KEN GRIFFIN

 



Born:  December 28, 1909, Columbia, Missouri
Died:  March 11, 1956, Chicago, Illinois.
 

Not only was Ken Griffin the most popular American organist, but also the most popular instrumentalist in America.  His recording of You Can’t Be True, Dear in 1948, swept the country in less than a week.  Although other artists beat this record in later years (Monster Mash in 1962 took three days), Ken was the first to break this record.  You Can’t Be True, Dear sold over 3.5 million copies by the time of his death eight years later.  It became the fastest gold record in history and still has not been exceeded. 

The family moved to Pueblo, Colorado when Ken was very young.  At the age of 12, he began studying the violin and playing with orchestras in Arkansas.  When he was 17, the theatre organ bug bit him when he heard the Mighty Wurlitzer at the Colorado Theatre in Pueblo, Colorado.  With the theatre manager’s permission, Ken went to the theatre after hours and taught himself to play the mighty instrument.  He got so good that in one year, he replaced the staff theatre organist.  Because of sound movies and the Depression, he lost this job in 1930.  For six years, he did odd jobs like wallpapering.  In 1935, the Hammond organ was introduced and the next year he bought a Model A and booked shows in the Midwest United States traveling with that organ. 

In time, he moved to Aurora, Illinois and became staff organist for WMRO-Radio in Aurora, with former Oriental Theatre (Chicago, Illinois) organist Henry Keates as his assistant.  This work was interrupted for two years by Ken’s Army stint during World War II. 

Upon his return to civilian life, he recorded many records, mainly on the Broadcast and Rondo labels.  These are considered Ken’s greatest work.  The famous recording of You Can’t Be True, Dear was on Rondo.  In 1950, he signed a contract with Columbia Records. 

In the early 1950s, he moved to Chicago and was fixture at the Old Heidelberg Restaurant in the Chicago Loop.  He also did shows at the Oriental and Chicago Theatres.  He finally moved to Hyde Park (Chicago) in an apartment overlooking Lake Michigan one mile north of the Museum of Science and Industry. 

He became known as the Jukebox King because his records were available on jukeboxes across the country.  He was heard every day on radio, in amusement parks, skating rinks and home phonographs. 

Ken Griffin played with the melody foremost in his mind.  His right hand was so clear and without fancy frills that you could sing along with it.  His rhythm and timing were metronome perfect with countermelody giving support.  As is true of several other organists as well, he played the old-style Hammond organ in the old-style way, which many people enjoy.  In 1954, he began recording on Wurlitzer organs (still recording on Hammond) and at some point recorded five songs on Conn.  They were Elmer’s Tune, Sunday, Louise, Side by Side and The Blonde Sailor

GOLD RECORDS: 

You Can’t Be True, Dear – 1948.
The Cuckoo Waltz
Love Letters in the Sand
The Bells of St. Mary’s – ten years after he died.

There were one or two more, but I have no information on these. 

Glow Worm and You, You, You were secondary hits, but did not become gold. 

KEN GRIFFIN REGISTRATIONS: 

Standard Organ
Swell:  80 8808 008 (Flute or Tibia 16’, 8’, 4’, 2’, 1’
Great:  00 8865 544 (Flute or Tibia 8’, 4’, Diapason 8’)
Pedal:  75 (16’, 8’, Medium)
Vibrato: V-3 (Full) 

These only give you the right hand; set your own left hand and pedal – 

Novelty Organ
Swell:  88 0000 088 (Flute or Tibia 16’, Quint 5-1/3’, Larigot 1-1/3’, Fife 1’)
Vibrato:  Off, Sometimes V-1 (Off, Sometimes Small or Light) 

Bell Sound
Swell:  00 8000 800 (Flute or Tibia 8’, Tierce 1-3/5’) 

Clarinet
Swell: 00 8080 800 

Foundation 16’
Swell:  88 8800 000 (Trombone 16’)
Vibrato:  V-3 (Full)

Frank Pugno at Ken Griffin's grave 14 MAY 01

 

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