DOT 1060; JUNE 1951



Usually when a self-contained band back a vocal artist but get an instrumental B-side to show off their wares it’s a throwaway cut of modest interest.

That may in fact what was expected here by everyone involved – the label, the artists themselves and surely the audience listening to it – but in a show of how popular The Griffin Brothers were this side charted as well.

It still may be a throwaway in terms of content, but like most everything else they did around this time it was also a tight energetic workout which allowed the various members of the outfit to show both their individual chops and their cohesiveness as a unit.

Maybe it wasn’t quite deserving of hit status, but it’s hardly something you’d throw away either.


Non-Conformists To The Front Of The Line
For a rock ‘n’ roll band The Griffin Brothers were definitely atypical.

Buddy was a pianist, which of course is a mainstay of rock bands, especially at the time, but brother Jimmy was a trombonist, an instrument that was becoming less common in all music once big band jazz started fading away. With very few exceptions it would never become a prominent instrument in rock.

We’ve seen what happens when an artist who plays an instrument that doesn’t quite work in this style of music attempts to bend the music to fit their ideals rather than the other way around. The Joe Morris or Dave Bartholomew tracks that prominently featured their trumpets for example were usually nowhere near as powerful as their records which deferred to the more appropriate saxophones.

So you’d think that either Jimmy would force his way into songs where they don’t belong, ruining what might otherwise be a decent record, or he’d be compelled to bow out altogether as Bartholomew frequently did, knowing that he was just getting in the way.

On the flip side of this, Tra-La-La, ironically a cover of Bartholomew’s recent release in which Dave cut two versions and shelved the one featuring his trumpet more prominently, Jimmy did indeed sit out for the most part and the performance was better for his absence.

Yet on an instrumental like Hoppin’ it’d hardly make much sense for one of the two leaders of the group to not actually play much on a song that was designed to show what the band as a whole could do… even if what they could do might be negatively impacted by his presence.

But Jimmy Griffin understood this and continually found ways to let his atypical instrument take on a role far more suited for rock.


Horning In On Things
Of course when the horns start this off the “atypical” description fits perfectly because it sounds like few other rock songs we’ve come across and if they were to keep this up you’d dismiss it out of hand.

But that’s just a teaser because soon the horns start riffing away while everything else falls behind it in support. When the tenor steps to the front things take off, the solo going on for quite awhile too, blasting away confidently for nearly a full minute before the others playing that repeating riff with Buddy’s piano hammering away behind them returns for another go-round.

So far you’re won over by Hoppin’. It’s not a scalding rocker by any means, but it’s churning along with admirable purpose at least, seeming fully aware of its job and committed to delivering it with a minimum of fuss… to this point anyway.

The reason we’re still apprehensive about the end result is because we know what’s coming and although we’re curious to see how the trombone will be used, we’re also wary of how it will impact the song.

Surely the betting odds suggest that it will immediately single a huge atmospheric shift for the worse, snapping you right out of the funkier groove they had established and taking you either into a bland nightclub act or worse yet, novelty territory as the accentuate they instrument’s quirkier sounds.

Instead it does neither as Jimmy sticks with replicating the slightly raunchy riffing approach already used. His trombone solo is really well-planned as he’s focusing on achieving sort of a hybrid sound, like a cross between a trumpet without the annoying squeals and an alto saxophone with some of the air let out and to his credit he pulls it off just fine. There’s no point where you cringe at a note that is woefully out of place and while the tone itself may be a little unusual it’s not unrelatable to a rock fan. He sticks within his lane, following the basic course laid out by the sax and when he pulls out with his lone slide it seems perfectly organic.

As a result the record is a triumph of moderation as much as it is playing ability. The only surprise is that Buddy doesn’t get a chance to solo on piano but on the whole this works well as after struggling to find its footing on the very start of the intro it never breaks stride, giving you an “efficient” instrumental rather than one that is trying to knock you out.


Hitting On Something
Ultimately this is a record that tells us a few things about The Griffin Brothers that supports their case as one of the most underrated bands of early rock, even if the record itself is no more than average in the big scheme of things.

The first is their skill as arrangers, coming up with a way to showcase multiple instruments, including one that might otherwise stick out like a sore thumb, and have each section flow naturally into what follows. That sounds simple enough, and in fact seems like it should be a mandatory requirement for the job, but as we’ve seen in the past it’s one that far too many bands – both self-contained and studio sessionists – fail to grasp.

The second thing Hoppin’ reveals is just how good they were at their jobs. Though nothing is designed to blow your mind, everything works just as it should letting each instrument have their say while never getting you to wish whoever was playing would give way to somebody else.

The last – and maybe most important – revelation to come from this unexpected hit was just how popular they were at the time. Because The Griffin Brothers are rarely, if ever, referred to in all of the books, articles and web pages devoted to rock history the impression that you’d get upon coming across their names is that they were either irrelevant or undeserving of the hits they had. Yet it’s becoming obvious they earned the audience’s respect last summer out of the gate and – a few unnecessary pop cover songs aside – have never failed to give them what they want and are being justly rewarded for that.

They were genuine stars, far greater at this time than many big names we’ve come to think of as historically important. The fact that their run of hits was somewhat short-lived and maybe the fact that their biggest records featured one of two singers fronting them, means they’re destined to be overlooked, but they shouldn’t be.

This instrumental might not be the first song you’d reach for when wanting to know why they were such a crucial outfit at the time, but once you DO know the source of their appeal, this sure won’t do anything to negate that image.


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