Tail of the Weak 3.49
Updated: Jan 28
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've said it before; but it bears repeating. Waycross, Georgia songwriters have a unique 'something' that sets them apart from others. It's not that I think we're better than anyone else. I don't quite know what it is; but, I can tell you when I hear it. In 2003, Nashville photographer, Jimmy Stratton, called it 'something in the water'.
Way back in the mid-Sixties, Jimmy Walker, local songwriter and former manager of the Okefenokee Swamp Park, penned and released “Obediah”—a song about Obediah Barber, true to life King of the Swamp—and we all marveled at the little 45 rpm record written by a man from Waycross.
His musical buddy from Nashville, the legendary guitarist, Chet Atkins, wrote the liner notes for Walker's accompanying album, Swamp Country, released on Swamper Records. Says Chet:
“One of the most colorful places in our country is the Okefenokee Swamp in Waycross, Georgia and part of that color is a swamp rat by the name of Jimmy Walker. He has been a friend of mine for years and a handy man to have around during an alligator attack.”
Though his musical output was shortened due to his untimely death in 1973, Gram Parsons lived the first 12 years of his life in Waycross. Known back then as Ingram Cecil Connor III, some of his songs bear the imagery of his childhood home, most noticeably “Hickory Wind” and “A Song for You”.
Arguably his finest writing was in the late 60s with fellow Flying Burrito Brother, Chris Hillman, as they prepared to go into the studio to record the landmark album, Gilded Palace of Sin. “Sin City”, “Wheels”, and the painfully personal “Hot Burrito #1” were ahead of their time, combining elements of country music and rock 'n' roll and ushering in a sound that altered the musical landscape a few years later.
The poignant “$1000 Wedding” from Grievous Angel, his second and last solo album before he passed away, is a stunning piece of songwriting as he weaves autobiographical references of his own wedding-that-never-happened to Nancy Ross—esoteric overtones pertaining to the drowning death of Rolling Stone, Brian Jones—and childhood memories of Reverend William Brace, preacher at Waycross's Grace Episcopal Church, where Gram and his family attended Sunday services.
After discovering the music of Parsons a mere three months before his untimely death, Waycross songwriter and GP historian, Billy Ray Herrin cracked open the door to the song publishing offices of Atlanta's Bill Lowery in the late Eighties with two songs, “Georgia's My Home” and “Special Friend”.
Billy Ray invited me to join him in co-writing and we landed several more publishing contracts with the Lowery Group in the years that followed. After Mr. Lowery's death in 2004, his diverse catalog—which included “Young Love” (Sonny James), “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” (Joe South), “Mr. Moonlight” (The Beatles), “I've Been Hurt (The Tams)—was sold to Sony/Tree Publishing in Nashville, then again recently to Los Angeles-based Bicycle Publishing Company, where our songs lie in waiting to be recorded by some unsuspecting artist thereby making me and Billy Ray rich beyond our dreams. They better hurry.
A couple more Waycross songwriters gained entry into the offices of the Lowery Group after Billy Ray opened the door. Bill and John Randall Smith made it past the bottom floor entrance of Lowery's no-nonsense associate, “Cotton” Carrier, who screened the songs as they entered the building. If you impressed “Cotton”, you were sure to see the big man, Bill Lowery, in his upstairs office. After some “Cotton” impressing, Bill and John landed song publishing contracts on four of their originals—“Sweet Tooth”, “Way Back Then”, “Hang in There”, and “Fountain of Youth”.
A decade had passed since our publishing successes with the Lowery Group, when yet a new generation of Waycross songwriting talent began to take hold.
My nephew, Gram Griffin—Sean Clark—Billy Ray's son, Jesse Herrin—and my son, Connor Griffin, had been raised in the recording studios where we cut our song demos in the 90s. They had grown up listening to the sounds of Gram Parsons, Hank, Sr., Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles. Now, it was they who had something musically to say.
Gram, Sean, and I were part of a Waycross songwriting project in 2003 resulting in a dark, compelling Americana concept album—The Newfanglers' Blood in the Pines: The Story of Hollis Sheppard—based on a true story from the South featuring feudin' families, wife beatin', ass whippin', and murder.
Two years ago, Jesse Herrin released a CD of his songs aptly titled, Hauntings. One listen and you'll hear the Waycross sound. Connor invited me to a recording session at Full Moon Studio in Watkinsville, Georgia, where he was putting the finishing touches on “There's Still a Light”, the first song scheduled for his as-yet-to-be-released original debut CD, featuring Athens steel guitarist, John Neff.
When this second generation of Griffins and Herrins aren't busy writing and recording, you'll find Connor on cajon and Jesse on bass guitar, along with lap steel and harmonica player Jody Perritt, rounding out the popular band, The Pine Box Dwellers, fronted by yet another Waycross singer-songwriter, Sean Clark.
The group was voted by fans the 2018 Georgia Country Band of the Year at a special celebration sponsored by Georgia-Country.com and hosted by The Crazy Bull in Macon, Georgia on November 9.
Sean's songs invoke the very spirit of the Okefenokee—desperate and lonely, menacing and visceral, dark and beautiful. His influences are the same as all who came before him. They spring forth from the roots of country, blues, and rock 'n' roll. His music is Waycross railroad trains and Okefenokee swamp water.
I've tried to put my finger on what it is that makes Waycross songwriters and their songs so different. I defer to Sean Clark of The Pine Box Dwellers as he wails in his original, “Something in the Water”.
When that cold, black water finds its way into your vein
You'll never be the same
When that cold, black water finds its way cross through your vein
It just might seal your fate
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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