BETTER THAN EZRA frontman Kevin Griffin brings an intimate evening of hits to B&D Burgers in downtown Savannah.
Armed with an acoustic guitar and accompanied by percussionist Jenn Lowe, Griffin will perform crowd favorites from his iconic ‘90s alt-rock band, plus songs he’s written with artists such as Howie Day, Tristan Prettyman, James Blount, Sugarland and more.
Fresh from a 45-day, 33-date summer tour with Bare Naked Ladies, Better Than Ezra, and KT Tunstall, Griffin says he’s looking forward to the set he’s bringing to Savannah.
“We played Red Rocks in Colorado, The Greek in Los Angeles, big, beautiful stages and amphitheaters across the country,” says Griffin, a hint of Southern lilt still in his voice.
“It’s a real nice change to do a show just me and a drummer. It’s less gear, closer to the audience, more crowd participation. It’s a little sillier and definitely lots of fun.”
No stranger to the South, Griffin was born in Atlanta where his family lived until he was eight and they moved to Louisiana.
“Funny thing,” says Griffin, “In all the touring we’ve done, even growing up partly in Georgia, this is my first time in Savannah.”
Griffin met his Better Than Ezra bandmates in 1988 when they were students at Louisiana State University. An English major with rock and roll aspirations, he was realistic about show business.
“I played lots of music but always had this sense of needing a back up plan,” recalls Griffin, who once considered law school his fall back.
“The idea was that if I didn’t make it, I could be an entertainment lawyer,” he chuckles.
His LSAT score was high enough to get into several schools, but he opted to wait.
“That score was good for three years, so I kept on with the band knowing in the back of my mind I could still go to law school if I had to.”
In those three years—instead of law school—Griffin and band mates put everything into Better Than Ezra, writing, touring relentlessly and building a solid fan base in the South.
But constant motion took its toll. In late summer of 1990 the band’s lead guitarist committed suicide, a heavy loss that made them stop and take a step back.
“I needed a change, we all did, and different opportunities, so I moved out to Los Angeles,” Griffin says — then pausing with a chuckle.
“Well, actually it was because of a girl. I moved because of a girl, which of course didn’t go the way I’d hoped.”
Once in L.A. and nursing a bruised heart, Griffin stayed focused on the entertainment industry. He landed a job in the mailroom of Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s top companies representing A-list movie stars and musicians.
“The mailroom, that’s where everyone started,” says Griffin, “and it was like pledging a fraternity, hazing and all, not much fun,” he recalls.
After six months, he’d had enough, and quit. Griffin began bar tending and hit the club scene with the songs he’d written with the band plus new ones of his own.
Word got around that this tall, charming, wide-smiling Southern boy could write and deliver great pop-rock.
In the next two and a half years he continued to make connections in Los Angeles, refined his songs and performed as often as he could. Griffin also went back to New Orleans to record with bandmates.
Reunited and with a fresh slate, they laid down 13 tracks for “Deluxe” and released the album themselves in 1993 on their own label. Little did they know “Deluxe” would be their big break complete with hit single, “Good,” that would become part of the canon of ‘90s rock.
“There’s this quote that gets thrown around,” says Griffin, “our bass player Tom Drummond said it took seven years for us to get signed and seven weeks to get to number one.”
On the outside it may have looked like the band achieved overnight success, but it was seven years of hard work, uncertainty, starts and stops, tremendous losses, and hesitant gains until success finally came.
It wasn’t easy. And it hadn’t been overnight.
In 1995, Electra Records signed Better Than Ezra and picked up “Deluxe” for national distribution.
When the recognition came, Griffin recalls, “I enjoyed most seeing the song “Good” take on a new life. It began as chords and words in my bedroom and then transformed into this thing that was so much bigger. It helped put money in people’s pockets and occupied people’s minds.”
To date, Better Than Ezra has eight studio albums. Griffin, who has his own solo project, “Complications,” due out February 2019, continues to write for a range of artists. Some songwriting credits include “Collide,” Howie Day; “Scar,” Missy Higgins; “Stuck Like Glue,” Sugarland; “Madly,” Tristan Prettyman, plus more than 10 years of writing with Ed Robertson of Bare Naked Ladies.
In total, the songs and projects he’s worked on have sold more than 30 million copies. Expect some of these hits and more at his Savannah performance on July 31.
Griffin’s knack for writing catchy, clever tunes has won him fans all over the world, and it’s these connections that he relishes.
“When people tell me about their memories with a song I’ve written and where it rests in their consciousness, I always feel honored and humbled that something I helped create lives on in the thoughts and feelings of another person.”