KEN GRIFFIN (Organist, 1909 - 1956)
(A Short History)
By Bill Reid
I first heard Ken Griffin's organ music when I was 7-8, being played at a local cinema (Astoria, Aberdeen, Scotland). And in later years in dance halls and skating rinks. But it wasn't until I was 15 that I was able to start buying records for myself, when I bought an old wind-up gramophone at a secondhand shop in George Street, just when pop songs were becoming very popular and Rock & Roll was starting to get going. However Ken's music remained a great favourite and one day I wandered into a store in Marshall Street and came across a number of Ken's 78 rpm. records, some going back to the late 20's, early 30's. The shop was "Telemech" which was to become a happy hunting ground right into the 60's, and the owner, Dave Towsey, became a good friend and we still communicate today. Dave kindly kept me informed every time a new Ken Griffin LP appeared. One 78 r.p.m. record "The Little Red Monkey" was given to me by the Chief projectionist "Mac" when I worked at the Majestic Cinema, in 1957.
Everywhere I went I would search out a record store and look for some 'new' records by Ken, and came across some in two other Aberdeen record shops, Bruce Millers and Alexanders. Two 10" L.P.'s were bought during a holiday in Dundee in 1961. I bought an L.P. at a huge store in the outskirts of Detroit when I stayed with my Penfriend, Marion, in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1985, but as I had all the numbers I gave it as a keepsake to Marion. Later he sent me a cassette copy of the L.P.
Around 1982-3 I also came across a number of well kept copies of his 78's, at the Flea Market in Reading (Berkshire) and these made up for the few of my original copies that were showing wear & tear. They also included a number of songs that I had never heard before and which were very welcome. A short time later I came across three of his E.P's in a Didcot charity shop. Two of these I had not seen before, but one made a welcome replacement for one that had got damaged a few years ago by being left on the windowsill on an exceptionally hot day. In 1963-6, my final months living in Aberdeen, I had made contact with Ken's nephew, Kirby Griffin and he sent some newspaper cuttings from the time of Ken's death, plus an 8" x 18" B&W print of Ken sitting at his organ, this is a treasured keep sake. Sadly, after moving to England, I lost touch with Kirby who had either moved home, or passed away, as my letters were returned unopened and no further address was available via CBS in New York.
Update, February/March 1999: After almost giving up on finding any fresh copies of Ken's records, I got onto the Internet and found a sight called "GEMM" which is an advertisement site for secondhand dealers, mainly selling old records, tapes and videos. From this site I have since purchased two LP's. One 12" LP to replace my 1960's 10" LP of "Lost in a Cloud" and a 12" LP of the British 10" LP of "Skating Time" that I had not been able to purchase before. Again, after these successful purchases I next sent for two further LP's: the 12" LP. "Moonlight & Roses and a 10" LP. "The Wizard of the Organ" which is a transparent 'pink' and a bit of a collector's piece. This is on the 'Rondo' label and are from his very early 78rpm recordings.
Update April 1999: My old school friend, Sandy Watt, in Aberdeen came across a Ken Griffin E.P. among a box of records he purchased at a boot sale and kindly let me have it. It is on the "Esquire" label and while being of the early 50's period, the original recordings date back to his earliest 78 rpm recordings of the late 20's/early 30's. The low playing quality is identical to the LP on the American Rondo label, suggesting the Esquire E.P. is the British equivalent of that label and period. More Recent findings also prove that the UK 'Brunswick' label is from the 'Rondo' recording stable.
Following are copies of the American Newspaper clips following Ken's death and a list of my collection of Ken's records.
Update November 1999: The latest addition to my collection, again via the Internet is "The Organ Plays at Christmas" on the Columbia label. This would be published in the 70's as it is re-mastered for Stereo. I purchased two LP's around that time on the Embassey label and both re-mastered for stereo.
Ken only produced one Christmas record in the UK. "Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer, which was a huge hit in the later 30's. This is an equally fine recording and selection of tunes which back up Ken's well-earned accolade as being the "Wizard of the Organ".
Update July 2000: Having found Jerrel's Mememorial web site I purchased the double album CD advertised on the site. The CD quality is excellent and brings the full frequencies out very much as Ken had probably intended.
"At 20 Griffin already had created the simple melodious keyboard style which eventually would be featured on seven million records. But amidst the celluloid fantasies of Edwrad G. Robertson and Greta Garbo, he was only trimming on Steel City playbills".