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November 10, 2002 – Musician Johnny Griffith died from a heart attack

NOVEMBER 10, 2002 – Musician JOHNNY GRIFFITH (b. July 10, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan) died from a heart attack in a Detroit hospital at age 66. Griffith was survived by his wife, Delma Reid Griffith and three children, Jonathan Jr., Beth and Rhonda. He is also survived by two step sons, Roman and Charlie Reid III, and two grandchildren, Ronnie and Shaynae. He was interred at Detroit Memorial Park West in Redford, Michigan.
Griffith played piano and keyboards for Motown Records’ in-house Funk Brothers studio band, a group of musicians who celebrated more #1 records than The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley combined. Among the hundreds of Motown recordings that Griffith played on are “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” by Four Tops, and “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes.
Like Motown’s other pianists, Joe Hunter and Earl Van Dyke, Griffith’s had an extensive musical background. He held musical degrees from Wayne State University and the University of Detroit. His musical influences included Oscar Peterson, Glenn Gould, and Bud Powell.
Griffith played the Steinway grand piano, the Hammond B-3 organ, the Wurlitzer electric piano, the Fender Rhodes, and the celeste and harpsichord. His musical influences included Bud Powell, Glenn Gould, and Oscar Peterson.
Signed to Motown’s Jazz Workshop label, he recorded the albums “Detroit Jazz” and “The Right Side of Lefty Edwards.” When the march of the Motown hits began, Griffith started playing on sessions for their R&B/pop acts. But rather than sign a work-for-hire contract with Motown like other musicians, Griffith remained a freelancer, doing other dates and sessions in New York and nearby Chicago.
The Motown hits that Griffith played on include: Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” (#4 R&B, number six pop, early 1965), his celeste trills are heard on “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” (#1 R&B for two weeks, #4 pop, summer 1971), adding Wurlitzer electric piano on both Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (#1 R&B/pop for seven weeks, late 1968) and the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (#1 R&B for eight weeks, summer 1966), organ on the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love” (#2 R&B for four weeks, #1 pop for two weeks, early 1965), and organ and shotgun effects on Junior Walker and the All Stars’ “Shotgun” (#1 R&B for four weeks, #4 pop, early 1965).
Griffith’s non-Motown hits are Edwin Starr’s “Agent Double-O Soul” (#8 R&B), “Cool Jerk” by the Capitols (#1 R&B, #7 pop), Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” (#1 R&B, #6 pop) for Chicago soul producer Carl Davis, the Artistics’ “I’m Really Gonna Miss You” (#9 R&B), the Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her” (#1 R&B for two weeks, #3 pop), and Young-Holt Unlimited’s “Soulful Strut” (#3 R&B, #3 pop).
Griffith also played on several other hit songs as a session musician including Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” and the Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her” among many others. He had his own hit for RCA Records with Johnny Griffith, Inc.’s “Grand Central Shuffle” in early 1973. In the ’90s, Griffith was still active on the Detroit club scene.

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