A reflection on my late friend Paul Griz

In the summer of 1977 we rented a U-Haul truck and summarily up and moved from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville, Tennessee. No job, no nothing. Merely wanted a change, and east Tennessee looked pretty good: beautful country, close to the Smokies, not too far from my in-laws’ NW Alabama farm home, large university (where I would subsequently get my first college degree in 1985 at age 39), decent local music scene (I was a hardscrabble roadhouse bandleader at the time; Cheryl was managing a bar and attending graduate school at Alabama).

We rented a motel room in West Knoxville, bought a paper (no MacAirs and Zillow in those days, lol), and looked in the classifieds for a house to rent. Found a run-down place next to a meadow in South Knoxville (circled in red) up in the woods just below the forested ridge line off West Ford Valley Road (the landlord’s house up on a ridge is noted by the lower right hand rectangle).

Back then there was just a fenced meadow with a small stream running through it and a barn down by the road just across the owner’s driveway where horses were boarded. We would come to call it “Griz Row.” There are a few houses there now in the former meadow down close to West Ford Valley Road.

It was one of three houses the landlord had bought from nearby demolition close to Chapman Highway and moved onto his property to use as rentals. His name was Paul Griz, a local Baptist church music minister. First time I saw him, he was this Elvis big hair pompadour guy wearing polyester slacks, white shoes, and a white patent leather belt.

Lordy.

It was just my bass player Stan and I; we’d left the kids back at the motel with one of the other band guys (Cheryl was still back down in Alabama, working and going to school).

No problem, we quickly did a deal and rented the place. A dump, but cheap, and the bucolic setting was quite nice.

Later, after I brought the kids there and we were moving in, he showed up again, all agitated. Wanted to know “is your wife black?”

My younger daughter is mixed race. “Adopted” at birth. Long story.

“No.” I sort of briefly explained (simplistically and euphemistically) what was none of his business. Hoping I was not about to be evicted on Day One.

He was obviously freaking over what his whitebread redneck neighbors would think. There Goes The Neighborhood.

He left. It was uncomfortable. Swell first day in the new ‘hood. Shit.

A day later he showed back up on the porch. Carrying a large plate of food. His true Christianity had gotten the better of him, and he was chagrined and remorseful and effusively apologetic. Genuinely so.

No Biggie, dude.

We became fast friends.

I subsequently learned he was in remission from melanoma, and could not really work a regular job. He had this rickety-assed, dangerous sawmill up in the woods, where he made locust fence posts and cut lumber on order for other locals, some of whom would drop off big logs hauled in on trucks.

Big, scary 4-foot saw blade powered by an old tractor hooked up to a belt. The u-shaped hinges that held the blade axle down on beams would jerk around loosely. I could just see this thing coming off and cutting someone in half. Like, uh, me…

I’d go up and help him. He would sing church songs in this utterly beautiful baritone voice. He LOVED cutting lumber, and was a great source of conversation. We would talk and laugh for hours. He was a genuinely good man. While he talked of his faith a lot, he never laid any hard-sell preaching on me. Never probed me for my beliefs. Never once pitched me to come to his church.

His melanoma came back eventually and quickly killed him. It was a very sad loss for me. I loved him and his family.

I still shlep around this old 1 x 10 x 4ft cedar board I kept from the stuff we cut. It is a prized possession I will always keep.

I am not “religious” (a Recovered Episcopalian and subsequent Lapsed Unitarian — the ultimate spiritual dilettante). But, I was blessed to come to know someone who exemplified the best of what a “Christian” is supposed to be.

My late friend Paul Griz.

BobbyG, 1977, “the Zappa Years”
Not exactly hillbilly music coming from Griz Row.
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