Sunday, February 28, 2010

Move Over, Tommy Johnson

Shirley Griffith- Mississippi Blues

"When I mention Shirley Griffith to anyone, I invariably get the same two questions – he’s a man and his name is Shirley? and Shirley Griffith who? Yes to the first question and I’ll spend the rest of this post explaining the latter. In short Shirley Griffith was a deeply expressive singer and guitarist who learned first hand from Tommy Johnson as a teenager in Mississippi. Griffith missed his opportunity to record as a young man but recorded three superb albums: Indiana Ave. Blues (1964, with partner J.T. Adams), Saturday Blues (1965) and Mississippi Blues (1973). The fact that all three albums are out of print goes a ways in understanding why Griffith remains so little known. He also didn’t benefit all that much from the renewed blues interest of the 1960s; he never achieving the acclaim of late discovered artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell, the critical appreciation of a Robert Pete Williams or the excitement surrounding rediscovered legends like Son House, Skip James or Mississippi John Hurt. He did achieve modest notice touring clubs with Yank Rachell in 1968, performed at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 and appeared at the Notre Dame Blues Festival in South Bend, Indiana in 1971. Griffith passed away in 1974.

Born in 1907 near Brandon, Mississippi, Griffith was certainly old enough to have made records in the 1920s and '30s and in fact had at least two opportunities to do so. In 1928, his friend and mentor, Tommy Johnson, offered to help him get started, but, by his own account, he was too “wild and reckless” in those days. In 1928, he moved to Indianapolis where he became friendly with Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. In 1935, Carr offered to take Griffith to New York for a recording session but Carr died suddenly and the trip was never made. It was Art Rosenbaum who was responsible for getting Griffith on record and who also precipitated the comeback of Scrapper Blackwell. Rosenbaum produced Griffith’s Bluesville albums. “I recall one August afternoon”, he wrote in the notes to Saturday Blues, “shortly after these recordings were made; Shirley sat in Scrapper Blackwell’s furnished room singing the Bye Bye Blues with such intensity that everyone present was deeply moved, though they had all heard him sing it many times before. Scrapper was playing , too, and the little room swelled with sound. When they finished there was a moment of awkward silence. Finally Shirley smiled and said: ‘The blues’ll kill you. And make you live, too.’”"

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Anonymous said...


one of my absolute faves, thanks to your blog.

Anonymous said...

thank you for you to make me learn more,thank you∩0∩ ........................................

Hard Luck Child said...

You guys are very welcome! Sorry to get back to you so late!

Eppuhki, I actually listened to this disc in its entirety an I really feel that Shirley was under-recorded. He and Bill Williams are two guys that deserved to be recorded more!

unitstructure said...

Thanks.How did you every hear of him? Subtle guitar and gorgeous guitar/vocal interplay.

Hard Luck Child said...

Structure, I think I found him on or maybe the Sunday Blues website which the long quote in the post is taken from. He has a beautiful voice!