Thursday, 21 January 2016

Godspeed Dale Griffin

Dale "Buffin" Griffin, drummer for British glam rock band Mott the Hoople, died on January 17 2016 at the age of 67. The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Terence Dale Griffin was born on October 24 1948 in  Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. He grew up listening to big band music such as The Ted Heath Band and Count Basie. Young Mr. Griffin embraced rock 'n' roll when it arrived in Britain, listening to American rock 'n' roll artists Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and Buddy Holly, as well as British rock 'n' roll artist John Leyton. He went to Ross-on-Wye Grammar School.  It was while he was still in school that he played in local bands with fellow future Mott the Hoople member Overend Watts. In 1965 both Dale Griffin and Overend Watts played with a local band called The Silence. By December Overend Watts had left for a band called The Buddies, while Mr. Griffin would play with such bands as The Charles Kingsley Creation as well as serving as a session drummer for Future Sound (which eventually became Rockfield Studios in Rockfield, Monmouthshire, Wales). It was in this capacity that he played on the single "Black is the Night" by Yemm and the Yemen and "Is It Really What You Want?" by The Interns.

It was in 1966 that Dale Griffin joined Overend Watts and fellow future Mott the Hoople member Mick Ralphs in the The Doc Thomas Group. The Doc Thomas Group was very successful in Italy, so much so that they even released a self-titled album on the Italian label Dischi Interrecord in early 1967. It was after  organist Verden Allen joined the band that The Doc Thomas Group was renamed The Shakedown Sound  and later The Silence in the United Kingdom, although they continued to be billed as The Doc Thomas Group in Italy. The Silence recorded demos and sent them to EMI, Polydor, Immediate, and Apple. In each case they were rejected. Producer Guy Stevens of Island Records took notice of The Silence, and expressed an interest in the group, although not with their current lead singer Stan Tippins.

The Silence then placed ads for a lead vocalist and ultimately Ian Hunter was hired. It was afterwards that The Silence saw one final name change. Guy Stevens had read the novel Mott the Hoople by Willard Manus. It was in early 1969, then, that The Silence became Mott the Hoople.

Mott the Hoople's self-titled debut album was released in November 1969 in the United Kingdom and a little bit later in the United States. It proved to be somewhat successful, going to no. 66 in the UK and no 185 in the U.S. Their second album, Mad Shadows (released in September 1970), went to no. 48 in the UK, but did not chart at all in the U.S. Unfortunately it was also poorly received by critics. Their third album, Wildlife, peaked at no. 44 in the Untied Kingdom, but also received bad reviews. Their fourth album, Brain Capers, released in November 1971, failed to chart in the UK or the U.S. It was the only Mott the Hoople album ever to do so. The band came very close to breaking up at the time.

Fortunately for Mott the Hoople, up and coming rock star David Bowie was a long time fan of the band. When he heard that they were close to splitting up, he offered them the song "Suffragette City" (which ultimately appeared on his album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars). They turned it down, at which point David Bowie wrote the song "All the Young Dudes" for them. "All the Young Dudes" proved to be a hit on both sides of the Pond, going to no. 3 in the United Kingdom and no. 37 in the United States. David Bowie produced their next album, All the Young Dudes, released in September 1972. The album did well. It went to no. 21 in the UK and no. 89 in the U.S.

The band's next two albums would perform even better. Mott (released in July 1973) went to no. 7 in the UK and no. 35 in the U.S. The Hoople (released in March 1974) went to no. 11 in the UK and no. 28 in the U.S. The band also saw further success with some of their singles. "Honaloochie Boogie", "All the Way from Memphis", and "Roll Away the Stone" all hit the top twenty of the British singles chart.

Unfortunately such success would not mean Mott the Hoople would remain together. Guitarist Mick Ralphs left Mott the Hoople in 1973 to form Bad Company. He was replaced by Ariel Bender, who would later be replaced by Mick Ronson. It was after their Live album (released in 1974), that Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson left to perform as a duo. With Ian Hunter's departure, Dale Griffin, Overend Watts, and Morgan Fisher regrouped, adding guitarist Ray Major (formerly of Opal Butterfly) and lead vocalist Nigel Benjamin. They also shortened the name of the band to "Mott". Mott released two albums, Drive On (in September 1975) and Shouting and Pointing (in June 1976). Neither sold well.

Following Drive On Nigel Benjamin left the band and was replaced very briefly by Steve Hyams. John Fiddler, formerly of Medicine Head, then joined the group and they renamed themselves British Lions. British Lions only released two albums. The first, self-titled debut album (released in February 1978) only went to no. 83 on the Billboard albums chart and did not chart at all in the UK. Their second album, Trouble with Women was \released in 1980 after the band had broken up in 1979. It did not chart in either the U.S. or the UK.

In the early Eighties Dale Griffin and Overend Watts formed the recording production company Grimtone Productions. Starting in February 1980 Dale Griffin began producing artists for BBC Radio 1. Among the artists Mr. Griffin produced were The Cult, Pulp, Smashing Pumpkins, The Smiths, Nirvana, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and Carcass. He last worked for BBC Radio 1 in February 1993.

Dale Griffin was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease when he was only 58 years old. In 2009 he participated in the Mott the Hoople reunion, although he only played the encores due to his condition.

Dale "Buffin" Griffin hardly fit the stereotype of the wild, rock 'n' roll drummer. He was in many ways a far cry from Keith Moon or John Bonham. He was quiet, thoughtful, and well spoken. Regardless Mr. Griffin was one of the best drummers in the business. His playing was loud and his playing was steady, the perfect backing for one of the best known bands of the glam rock era. He was with Mott the Hoople from their beginning to their end, making it hard to picture anyone else drumming for them (although Martin Chambers did when they toured in 2013). Dale Griffin was also a gifted producer, producing a wide array of groups, including Pulp's first recording session in 1981. As both the drummer for Mott the Hoople and the producer of many records, Dale Griffin will be missed.

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