Bevis Griffin, surfin’ glam and punk in the Seventies
An Appreciation by Tim Stegall
Black History Month, you say? Bevis Griffin is a walkin’, talkin’, one-man Black History Month! First of all, he had the king-sized testicular fortitude to walk around Cosmic Cowboy Austin, circa 1972, looking like Sly Stone stepping off the mothership and straight into Ziggy Stardust’s closet. Then he walked straight off River City’s streets, into Mother Earth and onto its stage, providing the Big Beat and wailing vocals for one of the city’s first glam rock outfits, the sadly under-recorded Franklin’s Mast. If that didn’t tweak with the microcephalic heads of Lone Star-and-reefer-buzzing hippies in John B. Stetson hats…?
He came by it naturally. Papa Griffin was not a rolling stone (nor a Rolling Stone, for that matter), but a barber to the R&B legends of the 1950s. Everyone from Ike Turner to Bobby “Blue” Bland sat in Melvin Griffin’s chair when they played the 5-4 Ballroom, Los Angeles’ primary chitlin circuit outpost, next door to his barber shop. Little Bevis absorbed all those honkin’ saxes, screamin’ Stratocasters and gospel-drenched melismas by osmosis. He was a teen in time to see the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds and Animals blow up on Shindig and KHJ Boss Angeles. Brothers in South Central were groovin’ to “Day Tripper” and “Get Off My Cloud” same as they were to “Midnight Hour” or “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.” A couple of cats from the neighborhood named Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols were grabbing a piece of that action in their own Sunset Strip-thrillin’ combo, Love. Bevis’ ears were as wide open as the range of his role models.
“Bevis listened to a lot of black music,” recalled Franklin’s Mast guitarist Jimmy Lee Saurage to The Austin Chronicle last year, “but he wanted to be a glam rock star. He was way ahead of me, way into David Bowie before me, and the New York Dolls and all that. He was way more sophisticated than me in music and fashion.”
“My glam style was inspired by Hendrix, Sly Stone, Small Faces, T-Rex, Bowie, Slade,” Griffin mused in the same article. “I loved Alice Cooper. He really got under people’s skins. Iggy Pop was the most nihilistic thing you could put on the cover of a magazine. I’m absorbing and assimilating all this shit, and I’m doing it as a drummer that sings. But I was always frustrated, because I could never find front guys. Even Jimmy Saurage, as extroverted as he was, I constantly had my foot up his ass – ‘Ya gotta do more! Slit your wrists – something! We need to explode some shit!’”
When Franklin’s Mast ran aground in the mid-Seventies, as bands do, punk was on the horizon, festering at Raul’s on Guadalupe. Enter The Skyscrapers, stripping those old glam riffs down to motordrive rhythms for the safety-pinned set. Powering that engine: Bevis Griffin. And when Austin’s first official punk band, the Violators, found themselves without a rhythm section? Leaders Kathy Valentine and Carla Olso drafted the Skyscrapers’ bassist and drummer, placing Griffin in their engine room.
Through Austin’s Seventies, Griffin has been a key player in our local underground rock scene. He cut a profile like no one else, saw the zeitgeist coming twice, and had the skills to become crucial upon its arrival. And this is just the beginning of his amazing story.
Written by Tim Stegall
Alternative Press & The Austin Chronicle