Tail of the Weak 3.37
Updated: Jan 25, 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.
From the time I was old enough to utter the word, Hank—I was listening to the haunting sounds of the King of Country on my daddy's record player. Daddy had a varied collection—Vic Damone, Guy Lombardo, Patti Page—but it was his country music records that still resonate in my mind and heart all these years later.
Johnny Cash's “Five Feet High and Rising”—Johnny Horton's “Squaws Along the Yukon”—Webb Pierce's “Tupelo County Jail”—each and every one of Hank Sr.'s full-length albums—and Ernest Tubb and Red Foley's cartoon-covered LP, Red and Ernie, where I first heard the beautiful Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter lament, “Goodnight, Irene”.
That album reminds me of the late 80s, when my daddy, Joseph R. Griffin, along with his buddies, Roe Lee, Charles Mathews, and Elmer Shedd, called themselves the Real Good Friends—Neb, Nugene, Newt, and Nub—and used to dress up in fine Hee-Haw fashion, strap on guitars, and mime the lyrics from Red and Ernie to the delight of audiences young and old at church functions and civic club meetings around Waycross.
But, the most-hallowed record that really got me in the cajones at such an early age was Marty Robbins's “El Paso”, a lovely, lilting cowboy song with Spanish guitar
and beautiful harmonies. I would lie for hours in front of the Telefunken stereo cabinet listening over and over to the cinematic lyrics and the exquisite vocals of Robbins and the Glaser Brothers. To say I couldn't get enough was putting it mildly.
Back in the day, Holiday Beach Lake outside Douglas, Georgia began hosting concerts featuring country music greats—Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Alabama, Charley Pride, and Tammy Wynette, who split her skintight blue britches midway through her set, only to come back victoriously in an identical pair colored red. I surprised Daddy on his birthday with tickets to see Marty Robbins at Holiday Beach in the early 80s. The concert meant as much to me as it did to my daddy.
I've scoured back through the family's ancestry to try and find a relative who played music, but always came up short. I do recall seeing a beautiful blonde acoustic guitar sitting high atop a chiffarobe in Grandma and Graddaddy Carter's farmhouse bedroom—and on rare occasion, Daddy would cradle it and pick out the notes of “You Are My Sunshine”.
I'm convinced the two things that inspired me to learn to play the guitar and join a band were The Beatles and an easy to say, but difficult to spell, 10-letter word from Germany—Telefunken—on which I listened to the records belonging to my father.
Right out of high school, I attempted to pull one over on Daddy and played a gig at the Waycross VFW with Billy Ray Herrin and Jake Lee. The Saturday night gig was a success; but, by Sunday afternoon, Daddy had figured it all out and we stood outside by the backyard clothesline as I heard him say, “No son of mine will play music in a juke joint!”
Five years later, my family came to see me play in Down Home with Eddie Middleton at Valdosta, Georgia's premier nightclub, the King of the Road. Daddy, Mama, and my younger sister, Deb sat on the upper dining level listening to our dinner set, filled with songs by The Eagles, Poco, America, and Loggins and Messina.
Our lead singer, Eddie Middleton, came out next, offering up the vocal stylings of Brook Benton, Tom Jones, and Freddy Fender. That evening, Eddie Middleton dedicated a song to my daddy by the Atlanta Rhythm Section called “Jukin'/ San Antonio Rose”, during which Joe Shear and I played twin-harmony guitar leads made famous by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
After I became a father to a son in 1993, Daddy would bounce little Connor on his knee and sing to him two songs—“Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me”, an old 1860s folk song, and “The Animal Fair”, which no doubt he had heard in 1948 on a Tex Ritter 78 rpm record album, Songs For Children.
Oh, I went to the Animal Fair—the birds and the beasts were there
The ol' baboon by the light of the moon was combin' his auburn hair
The monkey he got drunk—and he sat on the elephant's trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell to his knees and that was the end of the monk,
To be a daddy is a wonderful thing. To have a daddy who instilled in you the music of his heroes—who raised you to know the difference between right and wrong—who was there for you in difficult times—who you can still pick up the phone and call—is a blessing beyond blessings.
Happy 91st birthday, Daddy!
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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