James Herrell, 3 April 1936, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Encouraged by a musical home environment (both his parents were pianists), by the time he left school, McGriff played not only piano but bass, vibes, drums and saxophone. He played with Archie Shepp, Reggie Workman, Charles Earland and Donald Bailey in his youth, but after two years as an military policeman in the Korean War, he decided to take up law enforcement rather than music as a career. This did not satisfy him in the event, and he began moonlighting as a bass player, backing blues stars such as Big Maybelle. He left the police force and studied organ at Combe College, Philadelphia, and New Yorks Juilliard School of Music. He also took private lessons with Jimmy Smith, Richard Groove Holmes and Milt Buckner, as well as from classical organist Sonny Gatewood.
His career first took off with the single I Got A Woman in 1962, and he had a string of hits released through Sue Records. During this decade McGriff was arguably the crown prince of the soul jazz organ movement (the undisputed King being Jimmy Smith). His stabbing style and shrill tone was much copied, particularly in the UK with the rise of the 60s beat and R&B scene. Georgie Fame and Brian Auger were greatly influenced by McGriff. His memorable All About My Girl remains one of his finest compositions, and has become a minor classic. Also in the 60s, his brilliant version of Thelonious Monks Round Midnight became the nightly closing down theme for the legendary UK pirate radio ship, Radio Caroline. In the late 80s he experienced a revival in his commercial success, collaborating with Hank Crawford on record and in concert. McGriff tours for most of the year, still concentrating on Hammond organ, but also using synthesizers.
A fine, bluesy player, McGriff helped to popularize a jazz-flavoured style of R&B that is still gathering adherents and remains hugely influential in London clublands acid jazz circles.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.