When Sid Griffin talks about his "family" these days, he doesn't just mean his folks back in Kentucky. He's referring to the Los Angeles musical community: bands like Green on Red, the Blasters, Los Lobos, the Bangles and others that make up what he calls "the finest young music scene in the country, if not the world."
Griffin's own band, the Long Ryders, is right in the thick it, and at the moment the quartet (which plays the Roxy tonight) is poised to make its move beyond the limitations of independent record releases and shoestring tours. Its new LP, "State of Our Union," is the first of the group's multi-album deal with major label Island Records, and the coming U.S. tour figures to be a bit better financed than the band's earlier jaunts.
"On our first American tour, at the end of our encore, we'd say, 'Does anyone have a place we can stay? If you do, please come to the bandstand,' " Griffin recalled this week at his house in the Fairfax district. "It was really embarrassing. We all had sleeping bags and we'd sleep on the floor of the guy who ran the local hip record store, or the young man or woman who ran the college radio station.
"This time, we'll probably stay at hotels, and we'll probably even have two separate rooms."
The Long Ryders' alliance with Island springs from a 1983 show at the Music Machine. Island talent scouts were there to check out the headlining Los Lobos, but it was the second-billed Long Ryders who ended up with the label. Los Lobos, of course, went on to take a big commercial step forward for rootsy L.A. rock with its Slash album, "How Will the Wolf Survive?"
Griffin appreciates that contribution: "It looks like we're going to get added to radio stations that wouldn't normally add us," he said. "Apparently, Los Lobos has kicked down some doors.
"I do want to fit (on radio) so they'll give us air play, but in the other hand I don't want to fit because I think a lot of what (radio) plays is not from the heart. The music I like is very emphatic and from the heart and sincere, and I don't hear a lot of that on the radio. But obviously I want our record to sound contemporary. . . . You can't change popular culture without being popular.
"I mean, we'll meet the audience at a certain halfway point, but past that, I'm sorry, we'll have to sell shoes or something. The whole point of bands like us is that there's something idiosyncratic in the way we say it, and to put a Fairlight synthesizer on it to get air play, it's like what was the point?"
The intense, talkative Griffin, 28, has a journalism degree from the University of South Carolina and has published a book about one of his musical heroes, country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. While there's a heavy dose of idealism in the Long Ryders' rock/country/punk hybrid, Griffin's view of the music business is strictly scientific.
"I don't use any drugs and I'm not a great womanizer," he said. "My whole thing since I was a kid was the music industry. That's what I live, breathe and eat, and it's certainly in my best interest to know who does what at my record company: who answers the phone, where we stand in England and what happens when a certain record's released and if this record stalls at 60,000 units what I can anticipate will happen.
"If you can anticipate what will happen, your career seems to have less bumps. A lot of my friends, it's like, 'Golly, I went to the label and they told me this and I was really amazed.' Don't be amazed! Anticipate bad things that can happen. Give yourself a little scenario that screws up or that the guy that loves you leaves the label, and figure out what's gonna happen then. If the worst that can happen to you happens, you don't want to get caught with your pants down."