Up-and-coming country star Andy Griggs downplays his pretty-boy image and talks up his music.
Thursday, September 7, 2000
Since releasing his debut CD last year, Andy Griggs, one of the stars of Saturday''s "Country Fest 2000," has gotten plenty of attention for the visual side of his career. With his shaggy blond hair and deep-set eyes, he''s been compared to movie star Brad Pitt and called "a countrified Kurt Cobain" by TV Guide.
His sexy video for the title track from You Won''t Ever Be Lonely has also focused attention on the physical attributes of the young singer.
Griggs, while certainly aware of the fuss, isn''t making a big deal of the hunk factor--at least in this interview.
"Before you really make a name for yourself, you''re always going to be compared to other people or to this look or that look or that sound.," he says. "That''s something you''ve got to face, but at the same time you let it go through one ear and out the other. As far as the sex appeal or as far as people saying ''he looks like this'' and ''he sounds like this,'' I really try not to listen to that. My look is like my music. I put on my clothes and I do my hair the way I want to, the way I feel like doing it, just like my music."
Griggs has reason not to sweat the visual component to his career because the music on You Won''t Ever Be Lonely makes a pretty strong statement on its own.
With his appealing, rough-hewn voice leading the way, Griggs rolls through a set of rockers and sturdy ballads with an edgy, earthy sound that falls between hardcore country and heartland rock.
For instance, "You Made Me That Way" pairs fiddles with a driving beat that''s straight-ahead rock ''n'' roll. "Ain''t Done Nothin'' Wrong" sounds like a mix of Bob Seger''s "Turn The Page" crossed with a little Charlie Daniels. A bit of the Travis Tritt-styled twangy southern rock finds its way into the punchy "A Side Of Me" Ballads like "You Won''t Ever Be Lonely" and "She''s More" would probably be considered pop, except that touches of steel guitar and Griggs'' Southern-tinged voice add a decidedly country element to the songs.
This combination of rock and country was exactly the sound Griggs wanted to achieve with You Won''t Ever Be Lonely, but it wasn''t an easy idea to realize.
"Really the shadows that were over me as far as the music that I like were such a wide variety, from Johnny Paycheck and Hank Williams all the way up to Springsteen and Seger," Griggs says. "If you put all of those together and add a little Bill Monroe, and come back and add John Cougar Mellencamp, you''re going to come up with some earthy, gritty kind of edge. That''s kind of where I wanted to go with it. Just as much as I loved Hank Williams, I was still in love with Bob Seger." That Griggs had such a clear vision for his music is interesting considering that at earlier points, his direction in music was anything but clear.
In fact, it wasn''t until Griggs was 18 that he even considered music for his future--and it took a family tragedy to bring that about. Griggs'' brother, Mason, was a singer/guitarist in a country gospel band called God''s Country. In 1991, Mason died, and in the aftermath of his loss, Griggs found himself drawn to music--for reasons he may never fully be able to explain.
"There are some days when I can talk about him and some days I can''t," Griggs says of his brother. "And this is probably one of those days when I can''t. But as far as me awakening up into music, sometimes music is the only real thing around for you to fall back on. I think the two strongest things I had were music and God. Sometimes I think those were the only two things, and I grabbed a hold of both of them."
Soon Griggs himself had begun to play in God''s Country and, as time went on he became more focused on music for his future. Along the way, he met the gospel duo Jerry and Tammy Sullivan. It was an important contact--on several levels. He married a member of the family, Stephanie Sullivan, and eventually joined the Sullivans as a guitarist and singer. it was also through the Sullivans that Griggs made his most important music business contact. Early in 1994 the Sullivans were taping a television show with country star Waylon Jennings. They invited Griggs--whose favorite artist was Jennings--to come to Nashville for the taping. While there, Griggs met manager J. Gary Smith, who offered to manage Griggs. Griggs began singing demos for Smith and producer David Malloy, but even then, he wasn''t sure where these projects would lead.
"I didn''t know if I wanted to step into country, stay gospel or step into bluegrass," Griggs says. "So yeah, every now and then, I''d say once or twice a month, I would come up to Nashville because he was working with me, along with David Malloy, and I was singing demos for him. Those were the only two men I knew in Nashville. And finally they did sit down and say ''Andy, if you''re not going to move to Nashville, let''s forget about it. It''s hard to really progress when it''s long distance.'' To tell you the truth, my answer was going to be ''No, let''s just forget about it. I''m not sure if I can do this thing on my own up here in Nashville.''"
But Griggs'' wife, Stephanie, didn''t share the uncertainties. She convinced her husband to accept the offer from Smith and Malloy, and the couple moved to Nashville. Smith and Malloy continued to hone Griggs'' singing talents and eventually worked out a record deal with RCA. For Griggs, the opportunity to work with RCA and the label''s chairman, Joe Galante, was an ideal match.
Galante not only signed the young singer, he gave Griggs the freedom he needed to develop his gritty mix of country and rock--even when Griggs was running into problems in finding the right kind of songs for the record. "My problem with finding songs was I couldn''t find any that would fit that category that we were talking about, vocally, but also just the whole ballpark of the song," Griggs says. "It was either really way too pop for me or really way down, too hard country to where it wasn''t really different. It wasn''t the earth and the edge that I was looking for. So yeah, I could hear what I was wanting in my head, but I couldn''t find those songs. I had a hard time going to publishing companies and explaining to them what I was wanting."
With a deadline for the record looming, Griggs took matters into his own hands and co-wrote four songs for the CD, including the title song and lead single. In an industry where even veteran artists are sometimes discouraged from recording their own songs, it was a gutsy move--both by Griggs and Galante.
Griggs shows his appreciation to Galante in the liner notes, thanking him for "gambling on a modern day outlaw."
"You''ve got to remember Joe Galante was the one who had Waylon Jennings for all those years," says Griggs of Jennings, who duets with him on the song "Shine On Me."
"I trusted Joe because Joe let Waylon do his thing," says Griggs. "And did people understand Waylon? Did Joe Galante understand Waylon? Not necessarily. But he did understand where he was coming from and let him take off and trusted those quote-unquote outlaw ways. Well pretty much I was getting the same thing from him. I didn''t mean outlaw as far as I''m the next generation of Waylon or Hank (Williams). I meant thanks for letting me do something different. Now let''s hope it works."
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