Family’s most famous and prolific member was born Richard Roman Grech, Nov. 1, 1946, in Bordeaux, France. Educated at Corpus Christi RC School, Leicester, he played violin in the school orchestra. This obviously led to guitar and bass, and he had a penchant for keeping classical strings in his rock music. In 1965, Grech was added to the Farinas line-up before Roger Chapman joined, and he shared the vocal spot with Jim King as they belted out R&B covers till the cows came home.
Only when Chappo had come on board did they really stretch their musical styles to include non-blues sax, and Grech’s violin. This led to some claiming Family was the first UK band to have “electric” violin in their stage act. (Not sure if this means microphoned violin, or actual pickups.) Whether or not Family was the first “fully self-contained orchestral rock band”(!!!), Grech’s violin and cello were integral to the Family sound that caused much of a stir at the time. The debut single “Scene Through the Eye of a Lens” demonstrated Family’s ability to not just imitate folk/acoustic sounds, but to fully execute them in an original style. And in listening to Music In A Doll’s House, I now hear a number of eerie moments that involve cello work … “The Chase”, “Me My Friend”, “Winter”. Grech’s violin is a main voice in other songs: “Hey Mr. Policeman”, “Voyage”, the serenely plucked “The Breeze”. I think he and the band really found a unique strategy for violin in a rock setting in the song “Peace of Mind”. This tune was a main feature of their live show, and Family harnessed the tones of violin at a volume not often used for such a delicate instrument. Grech’s string work continued on the follow-up, Family Entertainment, and lended to the pastoral intro to the album’s opener, “The Weaver’s Answer”. Overall, it seems as if violin was only used to augment a few songs on this album, giving brief melodies to “Observations from a Hill” and “Hung Up Down”.
“Second Generation Woman” receives an interesting violin break, and may be more connected to what Grech would play in future roles. The bass playing of Ric Grech should not go unnoticed either. Unfortunately, I think the thing that most hindered his sound on his two Family albums is technology, not technique. Punchy in style, yet small in sound, is generally how Grech’s bass could be described. Perhaps it sounded better in concert. He did have a number of good riffs, however: “Me My Friend” and “See Through Windows” for example. While Grech received one vocal spot on the first album (parts of “Me My Friend”) he was given more spotlight with three songs on the Entertainment album. “How-Hi-the-Li”, “Second Generation Woman”, and “Face in the Cloud” were penned solely by Grech, while he cowrote “Emotions” with Chapman and Whitney.
Some reviews of the album now call Grech’s contributions the lyrically weak points of the album. At least it made Chappo’s lines look good! His straight-up rocker, “Second Generation Woman”, was pulled for early release as a single in November 1968, and one may wonder whether this was a management call or actual intention of the band. A good single, but not exactly their style at the time, it leads Family through a cheeky lyric about a woman who “looks good to handle from a personal angle,” with an arrangement that recalled the Beatles’s “Paperback Writer” and owed an obvious debt to Chuck Berry. Tellingly, however, all of Grech’s songs contained obvious drug references – “How Hi-The-Li” wondered aloud if Chinese premier Chou En-Lai “gets high with all the tea in China” – and drugs would eventually plague Grech throughout his career.
Grech’s greatest legacy of his time in Family was one of rumors, “what if’s,” and leaving the band in the footnotes of Blind Faith ‘s history. At least, that’s how it is in the U.S. But that’s not the only thing he left behind. “Wheels”, a track from Family’s third album, was co-written by Ric Grech. But this is something that recent releases will not admit! Unfortunately, a small example of revised history.
Blind Faith tempts Ric Grech with success …
“Blind Faith” [excerpts from MOJO, July 1996] Roger Chapman, Family’s vocalist, remembers: “The first inkling I got that Rick might be leaving was when I read an interview in a rock paper where Jimi Hendrix was asked why he thought bands changed. He said, ‘People have got to move on, these bands split, like Family.’ Obviously, Rick had told him and hadn’t told us. The rumours are flying and these four berks at the back know nothing about it.” Grech waited for an American tour to drop his bombshell.
“He should have fucking left before the tour started,” says Chapman. “He and Gilbert [Family’s manager] obviously knew before we got to America. They didn’t tell us until the day before we opened at the Fillmore East, where we died.” It was the beginning of the end for Family; it was also the beginning of the end for Grech’s new band.
Well, we won’t call it the “beginning of the end for family” (two years and two albums down, four years and six albums to got!), but it was an exciting change for Grech. In Blind Faith, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker were now Cream-free, or in any case free of Jack Bruce, and now they could carry on their work in something more than u trio. Winwood was a solid keyboardist who could sing like the dickens, and Grech would suit perfectly us bass player who stays behind the scenes. The “supergroup” status of Blind Faith was enough to make promoters and executives salivate. Rumor has it that Ginger Baker had the recording sessions booked only weeks after rehearsals began. Although the above-mentioned U.S. gigs for Family were in April of 1969, Blind Faith bootlegs indicate that rehearsals were already taking place at Morgan Studios, London in early March of 1969. The band was at times an anti-Cream: real songs, playing the blues without having to hype it up. But Cream at its end was reaching this too, and Blind Faith definitely had its share of filler … note mediocre Stones covers in concert, and a nearly preposterous 15-minute album cut, drum solo and all.
Cover artist Bob Seidemann described the album cover as this:
“technology and innocence … To symbolize the achievement of human creativity and its expression through technology a space ship was the material object. To carry this new spore into the universe innocence would be the ideal bearer, a young girl. The space ship would be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the girl, the fruit of the tree of life. I called the image ‘Blind Faith’ and Clapton made that the name of his band. Innocence propelled by BLIND FAITH.”
June 7th, 1969, the band played to 100,000 people at a Hyde Park concert. Success indeed! If anything, Blind Faith gave Grech access to wonderful production and recording possibilities. He really made strides in the sound of his playing. His bass work on Family albums is a bit thin compared to Blind Faith days. Another benefit of membership in this band: hanging out with some great songwriters! Suppose if, by chance, Ric had come back into the Family fold, maybe in 1971, after John Wetton … Just think of what valuable contributions he could have made. I’m sure they would have taken him back, like a little lost puppy.
Although the group was a predictable hybrid, mixing the Cream mini-epics (intros to “Well Alright”, “Sea of Joy”) with the thick Steve Winwood compositions, their output was pretty dam solid. With regard to Ric Grech’s involvement, “Sea of Joy” was one of the album’s instant classics, and featured the only violin playing on the original album. Turns out to be one of the best string moments he ever had.
Two notable tracks that were omitted from most releases, but are included on German pressings and such, are “Exchange and Mart”, an odd instrumental with violin at it’s center, and “Spending All My Days”. These are both co-written by Grech, and seemed to have been passed over at last minute. The latter features typically lazy lead vocals by Grech himself. The Blind Faith album was released in August of 1969, corresponding with a US tour at the time. But in the face of warm reception and a promising future for the band, they broke up in January 1970. Winwood, Grech and Baker immediately participated in Ginger Baker’s Air Force, yielding one hastily-made live album. Meanwhile Clapton and some friends recorded some sessions at Olympic Studios in London, but nothing ever came of this grouping, which supposedly included George Harrison, Denny Laine, Trevor Burton and Ric Grech. Later in 1970, Traffic reformed as a trio, releasing John Barleycorn Must Die, and by November, Grech was added to the line-up. 1971 saw the release of two Traffic albums with Grech participating: the live Welcome To The Canteen, followed by The Low Spark Of The High-Heeled Boys, which went gold In the U.S. in 1972. After returning from an American tour in 1972, Grech left this outfit.
Grech remained active in session work, playing with Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, Vivian Stanshall and Muddy Waters. He also worked with Rosetta Hightower, the Crickets, Bee Gees and Gram Parsons. In January 1973, he performed in Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert, and he reunited with Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney when the duo recorded an album in 1974 after Family’s breakup. Grech was one of many special guests on that record, which led Chapman and Whitney to form the group Streetwalkers. Grech, however, was not in that band. Grech made at least two reported attempts to start a new rock group in the seventies but both failed. During 1973-74, he played in one of numerous versions of the late Buddy Holly backing band The Crickets. In 1973 RSO Records released the only album under his own name, credited to ‘Rick’ Grech. The album was titled The Last Five Years. It contained songs that Grech wrote and recorded with Family, Blind Faith, Traffic, Ginger Baker’s Airforce and others between 1968 and 1973. In 1974 Grech joined KGB. Consisting of Grech on bass, Mike Bloomfield (ex-Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag) on guitar, Carmine Appice (ex-Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and Beck, Bogert & Appice) on drums, Barry Goldberg on keyboards, and Ray Kennedy (co-writer of “Sail On, Sailor”) on vocals, the group released its homonymous debut that year. Grech and Bloomfield immediately quit after its release, stating they never had faith in the project. The album was not critically well received.
Grech retired from music in 1977 and moved back to Leicester and was even rumored to have been in the carpeting business. Royalties probably kept him somewhat comfortable, but unfortunately drugs and alcohol abuse were part of the picture too.
On March 17, 1990, at the age of 43, Ric Grech died at Leicester General Hospital. Liver and kidney failure were listed as the cause of death; these were brought on by a brain hemorrhage.
In the MOJO magazine article on Family from August 1996, it was reported that only weeks before his death, Grech had approached Poli Palmer with a “Family reformation deal” from a record company. It is possible that this was confused with plans for Palmer to join the “Ric Grech Band” in the mid-’70s.
Groups and Discography
Gordon Jackson Thinking Back (1969) – with Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, Julie Driscoll, Luther Grosvenor, Jim King, Chris Wood, Poli Palmer
Blind Faith (1969)
Ginger Baker’s Air Force (1970)
Harold McNair – Fence (1970)
Graham Bond – Holy Magick (1971)
Rossetta Hightower – Hightower (1971)
Traffic – Traffic Live (unreleased), Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, Welcome to the Canteen (1971)
Muddy Waters – London Muddy Waters Sessions (1971)
Steve Winwood – Winwood (1971)
Jim Capaldi – Oh How We Danced (1972)
Gram Parsons – G.P. (1972), Grievous Angel (1973), Sleepless Nights (1976)
Bee Gees – Life in a Tin Can (1973)
Eric Clapton – Rainbow Concert (1973)
Crickets – Remnants (1973), Bubblegum, Pop, Ballads and Boogie (1973)
Eddie Harris – Eddie Harris in the UK (1973)
Rick Grech – The Last Five Years (1973) compilation album. Tracks: Second Generation Woman, Kiss the Children, Face in the Cloud, Just a Guest, Doin’ It, Hey Mr. Policeman, Rock N’ Roll Stew, How-Hi-The-Li, Sea of Joy
Viv Stanshall – Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead (1974)
Rod Stewart – Smiler (1974)
Chapman/Whitney – Streetwalkers (1974)
BACK: Ernie Winfrey, Jerry Allison, Albert Lee, Sonny Curtis, Nick Van Maarth FRONT: Ric Grech, Bob Montgomery, Steve Krikorian Waters – London Revisited (1974)
KGB – KGB (Feb 1976)
Ron Wood – Mahoney’s Last Stand (1976)
Square Dancing Machine (1976-77)
Ginger Baker – Eleven Sides of Baker (1977)
Denny Laine Band (1983-84)
After show-biz, Grech became a carpet-seller in Leicester. He died in 1990 at the age of 43, from liver and kidney failure following a brain hemmorhage, and passed away at Leicester General Hospital. MOJO magazine reported that only weeks before his death, he had approached Poli Palmer with a “reformation deal” from a record company, but this is possibly confused with a mid-70’s collaboration between Palmer and Grech that never got off the ground.