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February 5, 2005

Eric Griffiths — Quarrymen bandmate of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison — is dead


He died in Edinburgh a week ago Saturday at age 64.

The picture above, taken on October 14, 1957, shows the Quarrymen in concert.

From left: Colin Hanton, 15-year-old Paul McCartney, Len Garry, John Lennon and, far right, Eric Griffiths.

Ben Sisario wrote a superb obituary for yesterday's New York Times.

But for the fact that Griffiths couldn't afford to buy a new guitar, he might well have become a Beatle.

Fascinating how often it's just a matter of chance who happens to get a chair when the music starts - or stops.

"When I'm 64" — indeed.

Here's Sisario's story.

    Eric Griffiths, 64, Member of Band That Became Beatles, Dies

    Eric Griffiths, a guitarist for the Quarrymen, the rock and skiffle band led by John Lennon that eventually evolved into the Beatles, died on Saturday at his home in Edinburgh. He was 64.

    The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Rod Davis, who played banjo in the original group.

    Mr. Griffiths was born in Denbigh, Wales, and moved with his family to Liverpool at a young age.

    On his first day at Quarry Bank School when he was at 11, he met two students, John Lennon and Pete Shotton, who, Mr. Griffiths later said, shared an interest in "music, girls and smoking."

    The friends began to play skiffle, the ragtag mix of American blues and early rock 'n' roll that captivated English youth in the mid-50's.

    The band rehearsed at Mr. Griffiths's home while his mother was at work, and began to perform in Liverpool.

    Along with other revolving members, Lennon and Mr. Griffiths played guitar, Mr. Shotton played washboard percussion, Bill Smith played tea-chest bass and Colin Hanton played drums.

    At a concert on July 6, 1957 - a hallowed date in Beatles lore - the Quarrymen were heard by a 15-year-old Paul McCartney, who soon joined the group.

    The next year George Harrison joined as another guitarist and Mr. Griffiths was asked to switch to bass.

    The instrument was prohibitively expensive, so he left the group and joined the British merchant navy.

    He first heard "Please Please Me," the Beatles' first No. 1 hit, on the radio while on duty in the Persian Gulf.

    After various name changes, the Quarrymen became the Beatles in 1960.

    Mr. Griffiths left the merchant service in 1964 for a job with the British prisons, supervising prisoners' work projects.

    The job took him to Edinburgh, and after retiring in 1994 he ran a family dry-cleaning chain.

    In 1997 Mr. Griffiths joined with the other surviving Quarrymen - minus its most famous alumni - to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Cavern, the small Liverpool club where the the Quarrymen and the Beatles played in their early years.

    The men had not been together since 1958, Mr. Davis said, but allowed themselves to be persuaded to play a few songs.

    Soon they had a second career as the reunited Quarrymen, and in concerts around the world hammed it up as the forgotten also-rans of the most famous group in rock 'n' roll history.

    In 1998 they played at Shea Stadium in New York, the site of one of the peaks of Beatlemania in 1965; of their appearance there, the Quarrymen's Web site says that "photos of the group with their guitars on the spot where the Beatles performed were followed by a few beers in the famous Mets dressing room."

    In 1997 the reunited Quarrymen released a CD, "Get Back - Together," featuring "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Whole Lotta Shakin' " and other songs from the band's skiffle origins.

    Its second CD, "Songs We Remember," was released last month.

    Among Mr. Griffiths's survivors are his wife, Relda, and three sons.

    February 5, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink


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