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 a little boy staring up at that blonde, acoustic guitar laying on the top of a chifferobe in Grandma and Granddaddy Carter's Hoboken, Georgia, farmhouse bedroom, I should have known that music was going to be a force in my life. Not a whole lot else in life has come close to the magic of making music.
I've bought, sold, and traded a bunch of guitars over the years. From the $60 TEMPO acoustic that I bought in '72 from Harrell's Music Store in Waycross, Georgia to my 2003 Martin DR, I have loved them all.
I first learned to play on that old TEMPO, following along with a Mel Bay chord book and under the watchful eye of my musical friend and Doghill neighbor, Billy Ray Herrin.
It was during a '74 performance at a church coffee house one evening that my guitar strap came loose and the TEMPO fell, hitting the cast iron base of a mic stand. I gently scraped it off the floor and hauled the pieces to Willis Mancil, an older friend of the family and fellow member of Calvary Baptist Church. Like Jesus, Mr. Mancil was a carpenter and a miracle worker; and, before long, I was playing again.
By 1975, I was on the road full-time with Down Home Band and Eddie Middleton. My $280 a week stipend allowed me the luxury of instruments I had only dreamed of owning. My first Martin was a D-35, bought from James Blount, owner of World Hi-Fi, in Waycross's Hatcher Point Mall.
I could never get the beauty to stay in tune; so, I took it to a Martin repairman down in Jacksonville, Florida, who resituated the bridge saddle a micro-milligram further from the sound hole and it sounded perfect. But, I was young and foolish and ended up selling it for something else.
My next acoustic was a 1977 Takamine, a Japanese company that built their guitars using the same techniques as the C. F. Martin Company, who'd been in the guitar-making business since the 1800s in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. I held on to her until 2003, when a night of tequila coupled with sad circumstances led to her waking up in the arms of someone new.
As fate would have it, I was employed at the time by Paul Lee's Crosstown Music, dealer of Martin Guitars. I looked forward to each monthly shipment of new guitars, fondling and caressing each one until I found mine—a Dreadnought Rosewood with a beautiful voice.
I'm as hard on my guitars as I am on my shoes—scuffs, scratches, cracks, and general dumb-assedness has led me on several occasions to Ronnie Griffin, master guitar luthier and third or fourth cousin of mine, for mending and repair. Lucky for me, he gives me the old kinfolk discount.
A couple Saturdays ago, I drove over to Valdosta, Georgia, home of Steel Magnolias, a fine downtown restaurant with a rooftop bar, where I was to play. Outside the entrance, both hands full of equipment, I sat my guitar case on the sidewalk, opening the front door to deposit my amplifier in the foyer.
When I turned around, a party of four folks about my age was holding the door open and handing me my guitar. Jerry Zolten, one of the four, asked me, “That wouldn't happen to be a Martin in your case, would it?” He proceeded to tell me he was in town for a screening of Ballad of the Dreadnought, a short film/documentary detailing the history of the iconic Martin guitar.
After inviting the group to the rooftop, I found that Jerry Zolten—Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, Penn State Altoona—author of Great God A'Mighty! The Dixie Hummingbirds: Celebrating the Rise of Soul Gospel Music—
and producer of albums (Fairfield Four), radio productions (with R. Crumb), and symposiums—had been hired by Martin to help channel their product in this modern age of visual marketing. Thus, the movie, of which he played a part, both in front of and behind the camera.
I was looking forward to playing some originals on my Martin DR for Jerry and friends; but, the Gods of Inclement Weather had other ideas. A heavy downpour interrupted our rooftop reverie, forcing me to play inside, and hastening my new acquaintances to an early exit. Before they left, I gave Jerry a couple of my CDs and he handed me his business card.
Today, as I watched the 38-minute award-winning documentary, I saw Jerry—along with David Crosby, Steve Miller, Roseanne Cash, Del McCoury, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Seth Avett, Roger McGuinn, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Vince Gill—all praising the magic and mystique of the Martin Dreadnought guitar.
It made me feel pretty damn good to be one among the owners.
9th Annual Swamptown Getdown Music and Arts Festival
March 15-16 : Okefenokee Fairgrounds : Waycross, Georgia
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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