DOT 1010; AUGUST 1950

 
 

 

Over rock’s first three years we’ve seen tons of hits coming from countless record labels from all over the country and while certain artists have separated themselves from the pack thanks to their unique individual talents, there were only so many of them to go around, an unfortunate circumstance which left a lot of companies out in the cold.

But if a record label couldn’t be assured of signing a big name, or finding an unknown diamond in the rough, what was in their control to some extent was putting together a solid studio band who could elevate marginal singers to respectable levels and turn good singers into stars while cutting enough tracks on the side under their own auspices to keep a steady supply of product on the shelves.

Maybe the record sales and chart placements wouldn’t always reflect this, but a company with a great house band was almost always guaranteed to have consistently impressive records. The newest label on the block, Dot Records, seemed to have lucked out in this regard when signing the band that would form the cornerstone of their rock sound for the next few years.
 

 

Slide Into It
Most hardcore rock fans would have little trouble compiling a quick list off the top of their head for the greatest musicians on various instruments. Guitar, bass, piano, drums, sax… even harmonica, tambourine and vibraphones would at least have one or two names that immediately jump to mind.

But not trombone.

That’s an instrument that’s relegated in most people’s minds to 1930’s and 40’s swing outfits and college marching bands, not something that left an indelible mark on rock ‘n’ roll… at least until Trombone Shorty came along in the 21st Century to show what could be done with it in the right hands.

But long before Shorty made his debut there was one other figure way back near the start of rock who made that instrument a focal point as one half of the Griffin Brothers, the house band for Dot Records and recording stars themselves for a few years.

While pianist Buddy Griffin took on the more common role in a rock band of establishing the rhythm, his younger brother Jimmy played the trombone which helped form their riffs and together – and with an equally stellar band behind them – they made a lot of noise playing in their home state of Virginia and nearby Washington D.C.

Somehow they got the chance to back up Roy Brown in the studio and for their debut on wax merely helped contribute to his #1 hit Hard Luck Blues. For some reason the usually astute Syd Nathan and Henry Glover were uninterested, unwilling or unable to sign their top notch band to the King/DeLuxe roster leaving them free to be snatched up later in the year by a new label operating out of Tennessee.

Having recently started working with fellow Virginian, singer Margie Day, the package deal turned fledgling Dot Records into an immediate player in the national rock scene as both sides of their debut – Street Walkin’ Daddy featuring Day’s suggestive and power packed vocals, and the “anything but a throwaway” instrumental Riffin’ With Griffin both stirred action on their own, the top side being a national hit while this was a regional hit in its own right.

With the subsequent addition of male vocalist Tommy Brown out of Atlanta to their revue, the Griffin’ Brothers outfit essentially bankrolled Dot Records their first year or so in business on their way to becoming one of the most commercially successful independent record labels of the era.

Maybe because one of them was a trombonist they’ve rarely been afford much credit for this, but from the very start they showed they had what it took to be stars in their own right.
 

Hit The Riff
Despite their roles as the leaders of the band, the Griffin brothers are wise enough to know just what is expected out of a rock instrumental and they don’t shortchange those elements simply to feature more of themselves.

Buddy actually gets a good deal of the spotlight during the first third of the record, his pounding piano setting the rhythm helped by some real basic, but very solid, work from drummer Nab Shields establishing the back beat.

It’s a mid-tempo romp, sticking firmly to its groove while allowing for horns to rise and fall in unison before stepping back out to let the rhythm section work.

The highlight of Riffin’ With Griffin, and indeed most rock instrumentals, is the tenor sax solo, played here by Virgil Wilson. It’s not very long, just about 35 seconds, the first ten of which finds him just repeating the same note to establish the drive before riffing away for awhile until he starts squealing towards the end.

He’s hardly rewriting the game plan on these sorts of things, but then again why would you need to when the basic outline remains so formidable. He’s got a great tone, good breath control and never once deviates from the main purpose which is to get your ass moving and shoulders grooving and with Buddy’s piano taking on a more forceful role behind him the mid-section of the song packs the greatest punch of the record.

But this IS a full band performance and if a trombone solo is what you’ve been waiting for, well, you’re in luck, because coming out of Wilson’s sax workout we get to see Jimmy in action. Naturally this is a lot more subdued than what preceded it, but that works well in the arrangement, sort of the parachute ride back down to solid ground after soaring in the clouds with the tenor sax blasting off, and Jimmy Griffin definitely plays well and is accentuating the subtle rhythmic qualities of this somewhat unwieldy horn. Considering how often we’ve railed against wayward trumpeters and other non-rock brass, Griffin makes sure we won’t be dreading the appearance of trombones in the future as long as they’re played as efficiently as this.

It all wraps up nicely with Buddy sliding back behind the wheel, pounding away while the others fall in behind him, switching places down the stretch as Buddy answers the horns whereas it started with the horns answering him. Even the fade with Jimmy drawing out a note on trombone is a nice touch that gives you some idea that these guys worked well together and didn’t seem to have any star egos to have to try and assuage.
 

 
Beside The Point
All in all this is a perfect B-side for a number of reasons, the first of which was it gave The Griffin Brothers a chance to get some credit for their role rather than simply being the largely anonymous backers of Day whose vocal on the top side was obviously the centerpiece of that record.

Even the title itself, Riffin’ With Griffin, acts as a selling point for the band and their leaders while also saving other Day vocals for later singles rather than “wasting” one on the flip of a surefire hit.

That this side also connected with listeners – hitting the Top Five in Savannah – only sweetens the pot for the group and heads off any thought that a singer or record label might have that they were expendable.

Though this record might not be anything more than just a good rock instrumental cut, that’s more than enough for their needs at this juncture.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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