THE BONZO DOG BAND (2007 Bonus Track Versions) Gorilla (1967), Donut In Granny’s Greenhouse (1968), Keynsham (1969), Tadpoles (1969), Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly (1972), No Matter Who You Vote… (1992), Complete BBC Recordings (2002), Wrestle Poodles… And Win! (2006) & Pour L’Amour Des Chiens (2007)
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Sir Robert Charles Griggs - The Legend of Sir Robert Charles Griggs (Capitol, 1973)
This is one of those albums that I bought without knowing a thing about it or the person who recorded it. The cover photograph simply stuck me as interesting, and I recognized some of the names of the musicians and engineers listed in the liner notes. Although there is a great value to music blogs that allow people to read about and sample obscure LPs before seeking them out for purchase, the gambler in me still enjoys taking a chance on a mystery record and bringing it home to find out what possible musical pleasures await me in its grooves.
When I found this item in the bins of the secondhand record store where I bought it, I immediately wondered about the backstory of this character who bears the title "Sir" and is dressed in an outfit similar to what Dave Mason sports on the cover of Alone Together. Born in smalltown Ohio in 1936, Robert Charles Griggs spent his early youth in Indianapolis before his family relocated to the Los Angeles area in the mid 1940s. His mother and aunt were early musical influences and helped cultivate his love for jazz and country. He made something of a name for himself as a teenage singer-guitarist during the 1950s, which helped earn him a regular spot as "Bobby Charles" (not to be confused with the identically-named singer of "See You Later Alligator" fame) on Town Hall Party, the noted country music radio and television program, from 1955 until 1960. The 1960s found Griggs taking up electric bass and forming his own group with veterans from Bob Wills's Texas Playboys as well as being recruited to play the aforementioned instrument in guitarist Jimmy Bryant's band. Additionally, he spent time working with jazz vibraphonist Bob Harrington, a collaboration that produced the song "Young Man on the Way Up," which was most famously covered by singer Joe Williams in 1967. By the end of the decade, the erstwhile Bob Griggs picked up the "Sir Robert Charles Griggs" appellation from some friends who were fellow songwriters. With this new moniker, he relocated to Nashville during the early 1970s and found work as a studio musician in addition to gigging with local jazz bands. His efforts brought him to the attention of Capitol Records, which released his intriguing first LP, The Legend of Sir Robert Charles Griggs, in 1973. However, commercial success as a solo artist was not in the cards despite his work with luminaries such as George Jones during the 1980s. By the 1990s, Griggs had kicked his drinking habit, reaffirmed his Christian faith, married a woman he had known in high school, and moved back to California. In 2005, Sir Robert was reported working as a custodian for the school district near his current hometown, Hemet. He apparently no longer plays country music and now devotes himself strictly to jazz, as indicated by his self-released CD from 2008, In to Jazz.
The Legend of Sir Robert Charles Griggs is more a country album than anything else, and a delightfully bizarre one at that. With production from Gary S. Paxton and support from musicians like pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake and fiddler Doug Kershaw, it features a more traditional Nashville sound combined with psychedelic touches courtesy of a Moog synthesizer and sound effects. While some people might cringe at the very notion of the latter elements, I feel that they are used judiciously and enhance the performances instead of overwhelming them. Legend can best be appreciated as an artistic statement from a supremely talented sideman whose experiences with the music industry have left him disenchanted, to say the very least. Griggs wrote the impressive lyrics for every song and delivers them with a voice that at times recalls the singing of Gram Parsons or Willie Nelson. "Fabulous Body and Smile," "Keep It Country," and the poignant "Clint Texas" all sound like his observations on the record-making business and country music in general, while "West Coast Billy," "Sing My Old Songs to Somebody New," "A Sideman Talks to God," and "Country Soul" come off as eloquent autobiographical pieces. My favorite cut, "Singing for the Lord" is the LPs hardest-rocking moment and seems to mock those who inordinately profit from performing religious material. "Vhi-Vhamp-Thieu," "In L.A.," and "Uncle Ned" respectively comment on the early 1970s conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia, Griggs's experiences in southern California, and the drug culture of the time. "Cricket Conversation Interlude," "Moogie Woogie," "Birds," "Heartbeats and Death Gasp," and "Freak-out Moog" are brief electronic pieces that serve as bridges in between some of the longer performances.
1. Fabulous Body and Smile
2. West Coast Billy
3. Cricket Conversation Interlude
4. Singing for the Lord
5. Moogie Woogie
6. Sing My Old Songs to Somebody New
8. A Sideman Talks to God
9. Keep It Country
11. In L.A.
12. Heartbeats and Death Gasp
13. Country Soul
14. Freak-out Moog
15. Uncle Ned
16. Clint Texas