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.
Well, the dog days of summer are upon us. The Greeks and the Romans were the first to note the hottest times of the year in relation to the “dog star”, Sirius, which appeared to rise just before the sun in late July. Down here in southern Georgia, it gets hotter than a set of jumper cables at a backwoods funeral. We're used to it though. Life goes on.
Most school systems nowadays start the school year in early August. In my high school days, we didn't go back until after Labor Day. So, the dog days of August was spent getting in a last minute vacation at Fernandina Beach, Florida—floating effortlessly down the cool, brown water of the Satilla River—or lounging lazily while listening to Eric Burdon and the Animal's album, Winds of Change—unless you were on the football team or in the marching band.
I was in the latter as a snare drummer. Upon entering the ninth grade in 1967, I had to make a decision as to what my elective course would be—Physical Education, Chorus, or Band. I had spent a year and a half at Monroe Junior High in Tampa, Florida, dressing out daily for P.E., exercising, showering, and returning to class—I was done with that. Chorus? As far as I was concerned, I wasn't a singer and was way too bashful to open my mouth in a crowd.
That left Band. I chose the snare drum and learned to beat the thing properly under the tutelage of first-year band director, Jon R. Boles. My classmates that freshman year were Eston Dukes and Joe Fleming, tryin' their damnedest to learn the trumpet—Grady Herndon on clarinet—my future college roommate Robbin King and Debra Herrington on sax—and Kenny Smith, already a local drummer in a rock and roll band, who helped me immensely.
As beginning band students, we weren't allowed in the marching band until we mastered our instruments; but, in the final halftime show of the '67 Gator football season, I donned a Mexican poncho and played the daylights out of a cowbell at Memorial Stadium during a performance of “Siboney” (CEE'-BO-NAY), a 1929 classic Cuban song written by Ernesto Lecuona.
August 1968 marked my first “dog days” band camp. The two weeks leading up to the new school year were spent all day—Monday through Friday—putting together the pieces of our debut halftime show.
We would rehearse next to the ninth grade classrooms of “C” Hall in a grass field, learning the mechanics of marching—dress right...dress left...freeze...about face...mark time...left flank...right flank...parade rest...guillotine drill—by the end of the day, we were as tired as dogs.
And of course, with any maneuvers requiring group execution and attention to detail, there were penalties to pay for goofing off—like standing at attention for extended periods or “drop and give me 20 push-ups”.
In the Waycross, Georgia heat, we also learned a few safeguards—as obvious as drinking plenty of water and Gatorade, and as unobvious as not locking your knees while standing at attention at the risk of passing out—a precaution that I've never in my adult life had to resort to.
Jon R. Boles replaced the lovable old Charlie Griffin, who had been at Ware County High since the band's beginning. The old military-style uniforms of gold were as musty and stale as Charlie's leadership was; so, the decision was made to hire a new band director, whose dedication and enthusiasm for the music was exciting and infectious.
When Boles took over as band director, there were about 40 members in the Gator Gold and White Band—by 1971, the band had doubled in size. In 1968, through the support of the Ware County Band Boosters, we purchased brand new uniforms—shako cylindrical military hats with a gold “W” festooned across the front; gold blouses with puffy sleeves; white ascots, white cummerbunds with gold sash around the waist, and white gloves; white high-water pants with black leg stripes accented with gold; and, underneath it all, a pair of white shoes.
The percussion section I marched in was made up of a cast of characters over the years—Frank Hendrix, Steve Harris, William “Bug” Wilson, Terry Chancey, Jake Lee, Hugh Hobbs, Jimmy Duncombe, Janet Chastain, Jimmy Blalock, Alton Musgrove, Frankie Nicastro, and Mike Sowell.
During the early weekends of the 1970 school year, our determined drum crew scoured the neighborhoods of Ware County, collecting empty soda bottles and exchanging them at the local bottlers for enough cash to buy drumheads colored in gold glitter. I'm certain it made us play better.
By my senior year, I had become an avid collector of record albums, one of the favorites being Chicago's second release featuring the hit song, “25 or 6 to 4”. I brought the album to Mr. Boles one day and asked if he would consider scoring the song for the marching band to perform. He did. It was one of our funner songs to play—and it was a lot more current than Ernesto Lecuona's “Siboney”.
Some of my standout memories are marching through the streets of Waycross during the Christmas parade, deftly dodging the lumps of horse shit in my path. The heavy snare drum that was strapped around my shoulder would beat up and down mercilessly against my leg, which was too skinny for any leg rest to fit around. After the parade found me at home, soaking a multi-colored thigh bruise in a bath full of Epsom salts.
Over the summer of '70, leading up to my senior year of high school, I took a job in the Advertising Department of the Waycross Journal-Herald. Working alongside William Bud McCleskey, and under the watchful eyes of J. M. Markey, Hugh Towns, and Morris Johnson, the job required me to give up band camp, after-school rehearsals, and Friday night halftime shows.
I chose a paycheck over band; but, as the “dog days” of August rolled back around, I was missing the joys of gearing up for what would be my final season of football performances.
I hatched a plan to have it both ways; but, I needed the assistance of Graham Dukes, Jr., my senior classmate and drum major of the marching band. He and I had both opted for Early Class our senior year, allowing us to get our school day underway and over with an hour before everyone else.
From 1:30 to 2:30 every day after class, I lined up by myself on the practice field beside “C” Hall, as my buddy Graham walked me through the twists, turns, and fancy formations the band would be performing at the Friday night halftime show. It would've been a bizarre sight for any first year student gazing out the windows of Herbert Harrell's Algebra class—or anybody else watching two seniors counting out footsteps to a silent symphony of brass, woodwinds, flutes, and percussion. Thanks to Graham Dukes, I made it through the entire football season and kept my job as well...at least for a little while.
Had it not been for the December 28th CBS television coverage of the Annual Blue-Gray Football Classic, to which the Gator Gold and White Band was invited to perform, my boss man, Morris Johnson, would have never known I was marching up and down the field at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama that Monday evening.
21st Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival
Advance 3-Day Passes:
Meaningful memories of Graham Dukes, Jr.
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin