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DOT 1105; MAY 1952



With one notable exception we’ve been in something of a rut these last few sides, not only seeing songs that were subpar, but also ones that weren’t actively trying to be much better than that.

This one at least is making an effort to be different, but its differences means it could – and maybe should – be left out of this tally of rock history altogether as it’s a case of a rock act trying their hand at calypso which is a separate genre altogether.

But this is worth looking all the same because it shows rock’s willingness to experiment which is one of its greatest attributes over the years. Furthermore that calypso influence, albeit tweaked and watered down a lot more, would go on to play a fairly sizable role in certain rock styles down the road.

So while this is another track that has no real shot at keeping its head above water, this one might at least prove a little more interesting to delve into.


I Gamble Too
Obviously we need to offer a crash course on calypso that is going to barely skim its surface but is nevertheless required to get our footing before tackling the bastardization of it on this record.

Calypso came from the Caribbean by way of Africa and features a very rhythmic, almost percussive, singing style where the voice is bobbing along carrying the melody but also emphasizing the beats while the drums are focused more on the quirky rhythms.

The style was used in Trinidad and Tobago to comment on sociopolitical movements, often in disguised form making it a true folk art type of music. It’d peak in America with Harry Belafonte in the mid to late 1950’s as one of the many Latin American “crazes” – mambo, rhumba, even tangentially the exotica movement – that the industry hoped would negate rock ‘n’ roll’s growing influence on popular culture.

While it failed to make much of a dent in rock’s popularity, it managed to claim a sizable album-oriented audience for a few years. Though it never disappeared after that it also never really progressed, remaining largely a fixed image that retains its appeal as something distant – in both time and place – yet benignly enjoyable.

As stated though, it DID have some influence on rock ‘n’ roll, first with some Calypso related songs by Mickey & Sylvia and even some early Motown tracks which tried to distill the percussive aspects and essentially came up with something distantly related at best, though their 1962 era tracks are often referred to as such to this day. The closest rock style drawing from it, not surprisingly, came from Jamaica with a form called mento which led directly into ska and through that rocksteady and reggae.

American pop had already toyed with it a little by the time The Griffin Brothers introduced it to rock audiences with Stay Away From The Horses which is more or less a straight calypso song, or wants to be, which of course means it’s bound to be offensive as Buddy Griffin tries to pretend he’s got an accent to make it sound more authentic.

But cultural appropriation was rampant then and while we don’t excuse it by any means, we’ll try to at least listen to the rest of it with an open mind before we wind up criticizing the end results anyway.


That Darn Old Horse Will Come In All Wet
The first thing you might notice before even playing the song is who wrote it.

Margie Day. Their primary singer who pointedly doesn’t sing on this.

Frankly I’m not at all surprised. Considering The Griffin Brothers got credit for being the lead artist on her songs it could be this was an insidious form of payback by her, ensuring they’d have a tune that would do them no favors as artists.

Then again, her efforts aren’t terrible, for at least the structure of the song comes right from the calypso playbook, though the horns do have more of a mento flavor to them, but the crotcheting rhythm played on blocks gives this a funky little vibe and Griffin at least hits the right vocal pattern to give it a faint air of legitimacy.

So too does the story in some respects as Stay Away From The Horses serves as a warning against gambling and if you want to read more into it you can probably make the case that they’re suggesting the races are fixed by the government or other powers that be, or simply that the gambling syndicate goes unpunished while the poor man pays dearly for their vices.

In all of those respects this will suffice. It’s hardly expertly done, but it’s competent in all of those departments. Where it falls short of course is in the overall performance. Buddy Griffin is not the best singer to begin with and his faux island accent, which is obviously in poor taste, fades in and out as if he forgets to use it unless somebody nudges him as the tapes roll. His futile attempts reach their nadir each time he throws in the words “Mah-nn” and “de” which makes even the most forgiving of listeners cringe with discomfort at the caricature he’s presenting.

The band fares a little better and shows they were just as capable of replicating non-native sounds as they were the styles of America, but because of this it’s too far from rock’s core attributes to connect.

Even the lesson being conveyed, while certainly advisable in a broader sense – putting your hard earned dough on a bet over which you have no control of the outcome is a risky venture – contains no deeper truths, no ironic twists and no humorous outcomes. Actually his attempts at getting laughs is the worst aspect of this by far, mocking the intelligence of the role played by Griffin by using demeaning stereotypes.

So in the end about the only thing you can give begrudging credit for is the concept itself while finding everything else to be rather suspect and not too appealing no matter your point of origin.


You’re Broke As Can Be
Rock ‘n’ roll is the ultimate mongrel music, its DNA stretches across the spectrum and it steals more brazenly than any character found in Oliver Twist.

But whereas other genres have had poor success with trying that same tactic, rock has more or less succeeded with it because of how it twists and perverts its sources to fit into a pre-existing musical format.

To use another theft analogy, rock isn’t stealing cars and simply repainting them and driving them off “as is”, they’re stripping them down for parts and using those to trick out their own hot rods, thereby ensuring the model remains their own.

The reason why Stay Away From The Horses fails is because they don’t do that at all, instead they try to appropriate calypso wholesale and pass it off as their own.

Because The Griffin Brothers band is not well versed in this music they can only imitate, not add anything of value to it and because Buddy Griffin is from Virginia he’s going to sound stupid pretending to be from a country he’s likely never even step foot in.

Still, we’re not angry about it as much as we are bemused by their attempt and wonder whether they were legitimately intrigued by the sounds of calypso and wanted to experiment with it for artistic reasons, or if they were desperately looking for a way to be noticed and latched onto it for commercial reasons.

Either way though our advice is the same. If as a listener you’re actually curious about calypso music, stick with the real thing. If you’re the artists in question, stick with what you’re good at which is pure unfiltered American rock ‘n’ roll.


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