b/w I Did
(Written by Johnny Griffith)
The most prominent core member of the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, to be granted an album release (1962’s Jazz) on the company’s Workshop Jazz imprint, pianist and keyboardist Johnny Griffith seems to have come to Motown as a jazz artist first and foremost, and become absorbed into the Funk Brothers later on, rather than being a loyal studio player rewarded with his own LP.
Whatever the story, Johnny Griffith was a bona fide Motown legend, an integral part of the “Motown sound” and a genius keys man, and it’s only fitting that he gets to have some recognition on the site in his own right. The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 give him a brief biographical sketch which serves to illustrate what a talent he was, noting that before he was 25 he’d already accompanied Sarah Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Dinah Washington, Coleman Hawkins and Aretha Franklin – quite the CV.
Once at Motown, as well as cutting two albums for Workshop Jazz (this one, and another unreleased set of duets with Paula Greer), he’d go on to lay down some of the company’s greatest and most recognisable electric piano and clavinet parts (the barrelling organ, including opening gliss, on the Supremes’ Stop! In The Name Of Love and the brooding electric piano that underpins Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine were both his, for instance), and after Motown left for LA, Griffith stayed back in Detroit, cutting a 1973 R&B hit single in Grand Central Shuttle and another fearsome instrumental in Do It. All of which gives you some idea of what we’re dealing with here; Workshop Jazz wasn’t big enough for him.
Galling to report, then, that I’mi See You Later (that’s no typo, by the way, it’s a contraction of “I might”) is yet another disappointing entry in the Workshop Jazz catalogue. Up until now, the label had apparently been keen to release only the mildest, softest supper-club brand of inoffensive jazz (and the B-side here certainly continues that tradition). This one, though, is caught in two minds as to what it wants to be, an instrumental piano workout with an identity crisis; there’s supper-club cheese aplenty here, as the other two members of the trio (Ben Appling and Vince Matlock on drums and bass, respectively) go through their bebop-lite paces, but Griffith hammers away on his piano in an increasingly furious, almost deranged fashion, banging it alarmingly out of key and out of tune to create a jarring dischord that’s plenty bracing, but quite out of keeping with the almost refined air of the backing track.
The result is a bit of a mess, unlikely to satisfy anybody, and – once again – it’s just too short for serious jazz heads to really dig it, lasting just over two and a half minutes in this incarnation. (Actually, this might have been much better if it had been a twenty-minute album-only freak out, come to think of it – I think maybe trying to deal with some of these jazz pieces in an R&B singles context is skewing my perception a bit. Maybe. This still doesn’t work as a single, though.)
I really wanted to like this, but ultimately it’s just irritating. A pity.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
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“Mellow In Coli”
|Johnny Griffith Trio