Tail of the Weak 4.33
Updated: Jan 26, 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.
Down Home Band with Eddie Middleton was glad to be back in Panama City at the Sheraton on the Beach. It was our fourth time returning to the lively nightclub on the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida.
Tuesday afternoon found the band—myself on rhythm guitar, Joe Shear on lead guitar, John Randall Smith on drums, T. Wayne Scarborough on bass guitar, Ricky Alderman on keyboards, and Eddie on lead vocals—rehearsing on stage in the empty lounge.
We were midway through our practice session—probably learning Marvin Gaye's funky new number, “Got to Give It Up”—when somebody interrupted us with the news that Elvis Presley was dead. The day was August 16, 1977.
John Lennon was famously quoted as saying that “Elvis died the day he joined the Army”. A huge early-Elvis fan, he was simply stating the obvious—that the spirited and rebellious rockabilly cat from Memphis, Tennessee was a former shadow of himself—and Lennon no longer cared for the watered-down, Hollywood movie songs that continued to make Elvis a fortune.
As kids, me and my older brother, Gary, owned one of the first soundtrack albums from an Elvis movie, King Creole. We also attended just about every Big “E” B-movie made that was shown at the Ritz and Lyric theaters in downtown Waycross, Georgia.
By the time I was playing in a nightclub band during the mid-Seventies, I'd come to regard Elvis much like Lennon did—as a sad and overweight caricature of himself.
Despite what John Lennon and I thought, Elvis set the bar in the beginning for future rock and rollers. He kicked open the doors and blazed a trail that no one had been down before.
Elvis's passing was of monumental importance; and, that was not lost on me nor the rest of the Down Home Band. We stopped our rehearsal to discuss how we, as a musical unit, could pay tribute to such an icon.
It was decided that we would put together a medley of his songs—“Suspicious Minds”, “Can't Help Falling in Love”, and “An American Trilogy”—and perform them that night. Written by Mark James, “Suspicious Minds” was Elvis's last number one song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking in 1969.
“Can't Help Falling in Love”—from the album, Blue Hawaii—was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss, using the melody from a popular 1784 French love song, “Plaisir d'amour”, composed by Jean-Paul-Egide Martini, a concert director for Marie Antoinette—who lost her head every time she heard it. The song spent six weeks on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in '61 and was the last song Elvis sang in concert on June 26, 1977.
Mickey Newbury, songwriter and recording artist, arranged and recorded “An American Trilogy” for his '71 concept album, Frisco Mabel Joy, based partly on another of his songs, “San Francisco Mabel Joy”, in which he writes about a Waycross, Georgia farm boy, who hopped a freight train to L.A.
Elvis chose “An American Trilogy”, which used fragments of three 19th-century songs―“Dixie”, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, and “All My Trials” (a Bahamian lullaby)―in January of 1972, performing it at his live concerts and recording it for the film documentary, Elvis on Tour, and Aloha from Hawaii. A dramatic, show-stopping number, it was perfect to end our tribute medley to The King on the night of August 16, 42 years ago.
We worked hard that afternoon, making sure our arrangement was spot-on and our backup harmonies were tight. Eddie Middleton was the consummate front man, a singer well-versed in all the musical genres that a south Georgia boy was exposed to during the 50s and 60s―country, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and beach music. Everywhere we went, audiences responded to his personable, down-home nature and excellent vocals. That Tuesday night in Panama City Beach was no exception.
Some notes were out of Eddie's range; and, as Elvis would sometimes yield the big finish to his backup singers—the Sweet Inspirations or the Stamps Quartet—Eddie would yield to Joe Shear, whose voice was so high he cracked a few Panama City tourist's bifocals that evening when he sang the final “His truth is marching...
I'll have to say that a shiver went down my backbone―my heart jumped up in my throat―and I may have shed a tear or two in that emotional finish. I closed my eyes and―instead of the corpulent, casino-crooning, Colonel Tom Parker crony, I saw Elvis Aron Presley―lookin' lean, lip-curling, and lawless―just like he did on my old album cover of King Creole.
22nd Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival
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Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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