It’s the rare young country artist who can sound equally comfortable working with Martina McBride and Cinderella’s Tom Keifer, but Andy Griggs does just that on his sophomore RCA album “Freedom,” due July 9. It’s that engaging blend of rock’n’roll grit and country soul that sets him apart from the pack of other country newcomers.
Growing up listening to a variety of music provided Griggs with a wide range of influences that infuse his art. “It was nothing for my brother to have Waylon Jennings on, and while I’m listening to Waylon, I’m looking at the back of a Rolling Stones album,” says Griggs, a Louisiana native. “While I’m listening to Johnny Cash, I may be looking at a Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs album … If you look at my CD collection, it’s a crazy combination, and that’s what I’m hearing in my head. My biggest love, of course, is traditional country, but at the same time, bluegrass means a lot to me. Gospel means a lot to me. Rock’n’roll means a lot to me, and blues does [too].”
His diverse musical appetites are reflected on “Freedom.” McBride joins him on “Practice Life,” a song Griggs co-wrote with Brett James. He serves up a Cajun country number with “Sweetheart of Beinja Bayou,” a song written by his father-in-law. For a change of pace, Griggs collaborated with Keifer and Nashville songwriter Savannah Snow on “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road.”
“I met Tom through Savannah,” Griggs recalls. “We came up with ‘A Hundred Miles of Bad Road.’ I wanted a bridge between my music and rock’n’roll, and I think Tom wanted a bridge between his music and country, so it fit just right. When we recorded it, I wanted to do the song with him… Luckily, he said yes.”
Griggs doesn’t see boundaries separating musicians. “Tom has a way of keeping business and numbers and all the stuff that contaminate music out of his life, out of the music,” says Griggs. “He’s pure. He’s [as] pure as Waylon was. That’s the kind of people I like to hang around.”
One of the songs that Griggs admits he was a little nervous about recording was “Sweetheart of Beinja Bayou,” because he wanted to impress his father-in-law. (Griggs is married to Stephanie Sullivan, daughter of bluegrass gospel singer Jerry Sullivan, who performs with daughter Tammy.) Griggs surprised Sullivan with the cut.
“He was in my living room, and I told him I wanted to play him a new cut off the album,” Griggs says. “He got all excited and cranked it up. The reward was awesome, just sitting there watching his eyes. He looked like a little kid. I guess I was really, really nervous. It’s awkward playing a song you recorded for the songwriter, because you don’t know if you are going to do it justice or not. Obviously, it was more intense because he’s my father-in-law and I love him so much. At the end, he said, ‘Son, I’m very proud. I couldn’t have done it better myself.’ When he said that my heart went back to normal, and I knew that I had done good.”
The song on the album that holds the most special place in Griggs’ heart is “Someone Like Me,” penned by his beloved brother, Mason, who died of a heart attack in his early 20s. Mason performed in a band and was younger brother Andy’s hero. Mason had become the man of the house after Griggs’ father died when Andy was 10.
“I want that song to do as much as it can for two reasons,” Griggs explains. “One is to share what I feel, but also to share my brother’s music. My brother had notebooks and notebooks of songs.”
Griggs had named his sophomore album long before Sept. 11, 2001, and although the title may sound like a patriotic tune, it’s actually about relationships and personal freedom. “That was the first song we recorded, and as soon as the song was written, I knew that that’s what I wanted to call my tour and my next album,” says Griggs. “I did try to get away from it when 9/11 happened, because I knew it would sound like a patriotic album. I didn’t want to be misunderstood, but I couldn’t get away from the word ‘freedom,’ so I decided not to.”
Griggs penned “Freedom” with Lonnie Wilson and Zack Turner. “To me, freedom has a lot of meanings,” he says. “I have freedom in my spirit and my soul and my music.”
Excerpted from the June 8, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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