Second in a two-part series on North Texas Blues
- Excerpt from Crossroads on R. L. Griffin’s self-released CD, Believe in Me:
- Excerpt from His Ol’ Lady on Big Charles Young’s CD, I Got ‘Em A!
- Excerpt from The Right Reverend of the Blues from Edwin Holt’s CD, Second Time Around:
- KERA radio story:
- Expanded online story:
GRIFFIN: “My name is R. L. Griffin and I’m a blues singer.”
[club noises and music start]
But perhaps most importantly, Griffin is a nightclub owner. Griffin has run a club a few blocks from Fair Park for more than 22 years — whether it was the Blues Alley or Blues Palace No. 1 or today, with his Blues Palace No. 2.
GOVENAR: “R. L. Griffin exemplifies how the blues has continued to survive — and flourish. He’s a consummate member of the blues community in Dallas. He’s someone who has spent a good part of his career helping other musicians get started.”
Griffin came to Dallas from East Texas – where a lot of blues musicians have hailed from. He learned to play the drums and sing in high school, he formed his own band called the Corvettes. But he moved to Dallas in 1965 to perform at local clubs such as the Empire Room.
Griffin played with headlining artists such as Joe Tex, Freddie King and Z. Z. Hill. He toured Texas, the United States and Amsterdam.
GRIFFIN: “After being out on the road, when I decided to come back, I found out you could make a living if you have your own club just staying in one spot.”
The current Blues Palace was a barbecue restaurant. Griffin had the kitchen ripped out to make a dance club big enough to hold 400 people. It’s a classic Texas blues joint; it’s not going to win any awards for elegance.
GRIFFIN: “It’s like something that was back in the day. When I say, ‘back in the day,’ it’s where you bring your own bottle. We do some top 40 stuff, but mostly we do the hardcore blues.”
Griffin promotes other artists on his radio show and at his club. Visiting musicians, white or black, climb onstage to sit in and play. As a result, the clubowner and his Blues Palace inspire deep loyalty. Members of Griffin’s house band have been with him for 20 years. Texas blues singer-musician Edwin Holt (below) even wrote a song about the man who’s known as “The Right Reverend of the Blues.”
And then there’s the crowd that packs the place on weekends.
YOUNG: “The people that come here have been coming here for years. This is the number one blues club in North Texas.”
Charles Young is a handyman, fixes cars and air-conditioning. And every night the Blues Palace is open, he can be found here. He used to sing around the jukebox, Young says. But never at home.
YOUNG: “I couldn’t because my grandmother didn’t allow what she called ‘devil music,’ in her house. So I had to wait until I got grown and got away from the house to start singing the blues.” [Laughs.]
At the first Blues Palace, more than a decade ago, a friend finally coaxed Young up onstage to sing. Last year, R. L. Griffin produced Big Charles Young’s first CD.
[“His Ol’ Lady” starts under]
Young’s music and the blues that Griffin performs actually have a lot of funk and Motown soul mixed in. But that is Texas blues, Alan Govenar says.
GOVENAR: “The idea of blues ever being pure in any particular form is an artificial construct. Blues has always been influenced by the music around it.”
Sure enough, Griffin has a practical outlook on the music. It’s one he learned way back in his high school band.
GRIFFIN: “My band director told me, ‘RL, let me tell you something, you can always keep your job with this if you stick with it.’ And that was back in the ‘60s
“So I stuck with it and I’ve been working ever since — just like he told me.”