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Another Funk Brother Gone

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Johnny Griffith, keyboardist for Motown backup group the Funk Brothers, has died at 68. Launch reports:

    This news came just a few hours before the red-carpet premiere of the film about the Funk Brothers, Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Michigan.

    Griffith, 68, had been in bad health recently, and a back injury had sidelined him from participating in last week’s New York premiere of the film, which included a star-studded performance at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

    The keyboardist’s death cast a pall over Sunday’s events, and both the Palladium premiere and the Funk Brothers’ performance at an after-party Sunday night at the Roostertail nightclub were dedicated to Griffith’s memory. Shadows director Paul Justman broke into tears and strode out of the theater as writer and co-producer Allen Slutsky–noting that he had been “racing against…the specter of death” since conceiving the film in the late ’80s–informed the crowd of Griffith’s death.

    “Another brother has fallen down. I’m sure he’ll be up there (in Heaven) with the rest of them,” Funk Brothers bassist Bob Babbitt said outside the Palladium, referring to other late members of the group such as bassist James Jamerson; drummer Benny Benjamin; keyboardist Earl Van Dyke; and drummer Richard “Pistol” Allen, who died earlier this year.

For much more on the film, the Funk Brothers and their place in Motown history, please see here.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • That is sad. I’m planning on posting a review of the movie later in the week. It starts opening in cities on Friday.

    There was an article on it in Sunday’s NY Times.

    This is the bio on Griffith from the film’s website:

    Johnny Griffith – One of the few classically trained musicians in the Funk Brothers ranks, Johnny was Hitsville’s “hired gun,” having never signed the exclusive recording contract under which most of Motown’s rhythm section musicians worked. Originally lured into the company in 1961 hoping to record jazz, Johnny often moonlighted on hits for other R&B record labels around Detroit and in Chicago.

    While he did get the opportunity to record two albums on Motown’s “Workshop Jazz” label, his true value down in “Studio “A” was in the delicate touch with which he played that so perfectly complimented Earl Van Dyke’s “gorilla piano” style. This two keyboard approach had Earl and Johnny spending the next decade trading off on acoustic piano, Hammond organ, and Wurlitzer electric piano. To this day, in spite of all the R&B hits Johnny played on, he still considers himself, first and foremost, a jazz musician.

    Born: Detroit, MI

    Nicknames: None

    Musical Influences: Bud Powell, Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson

    Instruments Played: : Steinway grand piano, Hammond B-3 organ, Wurlitzer electric piano, celeste, harpsichord, Fender Rhodes

    Greatest Performances: “Wonderful One,” “Stop In The Name Of Love,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye Version)

  • And this is the news section:

    At the request of the Funk Brothers we make the following announcement:

    DETROIT, November 10, 2002 – Pioneering keyboard player Johnny Griffith of the Funk Brothers, the band that created the music of the Motown sound, died on Sunday, November 10, 2002. He was 66 years old.

    Born in Detroit, Michigan, Griffith was one of the few classically trained musicians who played at Motown. In his early years, Johnny toured with Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington and Aretha Franklin. Johnny’s contributions to music history can be heard on such songs as “Stop In The Name Of Love,” “Wonderful One,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

    The Funk Brothers respectfully noted, “Johnny was a superior musician and incredibly fluid on his instrument. He was a large contributor to the Motown sound and to the group of musicians proudly known as the Funk Brothers.” Griffith marked a dream come true this past Thursday night by appearing with the band during their performance at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem. The performance was part of the premiere for the launch of Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a new film that recognizes the achievements of the Funk Brothers.

    Griffith is survived by his wife, Delma Reid Griffith, and three children, Jonathan Jr., Beth and Rhonda. He is also survived by two step sons, Roman and Charlie Reid III, and two grandchildren, Ronnie and Shaynae.

    The Funk Brothers are the group of musicians the helped to create and define the music of Motown. Their work can be heard on hits from such performers as Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and many others. The Funk’s vital influence on music remains to this day, with these musicians having played on more number one records then The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley combined.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Steve, very informative.

  • It’s Saturday afternoon. I just saw “Standing” Wednesday in Cleveland and I was in heaven, reliving the memories of my teen years. Those were the years when, as a young trumpeter and pianist, I sang the songs, played the licks and wondered about the men who performed the real magic that was in those grooves.

    All of the gentle souls that told their stories on screen allowed me to travel through time and regain those fresh feelings of being a proud new musician. The Funk Brothers and Booker T and the MG’s were my mentors. I will pay them their back dues by mentoring future players.

    Funk Brothers, you will live on and on and on in our love for your service. Music is a love force!