BUCK GRIFFIN (By Erik Peterson with Tony Wilkinson)
Born Albert Clayton Griffin, 23 February, 1923, Corsicana, Texas
This is the story of one the unjustifiably neglected talents of Country and Rock'n'Roll Music. Generally unknown to the general public, Texas born Buck Griffin is considered by diehard fans to be a major talent. His contributions to the annals of rockabilly include "Let's Elope Baby" (also covered by Janis Martin), "Stutterin' Papa", "Watchin' The 7.10 Roll By" and "The Party". Sadly, he was never able to acheive more than localised fame in the states of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma during the fifties and early sixties. His music is characterized by dynamic singing and forceful playing but above all performed with feeling, often conveying life's experiences learnt at first hand.
Albert Clayton Griffin was born in Corsicana, Texas on February 23, 1923 but his family moved around and so he grew up in areas of Oklahoma and Kansas City. His father died working on an oilfield when Buck was 7 years old but this was from whom he inherited his nickname.. Like many other younsters he got interested in music and started to play the guitar. Around the age of 14 he formed a band with three friends, playing Hillbilly and other popular music of the time in schools and local dancehalls - with Buck handling the majority of vocals. However to earn a meaningful income Buck left home at the age of 15 and found work as a ditch-digger in the oilfields, later advancing to become a driller. Hard labour craves relaxation and the life at the bars, otherwise known as honky tonks, attracted the upcoming musician who wanted the opportunity to play every night.
On January 31, 1942 Buck married his childhood sweetheart Mildred Sanders, in Russell, Kansas, and the couple settled down in Great Bend to be near friends, family and work in the oilfields. At the same time, Griffin established himself as a musician and soon had a radio show on Station WKY in Oklahoma City broadcasting under the name of Chuck Wyman. Buck was also featurted on television on the sister WKY TV which was run by Paul Brawner and Pronger Suggs. This was his first real taste of stardom with plenty of fan-mail coming in.
By 1950 Buck and Mildred along with their two children now resided in Oklahoma City. At that time, Hank Williams was the country artist and when asked if they ever met, Griffin replied
-Yes, I'm very pleased to say I met Hank Williams in the fall of 1952, backstage at an open air theatre in Oklahoma City, before he went on stage, and he was back there writing, singing and finishing up his song called 'Moaning The Blues'. He looked great and sounded great, as always. I was very saddened by his death January first or on New Years Eve December 31st, 1952. I was an ardent fan of his and learned and sang all of his songs on my radio and TV and personal appearances.
Buck also recalls meeting Bob Wills.
-I also met Bob Wills in Oklahoma City in 1950 when he and I discussed some of my material. I was at WKY then and he and his band had a noon broadcast every day. Five days a week, I think from the old Tri-A-Non Ballroom in Oklahoma City.
Enter Joe M. Leonard into the story. He owned the radio-station KGAF in his hometown of Gainesville, Texas and in 1953 he expanded into the recording business with the label Lin and its subsidiary Kliff. (Joe Leonard Productions also included the publishing companies Lin, Linda, Kliff and Leonard). He commenced with releasing country music and the first issue was by local singer Wayne Jetton. Ensuing releases were by Bill Switzer, Gene Armstrong and Woodrow Mitchell.
When Leonard got around to watching Buck he was impressed, not only by his vocal style which was described as a cross between of Hank Williams and Red Foley but also by his songwriting. Joe Leonard perceived a natural Hank Williams successor in Buck Griffin and was therefore the star he had been searching for. The first recordings took place at the radio-station WFAA in Dallas, Texas, early 1954. Included on the session as backing musicians were "Thumbs" Carlisle on steel-guitar and piano, Bill Mayo on clarinet and sax plus Bob Kornegay on trumpet. This was done with the view of acheiving a western swing feel to the recordings but many country stations did not like this sound and refused to play the songs "Meadowlark Boogie/It Don't Make No Never Mind".
Come September 17, 1954, they decided to to try again but this time at Jim Beck's legendary studio in Dallas. There he recorded four self-penned numbers: "Rollin' Tears/ One Day After Payday" (this one has a gimmick in the form of a ringing cash register)/"Lookin' For The Green/Goin' Home All Alone". The back-up musicians were mainly members from Bill Wimberley's Show Band which was the house-band on The Ozark Jubilee transmitted from Springfield Missouri (and hosted by Red Foley) reinforced with Sonny James on fiddle. Sadly none of the songs, released on on Lin 1007 and 1008, acheived commercial success so they changed style again.
On the subject of Red Foley, Buck remembers a compliment paid to him
-I sang on a show in Fort Worth, Texas, where Pat Boone was the M.C. and his wife told me my voice was reminiscent of her father, who was Red Foley. It was a fine compliment to me.
On May 1, 1955 they returned to Jim Beck's studio with the songs "Lord, Give Me Strength" and "Next To Mine". The first was written by Woodrow Mitchell and the latter by teacher W. D. (Woodrow) Patty, from Carter County in Oklahoma. His song was a religious ballad about two graves, placed side by side. (However Pattys main claim to fame, though, is that he wrote "She's A Going Jessie", "Old Deacon Jones" and "Rockin' Rollin' Stone" for Andy Starr). When released, this waxing did not click either.
Leonard still believed strongly in Buck and during the winter 1955-1956 Buck recorded enough material for his next three singles, The backing musicians were again Bill Wimberleys Show Band. Joe waited for the right opportunity and so when the band was in Dallas he arranged for them to record at Jim Beck's studio.. The session produced such gems as "Let's Elope Baby" and "Ballin' And Squallin". (The first song reached the ears of Janis Martin and she recorded her version on March 8, 1956). Eleven of Buck's recordings were later issued on the rare Canadian LP "Buck Griffin Sings" on London EB-13.
Buck also performed on the Big D Jamboree in Dallas, that was broadcasted every Saturday night from Ed McLemore Sportatorium with Bristol-Myers as main sponsors. By 1956 rock'n'roll was riding high and MGM jumped on the bandwagon with artists such as Andy Starr. They also signed Buck Griffin, and on May 9, 1956 the songs "Stutterin' Papa", "Watchin' The 7.10 Roll By" and "You'll Never Come Back" were recorded in Cliff Herring's studio. These were cuts in a style reminscent of a combination of Charlie Feathers mannerisms and Carl Perkins intensity.
Four more tracks were laid down on July 9, 1956 at the same studio in Fort Worth, Texas, namely the superb "Old Bee Tree", "Broken Heart With Alimony", "Jessie Lee" and "Bow My Back". When asked about his song-writing, Buck replied; What I write about in my songs are often self-experienced. Keeping up with the changes, Griffin recorded "The Party" on January 7, 1958 in Clifford Herring's studio. The song, another fine example of his talent at its best, was issued on MGM's subsidiary Metro label but to no avail as commercially it was still-born. There were no more recordings for MGM.
In 1960 he was back at Lin with two songs that were musically dated in sound but one, "The First Man To Stand On The Moon", was lyrically ahead of it's time. The other track cut was "Twenty Six Steps". For the next single, Leonard leased two sides to Holliday Inn Records (named after the hotel-chain)and which were more pop-oriented than previous. The top-side was , being a saxophone-lead song namned "Pretty Lou". The record company and hotel chain had Sam C. Phillips as an investor when they started. The idea behind the label was that the artists' records could be sold at the hotels, especially when they performed there.
By now, Buck was 39 years of age and wanted to slow down a bit. Accordingly he started selling bibles during the daytime. But the music bug stayed with him and so he continued to record. He also started his own record company - Rotary - with Joe Leonard as publisher and with the address as Hoisington, Kansas. The recordings, with one exception, were done in Studio i, Wichita, Kansas employing such musicians as: "Chuck" Patterson (piano), Paul Cuzick (guitar), Kenneth Hale (another guitar), Ben Erlich (drums) and Bill Koehler (bass). Buck, of course, sang and played guitar.
Buck had an NCB-TV show, broadcast from KCKT in Kansas and naturally he used it to promote his Rotary singles. These singles were good tough country, firmly rooted in the honky tonk tradition. Buck himself was generally satisfied with them:
... The tune titled "Greener Pastures", a song about life traveling around in the oil fields was recorded at Wayne Raney's studio at Concord, Arkansas. A disc jockey friend of mine who worked at a radio station in Little Rock, Arkansas, set up the session and found the musicians for me. They all played and entertained in the Little Rock area regularly......The flip side of my recording is "Green River Towns", a song for salesmen trying to make a living traveling about but the Green River Ordinance Law in many towns and cities prohibit knocking doors to try to sell.... "No More Fun/One Day after Pay Day", which is a much better cut than when "One Day After Pay Day" came out years earlier on Lin label.
Even though the singles were first class, none of them made any significant impact.
-I wanted to start my own company, but I couldn't get the right backing and distribution so I gave it up. I guess it was just a hobby or a diversion. Buck's last disc was for the Foundation label out of Oklahoma City and the songs were titled "From Vietnam To Dolan" and "Drinkin' With The Blues".
Of course there was more than music in Buck's life. Buck again:
-I worked as an oil and gas driller about 35 years. Back thru the years I used to fly my own light airplane to and from work on the drilling rigs, landing and taking off in the wheat fields and pastures closest to the rig, weather permitting that is, "ha". I also rebuilt a '37 Chevy pick-up to it's original condition, a '33 Chevy coupe too, as a hobby and sold both of them. I won some trophies on the drag-strips in Kansas, with a '63 Plymouth equipped with a H 26 Chrysler (wedge) engine-just as a past time.
Buck has lived with his wife in Erick, Oklahoma since November 1992. Erick's main claim to fame is that it's the hometown of Roger "King Of The Road" Miller. He nowdays suffers from asthma which his wife thinks can be releived or even cured by frequent steam-baths. Ever optimistic, Buck believes that maybe one-day some of his songs will become hits, - amen to that - and then he will get the recognition he deserves. In his prime, Buck could compete with the best singers in the country and rockabilly fields.
Bear Family BCD 15811 AH 'Let's Elope Baby' - 1995
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