Tail of the Weak 3.3
Updated: Jan 25
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.
Ain't no diff'rence if you're black or white
Brothers, you know what I mean
—“Brother Louie” by Stories
I ain't into stigma. And I don't care too much for partiality. I don't see the world as black or white. People, we are all in this together.
I grew up in a Air Force family, traveling far away from the swamps of Waycross, Georgia. Surrounded by Arabs, Spanish, Italians, and blacks, I attended Kindergarten in Tripoli, Libya. Back home, growing up in the south, the stigma associated with race relations was not a part of my consciousness.
I was under 11 years of age when the civil rights demonstrations took place in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, and too young to comprehend the hatefulness. Just several short years later, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. made me much more aware of the racial divide in our country. Still, the hate was incomprehensible.
Throughout the Sixties, my older brother, Gary, and I used to buy 45 rpm records from the Record Nook on Tebeau Street and at Ware Tire Company on State Street. My introduction to soul music was through those little vinyl symphonies bearing the labels of Stax, Motown, and Atlantic.
We listened regularly to Sam Cooke's “Twistin' the Night Away” and “Back in My Arms Again” by The Supremes. It was great music, regardless of the color of skin. Another record I hold dear to my heart was 1961's “Last Night”, an instrumental performed by the Mar-Keys, the house band at Stax Records, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Written by Charles Axton, Floyd Newman, Gilbert C. Caple, Jerry Lee Smith and Chips Moman, the song reached #2 on the Pop charts and #3 on the R&B charts, a testament to its popularity among blacks and whites. As funky a record as it was, the real irony lay in the fact that all of the Mar-Keys were white musicians, including Steve Cropper, who went on to great success as the guitarist in Booker T. and the MGs and co-writer with Otis Redding on “Dock of the Bay” .
There was another fellow from Florence, Alabama who knew no prejudice when it came to race. Roe Erister “Rick” Hall, founder and operator of Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME Studios), had a love for R&B and soul music that brought him and his clients renown and worldwide success.
In 1961, the recording studio was moved to Muscle Shoals, where he produced hit records for Arthur Alexander, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Etta James, the Staple Singers, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bob Dylan. Atlanta-based song publisher Bill Lowery sent many of his acts, including Tommy Roe, Joe Tex, and the Tams, to Hall's laid-back studio in Alabama. The session band Hall assembled has played on so many hit records and was even immortalized in a verse of Lynyrd Skynrd's eponymous classic, “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Now, Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they've been known to pick a song or two
Lord, they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feelin' blue, now how 'bout you
The Muscle Shoals Swampers―made up of Barry Beckett, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, and Roger Hawkins―were so funky that Paul Simon called hoping to record with, whom he assumed was, the black musicians at FAME Studios. Simon was warned, “Paul, these guys are mighty pale”. Rick Hall passed away on the second day of January, 2018 at the age of 85. An editorial in the Anniston Star had this to say about the colorblind architect of southern sound:
“If the world wants to know about Alabama―a state seldom publicized for anything but college football and embarrassing politics―the late Rick Hall and his legacy are worthy models to uphold”.
Following high school graduation and after working several different jobs, I played music for a living, winding up in Down Home with Eddie Middleton, a nightclub band that toured around the country.
In 1976, at the King of the Road in Valdosta, Georgia, we shared a show with Sonny Turner, lead vocalist of The Platters. A year later, at Uncle Sam's in Macon, we split sets with the phenomenal Percy Sledge and his band.
One of the highlights of my simple musical career was playing in Percy Sledge's backup band, Sledgehammer—along with John and Bill Smith, Tony Cason, Napoleon Williams, and Bill McIntosh—for two shows at Little Knights in Waycross, Georgia during the early 2000s.
A trip to downtown Macon was never complete without a soul food meal at the H and H Restaurant on Forsyth Street, where Mama Louise hovered lovingly over boiling cauldrons of fried chicken. Her cooking was so good that the Allman Brothers hired her to go out with them on the road. No wonder they played and sang like they did.
Stories, a band from the early 70s made up of Michael Brown, Ian Lloyd, Steve Love, and Bryan Madey, had a Number 1 hit single with “Brother Louie”, a love song about an interracial affair written by Brown, former member of the Left Banke and principal songwriter of “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina”.
While I never took them home to meet my mama and papa—like the song says—I dated a couple of black girls in the Seventies; and, it was as beautiful and natural to me as the music and the food that I love.
Today, our country is as politically polarized as it has ever been; and, racism is in the news once again. As a nation, I thought we were way past that.
I don't pretend to know what the answer to the problem is; but, I do know that if we were to sit down together—over a plate of pork chops, mustard greens, and cracklin' cornbread—and listen to the soulful Otis Redding singing “These Arms of Mine”—this ol' world could be a much better place. Brothers, you know what I mean.
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
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