Cary Griffin was a gifted, outstanding musician who passed away last week. He was a great drummer and singer with an exceptional sense of time who could play any type of music. He played in big bands, Brazilian dance bands, fusion bands, jazz combos, R&B dance bands, and in his own band, a New Orleans style funk band called Loose Gravel.
I first encountered Cary when I heard him playing and singing in the Jim Caroompas Band, a top notch R&B quartet, at Jasper O'Farrell's in 2002. I particularly liked the great covers they did of tunes by Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Smokey Robinson, and Jon Cleary. Cary and the bass player sang great backup harmony lines behind the great lead vocalist and guitarist Jim Caroompas on Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got A Hold On Me". On Watson's "Superman Lover", Cary drumming sounded like TOP's David Garibaldi. The band surprised me when they played a really cool tune I had never heard before, Jon Cleary's "When You Get Back". I was blown away by the sophisticated chord and rhythm changes. I loved the way the band could build up the tension and dynamics. Cary would continue to play this song and other songs by Jon Cleary when Cary started his own band.
I met Cary through craigslist. I was trying to start a band that played jazz standards and was looking for a drummer. He was looking for a bass player for the New Orleans funk band he wanted to start. I told him about the great band that played that played New Orleans funk that I had heard, the Jim Caroompas Band. He told me he was the drummer for that band. I caught my breath and told him "You are a great player, man". We played in each other's band for a few months before we parted ways. He wanted to play New Orleans funk exclusively and I wanted to play jazz. We remained friends and corresponded often during the years that followed. I always hoped that someday I would play in a band with him again.
Cary Griffin was a gentleman with an innate reserved dignity. When talking with him or listening to him play drums one felt as if they were in the presence of greatness. He was married, had a daughter, and worked from home full time as a computer system application manager. He had a beautiful home in the country complete with a music studio next to his house.
Paul McCartney said, "A band is only as good as its drummmer". Cary proved it. His drumming and his great sense of time created the perfect framework or skeleton for each song. As a bass player, all I had to do was fill in the blanks, the spaces between his beats. He made the band sound so great. As Cary played drums he made eye contact with each person in the audience. After a while, it seemed like everyone was hypnotized by his drumbeat.
I can remember playing a jazz gig with Cary at an outdoor wedding at a house with a beautiful view of the countryside. It was late in the day and the sun was setting. As the darkness fell, the band played a slow jazz standard called "Tenderly". I looked up from the chart on my music stand and saw the audience gracefully swing dancing around a swimming pool, with the countryside in the background. The band and the audience were under the spell of Cary's drums. Cary could explain and demonstrate rhythmic feel concepts expertly. Cary told me that each song has a pulse, a basic rhythmic motif, which runs throughout the song. When a band plays a song correctly, each instrument in the band plays something that compliments the song's basic rhythmic pulse. He felt that many bands don't do this.
Once when we were talking about swing rhythms, he demonstrated the effect of "swing factor". While playing his snare drum, Cary slowly changed from a shuffle beat to a straight eighth note beat over a period of about 30 seconds. Then he went back and played the rhythm that was halfway between the shuffle and the straight eighth note beat. This rhythm, he explained, is the basic pulse for African, Brazilian, and New Orleans funk rhythms. He then played New Orleans funk drum set patterns that used that 50% swing factor.
Cary liked to use an online music listening service called Rhapsody, www.rhapsody.com. Cary would explore all of the different types of music. If he found a song that he liked, he would listen to all of the different versions. He wanted to hear all of the different arrangements artists had used when recording that song.
Cary led his own band, a New Orleans funk band called Loose Gravel. He was a great bandleader. He provided CDs of all the songs. He gave each player in the band a binder. Each page in the binder had the chords and notation that showed each player's part for each song. Cary transcribed all the parts.
Cary's high was music. He didn't need anything else. He liked to drink a beer now and then, but that was it.
Cary's music can be heard at www.loosegravelfunk.com. Play on, Cary, play on! I will miss you and will never forget you. Thanks for all the great music. Thanks for teaching me so much.
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