- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - In David Griffith’s world, a musician can never have too many instruments.

That’s why he didn’t think twice about recently buying a 1914 Bush & Gerts piano that had been retrieved from an estate sale and listed on Craigslist.

“It sounds great,” Griffith said about the antique upright. “Different pianos sound and play differently.”

The vintage piano joined a sizable collection of other instruments at Griffiths’ Snoring Hound Studio in Somers that tends to double as a showroom of vintage instruments.

He has a 1934 baby grand piano that needs to be rebuilt, although he still gets good sound from the center part of that keyboard.

A 1959 Hammond B3 organ still figures prominently into the landscape of the studio. On top of the organ is another classic, a Hohner Clavinet D6.

Add to this an early 1970s Rhodes 88 electric keyboard, a 100-year-old Gibson mandolin, a much-sought-after 1961 Selmar Mark VI tenor saxophone, a classic Dobro and the electric guitar Griffith has been using for 45 years - and a clear picture emerges of a man who values the authentic sound of classic instruments.

“These are the real thing,” he said about his collection. “They record real.”

Griffith claims he’s “not playing much at all now” and isn’t one to boast about his musical prowess that has spanned decades.

“No one wants to hire a 63-year-old musician on a standing basis,” he said.

But don’t listen to the unassuming Griffith.

He still figures prominently into the Flathead Valley music scene. These days he splits his time among a number of regional groups and soloists, including the Mission Mountain Wood Band, Rob Quist, Halladay Quist, Jack Gladstone, Andre Floyd and Big Daddy and the Blue Notes.

He’s still revered among his peers.

Griffith survived throat cancer a couple of years ago. He’s cancer-free now, but continues to deal with the effects of treatment. A portion of his jaw had to be rebuilt and that has affected his saxophone playing to a degree.

“It’s been a journey,” he said about his battle with cancer. “It teaches you a lot of things. It teaches you patience.”

Griffith’s musical journey has spanned more than a half-century. He’s had a measure of success, playing with country-western standout Michael Martin Murphey for a time in the early 1990s.

As with any career, though, sometimes being in the music business has been a grind, especially the grueling schedule of being on the road.

“Over the decades I’ve thought, ‘This is tough,’ but what else would I do?” he asked, pausing to ponder a lifetime. “I don’t know what else I’d do.”

His answer is always is the same: music is it for him.

It became clear early on in Griffith’s life that he was destined to play music. He started on the piano at home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

“I started playing the piano at 5. We had a piano in the house and I wanted to play it,” he said matter-of-factly. The first song he perfected - by ear - was the theme song of the TV show, “Bonanza.”

He took a few piano lessons when he was 8 or so and started on the saxophone in junior high.

Griffith’s father, a natural musician who shied away from performing, brought home a guitar one day, so he picked up that, too, at a young age.

Teachers recognized Griffith’s inherent ability, and he is perhaps where he is today, to some degree, because of an algebra teacher who cut him some slack.

“I’d skip algebra class. The band room was right across from it, and the teacher could hear me playing,” Griffith recalled. “It was obvious what I was going to do.

“Of course I failed algebra,” he added with a laugh.

He was playing gigs at 15.

By the time he’d finished high school, Griffith was proficient on saxophone, piano, guitar and flute, so he headed to the Seattle area where he joined a band on Whidbey Island. It was a seven-piece horn band called I-5 and Griffith played guitar and flute.

He played in a string of bands before joining the Navy in 1972 after he got his draft notice during the Vietnam War. When a Navy recruiter told Griffith he could play in a military band, he was surprised at his good fortune. He auditioned on the sax.

“I could memorize anything, but that doesn’t help sight reading,” he said. “They needed guitar players, so I jammed for 20 minutes and they said, ‘All right kid, you’re in.’”

After he was discharged from the Navy a couple of years later, it was back to the band scene. He joined Black Hawk County, a group of his friends, and they asked him to learn the pedal steel guitar. Griffith picked up a mandolin in the back of someone’s van around that time and added that to his repertoire of skills.

“It was kind of a living,” he said about an ensuing string of bands he played with. The economy had tanked in the 1970s, but “as musicians we didn’t feel it as much, as long as we were fed and housed.”

Life on the road was exhausting at times.

“We traveled western states six to seven nights a week,” he said. “We’d be home for a week, then living in motels and band houses.”

He spent six years with the Stone Johnny Mountain Band based in Spokane, Washington, and then headed to Canada for three years. Griffith met his wife, Margaret, in Red Deer, Alberta.

“She was heckling me in a bar - ‘Play some Alabama!’” he recalled with a smile.

His musical influences were wide-ranging, from the Bay Area Tower of Power and Cold Blood bands to Willie Nelson.

Griffith still travels a bit; he actually likes to drive.

Much of his work these days is focused on education. He accompanies Rob Quist, Jack Gladstone and Andre Floyd on trips to visit schools as far away as Tennessee.

“I present all the instruments. We talk to them about being a musician, or having music as a part of your life,” he said. “We do that all over the country. We’ve been doing this for 25 years. It’s really cool to engage with young kids, when you connect with these kids.”

Griffith easily shares his philosophy about music and what it does for one’s soul.

“I play to communicate my feelings,” he said. “And I communicate better with music. It’s painting the picture for someone to see. I see music in a palette of colors. I’m painting a picture with sound.”

Griffith keeps busy with his recording studio, though Jeff Wagner has taken over the engineering part of the operation.

“He’s doing tons of work. He’s brought in new gear and new knowledge,” he noted.

Snoring Hound Studio is wrapping up an album for Marshall Catch, and Griffith soon will be starting a project with blues musician Kevin Van Dort.

The studio, like Griffith, has been a mainstay in the local music business.

“I have no idea how many albums have been put out of here,” he said.


Information from: Daily Inter Lake, https://www.dailyinterlake.com

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