RIP: Dan Griffin, 1956-2014

Dan Griffin
Dan Griffin

“There’s nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book.”

– Carson McCullers

I found that quotation on the Facebook page of Dan Griffin, who passed away last week after a long illness, leaving so much unfinished. And, yes, he’s in a number of my old address books, too.

He was living in the Bronx at the time of his death, and his stint in Albany was just one stop along his much traveled road, but he made his time here in town count, making a big, lasting, behind-the-scenes impression on the Local 518 music scene.

Dan was a prime mover and shaker here for several years in the ’80s and ’90s. He ran a record label, Wanga Records, that produced and released CDs by some of the best Nippertown bands of the day, including Mambo-X, Even the Odd and Home. He managed 10,000 Maniacs. He was a concert promoter – including memorable shows by 10,000 Maniacs and Jimmy Cliff at the Palace Theatre. He was the manager of the Berkshire Performing Arts Center in Lenox, which is now the home of Shakespeare & Co. And along with Charlene Shortsleeve of QE2, he co-organized 1989’s Albany New Music Expo, a two-day fest in which four local clubs played host to an eclectic array of 40 local bands.

And he did plenty more before, during and after his time in Albany. Here’s the auto-bio that he wrote on his Facebook page:

I began life in Alabama, (the part that wears shoes), and my career playing bass & guitar in touring bands in the 1970s. A chance meeting with singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw led to tour managing, concert promotion, independent label ownership and personal management in the ’80s, a Nashville Music Award, produced a Grammy-nominated CD in the ’90s and a 2004 recognition into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

From 1992-97, I produced recordings for guitar pioneers Sonny Burgess and Paul Burlison as well as developing new artists for Boston-based label, Rounder Records. I organized and guided the production of All the King’s Men, the 1998 Grammy-nominated recording of new material by Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, Elvis Presley’s original guitarist and drummer, performing with Keith Richards, the Band, Jeff Beck, Ron Wood, Cheap Trick and others. As artist/sponsor liaison, I toured with the Rolling Stones on their 1997-98 Bridges to Babylon & 2002 Forty Licks US and Canadian events as well as Elton John’s 1998 Big Picture dates and Jewel’s 1999 Spirit tour.

I worked in 2000-01 as an associate producer on “Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records” for the PBS series American Masters. In October 2001, I executive produced two concerts featuring Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Dennis Miller, Kevin Smith and others for the benefit of families of World Trade Center victims and World Hunger Year. January 2004 saw the release of “200 Cadillacs,” a documentary I produced with the great singer-songwriter Rex Fowler (of Aztec Two Step, idea man and chief researcher for the film) and Susan Graham about the gifts given to friends and strangers by Elvis Presley.

In 2006, Chicago Review Press (US) Gargoyle Press (Europe/Asia) published “The Blue Moon Boys: The Story of Elvis Presley’s Band” I co-authored with music critic, Ken Burke. Over the past 12 years I have been assembling the documentary, “The Return of the Blue Moon Boys” and a biography of the author Carson McCullers, hopefully, both will see the light of day on DVD and broadcast by the end of the decade. In the McCullers film, I have the last interview with Arthur Miller as well as great extended comments from the late Horton Foote and David Diamond. I am working on a second book detailing the many lives and stories I have encountered while researching and working in the world of Carson McCullers and Elvis Presley, two people I have never met but I owe a huge amount of gratitude.

  1. Michael Hochanadel says

    Thanks so very much for this remembrance of Dan G., a good guy and valuable part of our scene. Working quietly in a world where braggadocio and boldness make the big noise, he carved his own path in the most appealingly modest way. But, man, he did so much.

  2. wanda callagy says

    sounds like someone who made a difference..RIP

  3. David Rinaldi says

    Thanks for posting this. I’m sure it would mean a lot to Dan, to be rememberd in such a positive light. His optimism was contagious. His dreams were large, and many came true. RIP

  4. Jeff Sohn says

    Earlier this week I go an email from Susan Graham, which began, “You’re getting this email because you are in Dan’s contacts…” It was either a surprise party for Dan Griffin or some bad news. I usually go with the bad news approach first and I was right. Dan Griffin had died. He had been very ill for some time, briefly on life support before his body shut down. That sucked.

    The first time I met Dan was by telephone when he called me about a Rickenbacker 360/12 I was selling. Dan had recently moved to Albany and Ricks were a guitar of choice for some of the “southern rock bands” as Dan described them like R.E.M. Dan simply said he wanted to meet any guy in Albany with a Rickenbacker.

    It was hard to believe that Dan, who I was starting to hang and make music with, hung and worked with guys like Springsteen. He shared his stories and photos, but never- not once, bragged about it. It was just his life. And as cool as the Springsteen, Stones, Scotty Moore stories were, for me his freakin’ George Harrison meet up topped the cake. Unbeliveable, but it was believable because it was Dan.

    The cool thing about Dan was there was no end to the stories until now. I’m just glad to be someone he called years ago about something as simple as a guitar for sale. Peace.

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