By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
Griffith's new album closes with a humorous take on the South African folk tune "Wimoweh," which, in the Sixties, became a signature tune of the Pete Seeger/Ronnie Gilbert-led folk group the Weavers. For that track, 25 players, representing five generations of singer-songwriters, join in. Of all the material on this album, the closest to Griffith's heart are the tunes by the Texas troubadours.
"My role models for what I wanted out of my career and what I really expected were Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker," she says. "In terms of commercial success, my career has far exceeded anything I ever expected. I really expected to spend my life driving myself around America, playing small clubs and following in the footsteps of my heroes."
All of those heroes are represented in one way or another on this collection. Van Zandt's "Tecumseh Valley" and Walker's "Morning Song for Sally" are two of the album's strongest cuts. And though none of his songs made it onto the album, Guy Clark sings a duet with Griffith on the album's most vivid performance, a spirited take of Woody Guthrie's "Do-Re-Mi." Woody's presence can also be felt through his son, Arlo Guthrie, who sings harmony on "Tecumseh Valley." "Do-Re-Mi' was Woody Guthrie's generation talking about California," Griffith begins. "And for me, Guy Clark wrote the definitive California song for his generation, which is 'L.A. Freeway.' Guy and I are from the same part of Texas and we have the same phrasing, and it was just natural that Guy should be the one to do the Woody Guthrie song with me."
The co-star of Griffith's current tour, Clark has been experiencing throat problems that have forced him to return to Texas to rest. At press time, the chances that Clark would rejoin the tour in time for the upcoming local show were about even. Although Griffith's been to Tucson twice--once as an opener for the Everly Brothers and once solo--her April 18 show at Tempe's Red River Opry will be Griffith's first in the Valley.
Although it looks rosy now, Griffith's career, like those of most singer-songwriters, has been filled with periods of starvation. Born in Texas, Griffith began singing in coffee houses in Austin in the mid-Seventies. In 1978, she made her first album for Rounder, There's a Light Beyond These Woods. The relationship proved fruitful, and three albums later, Griffith's last Rounder recording, The Last of the True Believers, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1986. It also contains one of her most beloved originals, "Love at the Five and Dime." The Grammy nod convinced MCA/Nashville to give Griffith a shot. She paired with Midas-touch producer Tony Brown for her first MCA album, 1987's Lone Star State of Mind. It remains her opus. Lone Star is the only Griffith album to go gold in the United States. It was even bigger overseas, going platinum in England and Ireland. Griffith says she's still gratified that Brown encouraged her to co-produce the album with him. Bolstered by the talents of non-Nashville players like drummer Russ Kunkel, Lone Star benefits most from a bevy of Griffith-penned classics, like "Cold Hearts/Closed Minds," "Beacon Street" and "Trouble in the Fields." The album also includes the first recording of songwriter Julie Gold's "From a Distance," which later won Grammys for Gold and performer Bette Midler. "Julie and I are dear friends, and she sent me that song about a week after she wrote it," Griffith says. "That was in 1986, and we had just finished the True Believers album. It's so beautiful that it came in time to be the centerpiece of my first MCA album. That version became a hit for me in Europe, years before it won the Grammy."
Another tune from Lone Star, "Trouble in the Fields," opened an unexpected door for the Texas singer. After the album came out, the song was picked up and covered by Irish singer Maura O'Connell. That version became a huge hit for O'Connell in Ireland, and led to a demand for Griffith to tour there. Griffith's first Irish tour was such a success that she has returned annually, playing to sold-out houses. "The best audiences in the world are in Belfast," she says. Until recently, Griffith lived in Ireland for half of each year. The Irish people's fondness for her gives her a giggle, because despite her Irish surname and her Celtic features--fair skin, dark eyes and hair--she doesn't have a drop of the auld sod in her.
"I'm not Irish at all," she says, beginning to laugh. "My dad's family came from Wales and my mother's family came from Scotland. I guess I'm just the adopted daughter of the country of Ireland."
In 1991, MCA decided to move the careers of Griffith and its other iconoclastic country talent, Lyle Lovett, from Nashville to the label's pop division in L.A. It was a move that eventually spelled the end of Griffith's association with MCA. If the excellent Nashville division couldn't market and promote her considerable talents, then MCA/L.A. had no chance. After the album Late Night, Grande Hotel died on the vine in 1991, Griffith decided it was time for a change.