"Earliest Connections Pt One"
Latest News (August 2000)
Found on an MP3 web site, this interesting paragraph (author unknown) which would be interesting to learn more about:
"The most successful and boring organist of the 1950s. Griffin recorded a slew of albums, mostly for Columbia, and had Top 40 pop hits with his covers of "The Anniversary Song" and "You Can't Be True, Dear." The latter reportedly sold something like 3.5 million copies, but the funny thing is that the hit version was actually a dub of vocals by singer Jerry Wayne over a copy of the tune recorded by Griffin as an instrumental number for skating rinks. He served a brief jail term in the early 1950s for failing to record a version of "Caravan."
In his defense, and from my own personal fondness for Ken's playing, I really can't accept that he was 'boring'. While I can accept that his playing can't appeal to everyone, considering his success and the amount of recordings Ken made the only way he could be considered boring would be from the formulation of his LP's (after his death) which have been compiled by someone else. e.g. the LP\CD Anniversary Songs brings together too many numbers of the same mood and is only broken by the inclusion of 'It had to be You', to speed up the long session of slower numbers. With my knowledge and large collection of his music I could easily compile a CD of his music that would keep your feet tapping for up to an hour or more. The above comments don't allow for the exceptionally seeming simplicity of Ken's playing but which I am sure, those organists who have attempted to play in his style, will agree is far from easy. Try playing The Little Red Monkey exactly like Ken or Scatterbrain and The Bells of St. Mary, you will get the message. I think too the fact that Ken preferred to stick to the melody and use "Bells & Whistles" sparingly and only in sympathy with the mood of the tune put a few organ diehards off because he wasn't trying to make the organ sound like a real orchestra as many of present day keyboards and organists attempt to do. If the organ reaches the stage when you can't tell the difference from a real instrument and/or orchestra, you just might as well listen to the real thing. That is not to discredit the musical knowledge and playing abilities of modern organists. The organ, theatre or electronic has always been a instrument of great and numerous voices but have kept their interest because they always sound like an 'organ'! Listen to the UK theatre organ greats such as the late Bobby Pagan and George Blackmore or the late American organist George Wright and you won't mistake that they are playing the mighty organ.
Update 12. 12. 00. Re: "that prison sentence"
I re-found the web site where I found the above report about Ken having received a short prison sentence and e-mailed the only person named there. He kindly replied and I quote his reply below:
"I did not write any of the articles concerning the different artists. Brad wrote those. I only supplied him with the album titles. I can tell you how that prison sentence story got there, and of course, that is only a joke on Brad's part. I knew sooner or later someone would question me about that. I almost at the time, asked Brad if he would remove that but I never did get back to him to ask him. That came about when Brad sent me a tape with about 65 different renditions of the song "The Third Man Theme." Being so interested in organ music and a collector ( I have over 650 albums of various artists) I mentioned to him that practically all organists have recorded at one time or another a rendition of the song Caravan. In fact I have a cassette tape where I recorded all the various versions that I have of Caravan. I mentioned to Brad that I did not think that Ken Griffin had ever recorded Caravan. When he inserted the article on Ken Griffin he remembered my telling him about Caravan and that fact I did not think Ken had recorded that particular song so that is how that came about. I was very surprised he included that in the little write up he has on Ken. He did mention, however, the Ken Griffin Memorial Page and that there was certainly a more serious tribute to Ken Griffin located there. His point being that if every other organist has recorded Caravan then it must have been a crime if Ken Griffin did not. I understand most people reading that probably would not understand what Brad was driving at there. Had it been up to me personally, that would not have been included in the write up. I hope you understand now how that came about. No dis-respect was intended towards Ken Griffin. I enjoyed and still enjoy his music. I grew up listening to his music. I am 58 so I missed out on the 78's for the most part. I remember the many 45's and also his 12" Columbia albums which I have listed on his page on Brad's site. I also listed some Rondo-Lette albums which do contain his older recordings. Brad mentioned he was the most boring organist of our time. I also disagree with that statement as you do also. I look at all these various organists as having a certain style and sound. Without being told I can pick out most organists from their style of playing. Certainly when I hear Ken Griffin's music I know it is him from his style of playing. When Lenny Dee or Jesse Crawford was playing, you can pick out each distinctive style. They are all excellent and brought so much listening pleasure through there various recordings. Something I didn't realize until later in life is that Ken died back in the 50's. I know that a lot of those 12' Columbia recordings were released in the 60's. I thought he was still alive. He sure made an impact with his organ music for having passed away at such a young age.
Here we are in the year 2000 and his music is still listened to a lot. That is just amazing and a real tribute to him that he is still remembered and that his music continues to be released now via CD. I have a CD of his titled "Magic Organ Moods" which contains 18 selections which is available from the Good Music Record Company. I don't think that is mentioned on his Memorial Page".
I am grateful for this reply and I am sure most of you reading this will be pleased to know that Ken hadn't been involved in such a disturbing incident. The explanation of it being part of a joke is welcome but it certainly didn't come across in the way the sentence was presented. I am sure it would have been more appreciated if it had. But thanks to the author for explaining the situation. Likewise, I have been aware of the other CD of Ken's music "Organ Moods" but have been unable to actually find the source as where to purchase it and will certainly be looking into that in the very near future. If you already have this CD it would be interesting to hear your views on it and as to where you purchased it. (See update at bottom of this page).
N.B. It is interesting that Eric Larson has since produced a recording of 'Caravan' as Ken may have played it.
Update September 2002:
Frank Pugno e-mailed the webmaster of the above web site and explained how hurt he was on reading the remarks suggesting that Ken had been given a prison sentence and asked why it hadn't been removed. As explained above, the web master of that site wasn't responsible for the remarks, which were meant to be a joke and it was left to the author to make the correction. I am pleased to say that this has now been carried out and justice seen to have been done. Have a look at www.spaceagepop.com to see the proof.
Latest News (March/April 2001)
It has been very satisfying making a number of contacts from the web pages. Two in particular have proved to be most interesting and rewarding. One is from Johs Larsen in Denmark. Johs has owned a Hammond A in the past but now owns an Ahlborn three manual electronic organ and from the tape he has kindly sent me, proves to be a very fine and sensitive player. It is also welcome to know that in his area there is a small Ken Griffin Fan club, who still meet and play his music and talk about him. Are there any more such fan clubs out there!
The second contact is Andy Antonczyk of Chicago, who is still a keen skater and along with his large collection of skating music enjoys Ken's playing considerably. Andy kindly sent me copies of Ken's 78's The Griffin Blues and Apple Blossom Wedding. If you haven't heard Ken play the blues then I recommend that you get yourself a copy o this one. Apple Blossom Wedding is equally fine in which Ken plays both Organ and Piano. Its a real beauty, catchy and indicative. I had known that the fist version of You Can't Be True, Dear was as a backing for a vocal but had never heard it, again thanks to Andy I now have. It is interesting in that Ken's playing is identical to his solo version. The reverse side of this 78 is also a vocal, Doodle Doo Doo, which these days seems a bit 'twee' but is actually quite pleasant.
Next is Eric Larson from Massachusetts. Eric owns three Hammonds and a theater organ. But most interesting is that he has spent many years studying Ken's playing style and the technical methods and ideas that Ken used to find those great organ sounds. I have edited the most interesting details from Eric's articles and they will follow at the end of this chat. For my part I found it very interesting to know that Ken knew and understood about 'playing with echo' and 'overdubbing', even back in those early days. It proves that Ken had considerable knowledge of the technical side of organ electrics and recording methods and worked extremely hard to find the methods of producing the sounds and getting them onto recordings. He was certainly ahead of his time and one of a kind. It is of considerable credit to his achievements that 46 years after his sad and early death, so many people around the world still remember him and continue to listen to his music. I still remember the moment that I found out that Ken had died, it was within a few days of his death. I was playing my old windup gramophone outside, to my friends and while playing one of Ken's 78's, one of the older lads suddenly commented that he had read of Ken's death in the paper. It was hard to believe. I had just started to know him by name and having a few of his 78's in my collection. Thankfully it never stopped me from enjoying his music and being interested not only in finding and searching for older or new copies but to learn more about Ken himself. It has taken a long time (nearly half a century) and by the wonder of the Internet, I have learned so much new stuff about Ken and made contact with others, from various corners of the world, who share the same interest and enjoyment of Ken's fine playing. It is still seems impossible to believe that Ken Died 46 years on the 11th.of March, this year. Almost the same time again has past as Ken had in life.
Update Oct. 2002.
From Wilfred HÝstland (Norway). He states that the instrumental of You Can't Be True, Dear, came first and the vocal version later
Eric's latest purchase is an actual Wurlitzer ES of that period and he is busy getting that knocked into shape and attempting to copy Ken's playing style on that organ and has already recorded Glow Worm and Ken's own composition, Symphony In 3/4 Time. Eric is proving to be a very fine organist, both in his own right and in Ken's playing style. He deserves to be producing CD's in both styles. If there are any record companies out there looking for a new and fresh organist, Eric's your man.
Frank Pugno of Chicago. Frank is a professional organist, playing in various venues and churches in the Chicago area. he plays a very nice Conn organ at a local church. Again, it is my pleasure to have received a CD of Frank's playing and enjoy it very much. On hearing about Eric, Frank was also interested to hear him play. On doing so he agreed that we had found a really fine organist, not only playing and sounding like Ken but his own playing style is brilliant and worthy of greater exposure. From these 'internet' communications it is planned to hold a "Ken Griffin Evening" and more news of this event will be published in these pages and wherever available, once the venue, times and dates are settled. WATCH THIS SPACE. However click onto the new pages (on the homepage) to hear a short section of Ken playing an original number, and also a sample of Eric's playing, which will give you an idea of his playing style and what to expect at the proposed event.
Frank has this request from (mis) information on the memorial pages. Can anyone help put things right:
"The obituary for Ken in the March 12, 1956 Chicago Tribune states that the Old Heidelberg was at 3 W. Randolph, which is currently an empty lot about to be purchased by Lord & Taylor (an American clothes department store). On our favorite website, it states it was at 14 W . Randolph, which is across the street next to the Oriental Theater. Further, my Dad remembers Old Heidelberg, but he said it was not a hotel (the website says it was). Help! I'm confused. Do you have any ideas on this? There's a big difference between those addresses and data. The obituary also gave a surviving sister as Katherine (not Virginia) and no mention of his brother Kirby. I suspect the newspaper was wrong, they are many times. One time, I was advertized in a local newspaper as "Frank Pugno at the Organ.
There have been rumors for many years that Ken was a heavy drinker, and sometimes would get on the bench absolutely pie-eyed. They claimed he died of cirrhosis of the liver, which I never believed. Of course, we know he had several heart attacks. There is one discrepancy concerning this. His second CD "Magic Organ Memories" states he had his first coronary in early March, 1956 in Spokane, Washington. I know the second was at the Old Heidelberg on Thursday, March 8, 1956, when he was rushed to Charles Wesley Memorial Hospital (now Northwestern Hospital, Chicago) where he suffered his fatal third attack on March 11, 1956. Our website says the first two were about a year apart. I don't know, I'm trying to piece it together, but the pieces just don't fit".
Update: Comments from Wilfed HÝstland: "There was no Heidelberg Hotel in Chicago just the restaurant bearing the name. The Old Heidelberg Restaurant was at 14 East Randolph Street, Chicago.
Brian Wessel, also from the Chicago area has recently come across one of Ken's 45rpm EP's and notes the different versions of Glow Worm and Stormy Weather than on the 67 melody lane LP. Over the years I have been aware of the progress and improvements that Ken made and he would bring out a new version of an older recording. Many of you will only be aware of some of these numbers from his Wurlitzer Electro Static (ES) playing on 67 Melody Lane (67) and may be put off buying what you think is just anther duplication when coming across these, for sale. But you will be missing out on older versions of tunes such as Glow Worm, Stormy Weather, Humoresque, Scatterbrain Sentimental Journey, St Louise Blues and Barcarolle, etc. If you know of others please let me know and I will add them to the list. I only knew his Humoresque from 67 but when I came across the 78rpm version the difference was magical, its a much superior version that is brilliant. I knew the 78rpm version of Scatterbrain before the 67 version and was slightly disappointed with the latter version, but the ES is quite a different organ and dictated how Ken would play on that machine. The ES versions aren't bad, just different. Sentimental Journey differs in that the train sound is actually better than the later version. St Louise Blues is almost identical but you can hear where he has improved certain bars on the later version. Both tunes are obviously played on different organs. It is difficult to know which version to prefer, they are both very good. Barcarolle is very similar to the newer version, but the latter benefits from a more polished playing style, with great finger work and sparkles from better recording methods of the time. I expect these are the same reasons why Ken brought out the brighter versions of You Can't be True, Dear and The Cuckoo Waltz in the 40's.
Ken also changed the names of some tunes on later playings. e.g. Whistler's Jingle, which later became Kringle's Jingle on his The Organ Plays At Christmas LP. One strange little dittie, that he composed himself, is Jumping Bean produced back in the Rondo/Esquire days. This pops up as Jukebox Polka on 67 Melody Lane. It is an unusual tune for Ken and you may wonder why he bothered, but it would seem that he came up with it in his mind and messed about with it over time and possibly used it as a bit of a finger exercise. And while on the subject of things not quite what you expect from Ken, have you heard Limberlost and Neapolitan Nights? As Eric (Larson) explained on first hearing it, it is difficult to consider that Jumping Bean and Limberlost came from the same person, they are so different! Limberlost is a classic, indeed could almost be classed as 'Classical'. It uses his fine slow playing and melodious rich organ sound but Ken moved away from his 'melody' only playing and adds some wistful and airy counter melody that is very pleasant indeed without being over done. Eric liked it so much that he has since recorded his own arrangement of the tune, as well as a version playing like Ken. Neapolitan Nights is much older and while we have got used to Ken mixing piano with organ o this number he appears to be playing a background melody with ether an organ sound of a Concertina or possibly a real one. It certainly sounds like Ken playing and would suggest that it was overdubbed onto the recording.
There now follows some technical chat from Eric Larson and Frank Pugno (that's pronounced Poon-yo, folks). I am sure you will find much of interest and get a clearer picture of how Ken went about producing the sounds and recording all those great records......
N.B. Some of the paragraphs may be out of context but you should be able to pick up the gist of everything and possibly learn a little more about how unique and popular Ken really was..........
Eric Larson's Introduction and Technical points
The extra high-pitched whistling countermelody in Ken's version of Cruising Down the River is an overdub, as is the Hammond imitation Xylophone in his Barcarolle. Likewise the chirping sound in Kringle's Jingle on Skating time. With a two manual Instrument, you can only get two sounds simultaneously, so when three different effects are present, it must be an overdub.
Virtually all of the better (three head) commercial tape recorders of the period, (Ampex being the most noted and most widely used) were capable of tape echo. Most of these machines also had three tape speeds, 3.75, 7.5 & 15 inches per second. I have noted three different echo rates in Griffin's work. Mostly he used the 7.5 ips speed, tape echo evident in his Cruising Down the River album and Skating Time. He also occasionally used the 3.75 ips speed where he actually plays in step with the echo, and on one selection, Scatterbrain, he used the 15 ips speed.
I have no objections whatsoever to such a practice. I look upon the final recording as the artist's work, and if he occasionally resorts to these recording tricks, it is no different from a painting artist using different colors or backgrounds to create his final output, the painting which we enjoy. Ken simply "painted" as it were, with his Hammond.
I had a copy of 67 Melody Lane years ago. Ken used a Wurlitzer amplified reed organ for that record. It was one Wurlitzer made wherein all of the 73 or 85 reeds blew at once in soundproof enclosures. The keys and pedals applied a positive DC voltage to pickup screws mounted over the reeds, thus forming particular reeds into vibrating capacitors.
One of the other things that is notable on his Hammond recordings is the use of the early Hammond fluid-column reverb unit. I don't know how familiar you are with Hammond technical details, but the fluid column reverb unit had 5 springs, roughly 27" long in a mechanically linked network, with a driving coil at the top of the assembly, and a crystal pickup at the bottom. Four out of the five springs were immersed in brass tubes filled with oil. Of these, three were immersed for most of their entire length. The fourth spring was only slightly in oil, and the fifth spring was in air. The driver or transducer at the top received the electrical signal of the Hammond and reproduced it as a mechanical vibration in the spring network. The springs both delayed and sustained the vibrations, resulting in a pseudo reverb signal at the crystal pickup.
The biggest problems of these early reverb units was their unnatural and "rail-barrely" sound, due in part to their mechanical resonances at certain frequencies. Also, they had very poor high frequency response. I was told, and listening bears it out, that many early recording studios with a Hammond supplemented the fluid-column reverb units with tape echo, which had excellent and essentially flat frequency response, which could be further altered by introducing tone controls in the play-back signal from the playback head before feeding an attentuated signal into the record head. Also, adjusting the gain of the playback signal (always less than unity) would control the number of delayed repetitions of the original signal.
Whether Ken set up his own Hammonds or relied upon the recording people, I don't know, but at least a part of his characteristic sound is the use of these two effects. I also noticed that on a few selections, he used an early Conn organ. (Elmer's Tune and Side by Side, to name two.) In Bells of St. Mary, he uses an overdub using two different effects in unison for the melody. In retrospect, the fact that he did use these techniques would indicate a very good understanding of not only the Hammonds of that era, but also of the recording technology available and also something about tonal and musical effects. It would have been very interesting to know Griffin. I am sure that he had a wealth of musical and technical knowledge far above what a casual audition of his playing would reveal.
The early Conn electronics of the type Griffin used were vacuum tube models, and had a bank of at least 73, and perhaps 85 or more individually tunable oscillators. The output wave forms were a somewhat spikey sawtooth, which was filtered to become suitable voices, most of which did not sound much like their orchestral namesakes. In these models, all stops were at 8 foot or unison pitch. Other effects were brought in by means of numerous couplers at various upper octave and mutation pitch levels. The basic sound of these instruments can best be described as "scratchy." Conn subsequently made numerous improvements and design changes, ultimately creating some fairly elaborate electronic theater organs in the 1980's which had no other similarity to these early scratchy instruments other than the fact that they also used independent oscillators for each pitch and bore the name Conn.
The organs Griffin used in Far Away Places and September Song were Wurlitzer continuously sounding reed-electrostatic organs. Their output went through a rotary speaker of Wurlitzer's own design, but essentially quite similar to a Leslie rotating speaker. Because it was possible to modify the application of the positive DC voltage applied to the reeds, and also to let it decay through capacitors in the keying circuitry, the attacks and decays of these instruments were much softer than the telegraph-key characteristic of the Hammond, and it was also possible to introduce sustain, evident in Far Away Places.
Frank Pugno Introduction and Technical Points
I'm sure you remember hearing the sounds of bells on many of his recordings. The organs of the 1950's were not so equipped, so he overdubbed this tone over the first tone I gave you in the last email, ringing it like a bell. Occasionally, he did it alone without the dubbing ("Hi-Lilli, Hi-Lo"). This was a foreshadow of organs starting in the 1960's.
Swell: 00 8000 800
Another effect was the pizzicato, which he did on "In An Eighteenth Century Drawing Room (popularization of Mozart's "Sonata in C"). This is where he took a tone like a clarinet (roughly 00 8080 800, might have even been that), but struck the note and let off right away like a pluck. Dink-dink! On top of a basic regular sound.
Both of these effects found there way into electronic organs some years after his death. The first was Reiteration (or Repeat) for orchestra bells, marimba, banjo and the like, the second was the Wurlitzer Organ with a Pizzicato stop, voiced similar to a clarinet. Whether Ken Griffin foreshadowed these things (which are now standard in the industry), or the organ companies got these ideas by hearing him do them is something no one can answer.
As for the Hammond settings, two different organs of the same brand and model built the same day do not sound EXACTLY the same. There will be differences in such things as bass, treble, transient tone, reverberation depth, and many more factors. Acoustics are critical. I knew a skating organist here who told me that a C3 that he played in his rink had to have drawbars pulled out all the way before they could even be heard! When I got my first church job on a Hammond, I experimented at home on my A100 to get a sound very close to a church pipe organ. When I tried it on the church's CV, it failed, I had to make adjustments. First the wiring changes as mentioned, and then heavy acoustics with long reverberation accentuates the bass and weakens the treble, so I had to "kick down" the fundamental and bass a few notches, and pull the higher drawbars out a bit. The amazing thing was that when I was done, it was 100% the same. Try that with a cheap old Thomas Organ an American piece of junk that went off the market years ago), tried to upstage Hammond (ha ha!). I fully understand the adjustments, and as a professional, I've played all types of organs under many different conditions. I appreciate the settings from Eric and am going to try them here. If anybody has any more, I would be very interested to see them. I remember somebody telling me years ago that when Ken performed at the Oriental Theater, he had tape equipment on stage and used the tapes manually to get the bigger sound of two organs like the recording "The Bells of Saint Mary's". I'm only guessing that he may also have done this for the bells.
Frank replied to my having sent him a picture of Ken's ES organ in mistake for the Conn but he kindly adds:
No problem about the Conn Organ. It gave me another picture of Ken Griffin. After you told me it was a Conn, I listened to "Louise" with a very critical musical ear. That organ is a Conn. The pedal tone has clear definition (not the low drone bass of a lot of organs), and that definite string tone that Conn was famous for in his left-hand countermelody. Positively CONN. Conn had the best violin stop in the industry, the problem is how much will you sit there imitating a violin? Also, in the early Conn's, like Ken's, most stops were stringy, the Oboe was the same tone softer, the Trumpet louder, and the Diapason was also louder but added some flute tone to it. In later years, they overcame this as the technology got better (and more expensive).
Kind of eager to hear Eric's interpretations of Ken Griffin. As to the stop settings, I haven't tried the first one yet, but the second one where he changed the intensity of the last drawbar made the brightness too weak. On the records, the tone was brighter, it needs the 1', maybe not to 8, but pronounced. Then again, the older Hammonds were much brighter, but I don't think it would change it that much. I'm also sure that Eric and I have different settings on the bass/treble control inside the back of the organ and different speakers. It all can make a difference. These are the way the tones sounded best on mine (the one the CD was made on). This tone (88 0000 088) also makes a great jazz organ sound. As to 00 8888 888, Eric hit the nail right on the head ("Kringle's Jingle" and "Lazy River", also "It Had To Be You"). Lenny Dee also used this setting for up-tempo tunes. What I find extremely interesting is that Eric and I both found all three settings with exactly the same drawbars, the only differences being some of the intensities, which is normal on different organs. On the original "You Can't Be True, Dear" registration, especially, our drawbar components were identical, he just readjusted the highs and lows.
As to your comments about Ken Griffin, one thing he was noted for (not formally) was that when someone came out with a very popular vocal record, Ken would often record an instrumental version (Jo Stafford - "You Belong To Me", Pat Boone - "Love Letters In The Sand"). I understand that when he recorded "Love Letters In The Sand", it almost blew Pat Boone out of the water! When I spoke of "Elmer's Tune" last week, I compared it to the original by Dick Jergens (1941). Jergens was great, but I think that Ken's was much more showy and lively. I've never heard anybody play it like him. That was recorded on the Conn Organ.
I finally tried ALL the settings from Eric. The "Lazy River" one, as I said before was perfect, we both came up with the same setting exactly. "The "unique" one definitely needs more brightness, it was somewhat shrill on my organ without it. As for the standard "You Can't Be True, Dear" setup, my organ said "no". Mine might have the bass too intense in the Swell manual, but the tone from Eric was too light and didn't have the body. I noticed in the pictures his organ has external tone cabinets, which tend to add a lot more body to the sound. When I switch my instrument to the tone cabinet, it severely alters the effect of the drawbars. I'm sure this is a major factor in the differences. This tone seems to be very sensitive. My organ speakers are self contained in the console (the equivalent of a PR-40 tone cabinet). As we all seem to concur, no two organs are exactly the same.
When hearing Ken on the Hammond, the tone was very conventional and ALL HAMMOND as commercially successful. However, some songs had a whispering effect that was reminiscent of the Hammonds of the late 1930s. If the organ he recorded on was a BC, it fits. This was made 1937-1942, and if Ken fitted it with vibrato (it theoretically became a BCV) after the war, it would also have retained the old CHORUS control, which gives that effect. It is heard on "Always" and others (I can't think of them now). A very old vintage sound that I never heard anyone else do. I'm not even sure if other organs could do that. The organ tone seemed to have a "floating" quality. However, I know for a fact that Ken owned at least one BV. I have known people here in Chicago who actually knew him (that list kept getting smaller over the years), and that organ was always mentioned.
I had a friend (God rest his soul) who told me he knew Ken personally. In 1967 (eleven years after Ken died), I showed my friend a picture of Ken. I couldn't believe it! He burst into tears right in front of me! He stared at the picture, then said "A nicer man you will never find. Too bad he died so young."
Thanks for Eric's reply to my drawbar question. I never played a Schober organ, but remember when they were hot on the grill. The people who put them together (they had printed circuits) just thought they were hot stuff (there's really another word I'd rather put in there, if you get my drift)!
I know of nobody who ever saw or played one, and in my travels, never saw one in the field. I think what Ken liked in the Conn was the big, husky sound he got with the contrasting string in the countermelody. I have played Conns in that era, and they couldn't do much. As I told you previously, the stops all sounded the same, stringy. The tone didn't offend me, but it didn't raise my hair either. You can evaluate Ken's preference yourself, I think he wanted it for this particular sound. Listen again to "Elmer's Tune", "Sunday", "Side By Side" and "Louise", these all used the Conn,
I would like to share two drawbar settings that you may be able to pass on to Ken Griffin fans and maybe the Danish Ken Griffin Fan Club (please send them my kindest regards). The first is very conventional, and people may already know it, but the second is a unique "Griffin" sound that I bumped into by accident
Conventional (example, "You Can't Be True, Dear" --------------------------- Swell: 80 8808 008
------------------------Great: 00 8865 544
------------------------Vibrato: V3 Swell and Great (Vibrato Full)
------------------------Reverberation: To your taste.
------------------------Griffin Unique (example, "The Bumpity Bump")\tab \tab Swell: 88 0000 088
The rest can be the same or changed to suit the accompaniment and vibrato desired.
There are simpler examples, but they sure thrilled me when I found them".
I'm sure you remember hearing the sounds of bells on many of his recordings. The organs of the 1950' s were not so equipped, so he overdubbed this tone over the first tone I gave you in the last email, ringing it like a bell. Occasionally, he did it alone without the dubbing ("Hi-Lilli, Hi-Lo"). This was a foreshadow of organs starting in the 1960's.
-----------------------Swell: 00 8000 800
Another effect was the pizzicato, which he did on "In An Eighteenth Century Drawing Room (popularization of Mozart's "Sonata in C"). This is where he took a tone like a clarinet (roughly 00 8080 800, might have even been that), but struck the note and let off right away like a pluck. Dink-dink! On top of a basic regular sound.
Both of these effects found there way into electronic organs some years after his death. The first was Reiteration (or Repeat) for orchestra bells, marimba, banjo and the like, the second was the Wurlitzer Organ with a Pizzicato stop, voiced similar to a clarinet. Whether Ken Griffin foreshadowed these things (which are now standard in the industry), or the organ companies got these ideas by hearing him do them is something no one can answer"
Frank's response to my stating that I preferred Ken's organ playing and sounds over all others at that period:
Don't feel bad about your "old days" feeling about Ken Griffin and other organs. Many people, especially in the 50s and 60s, like the Hammond better than anything else. PIPE ORGANS SOUNDED TINNY TO THEM!!! Ken Griffin was the most popular instrumentalist in USA history (that has not been exceeded to this day! ). He fell in the late 1960s and Lenny Dee grabbed the reins. Now Ken is coming back. Good work, Ken. From what I understand, he also broke another record. When he released "You Can't Be True, Dear" in 1948, he swept the USA coast to coast within a week. Others have also done that later, but from the time the record was released to the time it became a gold record was a record (I don't know the duration) and that still stands. People often criticize him for (I hate this expression) OOM-PAH-PAH, but that was the style then, and he led the way for the organists of later generations. Also, people who play by ear, teach themselves or come to the organ from the accordion have a tougher time with the left hand. Ken taught himself, but was able to read music having come over from the violin. He also practiced and always tried to improve his playing. His left hand was adding more and more countermelody the later the recordings were made. How sad the grim reaper took him so early. I think his playing was marvelous, he gave the music life, no dragging. and that left hand rhythm was played sharply. If one of my students played "You Can't Be True, Dear" like him, he would pass the lesson with flying colors! I play that song like him, not exactly, but about 95% true to form. I do add the waltz percussion to give it a slight lift. It does not adulterate the feel of the piece. I feel it is close enough that I won't record it, they can listen to Ken's, it's probably better.
On that 'bridging' dittie that Ken used so often and in various styles, Frank explains:
"When a performing artist using a certain musical cliche, it is referred to as a fill-in or interlude. That particular bridge on ... "You Can't Be True, Dear" was a trademark of Ken, and was known by people in the midwestern United States before he ever became famous. He was very well known in the midwest before his first recording. He merely wrote the fill-in as part of the song. It worked!"
Frank's response to hearing Eric play as Ken: "I hear the ghost of Ken all over it"
Obviously, there are many differences, but he is the closest to Ken I have ever heard. Especially "The Peanut Vendor" and "Rambling Rose" sounded pretty much like Ken might have played them. There were others, too. I'm playing it as I write this. He also has a nice style of his own (which actually interests me more, being a professional organist myself) with a great beat and nice left hand countermelody. He has total control over the instrument, and gives it life and style. I could listen to him all night, this is really a compliment because a lot of organists do not affect me like that. His knowledge of the Hammond drawbars also is in his favor, I'm now hearing what sounds like the Wurlitzer Electro static Organ, but is really the Hammond. It's amazing. Eric is truly an excellent player, and if he ever gets around to making that CD, I'll be first in line. I'm now hearing "Your Cheating Heart", sounds like Ken. "Wheels" is another, I hear the ghost of Ken Griffin all over it. These recordings are totally legitimate. As for the drawbars settings, I think we both hit the mark on our own organs. Neither one of us is closer than the other.
Johs Larsen's response:
Still I', shocked and listening to Eric's organ-music, which is so fantastic. I never thought a person in the whole World could recycle (re-construct) Ken's music so unique. I'm listening to the tape a second time, and I gapes as a shocked bird. But as you say, he is more swing'n and jazz'n than Ken was in his tune.
What a music-day! Wonderful to listen to Eric's music, and both of us, Stinne and I, enjoy it very much. Eric's version of You Can't Be True, Dear is very charming and in a more 'tempo-version' than Ken would have played, like you said. Cruising Down the River is like the preceding very charming, and the April in Portugal is funny with the simulated drum effect done on the Hammond upper-keyboard. You Belong to Me and My Heart Cries for You is charming too. I like the echo in Scatterbrain, and in my bad English I can't express what I mean, but Ken played a melody in a charming bass-tune, and a 'hacking' chop, nag's sound upper in the high tunes. Like this Eric do very smart. I don't like the guitar accompaniments, but it forgives by the charming organ sound in this number/copy. Kringle's Jingle is so nice, with a sound like Ken, and a jingling sound in the background.
Fantastic that Eric can remember all this tunes/melodies. He is real a professional musician. And the organ is just like Ken's, you can hear. Also in Far Away Places he hit it very well. As you say, Bill, you can't play precisely like someone else. In Moonbeams he use lots of funny effect. This I never have heard Ken play.
Yes we can get very impressed, e.g. in Till I Waltz Again with you he make a very close the Ken-sound. He plays a bit faster than Ken, and sometimes he 'take a little long time' with a sound, and then he plays faster on the next tune. But all he do is well done. Side two is yet a bit more fantastic than side one. It goes more and more impressive, in acrobatics top his Yodeler's Polka. But his A Waltz for my Lady is particular so charming. But sometimes it seems as 'the air goes out of the system', when he is cheerful and thump at the various drum-instruments. His version of Love Letters in the Sand is very charming too, and one of the best I have heard. Also The Bells of St. Mary's is so beautiful. In Barcarole we hear Ken very clear; it is a very, very nice work. Eighteenth Century Drawing Room is a beautiful 'full stop' of Eric's music.
In all I say, that 'Ken Plays Again', and I am so thankful, that you send this copy to me. I enjoy to listen to Eric, but Ken is still number one in the world. It would be nice, if a CD-company would send out Eric's records before it is too late. I think there would be a group of listeners to his music. But there must have to be a million, before a company would run the risk. Yes, Eric ought to be producing some CDs and making a career out of his great organ playing. Eric is absolute a genuine, unequalled. I don't think anyone in all the world could make this sound, even if he got all the new technique. What a great played work of art.
Andy Antonczyk's response:
I listened to the Larson's and Larsen's playing. Eric is the best imitation Griffin I've heard so far. Very few organists can really imitate another. I think Eric has Ken's style and sounds copied perfectly. As I listened to it again more carefully, what he is lacking is the "soul" of Ken Griffin. It's ever so slightly "off" from actually listening to Ken. The only artist I have ever heard successfully copy another is George Wright playing Jesse Crawford. He actually sounds exactly like Jesse including the subtle "breaths" in Jesse's interpretative phrasing. Listening to Eric I kept on thinking that "Ken" was a little "off" today...hahaha. He is, nevertheless, an excellent study and the most successful I have ever heard as an imitation Ken. I totally agree with your analysis.
Johs Larsen has an interesting style that is unique on its own. I find it upbeat and refreshing. Both Larson and Larsen are extremely fine musicians. Commercially, they both have a lot of potential.
Bill Reid's response:
I have heard a number of play-a-likes over the years but they tend to fall down either on the playing and/or actual organ sounds. When Eric contacted me and said he played like Ken I immediately thought that he would be little better. I couldn't have been more mistaken. I have been completely bowled over by his playing and the accuracy he has got in capturing Ken's organ sounds. Whether he is playing original Griffin numbers or songs composed after Ken's death, and in the way Eric thinks Ken would have played them, it continues to amaze me how easily I can be lulled into thinking I am actually listening to Ken himself. I never thought anyone could entertain me with his organ playing as Ken has done, but whether playing as Ken or in his own fine playing style I would like to thank Eric for his beautiful music and keeping Ken's memory alive so enjoyably. Likewise if there is anyone out there who still has interest in the Hammond and Wurlizer ES organs they will be interested in both Eric's 2001 playing of Ken's music and the technical side of these two electric organs.
Ken's all white Wurlizer Electrostatic 4602 organ as played on the 67 Melody Lane LP and TV
Show, and for numerous other fine recordings such as "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire",
"The Nearness of You", "Sweet Georgia Brown" or "You Are My Sunshine", among others.
Eric Larson explains.....
The picture above is from the LP cover of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" which is a face-on picture of the Wurlitzer 4600. The only significant difference between the two is that the 4602 has 32 pedals and the 4600 has 25. Otherwise, from all that I can determine, they have the same stop specifications and the reed units are the same also. I have noticed that above pedal number 25, when using the higher or so-called 8 foot (pipe organ terminology) pedal stops on the 4602, that there is a noticeable tonal break; so that leads me to believe that the internal wiring for the two instruments is the same, and the pedal tones on the last seven pedals of the 4602 are derived from the reed pickups normally reserved for the low end of the keyboards, and not from the special or third pickups on those reeds which supply both manual and pedal tones for the second and third octave of pedal pitches.
This, by the way, if I were building these instruments, would make sense from a manufacturing standpoint, because then I could use the identical reed system for both instruments. From what I can determine (mostly anecdotally) there were very, very few 32 pedal versions of the ES made, perhaps not more than maybe a few hundred in all. Most of these Wurlitzer electrostatic organs were the 13 pedal 4410's which were the spinets, along with a number of 25 pedal 4600's. There was, however, a change at some point in the amplifier design and also in the layout of the reed unit and of course the switch to the right-angle gear drive for the blower, which on the later version was on the back of the reed unit instead of on the top. On the version with the blower on top, there are three reed pans on both the front and back of the reed unit, and one on the right side. On the other layout, there are two groups of three reed pans one above the other, and one pan of reeds on the back of the reed unit along with the blower. I don't know which of these two Ken used. In either case, the stop list, tonal specification and available sounds and basic scheme are the same.
An important feature to keep in mind, and perhaps which should be elaborated upon is that Wurlitzer did, for a while, take over the manufacture of the Everett Orgatron and did in fact build a smaller but similar instrument with reeds that were operated by means of direct-electric valves that actually controlled the air to each reed. These technically would also be classed as electrostatic organs, because they likewise derived their tone from the charging of the reeds and pickups with a DC voltage. The principal difference was that in this earlier version, the electrostatic charge existed on all the reeds and pickups simultaneously and the reeds did not operate except when actually needed to produce a tone.
The difference of course in the later version is that the later version keys the charging voltages while maintaining all the reeds in vibration, which eliminates the characteristic slow speech and afterdrone of free reeds when keyed pneumatically. Thus, these later or continuous-blow instruments behave like true electronic organs in that they generate an audio voltage signal only when the tone generators (reeds and pickups) are keyed with direct current which then creates the electrostatic charge necessary for the production of the audio signal voltage. This system likewise eliminates the need of a complicated electromagnetic valve action and a pressure regulator, since the air load on the new version never varies. The older version actually treated the reeds as a rank of pipes in an electric-action pipe organ. The new version keys the charging voltages to the capacitors formed by the reeds and their pickups.
It is important, especially with the newer type, not to think of this as a reed organ, but as a capacitor organ, where vibrating capacitors are charged as necessary to generate the audio frequencies. The vibrating capacitors in the Wurlitzer happen to be reeds, but there was an experimental instrument built by someone (I forget what outfit) that actually used rotating elements and keyed a polarizing voltage onto a pickup to generate an AC audio signal. As I understand, one of the difficulties of that instrument was the connection through brushes and slip rings to the rotary elements for the charging potential. I wish I could remember the name of the book which I took out years ago from the Boston Public Library on electronic musical instruments that detailed many of these arcane experimental instruments and their operating principles.