Op-Ed via British cop-culture journalist, Sir Gordon Roberts “And the wind’s just right”… Bevis M. Griffin: Black Rock Maverick of Texas
Bevis Griffin was at the very forefront along with an exclusive, select few of pioneering renowned black musicians who took the ‘white’ music of The British Invasion and its American counterparts and put an undeniably definitive Afro-centric cultural stamp on it, effectively and irreversibly reclaiming the music’s original heritage.
The cultural wind was carrying…no, not just carrying…but hurtling black music like a hurricane to new, exciting, previously undiscovered places at a time when black musicians were firmly ensconced in the musical genres of jazz, blues, and R&B. In Texas, Bevis rode and tamed that vortex, helping lead the way to those new undiscovered musical places and, in doing so, played an important role in demolishing the predictable black musical stereotypes.
In December1970 Marc Bolan took the stage of the venerable UK television show, “Top of the Pops” wearing glitter and make-up to perform, “Ride a White Swan”. This was to be a seminal moment in British music history, when what was to become known as ‘Glam Rock’ was born.
A few days later, 4,000 miles away in Austin, TX, a classically trained woodwind musician now turned rock drummer…a streetwise, precocious, and talented beyond his seventeen and a half years African-American, opened his weekly imported copy of the English music paper NME (New Musical Express) and read about Marc Bolan’s television appearance. It confirmed for Bevis Griifin, what he’d been sensing and thinking over the past few months. This was the new trend in music that would begin to define the decade of the early 70’s.
Bevis immediately began to turn the premise of the title of the Tyrannosaurus Rex album, “My people were fair and had sky in their hair but now they were content to wear stars on their brows”… on its head, to “My people were black and had sky in their hair but now they were confident to wear stars on their brows”.
In England, “Glam Rock” had sprung from the psychedelic and arts scenes and Blue Chip University graduates of the late sixties…improbably and with a unique Afro-American raw rock and roll energy and voice, “Glam Rock” in the states was given birth in Texas by a trend setting, exciting young musical maverick named, Bevis Griffin.
To be Glam you had to be Big, Loud, and Brash and above all: A STAR! ...and Bevis was undoubtedly all of that! ...with a big plus…he was an incredibly talented, intelligent musician. With Bevis there are no half measures….as his approach to music (and life) so vividly, viscerally and without question, illustrates.
The sexual and gender ambiguity and representations of androgyny and theatrics of Glam Rock initially pushed the acceptance envelope in the Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio of early seventies but the great, thumping music and showmanship won audiences over. The Civil Rights Bill had been passed only seven years earlier and although it changed the voting laws it hadn’t changed the prejudices of ‘main stream’ America.
This was very evidently apparent when Bevis and his band Franklin’s Mast played ‘small-town’ Texas. Not only did his androgynous appearance stir and incite the homophobic prejudices of the audience but this was hyper-exacerbated by the uncanny fact that this was a black man as well! Confronted by sometimes physically threatening audience members, his upbringing in South Central LA had instilled in Bevis the courage and fortitude to stand up for his human rights and now he also had to stand up and fight for his right to artistic self-expression as well. Forces, which were not to be denied, seemed to have chosen Bevis Griffin to be an agent of musical and sociological change.
The 1967 lyrics written by Jimi Hendrix for “If Six was Nine” became a mantra for Bevis: White-collar conservatives flashing down the street...Pointing their plastic fingers at me. They're hoping soon "my kind" will drop and die...But I'm gonna’ wave my freak flag high!” By ‘waving his freak flag high”, Bevis was subsequently arrested on numerous occasions for charges ranging from lewd and lascivious behavior, to reckless endangerment, and his personal favorite, incitement of a public disturbance! Fellow drummer, Iggy Pop could have easily been describing Bevis during this period, when he wrote the song , ‘Search and Destroy’ in 1973, with the volatile and somewhat explosive lyrics: “I’m a street walkin' Cheetah with a heart full of Napalm...I'm the runaway son of the nuclear A-Bomb..!”
Just as Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone before him, somebody had to stand up for the rights of African Americans to be whoever they were, and more importantly, to become whoever they wanted and decided to be…and in Texas that person was Bevis Griffin. His indomitable rock n’ roll spirit and daring musical courage, ultimately contributed to breaking the long-standing stereotypes traditionally attached to all artisans of color, and in doing so, he dramatically and unwittingly made a remarkable contribution in helping pave the way for untold scores of future black performers such as Prince, Living Colour, Lenny Kravitz…unknowingly influencing not only the famous, but the infamous and the undeservedly obscure.
Bevis Griffin, was a true musical gladiator of the early Texas Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Scene…daringly pioneering new frontiers…Exciting, Innovative, Creative, Bold as life while aggressively challenging cultural frontiers…frontiers from which others have richly benefitted and from which new generations will continue to do so for years to come.
“He's outrageous, he screams and he bawls…Jean Genie let yourself go”!...and Bevis Griffin personified those Bowie lyrics to the fullest….both as a musician and as a social activist…A Star…an original…a trendsetter…A Black Rock & Roll Maverick of Texas…A Rock & Roll Martyr…whatever label history decides to bestow on him, Bevis Griffin is undeniably a truly gifted, intelligent musician and a man who would always “wave his freak flag high”.
Austin, TX July 2010