Tail of the Weak 3.47
Updated: Jan 28, 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.
When I threw the 1st Annual Griffin Guitar Pull in my backyard the weekend following Thanksgiving 1998, I had no idea it would turn into a popular, little outdoor music festival 21 years later, paying tribute to the musical legacy of Waycross, Georgia's hometown boy, Gram Parsons.
Over those two decades, I've booked some legendary artists who either inspired Parsons or were inspired by his musical vision. In 2002, the first year we opened up the event to the public, the Guitar Pull was held on November 30 from 4 pm until midnight at local honky tonk, Little Knights, featuring The Brooklyn Cowboys with Walter Egan.
Walter Egan's name may ring a bell to folks who listened religiously to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 radio show in the late Seventies. Egan's “Magnet and Steel” spent 22 weeks on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, making it into the Top Ten in 1978.
Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham played, sang background vocals, and co-produced the record, with Richard Dashut, producer of Fleetwood Mac's records.
But what is his relativity to Gram Parsons? Well, according to Egan, when Gram and Emmylou Harris met each other for the first time, they sang together in Egan's Washington, D. C. apartment. Acting on a tip from his former Burrito Brothers bandmate, Chris Hillman, Gram flew across the country to hear Emmylou perform in a tiny club called Clyde's in D. C.
They sang several songs together at Egan's, their voices blending in heavenly harmony; and, Gram asked her to sing on his debut solo record, GP. Egan also contributed an original song—“Hearts on Fire”—on Parsons's follow-up album, Grievous Angel.
Through local Parsons historian and songwriter, Billy Ray Herrin, I was able to contract Walter Egan and The Brooklyn Cowboys for the 5th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull.
In booking the Cowboys, we gained highly-sought publicity, courtesy of their PR agent, Martha Moore, who was responsible for a news ticker across the bottom of the CNN TV channel and securing a New York Times writer to personally come down and cover the event.
Hired to shoot photos for the article was Jimmy Stratton, Nashville photographer, who was immediately taken with the Waycross music scene and has played a role in publicizing local artists since 2002.
Also booked for the evening was Auburndale, Florida's Jon Corneal, drummer behind Gram Parsons since their teen band, The Legends. Corneal also played on The International Submarine Band's Safe at Home—on an outtake of “Lazy Days” which was not included on the original Sweetheart of the Rodeo album by The Byrds but added to subsequent box sets of the release —and on nearly half of the Flying Burrito Brothers' Gilded Palace of Sin.
Getting the festivities off the ground was my firstborn nephew and GP namesake, Gram Griffin, singing Merle Haggard's “Life in Prison”, followed by my daughter, Megan Griffin Stewart, giving her best on “In My Hour of Darkness”. Chris Rider joined me and Gram on a medley of songs—“Sin City”, “Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man”, and “The Christian Life”.
The Holy Smokes of Saint Simons Island, Georgia featuring Zack Gowen performed “A Song For You”; and, former south Georgia boy from Nashville, Brack Haynes did a splendid rendition of The Rolling Stones' “Dead Flowers”. Waycross band Jack Cadillac, featuring Sean Clark, John Pope, and Brandon Doty, gave emotional readings on several Gram songs, highlighted by “Hot Burrito #1”.
John Davis, original songwriter formerly from Saint Mary's, Georgia and lead guitarist for Waycross 70s bands, Sugarcane and Space Gnome, contributed several of his fine, self-penned songs; and, Greg Hester brought the house down with his beautiful, Van Morrison-like take on the soulful Parsons/Chris Ethridge song, “She”.
Jon Corneal spent the next hour in front of the drums with a guitar strapped around his neck doing everything from Johnny Cash to Roy Orbison. I erred when I introduced him as being from Winter Haven and was quickly corrected as he stepped to the mic—“Auburndale! Auburndale!”, he chided.
Accompanying Walter Egan and The Brooklyn Cowboys on vocals was lovely, Nashville singer-songwriter, Lona Heins, who performed “The Last Whipoorwill”, title song from The Gram Parsons Notebook, a project initiated by former International Submarine Band guitar player, John Nuese, with the help of songwriter, Mike Ward.
Backing Lona on fiddle and vocals was John Pennebaker, guitarist in Delbert McClinton's band—Tony Cason on B-Bender electric guitar—John Randall Smith on drums and harmonies—Steve Glisson on bass—and myself on acoustic guitar.
Waycross's exclusive GP tribute band, Hickory Wind—Tony Cason, Steve Glisson, Billy Ray Herrin, Bill and John Randall Smith, and myself—flew through several Gram tunes, winding up with a foot-stompin' version of “Ooh Las Vegas”, featuring one more time, the B-Bender guitar skills of Blackshear, Georgia's Tony Cason.
Walter Egan and The Brooklyn Cowboys ran the rest of the evening all the way to midnight, when musicians and fans gathered again at my home just a few miles up the road for the after party. It was a surreal sight for me as I strolled through the house. Friends, neighbors, musicians, and GP fans stretched from the living room to the dining room and up and down the staircase.
In the laundry room, I found Walter Egan sitting on the clothes dryer as New York Times reporter, Neil Strauss, interviewed him. In the kitchen, parked at the counter was Auburndale, Florida's hungry, country-rock drummer, Jon Corneal, lording over the leftover turkey from our Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. He was as talented with the fork and knife as he was on all those pivotal albums he drummed on in the late Sixties.
As Sunday morning started coming down harder and harder, everybody began to slowly trickle off into the Waycross shadows, heavy with Gram's spirit. I drove Jon Corneal to his motel room at the Heritage Inn, thanked him, and wished him a happy Thanksgiving.
On my way home, I had in mind a before bedtime snack—a cold glass of milk and a nice turkey sandwich slathered with mayonnaise on white bread. There on the kitchen counter was the bony carcass of a once proud bird and all I could think of was, 'Auburndale! Auburndale!'—the home of Jon Corneal, talented drummer
who could wield a drumstick equally as good as he could eat one.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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