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  • Uncle Dave Griffin

Tail of the Weak 3.51

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.

Merry Christmas to all who chance to read this—Tail of the Weak 3.51—just one of the many holiday memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin. And as my disclaimer says, “It might not be very merry; but, it is a vivid memory”.

I've owned a lot of vehicles since crawling behind the wheel legally; and, a great many of them have been vans. Initially, I was attracted to them because they were the flagship automobile of the counterculture—although I was about as far from the counterculture as you could get, growing up in south Georgia.

My first was a red and white Volkswagen bus. It belonged to my brother, Gary, who was transferred to Cornwall, England with the Air Force, leaving it behind for me to make up the remaining payments. In 1973, I sold it to a friend and was carless for about a year until Billy Ray Herrin and I formed Sweetbriar—Waycross, Georgia's first country-rock band.

Sweetbriar, 1974.  L-R: Billy Ray Herrin, Danny Altman, Uncle Dave, Ricky Alderman, Harry Tankersley, and up front Joe Shear.
Sweetbriar, 1974. L-R: Billy Ray Herrin, Danny Altman, Uncle Dave, Ricky Alderman, Harry Tankersley, and up front Joe Shear.

It was vital to have a van as a working musician—to haul around guitars, P. A. systems, amplifiers, and—if you're lucky—a pretty girl. It took a minute, but I did find a pretty girl whose brother happened to be selling his tan and white VW van. Perfect. I removed the back seat benches and it was ideal for the equipment to ride.

That one kept me mobile for a couple years and finally died the death crossing over the Trout River on Lem Turner Road in Jacksonville, Florida, as I was heading to Sonny's Lake Forest Lounge for a week-long gig with the Down Home Band and Eddie Middleton.

The untimely demise of the VW in 1976 led me to a used, yellow Ford cargo van with an inside motor cover that only latched on the passenger side, scalding my bare legs during the summer with excess heat from the engine.

By that time, several members in Down Home were driving vans, station wagons, and trucks—an ample armada of hauling capacity—so, I sold Ol' Yeller and rode with the others.

In November of '77, after having worked as a full-time musician for two years, I bought myself a brand new, gun metal blue Dodge Tradesman from Ed Thomas Motors in Waycross. Ed was a big, genial, bespectacled man and made me a good deal. I drove around in it for about a month before the rear axle transmission gave out with a huge heave. The new car smell hadn't even wore off yet; and, I found myself stranded again.

Ed apologized up and down as it was hauled in for repairs on the day I had to

get myself to the Jacksonville Beach Coliseum for a State Farm Insurance Christmas party. I explained my plight and Ed told me I could have anything I wanted on the used lot out front. My eyes immediately set upon a big, dark blue Cadillac. Says I to Ed, “That's the one I want”. Says Ed to me, “That's the one you're gettin'.”

Down Home Band with Eddie Middleton had enjoyed a busy and successful year in '77. The gigs paid well and they were plentiful—Valdosta, Savannah, Columbus, Tifton, Macon, Augusta, Panama City Beach, Tallahassee, Little Rock, Chattanooga, and Nashville—we were all over the place. Eddie had talked himself into a recording deal with Epic subsidiary, Cleveland International, and was poised to take his career to the next level.

Middleton did all the booking for Down Home and he had us playing for the big insurance company's Christmas dance in the Beach Coliseum. Big venue—big night—big times! And I showed up in a car equal to it all. Our band was set up at one end of the cavernous, round building, playing funk music in matching dark blue pinstripe jumpsuits that zipped up from the crotch to the collar.

Joe Shear, John Randall Smith, and Uncle Dave decked out in blue pinstripe at the Man O' War.  Chattanooga TN, 1977
Joe Shear, John Randall Smith, and Uncle Dave decked out in blue pinstripe at the Man O' War. Chattanooga TN, 1977

Not every State Farm Insurance agent in the state of Florida was hip to The Ohio Players, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and The Commodores; so, like insurance companies are wont to do, they settled—on two different groups for their Christmas party.

At the opposite end of the coliseum was another band—opposite in the music they played and the clothing they wore. As soon as we'd take a break, they'd strike up their band. To use another phrase familiar to insurance businesses—it was easy money for the boys in Down Home.

We partied hard and when the night came to an end, loaded our equipment in everybody's van but mine. I lit out half-lit to Waycross on US 1 North and got as far as Folkston, when all the excitement finally caught up with me. Easing the Caddy into a motel parking lot situated in the triangle where US 1 split into Highway 301 and Highway 23, I found an empty space, laid down in the front seat, and slept.

Early next morning, the south Georgia sun beat through the Cadillac windows. I slowly cracked open my eyes to see two elderly motel patrons—husband and wife—preparing to head on down to sunny Florida for the holidays, staring in at me as if I might be dead—with last night's Quaalude-crusted saliva at the corners of my lips—wearing a blue pinstripe jumpsuit zipped down from the collar to the crotch.

(Please re-read disclaimer in first paragraph)

American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy



Special thanks to Joe Shear for photo of the blue pinstripes.

Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin

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