WILFRED HØSTELAND'S PAGE
(Update 27th February 2003)
Wilfred, who lives in Norway, shared a friendship with Ken's Sister Virginia and her husband and met many members of Ken's family. He also got the 67 Melody Lane films converted to video and the Radio Transcription discs onto tape.
COMMENTS VIA EMAIL.
Ken's organ, which Kurt have, is an AV (not B-3) - and Sally told us that Ken had two mother-in-pearl organs, and used to send the one to next place for playing before he drove himself. In the meantime, the other organ was ready for use another place. Of course, I cannot say by 100% that it is correct. She also told that he had a Wurlitzer electrostatic organ, but this may have been a loan from that factory as PR for them.
The old AV organ (ordinary walnut-model) Ken had at home: Virginia gave it to a local Catholic church in Denver some years ago. First, in fact, she would send it to me, but her family wanted to have it over there. Like Kurt's AV, this too was quite mint.
Ken recorded his first commercial tunes New Years Eve of 1947, here of "You can't be true, dear" - which was being a top hit in 1948. He got recorded a few tunes several years earlier - but just for his private use - probably as a demo-recording. Yes, Ken made newer versions of a number of his tunes later - it must have been a few years before his death. You know, his original recordings were made for Rondo, and from 1950 he recorded for Columbia (which also came out in Europe under the label Philips). Earlier he also recorded under Broadcast, Esquire, and many more labels, but here might have been a cooperation to Rondo, I think.
The Old Heidelberg Restaurant was at 14 East Randolph Street - next door to the Oriental Theatre. I have been there many times, and the building are partly preserved into a new block. The restaurant was a former theatre. I have all the story.
Ken was the vocalist on "Why did I kiss that girl"! His sister Virginia told that he often made such fun also when playing private.
Ken never recorded the theatre organ. That is a false recording!
I have been in Hotel Blackstone - I know that Ken was living there for a time, but had not heard that he had played there too. I also have been outside and inside the apartment where Ken lived several years, and took pictures too. And I have been on his grave back in 1983.
October 2002: I'm so glad I and my wife were able to visit Eric. What a nice guy he is - and a fine player. We were not able to see Kurt this time, but had an hour with him at the telephone in our hotel room.
November 2002: There is something wrong about "Randolph Square, Chicago". He played in Old Heidelberg Restaurant at 14 East Randolph Street, Chicago.
There was no Heidelberg Hotel in Chicago. Only the restaurant bearing this name.
"`You can't be true, dear" sold in more than 3-1/2 million - not over 1 million.
December 2002: The picture you enclosed with your mail cannot be Ken and his parents. I have studied it very "deep" and there is nothing like Ken there, so you should not include it on the pages. I have one of Ken when he was around 1 year, and even there, I can see that's Ken.
Here is a letter which was sent to Bill Reid for possible mention at the Dedication Evening. It was too long to read fully but Bill did make reference to the major points of the letter:
Dear all of you!
First, I want to express my very deepest regret for not being able to be here with all of you this very special evening! I'm really very disappointed for this. All the time since the idea came up, I told Eric, Frank, Bill and Kurt that - of course, I would be there. As a great fan of Ken Griffin and his beautiful music, I was looking forward for this - surely one of the most special happenings in my life - and to the unique memories this evening must make for all of you.
Several years ago, after having been in touch with several of Ken's old friends in and around Aurora, I tried to arrange a Ken Griffin memory evening there, but it was difficult both because of lack of a correct organ, and to find somebody who was willing to do the local work. However, please give my best regards to those of them who may be there tonight!
I was made aware of Ken's music back in 1960, just before buying my first Hammond organ. I was just 15, and asked my mother to buy any Hammond organ record. She came back home with a 45 rpm - named "Ken Griffin at the organ" - with his smiling portrait on the cover, - and the first tune was one of his own compositions - "Lonesome". The music was going right to my heart, and I asked my mother why she had chosen that record. She answered; - "Well, he looked so nice"! He sounded so nice too!
At that time, I did not know anything about Ken, and nothing about other Hammond-organists. Of course, I was quite sure that he must still be alive - he seemed so young. I was going to the largest record dealer in Bergen and asked them to order all the Ken Griffin recordings they could find. That was many! After a month or so, they phoned me and told me that they had just got about 15 LP's and a few more 45 rpm's for me. That was a lot of money, but of course, I MUST have them! And let me remark - after a time, I was back in that record store, found another LP by Ken - "Cruising down the river". They had small listening-booths, and I took the record in there. After 10 minutes or so, the manager came, knocked on the door and asked me; - "Do you want that record"? Myself, I was dreaming in my own world, and had forgot everything around me!
Well, I decided to write Ken a letter. I did, and sent it to Columbia Records in New York or Chicago. They never answered me. Well, many of the records over here were under the Philips label, and I wrote to Philips in Holland. They answered, and I learned that very bad and sad news to me that Ken had passed away years ago. I almost could not believe it. I would find more about Ken, and during the years I did. It was not often so easy to find, but it ended up with two very thick covers with stuff and pictures, surely enough to make a biography! Perhaps I will do that.
Around 1980, an organist and serviceman in Colorado (I think in Pueblo) - arranged me to send a letter to Ken's sister Virginia Kennedy in Denver. We stayed in touch - until she and her husband came to Norway one summer morning in 1982 on the cruise ship, Royal Odyssey. Early that morning, I arrived on the pier in Bergen, looking for Virginia and her husband. We both had sent each other pictures for indentification. It worked well! We walked together through the city to our home (they liked to walk) - and they stood there for a few hours. I welcomed them by playing "You can't be true, dear" on my Hammond C-2 organ. Virginia was very emoted, and the tears came. Well, we had some very nice hours together, and I walked with them back to the ship. Virginia asked me to come to Denver the next year. I did, and visited them 3 times. She loaned me the five original movie reels of "67 Melody Lane" which I copied over to video in Norway. Virginia told me that Ken did not like these shows he never felt that he was an actor, and he found the programmes corny! Well, I also - on my first trip to USA - visited Ken's grave in Oswego/Aurora - where a chief engineer from Hammond Organ Company drove me. He was living nearby. I also visited the former Old Heidelberg Restaurant at 14 East Randolph Street in Chicago where Ken played for years. The last visit there with my wife was together with Sally White – who, I am sure, is with you there tonight. My very best regards to Sally! At my last visit to Virginia in Denver, she wanted to give me Ken's home organ - which I had played every time over there. I almost felt that I could not accept such an offer, and I refused as politely and reluctantly as I could - at the same time as I thought I was dreaming --- could I be an owner of Ken's Hammond! Well, Kurt was the lucky one to have been able to purchase one of Ken's traveling organs, and I assure all of you - the organ could not be in better hands!
I wish to bring my very best regards to Kirby Griffin and his family (which I unfortunately have never meet) - and to all the audience of Ken's fans and friends, - and of course to Eric, Bill and Frank who made this evening possible. I'm almost crying for not being there with you! May I propose for you that another such evening may be arranged in the not too distant future? I sent the idea of a Newsletter for a Ken Griffin International Fan Club to Eric some time ago - and a copy to Kerry Griffin. This could be a very nice way for us fans and friends of Ken to keep in touch and to make more arrangements later. Let us have this as an absolute aim! So I really hope to be able to meet all of you over there someday. Me and my wife love America, and we always say to our friends when leaving back home - "Mostly we would like to be there forever, but be sure, we will always be back!!"
Dear all of you: Enjoy this unforgettable evening dedicated to a musician who we today have needed to have been among us as a solid counterbalance to the tuneless music of today! Ken's musical work is unfortunately ended, but the melody lingers on, - and will do so as long as his records are being played and as long as so many as possible among us - and after us - will play his wonderful music! The real melody never dies! My very best to all of you! Looking forward to meeting you next time!
Update Feb. 2003
I'm enclosing parts of some of the many letters I have from friends and fans of Ken, and I quote parts as following:
From J. F., San Lorenzo, California:
"I have long been a Ken Griffin fan. He played a concert at my high school in 1952 on the school's Hammond. I had heard his records before, but this time was quite excited to hear him in person. He opened the concert with a "rousing" version of "Valencia", then played many tunes that were popular at the time. Included were: "You can't be true, dear", "You, You, You", "Walkin' to Missouri", a choo choo train version of "Sentimental Journey", plus many others. The concert was outstanding and that started my interests in the organ. He was a fantastic musician and also was quite humorous and a warm person. He was well received by the entire class. At the end of the concert he wished us all well and good luck in the future. The school principal then introduced to the class Ken's sister and one other person who were Ken's guests at the concert. I remember those two concerts quite well. I also remember him in concert imitating Jack Benny's violin and had always wanted a recording of him doing it.
I attended another concert with him in 1953 in Westville, Illinois (just south of Danville). This concert was for a charity. I had graduated by the time. I went to this one with my father and we both took off a day from work to attend. Ken was and is my inspiration in the organ.
During these years Ken was playing for one to three months at a night club in Danville, Illinois. The name of the club was "The Lamplighter". I always wanted to see him there but in that I was under age 21 I was not able to get in. However, he had a 15 minute radio broadcast from the club each night, so at least I was able to listen to him. Unfortunately, he passed away before I was 21, so I was never able to see him perform in a night club."
From a well known American female Hammond-organist:
"I knew Ken Griffin very well, both before and after his recordings. Short before his death, we played just a few blocks apart. During a brake, he came over and showed me his palms which did not seemed to be in normal condition".
From another lady, V. C. in Aurora, Illinois:
"Ken Griffin played perfectly "Roller skating rhythm",- mechanical and simple. That is exactly how he played - constant and continuous - perfect for roller skating. I, myself, used to roller skate to Ken Griffin's organ playing at a skating rink on Ohio street in Aurora. He also played at a rink in Sandwich, Illinois. He also played at the Rivoli Cafe and bar on the corner of River street and New York street,- and in the West Side Beer Garden - also in Aurora. He played over WMRO Radio Station, which was owned by Martin O'Brien. I remember that he was buried from Daleiden's Funeral Parlor on 220 North Lake street, and he is buried in Lincoln Memorial Park."
From J. B., Sugar Grove, Illinois:
"Ken Griffin served in the U.S. Army. I have an Army blanket that he gave me. Well, Griffin (whose real name was Griffith) - played at roller skating rinks in the Aurora area from time to time, including Electric Park in Plainfield, Illinois,. This building was later destroyed in a tornado. Griffin did appear often enough that WMRO had the most popular small radio station program in the nation for several years. We broadcast from Rivoli cafe nightly from 6PM to 7PM during the months when it was daylight at that time. (We had what is called a daytime license which allowed us to broadcast from sunrise to sunset, until as late as 8.30PM in the summer, and until only 4.30PM in the winter).
The only complaints we ever received from listeners to the Rivoli program were that our announcer spent too much time talking, thus cutting down on the time for Griffin's music. This was a valid complaint, but nothing could be done to correct it, because there were so many requests for Griffin to play some particular piece of music, from all over the middle west, from as far east as western Pennsylvania to as far west as eastern Colorado, that had to be read, and people wanted and expected to hear their names on the radio."
From S. D., Oswego, Illinois:
Just a good remark among other stuff: "I knew Ken Griffin when he played the organ about 1944. He was very very good and I have never heard anyone play an organ better. I have some of his records."
From B. F., Aurora, Illinois:
"Ken Griffin played at the Rivoli cafe in downtown Aurora in the early 40's. His music was reminiscent of the good years prior to World War II, and I feel nostalgic and sad whenever I hear it."
From J. R., Aurora, Illinois:
"Ken Griffin lived in the Leland Hotel and I saw and spoke to him many times. At that time Ken played his organ at the West Side Beer Garden in Aurora, where I heard him play many times. I believe he later played at Covellio's Bar & Grill on N. River street in Aurora. This was before he went to Chicago."
From H. and R. S, Yorkville, Illinois:
"During the 1940's, my sister and brother roller skated almost 5 nights a week at Electric Park in Plainfield. I went often, but not as frequent as they, so I did talk to my sister about what she remembers, too. Roller skating was always more fun when Ken was playing. I also remember him playing at the Rivoli Cafe in Aurora. The organ was in front of a large picture window. We would always stop by to hear his playing."
From C. R. S., Salem, Ohio:
"I had the pleasure of flying Ken to various engagements back in the 50's when I was doing charter work."
(Wilfred will add to these pages occasionally. Watch out for the next update.)