Nanci Griffith - Biography

By J Poet

Nanci Griffith, dubbed The Queen of Folkabilly by critics for her blend of country, folk, Celtic and pop, is a Texas singer/songwriter known for her dulcet tones and distinctive vocal phrasing. She’s had chart success, mainly with other artists like Kathy Mattea who scored a Country Top 5 hit with “Love at the Five and Dime” and Suzy Bogguss who scored with “Outbound Plane” a tune Griffith co-wrote with Tom Russell, although she has hit the Country charts with “Trouble in the Fields,” “Cold Hearts/Closed Minds," and “I Knew Love.” She’s released 20 odd albums including Best Of collections in her 30 year career and won three Grammys, a Best Contemporary Folk award for her own Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993 Elektra) and two for her contributions to albums by the Chieftains including a Best Traditional Folk award for An Irish Evening (1992 RCA.)


Nanci Griffith was born in Lubbock, Texas in 1954 and Grew up in Austin.  Her dad Marlin sang in a barbershop quartet and her mom an amateur actress. She says she started playing guitar at age 6 after he parents got tired of the noise she was making trying to play French Horn. She picked up pointers from a PBS folk guitar program, but is largely self-taught. By age 14 she was writing her own songs and performing at open mikes. Tom Russell heard her at the Kerrville Folk Festival and encouraged her to make an album. here first two efforts ere There's A Light Beyond These Woods (1978 BF Deal Records, 1990 Philo/Rounder) and Poet In My Window (1982 Featherbed, 1986 Philo/Rounder) were low key folky efforts, reissued later on when she became successful. Griffith had been teaching kindergarten between gigs, but soon quit to concentrate on music.


Rounder signed her and next effort Once In A Very Blue Moon (1985 Philo/ Rounder) was recorded at Jack Clement’s Nashville studio with stellar backing by banjo ace Bela Fleck and fiddler Mark O'Connor. Last Of The True Believers (1986 Philo/Rounder), her first with her long time backing band the Blue Moon Orchestra, included fan favorites like “Love At The Five And Dime,” “The Wing And The Wheel,” “More Than A Whisper” and “Lookin' For The Time (Working Girl).” It got a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album.


Kathy Mattea’s version of “Love At The Five And Dime” was nominated for Country Song of The Year prompting Griffith to move to Nashville, where she got signed by MCA. Lone Star State Of Mind (1987 MCA) was her first Nashville effort and co-produced by Griffith with Tony Brown. It included Julie Gold’s “From A Distance” which made Griffith a superstar overseas when it became a major hit in Ireland and England. Little Love Affairs (1988 MCA) ws oddly panned by critics for being too country, despite the fact that Griffith had been writing country hits of other artists including Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson’s “Gulf Coast Highway.”


MCA responded by sending Griffith to Hollywood and applying a bit of pop polish to help break her. Storms (1989 ) a radio friendly set, became her biggest commercial success in the US and Late Night Grande Hotel (1991 MCA) produced by Rod Argent and Peter Van Hook, featured a duet with Phil Everly on “It’s Just Another Morning Here.”


She next moved to the artist friendly Elektra logo and cut Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993 Elektra) which included covers of tunes by other writers. The set won a Best Contemporary Folk Grammy in 1994. Here Elektra years produced some of her finest work including: Flyer (1995 Elektra) her most biographical album, which got a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary folk album, Blue Roses From The Moons (1997 Elektra), a pop/rock album that brings out the best in Griffith’s voice, Other Voices Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful) (1998 Elektra)another album of folk covers by writers like Woody Guthrie, Sandy Denny, Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash, Dust Bowl Symphony (1999 Elektra) which finds Griffith backed by The London Symphony revisiting early songs and a few new ones and Clock Without Hands (2001 Elektra) with new tunes mixed with a couple of fine John Stewart covers.


Griffith was finally invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 2003, then took some time off to travel the world. She returned with Hearts in Mind (2004 New Door UK) a meditation on modern American wars from Vietnam to Iraq. She made a slight diversion for Ruby Torch (2006 Rounder) with an album of country and folk songs given a torch song treatment with the help of her Blue Moon Orchestra. Her MCA recordings were reissued as The Complete MCA Studio Recordings (2002 MCA/Uni.) In 2009 she released The Loving Kind, followed by Intersection in 2012.


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