Remembering Richard "Kush" Griffith

Kush: Up There and Out There + New Thing
From Kush and His Blues Meet Funk Mediocre (Kushsights, 2006)

James Brown: Ain’t It Funky Now
From Ain’t It Funky Now (King, 1970)

Parliament: I’m a Fish (And You’re a Water Sign)
From Motor Booty Affair (Casablanca, 1978)

Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns: When In Doubt: Vamp
From Blow For Me, Toot For You (Atlantic, 1978)

(Editor’s Note: If I had my sh– together better, I would have posted this a week ago, on August 8th – Richard “Kush” Griffith’s b-day. He would have been 59.

The following post was written by Chuck Fishman who sent me a CD filled with his favorite songs by this groundbreaking JBs/P-Funk trumpeter. I’ll be candid – I never really knew much about Kush at all; the only JBs horn player that I knew, instantly, by name, is Fred Wesley but both men were instrumental in developing the song of funk across the span of the 1980s. Fishman was clearly a huge fan of Kush and I felt like he could write an excellent tribute to the late master. Here it is… –O.W.)

Written by Chuck Fishman

    We are losing influential members of the funk music community. The latest name to pass on to the funky side is one you may not know, Richard “Kush” Griffith; he was a close personal friend of mine. To friends and fans, many know him simply as Kush. He played trumpet and arranged and recorded for a roster of artists including Buddy Miles, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five, the Commodores.

    Kush’s work and contributions to James Brown / JB’s and Parliament / Funkadelic camps are certainly the most well known. Obviously the two influential funk units have a common thread, as William “Bootsy” Collins got his start in the JB’s and brought several members over to P-Funk in the mid-seventies.

    Readers of SoulSides likely know who those JB’s are that joined P-Funk : the sax master Maceo Parker, and trombonist and arranger Fred Wesley. They shaped the funk with James Brown, and gave Parliament its punchy R&B horn sound on top of Bernie Worrell’s spacey synths and Bootsy’s bass thumps.

    Fred and Maceo also brought Richard “Kush” Griffith along from the JB’s into the P-Funk horn fold  … but Kush had actually been leading his own rhythm section at Motown, called Bottom & Company since he left the JB’s with Maceo to form Maceo and All The Kings Men in 1970. I couldn’t find the picture of the album cover for Bottom & Company’s LP, “Rock Bottom” which features a smiling Kush. Here you see him in the center, and Bottom & Company had a good run from about 72 to 76 not only as its own unit, but as Motown house band.

    Kush first appeared as a member of P-Funk through Bootsy’s Rubber Band 1977 effort “Ahhh … The Name is Bootsy Baby” and was on the Parliament album out that same year, “Funkentelechy and the Placebo Syndrome”. He went on to be the bandleader of the Brides of Funkenstein in the P-Funk camp, and also of course George Clinton signed “Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns” to a deal with Atlantic; the band featured Fred, Maceo, Kush and the final member of the horn quartet is Rick Gardner who comes from the horn group Chase.

    Kush is a Leo like me, and he lived large. As you see from the picture here of P-Funk’s “Horny Horns” he was as large as he lived.

    Kush in the middle; Bootsy’s Rubber Band

    Kush on left in Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns publicity shot.

    But when I first met Kush in Denver in 1999, he was weak and frail. Years of drugs, drinking, the road caught up with him … he was blind, crippled and hostage to kidney dialysis. He had arthritis, spinal stenosis, a heart condition, a torn rotator cuff and a list of other physical ailments that’s long, and nasty. Franky “Kash” Waddy, the drummer from Bootsy’s Rubber Band told me in 1999, Chuck, hey you got to help Kush make some music … and we did that with our own bands Uncut, and fONKSQUISh, and of course Kush’s solo effort here. Despite Kush’s health situation, he was determined to make music and we did that in our Denver studio over the past few years. I couldn’t believe what a tour de force he was in the studio. Fortunately, while his health was getting even worse in 2006, we got an album done for Kush, titled “Kush and His Blues Meet Funk Mediocre”.

    I am not sure if you can still really buy this from anymore, because it came out in a limited release last year. “Up There and Out There” is my favorite track on the album for its sinster funk slink, but likely a track you will really dig more is “New Thing” because of its melodic horn lines and emotional singing from Kush.

    In 2006, I asked Kush, with his large catalog, what his 5 favorite tracks were from everything he participated in over the years. I was struck that his first choice was The S.O.S Band’s “Take Your Time”, which he played trumpets on with Fred Wesley on trombone.

    For his James Brown years, Kush said his favorite contribution was to “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).” Sure, but I offer up “Ain’t it Funky Now” here so you can hear Kush get called out by James.

    For Parliament, Kush said its one song from the “Motor Booty Affair” album. It’s “I’m a Fish (And You’re a Water Sign)”. This song was written by a very talented Walter “Junie” Morrison, and that’s a name for a whole another post. Kush is also a credited writer here. Kush said George and Junie handed him the horn arrangement duties and the results are just so beautiful. Kush told me he was very proud of the opening horn riff.

    For Bootsy, wow, it’s been a bit, and I can’t recall what Kush told me his favorite work was here … but we did discuss “Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns”, again the LPs where Kush and his horny compatriots got to shine as the lead artists. While it’s not my favorite track at all from the group’s first LP, “A Blow for Me, A Toot to You”, Kush insists it is the highlight of the album, and its his favorite: “When in Doubt: Vamp”.

    I hope this sheds some light on the “Funky Trumpeter”, Richard “Kush” Griffith. I didn’t say yet in the post how warm this man was — so briefly : he was always willing to pep you up, take a long phone call, and give out that good old life advice. He recently returned to Louisville, KY as of last year. That’s his home, and the town he took off from when he joined the James Brown band in the late 60’s. When I called him once in Kentucky, he told me how the local thugs had stolen his trumpet. He got it back, and he was still bright despite terrible, deteriorating health and just plain old ghetto conditions.