Better Than Ezra founder and frontman Kevin Griffin is bringing his wholly unique solo show through Savannah this week.
This will be the second concert in B&D Burgers new summer concert series. The first, a packed out affair, featured Athens’ Futurebirds back in May.
For over three-decades, Griffin’s career as a musician and songwriter has seen its lows and highs, but he has continually re-imagined his course, finding success time and again. Better Than Ezra, mostly known for their hit “Good” from the 1995 album “Deluxe,” is still kicking out the jams. They are touring in celebration of three-decades of life, and released a new single recently with plans for a full album soon.
Griffin, Joel Rundell (guitar), Tom Drummond (bass), and Cary Bonnecaze (drums) formed Better Than Ezra while students at Louisiana State University. The college-rock band earned critical praise off their debut cassette, 1990’s “Surprise.”
Tragedy almost stalled the entire project when Rundell committed suicide in 1990. The band moved to L.A. and continued on as a trio, later adding a second guitarist. They earned major studio label recognition from “Deluxe,” originally an independent release that was picked up by Elektra Records. The album spawned a new era for the band, which has yet to be quelled.
“Looking back over the career and saying wow, we got a band together, we got a record deal, we went platinum, we’ve toured the world, we’ve done Letterman and Leno and all those shows, then we also got dropped, we were counted out, we had our second wind,” Griffin recalled in an interview with Do Savannah.
“Honestly, now it’s the 30th anniversary of Better Than Ezra this year from our first rehearsal when we were freshman and sophomores at LSU,” Griffin continued. “We’re on this tour with Barenaked Ladies and KT Tunstall and we’re playing Red Rocks and Greek Theater and all these gorgeous arena’s and amphitheaters. Wow, I am just grateful and I am just enjoying it. I am enjoying touring more than I ever have.”
In the early oughts, Griffin was encouraged to write songs for other people. Over the past 15 years, he’s earned co-writing credits on over 50 songs for other artists, including Blondie, Howie Day, Train, Jon McLaughlin, Sugarland, James Blunt, Barenaked Ladies, and Taylor Swift.
Griffin’s outside songwriting career all started with Meatloaf.
“It all goes back to Meatloaf,” Griffin said. “That’s always funny to say. 2001, we were recording in L.A. in a three-studio complex called Conway. Justin Timberlake was on one side of us, us in the middle, and then Meatloaf on the other side. We were mixing and he heard some of our songs, passing by in the morning. He got his manager to reach out to me to write. He said I want you to write a song for me. I did and it became a hit for him (overseas).
“What I learned from writing is that it’s a big world. You can have massive hits that people don’t know about here, or are considered has-beens here, or whatever. That was eye opening for me. It opened the door for all these other younger writers. That’s how it really started. Meatloaf’s manager said, you need to diversify from Better Than Ezra. Start using your talents elsewhere. Put more irons in the fire. That was really good counsel to me.
"It’s kept me going. When the songwriting hasn’t been as fruitful, then I go publish someone, or manage someone or start a music festival like I’ve done. It’s a good thing to do if you’re a creative person, to really continue to stretch yourself outside the normal way you do it. It all feeds on itself. It makes all your work better.”
Griffin’s solo show spans a panoply of entertainment. It’s not a languid anecdote of his music, but rather an intimate, upbeat show, full of the hit songs he’s written for both himself and others, imitations, covers and more. He will be joined by percussionist Jenn Lowe.
“It’s a lot different,” Griffin said of his solo set. “The similarities are, I am going to play some Better Than Ezra songs. The hits that people know. For sure. They're going to be in a different format. It’s me and a percussionist. It’s not a sleepy version of it. It’s acoustic; same tempo, just a different feel. Maybe more the way they were written and intended initially. Then I play a lot of the songs I’ve written for other artists.
“Then a lot of inspired, and maybe ill-advised, covers. Anecdotes and long-winded stories and dance moves. The show just kind of takes its own twists and turns because I don’t have to be considerate of other band members. I can just do what I want. It’s fun and different.”