Pt.3 Remembering Jimmy Griffin
Upon leaving the group Bread in 1974, Jimmy Griffin's longtime career goal of being a solo artist began to manifest itself when he signed with international giant Polydor Records. Recognizing that solo careers were not built in a single day, Griffin prepared to enter still another phase in his ambitious course. Now with a new record label, he hoped to ride a wave of success with a fresh batch of female targeted songs released on his self titled album, "James Griffin."
A second album on Polydor produced even more of his soft rock compositions. Why not? After all, Jimmy Griffin could have written the book on love songs. Griffin would release two fine albums on Polydor yet despite the fact both albums being well produced and marketed globally, the music industry was an unpredictable business. After several single releases from both albums, rational logic seemed nil as Griffin's songs failed to produce the fruit expected from his efforts. For whatever reasons for this lack of chart success, his determination did not waver while his spirit grew stronger. But Griffin's next endeavor would be his boldest undertaking to date with a task far more challenging than just making an new record album.
In spite of Jimmy Griffin's many successful years of living in sunny Los Angeles, by the early 1980's he had decided to move back to his hometown of Memphis, TN. But this valiant move makes you wonder what lured him back to a musical city that seemed to have lost it's luster. Considering STAX Records had recently closed it's doors with many of the area's key players and songwriters having moved out of the area, what could Griffin have been thinking? As with many industries leaders, it's a well-known factor that top-notched professionals need their equivalent to push themselves competitively while having to stay on top of their game. Considering Griffin's storied career as a very accomplished session musician, songwriter and recording artist, this move went against conventional wisdom. Yet looking back, the following thoughts must have played into the picture. By now Griffin had entered into a different phase of his life considering he was presently married and raising two young children. From his years with BREAD he had made sound investments with his royalties while still receiving music publishing residuals. Maybe at the time Griffin just wanted to plant both feet on solid ground and regroup. Perhaps he just wanted his children to be raised in a balanced environment and far removed from the entertainment mecca of Hollywood. You can't blame him for that. It takes a very smart, insightful person to realize when it's time to put the past behind him and move on. Maybe it was time for him to enjoy all the accolades he so richly deserved.
But Griffin wasn't the type to sit on his hands as he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Upon relocating he spent no time resting and immediately began knocking on doors of the area's rich offering of recording studios in search of breeding grounds for a writer's environment. Within a short period, his investigation paid off as he had found an innovative location to hang his creative hat, The Daily Planet - Shoe Recording Studio. Located just three blocks from his residence in the upscale neighborhood of Hyde Park in mid-town Memphis, Griffin was ready to begin a new recording project. At the time, I was operating a promotion and marketing service from the recording facilities to be used for the sessions. It was at that very moment when I first became captured by the power of Griffin's gravitational force. With the top local musicians booked for the occasion, this time Griffin's recording project was paired with another seasoned veteran, the former vocalist and guitarist from The Hollies, Terry Sylvester.
Terry Sylvester was gifted with enormous talent having been a major contributor in the movement known worldwide as The British Invasion with dozens of monster hits by The Hollies. He was also a member of an early Merseybeat pop band, The Swinging Blue Jeans, a British rock group who had the hit, "The Hippy-Hippy-Shake." Sylvester's vocal range complimented Griffin's unique pitch while also being a resourceful songwriter himself. Pictured here are (L-R) Phillip Rauls, Terry Sylvester and Jimmy Griffin while all smiles as the sessions produce an infusion of multiple sounds coming from a smattering of influences. The album titled, "Griffin Slyvester" was well packaged and released internationally on Polydor Records. Yet for some unexplained reasons, at the time the album was not released in the U.S. marketplace. Despite those circumstances, domestic airplay still existed in certain markets. In any event, aside from all the recent changes in Jimmy Griffin's life, changes were indeed a frequent dynamic which took place throughout his career. But it was during this period that even more change would prevail, this time rather unsuspectingly as Griffin would stumble upon the true love in his life. And this all came about as Griffin met his future wife within the confines of these very recording sessions.
Griffin, now in his mid-40's and sounding better every day, releases a single on a small independent Memphis label named SHOE Records with a song titled, "Lonely Girls" B/W "Heartbeat." The plug side was written by reputable writers John Paul Daniel and Swain Schaefer as the song allowed Griffin to continue working while he sorted-out answers to his family matters. Although the song was a local hit and peaked within a few months, it became painfully obvious that Griffin was looking down the road and considering his next move.
Jimmy Griffin's next project was in 1985 when he briefly ventured back to the West coast and teamed-up with ex-Eagles Randy Meisner and vocalist Billy Swan to form the trio named Black Tie. Their effort produced one LP "When The Night Falls" while being produced by T-Bone Burnett. But the album was released on a small label and lacked the marketing muscle of say, an Elektra or Polydor Records, two of Griffin's previous labels. Despite the album going mostly unnoticed, the single from the album titled, "Learning The Game" peaked at #59 on Billboard's country chart.
Griffin's next strategy proved to be a winner when he began pitching his tunes in the modern-day breeding grounds for singer-song writers, Nashville, TN. This was a more likely place for him and his new wife to settle as he felt right at home in this laid-back environment. Here he teamed with singer Rick Yancy and Richard Mainegra to form The Remingtons. Their union produced the noted albums, "Blue Frontier" and "Aim for the Heart" on an RCA distributed label. Their single release "A Long Time Ago" made it into the coveted Top 10 of Billboard's country chart. In 1992 a second single titled, "Two-Timin' Me" broke into the Billboard's Top 20. At last, Jimmy Griffin had found the right fit...both personally and professionally. Plus, he was back on the charts again.
In 1997 there was a BREAD reunion tour which brought members back together again for a swan song. Now in his 50's, Griffin's appearance was as youthful as ever while still being the centerpiece for the band. Plus, he'd never sounded better in his entire life. Rhino Records released a repackaged Best of Bread album that Jimmy Griffin was very proud. He remarked to me that now twenty five years after the band's break-up they were still experiencing chart success and worldwide notoriety. And he was right.
Sadly, on January 11th, 2005, Jimmy Griffin passed away after a six-month battle with cancer. To the very end, he still was writing songs and eagerly following music industry trends.
EDITORS PERSPECTIVE: This is a story that is special to me. It's not often that I want to go down this particular road and recall events while putting together a story of this nature. As you have it, I considered Jimmy Griffin to be a very good friend and it's not easy to write about my friend in the past tense. Plus, it's difficult to summarize his extensive career in only three postings. Sometimes I'm remarked that civic leaders in his own hometown would award accolades to every chittlin-circuit headliner and garage band flame-out while ignoring the scores of accomplishments in Jimmy Griffin's distinguished career. To put in perspective, Jimmy Griffin has been awarded more gold records than some artists have gained mere chart records. Reflecting back to the 80's, Griffin and I traveled together on business trips numerous times. From my perspective, Griffin had a music insider's knowledge with an outsider's understanding. I suspect that he was determined to prove there was life after BREAD. Hell, I would too. And yes, we experienced a few struggles together. We did some soul-searching excercises together as something you'd expect from a person searching for the best avenue of redemption. The music business can have that effect on a person. More recently, Griffin and I talked over the phone when possible. On occasions, we'd correspond through the mail by sending tapes and photographs. I can tell you first hand, Jimmy dearly loved his family and treasured the opportunity of sharing his music with people. That was the kind of person he was. On occasions I could sense an aura of an angelic nature about his presence. He had the combination of God given talent, self-confidence and assurance to see it through. I think the mantra of what Jimmy Griffin lived by was all about wanting to achieve the highest levels of accomplishments. Yet, the question isn't why Griffin would push himself so hard to reach those goals. It's, why not? He's the only person I know who can actually say that they had won an Oscar. That's a remarkable achievement. But he didn't brag about anything or even mention his accomplishments. He wasn't the type to say he was bigger or better than others. He was a very unassuming person and I was deeply honored to be his friend. Jimmy Griffin was the cat's meow.
Pictured in his hotel room in 1984 at The Plaza Hotel in New York, here Jimmy Griffin closes a music publishing deal while relaxing in the open breeze of his window. (c) Phillip Rauls