Tail of the Weak 4.2
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.
Clothes make the man...naked people have little or no influence on society.
—Mark Twain, quoted in More Maxims of Mark. Johnson, 1927
I've heard the opposite—clothes don't make the man; though, it seems, growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, I was exposed to music played by bands made up of musicians who appreciated Samuel Clemens's outlook and took dressing up to a whole new level.
Uniformity in uniforms was the expected route to go since the early days of country, folk, and rock 'n' roll, performed by artists in high school gymnasiums, theaters, and civic centers or at county fairs, hootenannies, and sock hops.
In 1955, one of a handful of groups that ushered in the new sound was Bill Haley and His Comets. Exciting kids to shake, rattle, and roll and leaving grownups to shake their heads, rattle their fusty swords, and roll their skeptical eyes, the group's hit song, “Rock Around the Clock”, was used under the opening credits to the film, Blackboard Jungle.
Haley, a pudgy, moon-eyed front man and unlikely poster boy for rock 'n' roll, began his musical career in the mid-Forties before forming Bill Haley and the Saddlemen in 1949. By then, he'd had plenty of exposure to the fashion styles and wardrobes affected by the country music acts of the times.
Ernest Tubb formed his band, the Texas Troubadours, in February of 1943; and, as was common practice, the lead singer was clothed in a costume that stood out from the regulars in the band behind him. Looking sharp onstage was a requisite for performers across all genres in those days.
I saw it again and again—through the television, on album covers, in magazines —from Buddy Holly and the Crickets and The Kingston Trio to The Four Seasons and The Beach Boys. Then came the lightning bolt from across the Atlantic—The Beatles.
Four years before The Beatles reached their wildly successful perch among the musicians of the world—back when they were playing six hour sets at the Indra in Hamburg, Germany—before Brian Epstein agreed to manage them—they were quite happy in their leather pants, leather jackets, and cowboy boots, priding themselves as the anti-establishment of other uniformed counterparts like Cliff Richard and the Shadows or Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
Brian Epstein, a cultured and well-to-do owner of a successful Liverpool music store, agreed to manage The Beatles in 1962, and set about refining and redefining their stage wardrobe by putting them in matching suits. Any concerns of selling out their art in favor of commercialism were quickly put aside as Epstein guided them into higher paying gigs, a record contract, and worldwide success.
Following the invasion of The Beatles, garage bands sprang up all around small U.S. towns in the U.S., among them, Waycross, Georgia, with bands like The Faux Pas in their matching dashiki shirts and white jeans—The Changing Times in their
psychedelic Nehru jackets—The Henchmen with medieval, ruffled shirts and black capes—Poppa Foxx in white, double-breasted gangster suits and ties—The Riots, who later became The Royals, simply opted for white shirts, dark slacks, and ties.
Down Home Band with Eddie Middleton, my first experience in a full-time show band, happened in 1975; and I was guided into the world of matching stage attire by former King David and The Slaves alumni, T. Wayne Scarborough and Eddie Middleton, because it was professional and it looked good—at least we thought it did back in the days of polyester and double knit.
We were on the road, six nights a week; and our wardrobe was expansive—not expensive. Many of our outfits were bought in Valdosta, Georgia at the Flye Shop and Famous Store on Ashley Street. We had blue pants that alternated with light blue or white shirts—peach pants with tan or multicolored polyester shirts—blue pinstripe jump suits—blue-checkered, gauze shirts underneath tight, white, gonad-killing overalls—and our comfortable, safari-looking ensemble we called the jungle suit.
Prior to seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, I used to watch the country music shows on Saturday evening television—a nonstop lineup featuring Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, and Porter Wagoner and the Wagoneers, and Jimmy Dean. We didn't own a color set until 1969; but, you could see those sequin and rhinestone-studded outfits twinkling and wreaking havoc on our little black and white TV screen.
Gram Parsons, formerly Ingram Cecil Connor III of Waycross, watched those old shows as well. It didn't take long before he altered the musical and fashion land-scape of southern California. After joining and dropping out of The Byrds, he put together The Flying Burrito Brothers, with Chris Hillman, Chris Ethridge, and Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
In the late 60s, prior to the recording of the Burritos' debut album, Gilded Palace of Sin, Gram took the band to the workshop of renowned Western-wear designer, Nudie Cohn, for band outfits. Nudie and his staff did not disappoint—the resulting outfits being four of the most-dazzling and celebrated suits of the early Cosmic American Soul Music movement.
Labeled the “Sistine Chapel ceiling of cowboy attire” by John Robinson of The Guardian, Gram's Nudie suit was made of white cavalry twill, the jacket lapels embroidered with naked ladies, rhinestone-studded marijuana leaves, sequin-dotted poppies, Tuinal and Seconal capsules, and acid-laced sugar cubes on the sleeves.
On the back of his jacket was a giant red cross casting off gleaming rays of blue, yellow, and red, interspersed with rhinestones. The front and rear pockets of his pants boasted more red poppies; and the legs were embellished with flames that crept down the sides all the way to his bell-bottoms.
Gram Parsons, like all those groups who came before and some who came after, knew the importance of a good-looking stage outfit. Parsons summed it up for entertainers everywhere when he said, “Just because we wear sequined suits doesn't mean we think we're great. It means we think sequins are great.”
Mark Twain couldn't have said it better.
Tails of the Weak: From Doghill to Tripoli and Back https://www.amazon.com/Tails-Weak-Doghill-Tripoli-Back/dp/1938436636
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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