DOT 1020; DECEMBER 1950



Back for another go-round are rock’s newly emergent resident hot-shots.

The music may be simple, it may even be fairly generic, but nobody ever said that rock ‘n’ roll had to be based on complex formulas for it to be successful.

All you really need is a groove, some catchy riffs and an enthusiasm to get you over the rough spots and The Griffin Brothers qualified in all of those areas.


Filling Out A Session
With the demise of Freedom Records recently there was a void that needed to be filled for the unofficial “best studio band” now that Conrad Johnson’s group that anchored that label’s output was scattered to the wind.

The top contenders for this honor were led by two of the greatest producers rock has ever known. In New Orleans there was Dave Bartholomew’s crew which in time would include some of the most acclaimed sidemen in history, but for now the personnel was still solidifying and though their early returns were more than promising, you might want to wait before handing them the crown.

On the West Coast you had Maxwell Davis overseeing the output of a number of Los Angeles based labels and while his regulars might not be as “regular” as you’d like, sometimes Chuck Norris would play guitar for instance while at other times it was Gene Phillips, the names were all coming from a familiar talent pool anchored by Davis’s own tenor sax which was as good as anybody’s in music.

But if you were looking for a dark horse candidate then it might be wise to consider The Griffin Brothers who’d played on multiple hits in their short time as a studio aggregation, most of it for start-up label Dot out of Gallitin, Tennessee, though the brothers were from Virginia originally.

In addition to backing up the likes of Margie Day, and receiving co-label credit in the process, they’d been getting some instrumental releases of their own, maybe the least of which so far is Griff’s Boogie so this would hardly be the side you’d chose to make the case for them to claim that mythical title.

Yet the reason we chose to lead off this review with that query is because in a short time the original incarnation of the band would be through and three of their best members would be replaced by just two others, both very good in their own right, but like the Davis and Bartholomew outfits, the less continuity you had the more you might question their credentials as a self-contained unit.

So while this record is about as basic as they got, it doesn’t suffer much for that simplicity and as a purely throwaway cut to give them another song in the can before their time was up it still has its charm.


The Boogie’s The Thing
The history of the piano boogie is a long and surprisingly somewhat involved story that is best told elsewhere, but the gist of it is that in need of lively music to blow off steam in turn of the century turpentine camps where women were only a fond memory, a pianist would have the task of entertaining the rowdy masses who came to drink and forget they were procuring turpentine for a living, far away from the warm soft inviting features of the fairer sex.

The better he played the more they whooped it up and the thirstier they got in the process. That would ensure they’d blow their money buying more beer rather than save their earnings to go back home to wife and family, thereby forcing them to stick around to keep working another week or two.

When commercial recordings began to grow in popularity in the 1920’s piano boogies were easy to cut – often not requiring any other instrument to fill out the sound – and always reliable for much the same purpose… to keep a party in full swing. However they were repetitive by nature and beyond getting your blood pumping they didn’t seem to have many other uses and so they were often viewed as merely something to show off the pianist’s dexterity and to – as we said – fill out a session.

In that regard Griff’s Boogie is hardly anything worth getting excited about. Whereas on the top side the horns got most of the attention in a more complex arrangement, here they let Buddy Griffin show off a little while the others provide solid support, an altruistic move every quality band tended to do from time to time, making every member feel (for a brief time at least) that they were a star.

If you’re looking for something more than that you’ll be let down, but if you just want to “get down” without thinking too much about the means with which you’re being driven to dance then this old formula still does the trick.


Eight To The Bar(s)
Though they’re not the focal point of this side of the record, the horns still play a vital part in establishing a melodic thread for Buddy Griffin to ride.

Their lines are reminiscent of a train whistle, long and drawn out coming it seems from a great distance, which might just mean they were positioned further back from the microphones, not a few miles out of town on a lonesome track. But even this isn’t original as the boogie woogie was synonymous with trains on the western frontier from the beginning and were often used as musical motifs in their construction.

Without that horn pattern to ground Griff’s Boogie there wouldn’t be much of a song here though. Even with that there’s still not much of a song, full stop, to delve into.

This isn’t Buddy Griffin’s fault per say, it’s just the nature of the beast. He’s putting on a performance more than he is making a record but without seeing his hands flying across the keyboards, or being swept up in the movement on the dance floor, or even wobbling on your feet reeking of turpentine after your ninth beer of the night, a lot is lost in the translation.

The best moments come early on as his right hand plays a deceptively nimble flourish that leads into the rhythmic chug of his left playing the boogie beat. Once that’s established though we tend to focus more on what that right hand is doing because that’s the only thing providing any variation and he doesn’t miss any of the usual tricks, dropping brief riffs, quirky hooks and repetitive banging on the treble keys into the mix. There’s extensive trilling, heavy syncopation and an abundance of grace notes, but essentially Griffin is just breaking out the techniques without doing much to structure it.

Still, like most good pianists he manages to make it hold together well enough and if it was a live performance rather than a record you’d probably get caught up in it more than you do on wax.

But since this is a record it can’t very well be given a lot of credit for that and so it is nothing more or less than what it set out to be, just a chance to let Buddy cut loose and get another song on the books before eight o’clock rolled around and they hit the bars… no turpentine in sight.


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