DOT 1020; DECEMBER 1950



In the waning days of summer Dot Records went from being just one of many insignificant independent record labels that were getting off the ground as of late to becoming a sudden contender in the ever expanding rock ‘n’ roll market when one of their first releases began making waves.

Though the featured performer was actually Margie Day, the secondary credit went to The Griffin Brothers, who were the house band for the new label.

They’d also gotten an instrumental cut on the flip-side, a regional hit in its own right, which showed that they had what it took to ensure Dot’s early success might not be a flash in the pan.

Now they were getting a single all to themselves and Dot Records had to be holding their breath for if it became a hit their happiness over its sales might soon lead to frustration if the band hit the road to earn more money than you were paying them to sit in a studio all day earning paltry session fees for working all day and night.

Lucky for them it didn’t become a hit.


Have Band, Will Travel
By now there should be little doubt that The Griffin Brothers – Jimmy on trombone and Buddy on piano – were leaders of a legitimately good rock band. They’d backed Roy Brown back in the spring on the huge hit Hard Luck Blues and then once Dot Records started they got the label off on the right foot by providing top notch support on Day’s hit Street Walkin’ Daddy, making them two for two in the hits sweepstakes.

Even their own entry, Riffin’ With Griffin, was a wholly acceptable rock instrumental offering showing they could stand on their own without a vocalist fronting them. Maybe most impressively of all was that somehow, despite it seeming not to fit the image rock was creating for itself, Jimmy’s trombone was not a detriment at all to the arrangements, as he was able to use it creatively on whatever style material you wanted.

In fact with the recent decline of the tenor sax, at least as a surefire hit-making sound, maybe there was an opening for another horn to step into its place.

But even if they weren’t to get any hits out of efforts like Blues With A Beat, the experience cutting their own sides was definitely worth the minor expense for the record label as it not only would keep the brothers happy but it’d give them the chance to work out their ideas in the studio, to see what felt right playing and how to whip up excitement without relying on a vocalist to lift the songs.

Of course if you were holding out hope for an instrumental resurgence on the charts, you could do worse than this, a hard driving record with tight arrangement and no shortage of high points.


East By Southeast
Though they were an East Coast unit, there’s a definite New Orleans rocking jazz feel to this at times, largely because of the horn interplay which defines the record as you have Jimmy’s trombone weaving in between the tenor sax of Virgil Wilson and Wilbur Dyer’s alto, all working in tandem yet providing their own distinct features to the melody.

In fact around the one minute mark there’s a vague resemblance to the main melody line of Shirley & Lee’s 1956 cut, That’s What I’ll Do… not enough to invite plagiarism charges by any means, but it does show there’s a slightly deeper New Orleans connection than might be obvious on the surface.

But Blues With A Beat needs no remote association with other artists, cities or eras to sell it, because what it provides is good enough to get a visceral response on its own merits.

Oftentimes instrumentals were nothing more than head arrangements where you’d carve out a few spots for solos and let the musicians work things out on the fly, but this sounds like it was definitely constructed well in advance because of how intricately the pieces fit together and how they all build, peak and crest with pinpoint precision.

Each member of the band gets their moments to shine, from the ensemble riffs that start it to Nab Shields rousing chaotic drum fills and topped off by Wilson’s lusty sax solo that manages to be complimented by the other horns which never let up. At his best Wilson pulls off a nice descending riff before soaring for an ear piercing squeal, always sounding on the verge of anarchy without ever fully ceding control.

With the shouts and hand clapping adding to the festive atmosphere this is a record designed to get you worked up and it succeeds with relative ease. Maybe there’s not a repetitive hook to keep you coming back for more, but while it plays you won’t sit still and it’s all made to sound as if the party is in full swing.


All Night Music
Was all this excitement they generated going to make them stars?

Probably not. If rock ‘n’ roll had shown us one thing over the previous three years it was that excitement was par for the course so for the time being at least Dot Records had nothing to fear. The Griffins would continue to anchor their studio band and ensure that all of their other artists had a good base with which to work from.

But if the vocalists stepped out of the room for a minute there was a good chance when they got back they might not be able to make their way to the microphone because if the band had started playing in their absence then there was going to be a pretty lively bash going on.

Blues With A Beat might not be the most accurate term for what they were doing – then again it’s not too far removed either – but it’s not the title but the sounds contained within that tells you all you need to know about this group.

What this one tells you is at half past two in the morning with the Griffin Brothers leading the charge there’s no signs of slowing down, so tap another keg, crack the windows to let some air in and crank up the volume for another refrain.


(Visit the Artist page of The Griffin Brothers for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)