By JON PARELES
Paul Griffin, a pianist and organist whose gospel-charged style made
him one of New York City's top studio musicians, died on June 14 at
his home in the Bronx. He was 62.
The cause seemed to be a heart attack, said his wife, Mary Beth. Mr.
Griffin also suffered from diabetes and was told last year that he needed
liver transplant; he was awaiting one when he died.
Mr. Griffin played for thousands of recording sessions. He was a
keyboardist on Bob Dylan's albums "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde
on Blonde"; Steely Dan's albums "The Royal Scam," "Aja" and "Gaucho";
Don McLean's "American Pie"; the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout";
Aretha Franklin's "Think"; the Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me
Tomorrow?"; and on all the albums Burt Bacharach and Hal David made
with Dionne Warwick. His tack piano is heard in "Raindrops Keep Fallin'
on My Head."
"There are some musicians who are hacks," Donald Fagen of Steely Dan
once said, "and then there are guys like Paul who can create something
different and unique they make the record."
Mr. Griffin was born in Harlem and learned to play by sitting in the first
pew at Paradise Baptist Church and watching the hands of the pianist.
When the pianist died, he was her replacement.
He studied classical music at the High School of Music and Art and played
first viola in the All-City Orchestra; he was also an usher and occasional
accompanist at the Apollo Theater. The saxophonist King Curtis heard him
there and offered him his first professional tour and recording dates.
After a few years of touring with King Curtis, Mr. Griffin and other
members of the band turned to New York recording sessions in 1960; he
became a member of the house band at Scepter Records. He also worked
for the producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Bert Berns and Jerry
Ragovoy, backing such singers as Solomon Burke, Garnet Mimms and the
Enchanters, Erma Franklin, and Van Morrison in his first American
Mr. Griffin became a vital part of folk-rock in his 1965-66 sessions with
Mr. Dylan. He also played organ or piano for Paul Simon; Peter, Paul and
Mary; Ian and Sylvia; Eric Andersen; Tom Rush; Carly Simon; and John
Denver. In the mid-1970's, he began a long association with Steely Dan;
received a writing credit on "The Fez," and his voice is heard scat-singing
During the 1980's, when there was less session work in New York, Mr.
Griffin taught, arranged and recorded commercial jingles. He played organ
on Mr. Fagen's 1993 solo album, "Kamakiriad."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Shannon and
Rebecca, and two sons, Kinalla and Ioayo.