Richard Gilbert "Dick" Griffey (November 16, 1938 – September 24, 2010) was an American record producer and music promoter who founded SOLAR Records, a RAS acronym for "Sound of Los Angeles Records". The label played a major role in developing a funk-oriented blend of disco, R&B and soul music during the 1970s and 1980s. As a concert promoter, Griffey arranged bookings for artists such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Jon Gibson, Stevie Wonder, and the Jacksons.
Life and careerRichard Gilbert Griffey was born on November 16, 1938. He was raised by his mother, Juanita Hines, and stepfather in the housing projects of Nashville, Tennessee, where he was a drummer in local clubs in his teens. After briefly attending Tennessee State University, he enlisted in the United States Navy at age 17. He served as a medic and worked as a private-duty nurse after completing his military service.
After moving to Los Angeles in the 1960s, Griffey became part owner of Guys and Dolls, a nightclub which featured performances by such rising stars as Isaac Hayes and Ike & Tina Turner. Eventually he branched into concert promotion, earning the moniker "Kingpin of Soul Promoters". Griffey toured with the girl group Honey Cone and handled their finances. He was engaged to Carolyn Willis of the group in 1971.
Griffey worked as talent coordinator on Soul Train, the musical variety show created by Don Cornelius, and together they established Soul Train Records in 1975. Griffey formed his own label, SOLAR Records (an acronym for Sound of Los Angeles Records) in 1977. Music critic Stephen Holden, of The New York Times, predicted a bright future for the label in the pop market, writing a profile under the headline "Solar Could Be the Motown of the 80's". SOLAR acts included Shalamar, which produced such hits as "The Second Time Around" and "This Is for the Lover in You". With The Whispers, SOLAR released such hits as "And the Beat Goes On" (co-written by Griffey) and "Rock Steady". Other acts signed by SOLAR during the 1980s were The Deele, Dynasty, Klymaxx, Lakeside, Midnight Star and The Whispers.
After Jon Gibson was signed to Griffey's subsidiary label, Constellation Records, Griffey would have fun tricking a number of his artists with Gibson's demo tape (they thought it was Stevie Wonder). Gibson's debut came as a guest vocalist for three songs on Bill Wolfer's album, Wolf. It was during the process of making that album that Gibson met his musical idol, Stevie Wonder, and worked with a crew of other musicians, including Michael Jackson. Wolfer returned the favor the next year by producing Gibson's debut album, Standing on the One (1983). The debut showed that Gibson was more than a Wonder-clone and that he had song-writing skills to go with his 'great voice'.
Babyface, who had been frustrated in his role as a background singer with The Deele, credited Griffey with encouraging him to step out on his own and pursue a solo career, saying that Griffey told him "If they don’t want you to sing all the time, you should be doing your own thing". In a statement released after Griffey's death, producer Quincy Jones said Griffey's "fingerprints were on some of the biggest hits of the '80s". Stevie Wonder, one of the artists that Griffey promoted, said that "Professionally, I could not talk about my life without there being a chapter on how Dick Griffey, as a promoter, helped to build my career". Griffey - who also promoted Kool & the Gang - was mentioned by the founding members as the one who suggested they needed a permanent lead singer, to which they picked James "J.T." Taylor to front the band.
In the early 1990s, Griffey had a hand in launching the rap label Death Row Records, which was co-founded by ex-N.W.A star Dr. Dre and one-time bodyguard Suge Knight. It was Griffey's SOLAR studios in which portions of Dr. Dre's seminal album, The Chronic, was recorded. However, in July 1997, Griffey along with one-time N.W.A associate and rapper Tracy "The D.O.C." Curry sued Death Row claiming they were "pushed out" of their share in ownership and profits from the record label by Knight and Dre.
Griffey died at the age of 71 on September 24, 2010, at a rehabilitation center in Canoga Park, Los Angeles, where he had been recuperating after undergoing quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery. He was survived by his wife Carrie Lucas, a singer he married in 1974; four children and five grandchildren.
His daughter Carolyn Griffey joined Shalamar in 2005 and performs as a member currently.