You Are My Love Song
An occasional writing from Sally who is one of the few people, today, who attended at least 100 of Ken's live shows and would like to talk about Ken as she knew and remembers him
I have been asked by Eric Larson and Bill Reid to write about some of my memories of Ken Griffin. This is not meant to be an authorized or unauthorized autobiography of Ken Griffin. It will merely be my remembrances of Ken the six and one-half years I knew him.
I first met Ken Griffin on October 6th 1949. He came to Richmond, Indiana for an engagement at the Pleasant View Inn, a restaurant owned by a member of my family. Actually the restaurant is located about two miles into Ohio. Richmond is located right along the border of Ohio.
For anyone who never saw a program by Ken Griffin, I will try to relate to you what An Evening with him and his beautiful music was like. Usually Ken's opening numbers were big ear catching songs, like Valencia and Barcarolle. After he had the attention of the audience, he would go into softer, lighter songs like Every Little Movement and Glow Worm. This is not to say he started every program with exactly the same songs every time. Ken usually sat upon a platform or a small stage. He did not sit in the corner and play background music. He was the show, and what a wonderful show he put on. Usually, he worked from 8pm till midnight, with a break of fifteen minutes every hour. That would be the time he would mingle with the patrons, chat and autograph photos he had brought along with him. Ken was gracious to everybody. I never saw him get upset or angry. In a "Saloon", as Ken called it - people can get out of control, especially if they are having "Happy Time". Sometimes when he was on break, people would come up to him and want to play his white Hammond. Ken could say no nicer than anyone I ever knew, and believe it or not, he did not offend anyone. Ken also took request numbers if he had an arrangement of it, if not, he would just politely say so.
When an evening with Ken and his music came to a end (starting about 11.45 pm) he would play three or four songs, "Now is the Hour" going into "Goodnight Ladies" and always the last song would be "Goodnight Sweetheart". They knew the show was over for that evening, and what a wonderful evening you had just been part of.
Now I would like to tell you some things about the person, Ken Griffin, as I remember him. I was privileged to know Ken until he died March 11, 1956. Ken played (worked as he preferred to say) many places around Indiana. Just some of the cities I saw him perform were. of course, Richmond (several times) Muncie, Indianapolis, Indiana, Dayton Lorain, and Middletown, Ohio to name just a few. Usually when it was within driving distance from Richmond, we (friends, family and I) would go to see him every night he was at a specific location. Sundays if it was possible restaurants would cover the bar and Ken would perform an hour for kids before he started his regular program. On Sunday (if he worked) his show usually ended at 5 or 6pm Kids loved all the sounds he could make come out of the Hammond and he would let them stand around him as he played. However, he did not let them get on the bench or try to play the organ. About 45 minutes was all the kids could be kept under control.
I remember the first time I saw Ken on October 6, 1949. He came over to our table and sat down. I will never forget. He had the most beautiful large brown-velvet eyes I had ever seen. From then on I was so eager to meet the man that played the wonderful "You Can't Be True, Dear" music, but I must confess I was certainly overwhelmed by those large brown eyes. Ken was so kind and funny all at the same time. We had a wonderful conversation with him and it seemed like from that moment on we were all friends. Consequently, every place he was, we also tried to be. Times back then were so different than they are today. Life was not so frantic, and we all took the time to get to know each other. Ken seemed very laid-back and enjoyed so much his career and doing what he loved to do.
I remember one time when Ken was working in Indianapolis (on North Meridean Street - I wish I could remember the name of the "saloon") all of the group were doing other things, so I decided to ride the bus to Indianapolis to see him by myself. Back then buses and trains were readily available as compared to today, as now it is almost impossible to get a bus or train anywhere. I remember arriving at the restaurant by taxi. People were lined up outside to get in and I could see I was not going to make it inside very quickly, so I asked the person in charge if I could just go in and say "Hi" to Ken and then I would leave as there was no way I could be seated very soon. He kindly agreed to this, and took me back by the Hammond and there was a very small table, so he seated me and said I could stay for a short time. As I walked past the Hammond, I waved, and Ken smiled and sort of looked for the rest of the group as I had never attended one of his programs without 4-5-6 other people. He shortly took a break and came over and sat down since we had become pretty good friends having seen him play so many times before. I believe this was the fall of 1952. I had told him how difficult it was to get in and he said he was glad I come by to say hello anyway. Ken asked the waiter if I could stay seated and the waiter said maybe half an hour as he had many people waiting to be seated. Ken said I could stay as long as I wanted - he would take care of it. I remember I told Ken an hour or so later that perhaps I should leave and give others a chance to be seated. He was just getting ready to go back playing after a break, there was a side exit directly across from where I was, Ken walked me to the door, then outside, and on out to the sidewalk where I could get a taxi, and asked for my address and phone number and said he would be over to see me on Sunday. My heart was beating so fast I thought I would was going to jump out of my body. This was the beginning of a very special relationship with a very special human being.
I remember when Ken came to Richmond on Sunday we went to a little restaurant in Ohio (not the Pleasant View Inn) to have some lunch. He had arrived around 1:30 or 2:00 pm . Butterflies had already taken over my stomach. It was almost impossible to put food in my mouth and I tried very hard not to show how nervous I was. I honestly could not believe I was with Ken Griffin the man that played the beautiful music! Anyway, for me it was a wonderful 3-4 hours. It was at this visit Ken told me his father had died earlier that year. I could see the sadness in his eyes as he spoke of this. He was very fond of his father. Ken had lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw him so I knew he was devastated. Ken wrote and recorded the song "Lonesome" in memory of his father. Ken told me many things about his life and family and I come to find out, he was the eldest of a sister and brother. I am the youngest of a sister and brother and both our sisters were named Virginia. Ken's parents separated when he was barely a teen-ager and life became more difficult for him and his siblings. My mother died from complications of my birth and my father became a disfunctional human being. My siblings and I were raised by my grandmother.
I will never forget that day. We drove back to my apartment and at that time Ken gave me the address of his fairly new apartment, 1617 East 50th Place and his phone number (Midway 34142) and said to call or write anytime I wanted and he would also write and call me. I will never forget that phone number as long as I live.
My gut feeling is that Ken was a work-a-holic. He told me he had to "make hay while the sun shines" and wished he had more free time than he did. I believe Ken remarked this when I visited him in Chicago. He had started his season at the Old Heidelberg. I remember one Saturday afternoon we had gone down to the shore of Lake Michigan (weather permitting) Ken liked boats and at times nice people would let us look inside their boats or if one was for sale we could go inside. He did not want a big boat, but one that had a lower area where a person could eat and relax. But being the busy person he was he knew he did not have the time to take care of a boat or even use it much, as summertime was his busy time.
When Ken relaxed he could be very witty and funny. He really was a fun person but very professional when he worked. Ken's casual dress was slacks, loafers, usually a polo shirt and he wore an Eisenhower jacket (anyone remember one of those?).
I remember when Ken had his first heart attack in April of 1955, on the airplane on the way to Spokane, Washington. Upon landing he was immediately taken to a hospital (I believe a Catholic hospital near by the airport). I do not recall the name (perhaps St. Joseph's) but I really can't remember. Before they let him come back to Chicago Ken's doctor at Spokane took him to the train station, put him on the train, made sure all was in order for him to travel and gave him instructions on what to do or not do upon his arrival back home in Chicago. When he arrived a doctor had already been selected for him by his doctor in Spokane. That was to be Louis N. Katz a heart doctor at Michael Reese Hospital.
The horrible part of this story is that in 1955 there was no by-pass surgery invented - no really good heart medicine in use yet. Basically this was the beginning of the end, but no one knew it but Ken's doctor'. It was expressed to him how serious his condition was, and I am sure Dr. Katz did all that was available at the time.
After Ken and I became good friends it was a yearly ritual (even when he was on the road) to call or see me on my birthday in July. Sometimes we could have dinner, depending on his schedule. I understood Ken was a busy and important person and I appreciated the effort he make to see me.
In July of 1955, believe it or not, Ken drove down into Indiana from Chicago, stopped along the way to visit friends and arrived in Richmond on a night around my birthday. This is when he told me all the ramifications of his heart problem. He told me he was scared when his heart had ectopec (irregular) beats, but that the doctors told him "Not to Worry". Ken told me he could feel and hear his heart beat loud and clear when his heart was beating in an irregular manner and it was hard not to worry. When he got back to Chicago, I called him and he said that he was pretty tired from the long trip, that he was feeling "down" right now, but that in November he was going to be at the Old Heidelberg and would be settled in for the winter, and I could come up there then. We went ahead and decided upon the week-end of January 13-14-15, 1956. Because of the holidays and Ken doing many recordings that was soonest time for a visit. I believe Ken was doing a lot of work on the Wurlitzer then.
When that weekend finally arrived, I was at the Old Heidelberg and two of Ken's friends came in. Johnny Costa and Joe Neglia and Ken introduced us all. (These are two gentlemen on the 67 Melody Lane video we all have a copy of). This is the only time I ever met any of Ken's friends. I pretty much believe he was a loner. He would no sooner make friends on the road, then he would move on and probably not see them again for months. A very lonesome life.
I remember January 15, 1956. Sunday afternoon Ken was at the Old Heidelberg and it came time for me to leave to catch my train home. He would promptly turn off the organ (in the middle of the day) put his hat and coat on and take me to the train station. I remember the first time he did that I was in total awe. He then returned back to the Old Heidelberg and continued his program. I felt for sure he would probably get fired, but it never happened. When he would get to the train station he would walk me all the way to the train to board. I did not want him to do this because of his heart but he did it anyway. We said our goodbyes - he said to let him know I got home O.K. I watched him walk back into the station. He was wearing his gray suite, a navy blue trench coat and a gray hat. That was the last time saw him alive.
When I arrived home I dropped him a line to say all went well. About the middle of the February I had not heard from him and I gave him a call. He said he had been very busy recording (I now believe it was the Wurlitzer stuff). He did not sound good on the phone (very depressed) because his life was over as he knew it. He told me about a record he had just done on the Wurlitzer and be sure to let him know what I thought of it. He didn't tell me much more, only that I would know when I found it. That was the last time I ever heard his voice.
I believe it was late in April when I finally found the record at the shop where I always got my Ken Griffin records. It was titled "You Are My Love Song" (Griffin) on the Wurlitzer organ. I very much cherish this record.
I once asked Ken if when he made a mistake on a record, did he have to keep recording it over and over > he said no - that basically he recorded in three segments - 1st part - 2nd part - 3rd part and when an error was made only the part with the mistake was re-recorded. If you will notice on his Columbia recordings he plays the first part - changes stops - then plays - plays the second part - changes stops - then plays the third part, so if anything needs to be done it is not the whole recording, only the part with errors.
There were many other conversations I had with Ken but it would take all these pages and more to write about it all.
Ken told me once he had recorded enough songs to last 100 years. We have almost made it to 50. I hope it can be another 50 more years.
Again, God Bless you all for loving the music of this brilliant musician and wonderfully witty human being, Ken Griffin.
Response to Sally's page. Myths & Misinformation.