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.

ROBERT CHARLES GRIGGS AS "BOBBY CHARLES" DURING THE 1950s

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.

ALL DRESSED UP AND NOWHERE TO GO

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.

GRIGGS WITH DAUGHTER TEXANNE

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
7. Vhi-Vhamp-Thieu
8. A Sideman Talks to God
9. Keep It Country
10. Birds
11. In L.A.
12. Heartbeats and Death Gasp
13. Country Soul
14. Freak-out Moog
15. Uncle Ned
16. Clint Texas

15 comments:

  1. vinylrippasswordrecord-fiend.blogspot.com

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  2. Looking forward to giving this album a listen. I dig these one-off country albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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  3. There's some confusion here. In the article, he's often mistaken for the Bobby Charles who wrote "See You LAter Alligator".

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  4. Pretty sure that the picture of Bobby Charles from the 50s is the other guy, the one who wrote "See You Later Alligator" and later recorded with The Band.

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  5. Disenchanted sidemen make some really good records..no exception here. See also..Skip Spence,Robert Ward. Nice one fiend.

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  6. @ Ralph & Anonymous,

    I never made any claim that Griggs was the same Bobby Charles who had a hit with "See You Later Alligator." "Bobby Charles" was simply the performing name that he was given when he was on Town Hall Party. For confirmation on this, click the link to the article referenced at the bottom of this post's second paragraph. Or better yet, Google "Sir Robert Charles Griggs," go to his website, read the "Bio" section, and see for yourself. Furthermore, the photos from the 1950s included in this review are indeed Robert Charles Griggs as "Bobby Charles." I know this because they are also posted on his aforementioned website. Google "Bobby Charles," click "Images" in the upper left corner of your screen, and you'll get several photos of the guy who did "See You Later Alligator" as the result. He looks nothing like Griggs, as you will see.

    * * *

    @ Peter & Cody,

    I appreciate your enthusiasm.

    * * *

    RF

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  7. what peter said. plus the presence of pedal steel will make me give most anything a spin. 'see you later alligator'

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  8. After 'while, croc-owl-dile. Pardon the groan-worthy pun, but I just couldn't resist.

    RF

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  9. next time i am at a fast computer i shall grab
    has all the hoped signs of a keeper

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  10. Longtime lurker, first time commenter.

    This album is unbelievable. Given the Nashville environment of 1973 I'm hardly shocked that it vanished without a trace.

    Thanks for a great blog!

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  11. @ Carlyle,

    I'm glad to read that this post got you to come out of your shell. I appreciate the feedback.

    RF

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  12. Great album - as much as I love it when I hear something like this for the first time it's always with a tinge of sadness for the artist. Here's somebody who should have been better known.

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  13. Dick Curless recorded a nice version of "Country Soul" in 1973.

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