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Pink Floyd gets Three Man Salute

After 10 years of playing in tribute bands just to earn a paycheck, one Minnesota guitarist has finally found his labor of love. Sonny Griffin, guitarist and singer of the Isanti, Minn., group The Three Man Salute to Pink Floyd, has previously pl...

Pink Floyd tribute
Sonny Griffin is guitarist and singer for The Three Man Salute to Pink Floyd.

After 10 years of playing in tribute bands just to earn a paycheck, one Minnesota guitarist has finally found his labor of love.

Sonny Griffin, guitarist and singer of the Isanti, Minn., group The Three Man Salute to Pink Floyd, has previously played in the Motley Crue tribute band Wild Side, the Judas Priest tribute Hell Bent Forever and a Black Sabbath cover band, War Pigs. His six years in Wild Side were only for the money, he admits.

"I didn't really care much about Motley Crue's music," he said. "Some of my other bands, I would play the music, but my heart wasn't really in it."

But then, Griffin began working on original material and decided to experiment with using a computer to add to his music. He recruited bassist and backing vocalist Kevin McGannon and drummer Greg Hyster and quickly realized that he didn't have enough original songs to fill a whole live set.

The group decided to throw in a few covers for its live show, and through a gradual process worked up more than an hour's worth of Pink Floyd songs.

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"We figured we'd covered enough material and we were doing it well, so let's do a Pink Floyd tribute," he said. "Because it was sounding so good and going so good and natural, it was kind of an easy decision to make."

The band is playing its first outdoor show 9 p.m. Saturday at Big Daddy's Lounge in Grand Forks. Tickets are $10 in advance at Budget Music or Big Daddy's and $10 at the show.

Not just a costume

Griffin, 51, said he grew up listening to Pink Floyd and particularly recalled the first time he saw the band perform live during the second or third leg of its "Dark Side of the Moon" tour.

"That was pretty impressive for a teenager to see," he said. "I've seen them several times over the years, and it's always captivated me."

One era of the band that he liked was when they were something of a club act -- the time when the band members were fairly anonymous and the group was known for its psychedelic feel. He said that's the phase that his band tries to reproduce, complete with psychedelic lights and images.

Taking on the role of a mythical band like this is a far cry from pretending to be the larger-than-life rock characters from his previous tribute bands, Griffin said.

"It was more about the individual people and the costuming," he said. "With this, it's more of an overall thing. It's not really built around trying to reproduce a specific look or person, it's more about the music."

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The Three Man Tribute to Pink Floyd plays a mix of the original band's song catalog, including cuts from "Dark Side of the Moon," "The Wall," "Wish You Were Here" and Griffin's personal favorite album, "Animals."

He said his group stays away from the band's earliest work, which is more obscure than its later hit albums.

Pulling it off

Griffin said he has taken this new band pretty seriously, and even had custom guitars with internal electronics built to the exact specifications of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour's guitars.

The musicians spent five or six months preparing before they ever played a live show. First, Griffin added all the keyboard parts onto a computer and transferred the tracks onto an 8-track digital machine.

He also added background vocals, which he said "fills it up to where it might only be a three-piece band but it sure don't sound like it."

"It was kind of a complex process of getting everything synched up with the click track and figuring out songs that we could do justice to," he said. "We narrowed it down to about two hours of material that pleases us to play and pleases the audience to hear it."

He took the band on the road for its first shows about two months ago, and said the crowds have been a good mix between older, longtime fans and kids "that looked like they probably weren't old enough to be there." Pink Floyd is a band that appeals to people from all generations and ages, he said.

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"There's kind of a mystique about them," he said. "There's certain groups that every kid as a teenager, especially once they get into the college scene. ... It's almost like a rite of passage that you get into those bands for a while."

The band was known for its epic live shows and monumental studio albums, which could make it hard for a tribute band to fully recreate. While the band obviously can't match the scale of Pink Floyd's time as one of the biggest groups in the world, Griffin said he thinks his preparation and commitment to the project will impress everyone.

"When a lot of people think of Pink Floyd, they kind of think of a band that needs a cast of thousands or something," he said. "We kind of made it to where we can pull off a pretty good rendition of Pink Floyd using a computer."

Johnson covers local music events and runs a music blog at www.areavoices.com/valleysound . Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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