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 certainly enjoyed most of the jobs I held while accruing those coveted Social Security earnings that I rely on now that I'm retired. Several of them were customer service jobs—I sold stamps at the front counter of the Waycross Post Office from 1993 to 1998; and, for eight years beginning in 2001, I was a salesman at Paul Lee's Crosstown Music.
The best part about those jobs were the colorful characters that I would come into contact with. Like a black lady named Princess, who would visit the Post Office regularly and would always get my name wrong, calling me Bucky.
Bucky Harrell was another window clerk who worked the front counter at times—and, for the record, we looked nothing alike. I happened to run into Princess at Walmart a couple weeks ago. We chatted for a few minutes; and, as I was pushing my buggy out the door, I heard her call out, “Bye, Bucky”.
A man came into Crosstown Music one day to talk drums with me. Conrad “Windy” Windham is his name; and, he knows no strangers. He moved to Waycross, Georgia in 1971 and, for 33 years, worked for CSX Railroad, the largest employer in town.
He found local work, drumming on the side for a number of bands, including the bluegrass-playing Cox Family, featuring patriarch Hubert Cox—one of the best fiddle players to come out of Georgia—his wife, Lydia, on stand up bass fiddle, and son Marty on acoustic guitar.
Conrad was born in Chickasaw, Alabama—a small town just north of Mobile, where he attended school at Murphy High. While growing up, he befriended a fellow Chickasawan by the name of Ray Sawyer, a hometown singer who fronted several local bands. Sawyer lost his right eye in a car wreck in 1967, opting to wear an eyepatch from that point on. After several years of travel, Sawyer returned to Alabama, formed a band, and was playing at The Carousel in Mobile. Conrad happened to be in the audience one weekend night, when Sawyer—with his good eye—spotted his old Chickasaw buddy and invited him up to drum on a few songs.
One of Sawyer's most-notable groups was The Chocolate Papers—with George Cummings on guitar, Bill Francis on keyboards, Bobby Dominguez, Jimmy Allen,
and Popeye Phillips on drums.
Behind Sawyer's lead vocals, the popular band toured heavily through Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina before settling into a comfortable, good-paying gig as the house band at Gus Stevens Seafood Restaurant and Buccaneer Lounge in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Shortly thereafter, the group disbanded with guitarist Cummings moving to New Jersey, where he hooked up with a young, local musician/singer by the name of Dennis Locorriere—who would later showcase his songwriting, production, and vocal talents on records by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marty Stuart, Olivia Newton-John, and George Jones, to name a few.
Cummings called his old Chocolate Papers bandmates—Ray Sawyer, Billy Francis, and Popeye Phillips—and asked them to rejoin the New Jersey group, whose name had yet to be decided. Before one of their gigs, a club owner told them he needed a name to put on the poster in the window; and, on the spot, Cummings wrote down Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show: Tonic for the Soul.
The group played several years in New Jersey, going through several drummers before settling on John “Jay” David. Their original drummer, Popeye Phillips, left the band and wound up playing on The Gilded Palace of Sin, debut album of The Flying Burrito Brothers—with Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Chris Ethridge, and Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
In 1971, after securing a deal with Clive Davis at Columbia Records, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show released their debut album—with every song written by Shel Silverstein—including their Top Ten hit, “Sylvia's Mother”.
Their next album, Sloppy Seconds, followed the successful template of the first—with 12 songs written by Shel Silverstein. Another Top Ten smash, “The Cover of 'Rolling Stone'”, prophetically landed them on the March 29, 1973 cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
The group switched to the Capitol label in 1975, shortened their name to Dr. Hook, and went on to achieve mainstream success with consecutive pop hits—“Only Sixteen”, “A Little Bit More”, “Sharing the Night Together”, “When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman”, and “Sexy Eyes”.
This 1976 clip from Don Kirshner's Rock Concert shows Dr. Hook as the sweaty, sociable, self-entertaining, sometimes slightly-stoned group that they were, performing a medley of doo-wop rhythm and blues hits that I imagine two young Alabama boys—“Windy” Windham and Ray Sawyer—sat around listening to and singing along with in Chickasaw juke joints.
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Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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