James Griffin

You'd be forgiven for seeing the band Bread as synonymous with David Gates. The Bread compilation I had was all David Gates songs, and some compilations have even been labelled as "David Gates' Bread" or "The David Gates/Bread Songbook".

However, Bread was not a one-man-band. Its membership fluctuated over the years but at its core, James Griffin (1943-2005) shared lead vocal and songwriting duties with David Gates. The shares were equal in terms of album contributions, yet it seems that Gates got the glory and Griffin's undeniable talent was overshadowed. This imbalance created a rift between the pair that affected the band's longevity

Griffin actually co-wrote most of 'his' songs with Robb Royer, who was also in the band for a while and continued to co-write with Griffin even after his departure.

So let's block out the glaring brightness of David Gates' talent and focus on James Griffin for a while...

Jimmy's career started with some acting and a slightly dodgy album of covers, called Summer Holiday (1963). But his writing came along and he soon met writing partner Robb Royer. They added lyrics to "For All We Know" (music by Fred Karlin), which became known later as a Carpenters song.

I don't think there is a single Bread song I even slightly dislike. Jimmy did do some grand ballads though, which Gates never really did ("Lost Without Your Love" being a possible exception).

Jimmy in Bread

The first Bread album (eponymous) came out in 1969. The band hadn't quite found their well-known 70s sound (or the 70s!) but the album is still strong and Griffin (mainly writing with Royer) has half the tracks on the album.

Griffin kicks off Bread on the Waters (1970) with the rocky little "Why Do You Keep Me Waiting", then later gives us the quieter "Look What You've Done" which is followed by "I Am That I Am" (half ballad, half rocker). "Coming Apart" is a really strong ballad that's followed immediately by the more-upbeat "Easy Love". "Call On Me" is another strong track.

Manna (1971) - half of the 12 tracks here are Griffin/Royer compositions. There are well-crafted MOR tracks, the grandly orchestrated "Live In Your Love", the delicate "I Say Again" and the rocking "Truckin'".

On Baby I'm A Want You (1972), Griffin is again credited as songwriter on half the tracks, including "Nobody But You" where he shares credit with Gates and fellow band member Larry Knechtel - a rocky little number with Gates and Griffin sharing vocals and sounding like they're really enjoying themselves. Griffin also shares vocals on Gates' "Daughter", and co-wrote "Down On My Knees" with him, which is also a joint effort vocally. Griffin contributes the classic "Just Like Yesterday", which he later performed solo on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

On Guitar Man (1972), Griffin's first track is co-written with Gates - "Make It By Yourself" is country-tinged and perhaps more influenced by Gates. "Fancy Dancer" (co-written with Mike Botts) is a funky number more suited to Jimmy. Two Griffin/Royer songs feature on the album - "Let Me Go" is almost another great song in the vein of "Just Like Yesterday", and "Don't Tell Me No" is a rocky little number. He shares writing credit with Gates on "Didn't Even Know Her Name", although Gates takes the vocal. Jimmy also takes the lead vocal on two tracks written by other band members. Overall I get the niggling sense that Griffin was being carried a little on this album.

There was a lot of in-fighting within Bread and Lost Without Your Love (1977) came after a breakup that paused their output for five years. With that background, the album is surprisingly good, and possibly their best. Both Gates and Griffin contribute great songs - surprising as both were also working on their solo careers. The album highlight for me is "Change of Heart", credited to Gates/Griffin/Cyndi Lauper/Esra Mohawk, with Jimmy taking lead vocals. The whole album feels like differences were buried for the sake of the music. On "Lay Your Money Down", Griffin takes lead vocal even though Gates is credited as sole writer. "Today's The First Day" is another album highlight - a very anthemic and uplifting Griffin/Royer composition.

Jimmy solo

Griffin's first solo album, Breakin' Up Is Easy, came out in 1974 while Bread was temporarily broken up (so let's not assume the album name and title track are a coincidence). You can maybe tell the difference from the tightness of Bread recordings (where Gates was credited as arranger and producer) but this is still very fine music. Griffin writes all the songs - half of them co-written with Royer. All his styles are covered here, like the anthemic title track, the gentle ballad "She Knows" (which he performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test) and the pulsating and pacy "Father & Son".

The James Griffin album came out in 1977. It's too short (only 9 tracks) and two tracks are written by David Paich (of Toto). I suspect Griffin's creativity had been pushed to the limit by having to contribute material to the final Bread album in the same year. The album starts with arguably the best song, "Laura Lee", which fits Jimmy so well but is one of the Paich songs. The other Paich song is "Treat Her Right", which also fits well. There's also one song composed just by Robb Royer - "That's All I Need" is a gentle love song. Again the album encompasses Griffin's various styles.

Griffin did also team up with ex-Eagle Randy Meisner and issue a single album under the name Dreamer, but sadly this isn't available.

Jimmy Griffin (2010) is a posthumous collection of previously unreleased tracks. The songs here have a different quality to his studio albums, but it's still a cohesive collection with Jimmy's voice shining through, reminding me what a great writer and vocalist he was. Most of the songs are Griffin/Royer, with a few other writers (including Knechtel) thrown in. The lovely instrumental "Adrienne" is solely written by Jimmy.

There are other albums listed in Jimmy's discography on Allmusic, but none are available and most look like compilations.

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