Singer and songwriter Jimmy Griffin, the Bread alumnus who made his biggest impact on country music as a member of the Remingtons, died Tuesday (Jan. 11) at his home in Franklin of complications from cancer. He was 61 and had been undergoing treatment for the past several months.
James Arthur Griffin was born in Cincinnati on Aug. 10, 1943. Soon after, his family moved to Memphis, where he grew up. When he was 7, his mother started him on accordion lessons at the Central Academy of Music. He continued to develop his musical talents and perform locally until he graduated from Kingsbury High School in 1962.
Living across the street from Griffin and serving as sources of musical inspiration were brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, who were beginning to make names for themselves as rock ’n’ roll musicians. The summer after he completed high school, Griffin visited the Burnettes who by then were living in California. They introduced him into the Los Angeles music community, and within a few months he signed a recording deal with Reprise Records. His first album, Summer Holiday, a collection of cover tunes, was released in 1963. His producer on this project was another rising talent, Jimmy Bowen, who would eventually go on to head the country divisions of Warner Bros., MCA and Capitol Records.
Griffin also began developing as a songwriter, securing cuts by Rudy Vallee, Ed Ames, Lesley Gore, Bobby Vee and others. He ventured into acting as well and had small roles in the movies For Those Who Think Young (1964) and None But the Brave (1965).
In 1969, Griffin joined David Gates, Robb Royer and Jim Gordon to form Bread, a group distinguished by its rich, creamy melodies and yearning lyrics. The following year, the group’s debut single, “Make It With You,” went No. 1. Subsequent hits included “It Don’t Matter to Me,” “If,” “Baby I’m-a Want You,” “Everything I Own,” “The Guitar Man,” “Aubrey” and “Lost Without Your Love.” (Mike Botts replaced Gordon and Larry Knechtel Royer in later editions of the band.)
Still fascinated by the movies, Griffin collaborated with Royer and Fred Karlin in 1970 to compose “For All We Know,” which became the theme for the film Lovers and Other Strangers. The song won an Academy Award and was a No. 3 pop hit for the Carpenters in 1971.
Following the breakup of Bread in 1977, Griffin returned to solo recording and songwriting. Polydor released the album James Griffin in Europe, and Shoe Records in Memphis issued a number of his singles. Griffin and Terry Sylvester of the Hollies also recorded briefly for Polydor under the rubric Griffin & Sylvester. In the late ’80s, Griffin teamed up with Randy Meisner (of the Eagles and Poco) and Billy Swan to form Black Tie, a country music trio. Their only charted single — “Learning the Game,” written by Buddy Holly — came out in 1990 and made it to No. 59 on the country charts.
Then, in 1991, Griffin, Richard Mainegra and Rick Yancey (the latter two from the group Cymarron) formed the Remingtons and signed to the newly established RCA sublabel, BNA Records. The group’s first single, “A Long Time Ago,” was its most successful record, rising to No. 10 in early 1992. The last single, “Wall Around Her Heart” in 1993, topped out at No. 69.
Griffin made occasional solo performances throughout the ’90s and into the new century but mainly devoted himself to songwriting. He also performed occasionally during this period with Sylvester and John Ford Coley as Soft Rock Cafe. He did his last studio work last year, pairing up with singer Lynn Bryant to record Todd Rundgren’s pop classic, “Can We Still Be Friends.”
Griffin is survived by his wife, Marti, three children and a sister. Funeral services will be held Friday (Jan. 14) at 1 p.m. at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville with visitation beginning there two hours earlier.