Corky Carroll: Remembering artist Rick Griffin — from Hendrix’s ‘Flying Eyeball’ to the ‘Murphy’ cartoons for Surfer magazine
I woke up on a recent morning looking straight at the wall on the right side of my bed. Being a side sleeper and in the habit of lying on my left side, I wake up facing that same wall each morning.
On that wall is my copy of Rick Griffin’s famous “Flying Eyeball” poster for a Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and Albert King concert from 1968.
On this particular morning, as I was debating with myself the merits of getting up or just going back to sleep, the idea popped into my semi-functional little mind to write about my old pal Rick Griffin.
Rick was a surfer/artist who grew up in the south bay in the 1950s. He started out doing cartoon art for Greg Noll Surfboards and then became well known when John Severson hired him to do his “Murphy” cartoons for Surfer Magazine in 1961. This was followed by the Griffin-Stoner cartoon strips depicting adventures of himself and photographer Ron Stoner.
In the later 1960s, Rick and his wife, Ida, moved to San Francisco where he would become world famous for his psychedelic concert posters, Grateful Dead album covers and even designing the script artwork for the masthead of Rolling Stone magazine.
In 1969, he moved back to San Clemente and did more work with John Severson, including the poster for his great surf movie “Pacific Vibrations.” He also worked with Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman on their classic film “Five Summer Stories.” These were two of the greatest surf movies ever made.
Rick would continue to do work on surf projects, album covers, posters, Christian art and paintings. He did the only surfing comic book ever, “Tales from the Tube,” and worked for the Christian-based Maranatha! Music. One of his great works was his visual telling of “The Gospel of John.”
In 1991 he was killed riding his motorcycle without a helmet in Santa Rosa; he was only 47 years old.
I first met Rick when he was originally working for Surfer doing the Murphy and Griffin-Stoner cartoons. I was also pals with Ron Stoner at the time. We became good friends and when he moved back to San Clemente, my first wife, Cheryl, and I would often trade baby-sitting with him and Ida.
When I was first starting out in music, Rick did the cover for my first “single” release, “Skateboard Bill,” and also introduced me to the legendary musician Chris Darrow. Chris was big time, having played with Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the Kaleidoscope, as well as having a solid solo career. He had just moved to San Clemente and we immediately became lifetime music and surf partners as well as friends. Rick also did a number of album covers for Chris. At one time, we put together a makeshift, yet actually very good, surf band to play at one of Rick’s art shows at Chapman College.
Some of my favorite times were hanging out with both Chris and Rick and our families at San Onofre surf beach, having afternoon surf sessions and barbecues on the beach. The Paskowitz family was always there as well as Tubesteak Tracy and his tribe.
Chris had a grapefruit tree in his front yard at the time and from these grew my love for tequila and grapefruit drinks, eventually leading to the now famous and extremely delightful “Corkarita.”
It’s a zillion of these little things that you remember that seem to make up a life.
Rick eventually moved up to Petaluma and Chris moved back to his original home in Claremont. I didn’t see Rick again before he died, but Chris and I have continued to make music together, the latest being my recent album for Darla Records, “Blue Mango,” which features Orange County musicians Matt Magiera, Richard Stekol, Doug Miller, Matt Marshall and Brad Fiedel.
So I wake up each day looking straight at Rick’s famous poster. Most of the time I really don’t think that much about it. But on this day, thankfully, it lit up my fading memory.
Ask the expert
Q. I just started surfing and bought my first surfboard this past weekend. Problem I am having is that I am a small female and I can’t quite get my arm around the board to carry it from my car to the water. It is kind of uncomfortable to always be putting it on top of my head. Do you have any suggestions on other ways to carry it that are less painful?
Terry Swift, Newport Beach
A. Yes, there are a couple of solutions for you. One way is to tuck the board into your side, just to your waist, and hold it out to the side. This can get uncomfortable too, if it is a long walk, but if you alternate this with putting it on your head it will more or less take the pressure off of each way.
The other way, and this is your best option, is to get a Rail Grabber. This is a little tool made by former world women’s champ Linda Benson that is designed just for this purpose. It is a small device that goes around the rail and has a handle you can use to carry your board. It’s easy to use and you can just stash it on the beach while you surf. Most surf shops carry these or you can order one at railgrabber.com. Good luck and happy surfing.