Dick Griffey, whose label Solar was a force in the smooth R&B and dance market at its height in the ’70s and ’80s, died Sept. 24 in Los Angeles from complications following quadruple bypass surgery. He was 71.
At its height, Hollywood-based Solar (an acronym for Sounds of Los Angeles Records) was a hit factory that produced singles by such prolific chart acts as Shalamar (which spawned solo artists Jody Watley, Howard Hewett and Jeffrey Daniels), the Whispers, Lakeside, Midnight Star, Klymaxx, the Deele and Babyface.
Born in Nashville, Griffey originally considered a career in medicine, but, lured by show business, he moved to Los Angeles in the early ’60s. He ran a nightclub, became an important independent promoter and booked world tours for the likes of the Jacksons and Stevie Wonder.
In the early ’70s, Griffey became talent coordinator for Don Cornelius’ R&B dance show “Soul Train.” He helped found the Soul Train Record imprint; its early hits included singles by a studio incarnation of Shalamar and Carrie Lucas (who later married Griffey).
After the Soul Train label folded in 1977, Griffey inaugurated Solar, which rode to the top of the charts with a lush brand of black music that sat on the cusp of soul and disco.
The company’s No. 1 R&B chart hits included Shalamar’s “The Second Time Around,” the Whispers’ “And the Beat Goes On” and “Rock Steady,” Lakeside’s “Fantastic Voyage,” Midnight Star’s “Operator” and Babyface’s “It’s No Crime” and “Tender Lover.”
Deele member Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds’ production partner, went on to become a powerful executive at Arista Records and Universal’s Island Def Jam Group (where he is chairman and chief executive officer).
Solar enjoyed a series of major distribution deals with RCA, Elektra/Asylum, MCA, Capitol and Sony. After the label ceased operations in the late ’90s, its catalog was acquired by EMI.
Griffey and Solar were involved behind the scenes with rap powers like Ruthless Records and Death Row Records, which led to bouts in the courts. During the ’90s Griffey was sued by N.W.A.’s Eazy-E, while he lodged an action against Death Row’s founder Marion “Suge” Knight and producer Dr. Dre, a former member of N.W.A.
He is survived by wife Carrie, two daughters and three sons plus five grandchildren.