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.
April 7, 1998, brothers John and Bill Smith and I woke up in Nashville, Tennessee to the news of Tammy Wynette's passing. The three of us had been in Music City peddling our original songs to anyone who would listen.
It was the last day of our trip; and, it started out just like the previous two mornings—shower, brush teeth, and head out to our go-to restaurant on 16th Avenue South for coffee before making the rounds to Nashville's publishing houses.
It was early. The restaurant was almost empty—save for the three Waycross songwriters and a little booth occupied by Marty Stuart and company. I curbed my fan enthusiasm, put on my most-professional song-plugging face, and sauntered over to his table to announce myself.
“We're songwriters from Gram Parsons's hometown, Waycross, Georgia”. As I handed him our Smith-Griffin-Smith CD, Marty smiled and said, “Ahh, the Nashville Handshake”—that's when a virtual nobody hands a cassette tape or CD to a virtual somebody in Nashville. Marty Stuart knows about Gram Parsons, as do most knowledgeable folks in the country music capital of the world. At the age of 13, he was a member of bluegrass legend Lester Flatt's band. One year later, they were playing a show at Michigan State University, along with Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and The Eagles.
Marty remembers, “Gram and I jammed backstage and he was talking about George Jones and Keith Richards in the same breath. He was dressed like Porter Wagoner. That particular show changed my life, and I signed on that night to play the kind of country music I play.”
On his Love and Luck album from 1994, he recorded the Flying Burrito Brothers classic, “Wheels”, written by Parsons and Chris Hillman. Just this year, he and his band embarked on a tour with original Byrds members, Hillman and Roger McGuinn, celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of the most influential country-rock albums of all time, The Byrds' (with Gram Parsons) Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
One of the players on that 1968 album—recorded in Nashville—was renowned bluegrass guitarist Clarence White, who, along with musician Gene Parsons, invented the B-Bender, a spring mechanism that attaches to a regular electric guitar, making it sound like a pedal steel guitar.
Shortly after two in the morning on July 15, 1973, while loading equipment after a gig in Palmdale, California, Clarence White died after being hit by a drunk driver.
In 1980, Clarence's wife, Suzy, called Marty to ask if he'd be interested in buying some of of her late husband's instruments, one of which was the original B-Bender Fender Telecaster Clarence had played on Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
Marty speaks of the legendary guitar, “I've never considered it my guitar, really. It's his, and now it kind of has a life of its own. The spring gets dry and squeaks, so I spray WD-40 on it now and then, but I've never cleaned it. All the dirt inside and behind the strings is the original dirt. We call it “Clarence”.”
As legendary as that B-Bender guitar and its original owner is, Marty Stuart is a country legend himself. From an early age in Philadelphia, Mississippi, he taught himself how to play the guitar and mandolin. After playing in Lester Flatt's bluegrass band from 1972 until Flatt passed away in '79, he joined Johnny Cash's band for the next six years and, for several years, was married to Cash's daughter, Cindy.
In 1985, Stuart left Johnny Cash's band to pursue a solo career. Over the years, he has released a catalog of superb country music recordings, putting him in a class all his own, including several duets with Georgia boy, Travis Tritt.
After meeting the legendary country music singer, Connie Smith, following one of her concerts back in the 60s, he announced to his mother that he would marry her some day. He did just that in '97 and, a year later, helped write and produce her comeback album, Connie Smith.
The Fabulous Superlatives—guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson, and bass player Chris Scruggs—have performed with Marty since 2002 and are featured regularly on The Marty Stuart Show, a 30-minute program on RFD-TV following in the tradition of The Porter Wagoner Show, The Jim and Jesse Show, and other Saturday evening country music shows that I used to watch on black and white television in the Sixties.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, along with former Flying Burrito Brother, John Beland, and original International Submarine Band bassist, Ian Dunlop, will headline the 21st Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, Sept. 27-28-29, at the Okefenokee Fairgrounds in Waycross, Georgia.
Hosted by myself and a fine staff of music lovers, the 3-day family-friendly event honors the life and legacy of former Waycrossan, Ingram Cecil Connor III, known to the world as country-rock pioneer, Gram Parsons. Two stages of non-stop Cosmic American Soul Music will feature the talents of musicians and vocalists from around the country.
The popular festival offers a total of 44 RV spots, a campground area with bathrooms and showers, and plenty of space for tent camping. Food, arts, and craft vendors are scattered abundantly. Anyone interested in vending may fill out an online submission form at:
Advance 3-Day Passes and RV Camping Passes are available online at:
Tent camping is free with admission. Children 12 and under are allowed in at no charge.
For those wishing to attend on certain days, there will be a daily admission. Gate prices will be:
$15 Thursday, Sept. 27
$25 Friday, Sept. 28
$35 Saturday, Sept. 29
For a full performance schedule, please visit:
A big thank you goes out to our fine sponsors who play a big role in making this annual event possible: AAA Quality Services of Brunswick—Acme Pharmacy of Homerville—Applebee's—Atlantic Coast Bank—Brantley Printing—Breezy's Boutique—Craig and Sandy Kubik—Crews Forestry Services—Dick's Wings—Duncan and Associates Surveying and Mapping—Farmers and Builders Ace Hardware of Blackshear—Frames by Mary Ann.
Attorney Fred Kopp of Alma—Gibson Animal Clinic—Golden Rule Refiners of Claxton—Guy's Automotive—Hickory Wind Music—Hickory Wind Recording Studio—iHeart Media—JP's Liquors of Brunswick—James Engraving.
Medicine Cabinet—Middleton Plumbing of Statesboro—Millenium Sound Productions—Patterson Pharmacare—PrimeSouth Bank—PVP Studio of Waynesville NC—Quality Inn—Rainbow Drug Store of Brunswick—Sikes Bottled Water Distribution.
Southern Eagle Distributing—T and T Fencing—VVT Amps of Waldorf MD—Vyve Broadband—Walker-Jones Chevrolet—Waycross Coca-Cola—Waycross Journal-Herald—West Georgia Gastroenterology Associates of Carrollton—Whitaker's Golf Carts—Wong's Palace Restaurant and Yarbrough Printing.
21st Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival Advance 3-Day Passes:
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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