Written by Vernon Reid
In 1986, about a year into the newly formed arts/activist organization the Black Rock Coalition, I happened to meet a sharp-eyed handsome man by the name of Bevis Griffin at one of our then bi-weekly meetings in Soho, NYC. He made an immediate impression; the group of us were debating what we thought were relevant points of cultural dispute at the time when he cut through our collective noise with the impertinent question, “What I want to know is how come y’all are scared of making money?!” That snapped our heads back and pivoted the conversation in a more meaningful direction. Thus began my long friendship with one of the most talented, wise, compassionate, ornery, and tenacious American rock artists I’ve ever had the good fortune to know.
Bevis handed me a demo tape of his band Banzai Kik. Of course, I was eager to hear the music of this disruptive upstart and I was immediately blown away by the explosive sound of the first track “Noisy Music”- an infectious blend of glam, new wave, and roadhouse blues with impressive production; think Cars crossed with ZZ Top fronted by a singer with hints of Billy Idol & Bowie to boot. Sharing the stage at the CBGB’s for a BRC organized compilation concert, Banzai Kik’s live show was even more impressive than the demo. Bevis was a natural stage stalker, a true rock & roll animal. What I didn’t know was that what I was witnessing was the result of many years of hard work & harder won experience dating back to the early ’70s. Bevis Griffin had been a risk-taking, boundary-breaking innovator a full ten years before I had a case to put my first guitar in. Bevis had been storming stages both in his adopted home state of Texas and nationwide as the flamboyant, fiery drummer of Franklin’s Mast, ofttimes as the only black in the room, supremely comfortable with himself in challenging the narrow notions of identity held by the audience, and the society at large. Bevis was there, integral to the dawn of Austin’s modern ascendency into the ranks of the world’s great music cities, back when the Armadillo World Headquarters had barely opened its doors, & the Vaughn Brothers were being whispered about.
Though transplanted from Los Angeles in his early teen years, and despite separation by generations & genres, Bevis Griffin shares with his fellow Texan, the free-jazz pioneering legend Ornette Coleman, a fierce and indomitable heart, a defiantly creative spirit, & an unlimited capacity for original conceptual thinking. Bevis’s restless curiosity and his uncanny ability to respectfully link to blues roots while thoroughly embracing the music’s ever-changing Rock & Roll present always made him a standout; whether writing songs, producing, or performing. Surrounded by the blues-rock he loved, Bevis nevertheless embraced the avant-gardism of British glam, banging the gong for T-Rex and others as legitimately evolving the language & reach of rock. Bevis often had few who shared his views, but Bevis has never backed away from his core values of daring-to-be-different and marching to his own beat.
With diverse musical luminaries such as Billy Gibbons, Steve Van Zandt, & Eric Johnson all singing his praises, how is it that Bevis Griffin remains little known outside of the Austin music community which has rightfully celebrated & honored him with a Key To The City? The answer to this serious question, while multi-layered & complex, ultimately comes down to the simple cold fact that life is unfair & fate is capricious. Right when Bevis Griffin and Banzai Kik was about to embark on the next phase of the band’s journey – writing and creating a remarkable debut album with the legendary producer/engineer Jack Douglas, a terrible family tragedy suddenly demanded that Bevis return to his native Los Angeles for the dreadful duty of burying his father. Roiling business turmoil mounting back in NY compounded these difficulties, culminating in abruptly curtailing the band’s trajectory and taking Bevis down a dark road of emotional conflict. After months of hard going, Bevis managed to pull himself out of his personal tailspin – a remarkable tribute to the toughness of his personal fiber. Though many subsequent opportunities to write and produce would avail themselves to him, Banzai Kik was not to make their debut album. It was a painful thing to witness a talented friend go through particularly when my own band Living Colour was ascendant. Bevis has never wavered in his support for LC and in his friendship with me.
When I had my own dark path through my first marriage’s collapse and the band’s subsequent mid 90’s breakup, Bevis remained steadfast in his support. He has also never stopped creating, producing, or connecting to music – Chill Factor, Rawhead TechX, Spy vs. Spy, Solid Senders, The Cosmopolitans, Dino Lee’s Luv Johnson, One Fell Swoop, Papa Mali & the Instigators, R.C. Banks, Bevis & the Painkillers, and (most recently) The Paradigm all bear Bevis’s uniquely passionate border crossing, take-no-prisoners approach to American Rock; as big & bold as the Heart Of Texas itself.