January 11, 2005 – James Arthur Jimmy Griffin was born on August 10, 1943 in Cincinnati, Ohio and grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. His musical training began when his parents signed him up for accordion lessons. He attended Kingsbury High School in Memphis and Dorsey and Johnny Burnette were his across the street neighbors in the same housing project that was home to Elvis Presley from 1948 until 1954. After the Burnette brothers moved to Los Angeles, California to further their music careers, Griffin went to visit them and managed to secure a recording contract with Reprise Records.
“Dorsey played the upright bass and steel guitar, as well as acoustic guitar. Johnny played acoustic guitar and together they were fabulous songwriters and singers. Their harmonies were always real tight and I enjoyed singing with them, even at that age. Johnny Burnette had a big hit called Dreamin and then Dorsey had a hit called The Tall Oak Tree. “Dreamin was produced by Snuff Garrett, who also produced artists like Bobby Vee, Timi Yuro and others, and eventually myself.”
“Dorsey was recording for Reprise Records at this time and was impressed with my songs enough to take me to meet his producer, Steve Venet, and I played some songs for him that I had recorded demos of in Memphis. I also sang two or three songs live.” Griffin released the Venet produced singles before the album.
“I got out there on July 4th of ’62”, Griffin recalled later. “I had a record deal by September. Steve produced Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys and one more. Then he and I wrote a few songs together and became good friends. He was a talented producer. His brother, Nik Venet, produced many Capitol Records acts, including Bobby Darin. When Steve left in 1963, Jimmy Bowen took over. Jimmy dropped most of the acts that Steve had signed, but kept me and produced my first album.”
His first album, Summer Holiday, was released in 1963. He had small roles in two films, For Those Who Think Young (1964) and None but the Brave (1965). Griffin teamed with fellow songwriter Michael Z. Gordon to write songs for such diverse singers as Ed Ames, Gary Lewis, Bobby Vee, Brian Hyland, The Standells, Leslie Gore, Sandy Nelson and Cher. The pair won a BMI award for “Apologize”.
Griffin met Robb Royer through Maria Yolanda Aguayo (Griffin’s future wife). The two hit it off immediately and became life-time collaborators both as performers and writers. Griffin was a staff writer with Viva Publishing and managed to get them to hire Royer as his co-writer in 1967. Viva was resistant to hiring Royer and instead wanted Griffin to write with another staff writer with the company. According to Royer, Griffin convinced Viva to hire Royer by threatening “I will be writing with him. Do you really want to give away half the publishing on all those songs?”. James Griffin sang songs that were featured in a few episodes of the TV series ‘Ironside’ in the late sixties.
Griffin then wrote a brace of hits for Bread between 1969 and 1977. In 1970, under the pseudonym of Arthur James he collaborated with Bread members Robb Royer and Fred Carlin on the song For All We Know for the film Lovers and Other Strangers. The song won an Academy Award for Best Song and went on to become a #3 hit for the Carpenters.
He still had a solo recording deal by 1968, but he and Robb Royer joined Gates and Jim Gordon to form Bread to combine singing, songwriting and instrumental talents. “I was so tired of getting my songs recorded by other people who would miss the point or change the hooks or tempo,” Griffin later said about his choice.
The following year, the group’s debut single, Make It With You, went to #1. Subsequent hits included It Don’t Matter to Me, If, Baby I’m-a Want You, Everything I Own, The Guitar Man, Aubrey and Lost Without Your Love. He also wrote Bread tunes Truckin, Too Much Love, Any Way You Want Me and Could I. Griffin and Royer also wrote tunes such as Radio Dixie, Slow Train, Preacher On The Air, Pair Of 8’s, Two Hearts Working Overtime, Shango and Share This Love.
In 1971 Royer left Bread, but continued to provide songs co-written with Griffin for the group, he was replaced by keyboardist/guitarist Larry Knechtel. They had a number one Billboard Hot 100 hit, with the song “Make It With You”. Other hits by Bread included “Baby I’m-a Want You”, “If” and “Everything I Own.” Although Griffin was a significant contributor to Bread’s albums as a writer and singer, every one of the group’s thirteen songs that made the Billboard Hot 100 chart was written and sung by Gates, a situation that created friction between the two.
After the release of Guitar Man in 1972, Bread went on hiatus. Griffin released a solo album, Breakin’ Up Is Easy on Polydor Records in 1974, credited to ‘James Griffin & Co’. Neither the album nor the singles, “Breakin’ Up Is Easy,” “She Knows,” and “How Do You Say Goodbye,” made the Billboard charts. Bread reformed in 1976 for one final album, Lost Without Your Love. Gates, Botts, and Knechtel continued to record together on Gates’s solo albums, and initially toured as ‘David Gates & Bread’, which led to a lawsuit from Griffin. The dispute was not resolved until 1984. Griffin and Gates put aside their past differences for a Bread reunion tour in 1996–1997 with Botts and Knechtel.
In 1977, Griffin released a third solo album, James Griffin, also on Polydor, with tracks recorded in 1974 and 1975. He teamed with Terry Sylvester (formerly of The Hollies) on the album Griffin & Sylvester in 1982 and was a member of Black Tie with Randy Meisner and Billy Swan, which released When The Night Falls in 1986, co-produced by T-Bone Burnett. Robb Royer was also credited as a musician on the album. The album was remixed and reissued in the early ’90’s, with Griffin’s voice more prominent on some songs. The Black Tie single “Learning The Game” peaked at #59 on the Billboard country chart in 1991.
In 1991 Griffin formed The Remingtons with Richard Mainegra and Rick Yancey. They released their first single that same year, followed by the albums Blue Frontier (1992) and Aim for the Heart (1993). Their single, “A Long Time Ago” went Top 10 on Billboard’s country chart in 1992 with “Two-Timin’ Me” cracking the Top 20 later that year.
Beginning in 1994 Griffin and Robb Royer collaborated with Grammy-nominated songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Todd Cerney to write songs and perform in local venues. Larry Knechtel also participated in the collaboration and the group called themselves Toast (an obvious reference to Bread). Griffin, Royer and Cerney began this collaboration when they wrote “Kyrie” in 1994. Knechtel also joined songwriting credits on the 1995 song “Slow Train.” The group wrote, recorded and performed together at various Nashville Venues including the Bluebird Cafe, 3rd & Lindsley, and 12th & Porter. In 1998 they changed the name to “Radio Dixie” in an effort to be more commercially viable. The group disbanded in 1998, although Royer and Cerney continued to collaborate on song-writing.
In 2003, Griffin, Rick Yancey and Ronnie Guilbeau began writing and performing as GYG, recording a CD of the same name. The CD included new material and well-known tunes like “Who’s Gonna Know”, a Remingtons tune recorded by Conway Twitty, and “Call It Love” a #1 hit for Poco written by Ronnie Guilbeau. GYG was performing at numerous Nashville venues including the 2004 CRS Conference and making further plans to shop the CD to indie labels and take the act on the road at the time of Griffin’s sickness and death. In early 2004, Griffin recorded a duet with Holly Cieri of his Oscar winning song “For All We Know”. During that same year, Griffin also collaborated with Michael Z. Gordon and Griffin recorded the song, “Something Else Altogether” which was slated to be the title song for the film, “The Devil and Daniel Webster“. However, the film went into bankruptcy and the song was never used in the movie but was recently posted on YouTube and dedicated to Griffin.
Griffin died of complications from cancer on January 11, 2005 at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 61 and had been undergoing treatment for several months.