Sid Griffin on Rehearsing in the Basement and the Future of the Music Industry

November 11, 2014

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

My band the Coal Porters usually rent a van from a local London hire company. If not we use my family people carrier, a Ford, and this is what I use when I play solo in support of my new The Trick Is To Breathe album.

This family car has 55,000 miles on it and get so-so gas milage. It has no second gear to speak of, I am not kidding here, and can be a bit temperamental but we love it. No major break down stories yet!

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

You have to or you are a moron. You will become run down quickly on a diet of fried foods, fast foods, stale food, etc. I took a page from my friend Lee Brilleaux’s book, he was the singer in Dr. Feelgood for twenty marvellous years, and he always made the guys get a good, solid meal as a practical measure to boost morale and to keep their energy up. It sounds a bit silly but it is Lord’s truth and I abide by it to this very day.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I would not like to say how many strings I broke or my band has broken. We have a deal with D’Addario and I thank God for that…this is covering our rear as regards broken guitar strings, bass strings, mandolin strings, violin strings and yes, banjo strings. D’Addario is our saviour, no question.

Where do you rehearse?

We rehearse in the basement of a pub we like called The Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon, London. This is in the grand tradition of most popular music in that everyone from the Lovin’ Spoonful to the Stones to Slade and back again have rehearsed in a watering hole and danged if we no exception.

The room is a tad cold and a tad damp but, get ready to laugh, it is home. The Ladies’ toilet is also downstairs so we get our share of tipsy women bursting into the room saying, “heeeyyyyy…they got ENTER-TTTTAAAAAAYYYYYNNNNNN-MINT in this loo!”.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

I was ten years old when I wrote my first song and as this was 1965 you now know my age. It was about how I wanted Christmas to come faster…I believe I wrote the song in August! And I can also distinctly it was, melodically speaking, a ripoff of Them’s immortal “Gloria.” Not that it was a direct lift but it was very similar in that it had repeating chords and all that over and over garage band jazz.

Describe your first gig.

I will describe our first PAID gig as I was fourteen and the earlier gigs we were “allowed” to play. This one in 1973 we were given $100! The is a photo of me at this gig in the inner sleeve of my new CD, The Trick Is To Breathe, my first solo CD in ten years. I am wearing a red top which is actually a woman’s nightgown! I can explain this by stating I was fascinated by the early New York Dolls and they dressed in a similar fashion.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

I have not had a day job, a 9 to 5 job, since 1984. My last day job was working in a record store. I have worked part-time in various record and book stores over the years but not enough to get anywhere near a forty hour work week.

My fave day job of all time was when I worked for a real estate company in Beverly Hills. My job consisted of gathering legal documents at 9am and driving them to the proper offices in L.A. all morning, then eating lunch, then at 1pm getting more legal documents and driving them around L.A. all afternoon. I was on my own, listening to the radio in a nice company car, and if I wanted to stop, pull over and get a cheeseburger I could do that and no one would know or care.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

My music income has gone up recently after being static a few years now. I have put all my songs on Spotify, YouTube, iTunes, Amazon downloads and man, that has really helped! But I am not making the money from music I was making in the 1980s, no way. Those were gooooood times!

In ten years I am afraid the music industry will be about dead, especially if we do not stop young people from stealing files. It is one thing to undervalue music and make it cheaper, it is another thing to steal it. I wish Pirate Bay, Guitars101 and all such “free” sites were shut down immediately!

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

I never dreamed it could end. As a kid I thought music sales would grow and grow and grow with only slight setbacks. I am stunned to see sales down 40% year-on-year from, say, twelve years ago or so. No one ever told me one day this could end like the whale oil/whale blubber business.

In the 1830s we burned whale oil and whale blubber for heat and power. Within ten years of the discovery of crude oil and how to use it efficiently all the New England whaling ports died and all the guys making dough off whales were just about wiped off the face of the earth. I never thought that would happen to the record industry but it is happening right now. We HAVE to stop the illegal downloading of files, simple as that! It is killing music!!

When Sid Griffin started recording 30 years ago the term Americana was unheard of. Now he is considered one of the genre’s founding fathers. With the now legendary Long Ryders he crossed punk’s spirit with country music chops and pioneered cowpunk and alt-country. Currently a Coal Porter playing acoustic music, Griffin now uses bluegrass instrumentation to play original folk/Celtic songs. “It is the familiar heard anew,” he says.

Giffin has just released The Trick Is To Breathe, his first solo album in a decade.  Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at the home studio of Thomm Lutz in February 2014. It was a joyous, easy and (almost) carefree session, the entire album completed in four days.

Connect with Sid online and on the road.