Tail of the Weak 3.20
Updated: Jan 26, 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.
I love sports. I grew up on Doghill—known to others as Mount Pleasant Road—in the small, south Georgia town of Waycross, where on any given Saturday—after the Linus the Lionhearted cartoon show was over—brother Gary, next-door neighbors, James Cocke, Greg Griffin, Ray Herrin, Johnny Bennett, and I, in some form or fashion, would take to the pasture in James's backyard for a game of football or baseball.
During basketball season, we simply nailed a plywood backboard to the pine tree behind James's backyard shelter, where about five or six feet of concrete floor—upon which we would dribble—spilled down into the hard ground.
We were a competitive bunch—James Cocke made sure of that. James hated to lose and would do anything, just shy of outright cheating, to win the game—thus, earning him the Doghill nickname, Sharky.
James and his mama, Edie, a former nurse during the Korean Conflict, moved off from Doghill to Andalusia, Alabama, in late 1967. Upon his return in the summer of '68, he had picked up a new sport that we were all-too-happy to learn—the gentleman's game of tennis.
We descended upon the antiquated local courts in Monroe Park, with James teaching us the new language—love...let...ad in...ad out...double fault...ace...game-set-match.
I bought a handsome MacGregor wooden racket and a can of Wilson tennis balls, and spent hours upon hours volleying the ball off the wall of our carport—probably driving Mama to the threshold of dementia, and every now and then, busting the light bulb next to the door leading into the house.
I was a sophomore at Ware County High in 1968-69, when the school scheduled tryouts for the first tennis team in their 10-year history. Coached by local Sports Hall of Famer, Genevive Pope, I made the cut—along with Bruce Surrency, Al Coughlin, Phil Sutherin, and Janelle Logan—to name a few.
We were a ragtag bunch; but, we gave it our all, despite the fact that we had no high school courts to practice on, forcing us to motor over to one dilapidated court, situated right beside a sewer canal, near the Waycross Rec Center. Many a ball was hit into that canal—never to be retrieved again.
Newspaper clippings showed us traveling—and losing quite often that first season—to out-of-town matches against the Wayne County Yellow Jackets, Charlton County Indians, Coffee County Trojans, and crosstown rival, Waycross Bulldogs, home of tennis great, Sam Stovall.
James “Sharky” Cocke spent his junior year at Waycross High; but, in the fall of 1969, he returned to Ware High, joining the Gator tennis team in its second season. Like Glen Campbell used to sing, he was a lineman for the county as well—#74, weighing a hefty 185 pounds, playing at the tackle position on the Gator football team.
On the tennis courts, opponents tended to underestimate their weighty adversary in James Cocke. When the game was over—finding themselves on the losing end—I often overheard them mutter, “He sure is fast to be such a big boy!” His speed belied his size, that's for sure; but, it was his Doghill tenacity and competitiveness that left those challengers shaking their collective heads.
I played drums in the Golden Gator Marching Band all four years of high school, holding down the first-chair snare position, earning the Governor's Honors Award, and performing in the All-State Band over at Epworth-by-the-Sea on St. Simons Island.
In my closet, there hangs a stiff, leathered coat with a big, gold “W” that bears two tennis rackets in the shape of an X, stitched on the left side about titty-high. Venturing out in life as a working musician, my days in the high school band served me well—but, it was my serve, thanks to the tennis tutelage of James “Sharky” Cocke, that earned me a letterman's jacket to be proud of.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns
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Phone interview with James Cocke
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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