You are hereInterview: Sid Griffin
Interview: Sid Griffin
I managed to catch former Long Ryders frontman, writer, musician and Coal Porters mandolin player Sid Griffin, just before he presented his talk on Dylan's Basement Tapes, who was happy to chat backstage at the Beverley Folk Festival about Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan and Habitat for Humanity..
AW: I'm here now with an eighth generation Kentuckian, musician, writer, broadcaster, Long Ryders member and currently tearing it up with the Coal Porters, it's a pleasure to meet you Sid Griffin
SG: Nice to be here
AW: You've written so much about him (Gram Parsons) over the years and you've become something of an authority on the subject, in 2009 what does the legacy of Gram Parsons mean to you and how relevant do you think his music is today?
SG: It doesn't mean that much to me personally, I mean I've played it, done it, been there, and have been to completely other places. I play bluegrass now but I notice he's a big hero for alt country and alternative young acts of the day. He wasn't twenty-five years ago. When I was a youngster playing alt country and alternative music and indie music, no one knew who he was, particularly in the UK. We'd come over here and be interviewed by Sounds and Melody Maker and the NME and you'd say 'Gram Parsons' and they had no idea who you meant, they'd always say Graham Parker.. no, no! He's certainly a name to drop now in the way Alex Chilton was a few years ago or James Brown was a few years ago. But for me I've been there, done it, bought the t shirt and moved on but he's just a name to drop for a lot of young kids, I don't think you can throw a rock and hit an alt country or indie band that didn't kowtow to the great force that was Gram Parsons."
AW: I mean it kind of always seems to happen with those who are no longer with us doesn't it?
SG: Yeah I think so. I used to work in a record store called Rhino Records and when someone would die their records would sell like nobody's business for the next few days I mean Miles Davis was not an undiscovered talent and he died and all of a sudden the store was mobbed with people buying Miles Davis records. A more extreme example was John Lennon died and Double Fantasy, his final LP which was just out sold nine million copies in America alone. Now it's a good record but I doubt it would've sold nine million copies had it not had the publicity of his death and I've never quite figured out why people have to find out that someone like John Lennon or Milse Davis, much less Gram Parsons, is dead to go to the record store to buy the music in such numbers. Death is the greatest advertisment an artist is ever going to get
AW: Well you're here with the Coal Porters, you played last night, how did that go?
SG: It went very very well indeed, we played in this marquee tent out here, the concert marquee tent, it was just fantastic. A lovely crowd. Then we played on Radio Humberside and then we played in the Wold Top tent and had a jolly evening. We did gig in all in about five hours
AW: I always imagine bluegrass is such fun to play
SG: Yeah it is, in fact Gram Parsons once said he'd have given his left kneecap to have been in the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers with Chris Hillman and Bernie Leadon and I know exactly what he means. It's a very fun music. It's very warm and it's got something that rock and roll doesn't have, there's a certain warmth to it that draws everybody in that rock and roll because of the volume and some of the attitude is primarily a young persons game
AW: After Gram Parsons left us the Flying Burrito Bros took off with Chris Hillman as a full blown bluegrass band who knocked everybody else out of the water
SG: Yeah, the show shifted to about 40 to 50 per cent bluegrass once Gram was gone, they had Rick Roberts in and there's a live album out from Holland with some of that stuff on that's really good
AW: I remember the Last of the Flying Burrito Bros had a great live side..
SG: Well there's one out in Holland alone called Live in Amsterdam that only came out in Benelux with the Rick Roberts Burritos and that's got a lot of that stuff on, it's a really good record
AW: Well in the late Sixties just about everybody on the folk scene had been passed a bootleg copy of The Basement Tapes and everybody wanted to be the first top sing or record those songs, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny and so on. You've written a book about the recording in Million Dollar Bash, how important are those songs to you
SG: To me personally, they're pretty important. The thing that gets me about them is we've never had an artist of Dylan's stature or commercial success, voluntarily withdraw from the limelight as he did back then, so it's hard to believe when you look at Dylan's career and all the weird things he's done that here's a guy at the top of his game in late '66 that voluntarily withdraws from the scene for about fifteen months, and while we think he's doing nothing, we years later find out he was actually recording all the time albeit informally with his friends, and that he was having a bit of a purple patch, turning out things like "This Wheel's On Fire", "You Ain't Going Nowhere", "Nothing Was Delivered" and so on and so forth. So it's kind of a typically Dylan thing in that it's so weird that you wouldn't dream it, I mean John lennon quit to bake bread and raise his son for five years, you know fair enough, and Elvis went in the army and blah blah blah, but we've never had someone like Bob Dylan just say I'm taking this year off for no particular reason, he wasn't doing this or that particularly and then continued to write this purple patch. When John Lennon for instance took his five years off to raise Sean towards the end of his life he wasn't particularly writing or recording very much and he admitted that, but Dylan was working all the time and it's just the weirdness of Bob Dylan is what's fascinating about it. We thin k why quit, then we think okay he quit and did nothing and years later we find out he didn't quit and do nothing, he recorded all these great songs during this period and then of course typically of Dylan he recorded all these great songs and doesn't put them out, that's what interests me in the Basement Tapes, the whole story is too weird to be believed.
AW: Of course at the time The Band sort of transformed from Ronnie Hawkins backing band to something else completely
SG: Yeah that's a weird story right there 'cause they were very much a rootin' tootin' R&B band as I discuss in my lecture, playing uptempo stuff and then the next thing you know they're this country soul band that plays almost exclusively slow stuff to mid-tempo stuff so they completely did a sea change. I mean '67 is always considered the Summer of Love and all that kind of psychadelic stuff, but for Bob Dylan and The Band it was anything but
AW: Well on a more serious note, I know that your sister's involved in working to re-house those affected Hurricane Katrina, I visited the city the year before the Hurricane did, so on a personal note, how's things going out there?
SG: Yeah my sister's involved with Habitat for Humanity and they rebuild homes in the very wards and precincts of New Orleans that were hardest hit as they do throughout the United Statesin low income neighbourhoods. It's going well, but it's not going as well as it should I mean i am one of those cynical Americans, perhaps cynical is the wrong word, that believes that had katrina hit say the upper west side of Manhattan or Beverly Hills in California, that those homes would've been rebuilt mighty quickly or if it had hit just an average middle class neighbourhood in the middle of the country, those homes would've gotten government assistance. I do believe there's something suspicious about george Bush Jnr being in office and it hitting a primarily African American area and then the federal assistance was so slow and poor and so inadequate. I m one of those americans who is very disappointed by the government then. I think cynically enough and perhaps accurately enough that they realised that those African Americans are not their natural voting constituancy, so they didn't rush to help them.
AW: Well what's the future hold for Sid Griffin now, any new exciting projects? I know that you've been working on a Buddy Holly script for instance
SG: Well the Buddy Holly script came and went with the 50th anniversary of his sad passing last february, then there's a new Coal Porters record out September 1st recorded in Durango, Colorado, with the great Ed Stasium who did The Ramones, Belinda Carlisle, Smithereens, Jeff Healey Band and then I'm working on the second Dylan of the trilogy of Dylan, for me anyway, it'll be out at Christmas, I don't know the title yet but it's on Rolling Thunder, Renaldo and Clara and the Hard Rain Desire era
AW: Well thanks very much for talking to me, you're going to be presenting the Million Dollar Bash, Bob Dylan and The Band and the Basement Tapes in this very marquee shortly aren't you?
SG: Absolutely, ten o'clock
AW: Well thank you very much for talking to me, all the best
SG: Thank you
Million Dollar Bash is published through Jawbone Press