or Sir Henry's—are as colorful, romantic, and decadent as all the patrons, waitresses, and bands that occupied them.
In 1977, Down Home Band with Eddie Middleton set out from Waycross one Sunday evening on one of our longest road trips, taking us to Little Rock, Arkansas—Nashville, Tennessee—and Savannah, Georgia.
I had sold my latest investment, a brand new Dodge van, and was riding to Arkansas with Ricky Alderman in John Randall Smith's new, white Ford Econoline, listening to Stevie Wonder's wonder of an album, Songs in the Key of Life, on the 8-track tape player.
We cruised in to Arkansas as the sun was coming up and pulled into a gas station, where each of us purchased a pair of rainbow Aviator sunglasses—with lenses of green, yellow, and blue—that we termed “Bumblebee shades”. Even the Pope looks cool in sunglasses.
So, we strolled coolly on into Little Rock and found the Checkmate, with its entry steps leading underneath the downtown sidewalk. Just inside the club, the stage was immediately to the right, looming high above the dance floor—so high, our heads were only a foot below the ceiling.
The long bar—where I first developed a taste for Scotch and water—sprawled down the left side of the room. Surrounded by dance floor, in the center of the room, stood the all-too-familiar disco booth, a common fixture in just about every club we played in the Seventies.
Our lead singer, Eddie Middleton, was a talented vocalist; but, first and foremost, he was an entertainer. As I had seen him do time and time again, he took that audience of Arkansas strangers and, in five minutes, had them smiling and dancing. Everywhere we would go, Eddie could always break the ice, leaving the boys in the band at ease and friendly with the natives.
It didn't hurt that we could sing and play; but, looking back, what most attracted us to the locals outside the state of Georgia were our southern drawls—thick as cane syrup from Obadiah Barber's swamp home. I recall some waitresses in Fredericksburg, Virginia pleading with us to “Say something—anything. We just want to listen to you talk”.
On the weekend, the Checkmate held a Wet T-shirt Contest, for which the female patrons signed up, lined up, and were issued a white tee. John, Ricky, and I were the single guys in the band; so, they handed us each a spritz bottle full of water.
The DJ put the latest Bee Gees record on the turntable, the girls began to dance, and the three of us started spraying until their shirts were sufficiently wet, leaving little to the imagination.
They crowned the contestants; and, as always, John went home with the 1st place winner, while I went home with the girl who came in third and fourth place. Ricky, always the moral compass of our trio, made sure we all made it home safe and sound.
We wound up our week in Little Rock on a Saturday night, loaded up the vans and Wayne Scarborough's pickup truck, and headed out east to Nashville, Tennessee, crossing the mighty Mississippi River, and rolling through Memphis early Sunday morning en route to our next destination, the Cockpit Lounge.
I've entertained in motel lounges, churches, Elk's Clubs, nursing homes, at private parties, civic functions, professional golf tournaments, debutante balls,
Civil War reenactments, fish frys, hoedowns, music festivals, and political rallies.
What I have to show for it all is an acute social awareness, two failed marriages, six vans, ten guitars, a half-dozen amplifiers, a hernia operation, a little bit of carpal tunnel syndrome, grooved callouses on the four fingertips of my left hand, a family of friends, and a lifetime of memories.
8th Annual Swamptown Getdown Music and Arts Festival
March 9-10, 2018
Okefenokee Fairgrounds : Waycross, Georgia
Advance Weekend Passes:
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin