Kraig B. Greff, a professional musician who was a founder of The Crawdaddies, one of the East Coast’s preeminent Cajun/Zydeco bands, was also the founder of Tonal Vision LLC, a production company that produces original music for advertising, trade shows and other production work, died of injuries from an October automobile accident on the Jones Falls Expressway on Feb. 27 at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
The longtime Fells Point resident was 66.
“Kraig was a really good person, loyal friend, super funny and very outspoken,” said Chris Huntington, a guitarist and professional musician, who joined The Crawdaddies 25 years ago.
“He was the founding member of The Crawdaddies, and I joined the band in its early stages. His accordion and piano playing were the foundation of the band. He was a world-class player,” said Mr. Huntington, who also books musicians for casinos nationwide. “No one played the accordion like Kraig. He was a classically trained pianist and had a good ear.”
Benny Harrison, a producer and pianist, who played with many national acts including American guitarist Joe Bonamassa, recently recorded a CD on which he played with Mr. Greff.
He recalled his first meeting with Mr. Greff at an open mic night in New York.
“He came on stage and played, and when he stepped off, I said, ‘Who the hell is that guy?’” Mr. Harrison recalled with a laugh. “He was a classical accordionist who played the blues and New Orleans style of playing which was just excellent. He had a unique sounding voice and at 6-feet-four was a gentle giant.”
Christian Colberg, a violist and composer, who had played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 1993 to 2010, and is now the principal violist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, first met Mr. Greff when he was a guest artist and they played a BSO concert together.
“We played the ‘Czardas’ by Vittorio Monti and he played the accordion,” Mr. Colberg said. “He had a great ear but had his own truths and he owned them. He was a very honest person and I’m so glad that he came into my life. I appreciated his connection to the humanities and the music he produced, and you couldn’t separate them.”
Kraig Burt Greff, son of Burt Greff, a garage mechanic, and his wife, Mary Shimkus Greff, a hairdresser, was born in Springfield, Illinois, and raised in Virden, Illinois.
After graduating from high school in Virden, Mr. Greff attended Illinois College in Jacksonville, but left in the mid-1970s after he had an opportunity to perform in New York City.
A case of childhood asthma forced Mr. Greff to live in a specially air-conditioned room. Playing the accordion gave him a measure of escape and fun that led to 10 to 15 hour practice sessions.
“He started playing the accordion when he was five years old and by the time he was 10, he was playing in bars and clubs,” said his wife of 43 years, the former Jacqueline Ann “Jacquie” Ann Stewart, a co-founder with her husband in 1990 of Tonal Vision LLC. She is a video documentarian and a past president of the Washington chapter of the Television, Internet and Video Association.
A childhood prodigy, Mr. Greff became an accomplished jazz pianist, classical accordionist and a Hammond B-3 organist, who eventually played with such jazz greats as Joe Williams and Della Reese. He toured with world-renowned percussionist Ron Powell, singer Barry White and his Love Unlimited Orchestra and other national acts.
“His life was, and still is, about music,” wrote Mat Edelson, a former Fells Point writer, close friend and neighbor, who now lives in Washington, in a 1994 unpublished profile of Mr. Greff.
“All I’m trying to do is raise my standard, my bar a little bit,” he told Mr. Edelson. “Let’s work a little harder and get something more out of this. Let’s not settle into the big easy chair of mediocrity and feel free and comfortable there as we turn on yet another hour of ‘Ally McBeal.’”
Mr. Greff explained that his musical roots were inextricably influenced by visits to record shops in Springfield, Illinois. His parents took him to the record shops after hospital visits to see doctors about his asthma. There, he picked up James Brown and Ray Charles recordings.
Mr. Greff said in the interview that he wasn’t a typical Midwestern boy.
“Between learning classical accordion as a kid, and the gigs, here I was, going to an all-white high school, and I’m listening to classical, R&B and Black music,” he said.
Hours of practice was part of his daily routine, as well as touring with bands extensively throughout the United States.
“Do you want to just seek fame or do you want to woodshed — that means practice —and be good? There’s no substitute for woodshedding,” he explained to Mr. Edelson.
“I’m hard to bulls--t when it comes to music because I know what it takes to do certain things. And when somebody says ‘Oh yeah, I practice all the time,’ and I hear them play, I’m like ‘Oh no you don’t. If you practiced all the time, you’d sound like Segovia, who DID practice all the time. You don’t sound anything like that.’”
Frank Ayd IV, former audio engineer at Flite 3 Studios, and a close friend, said: “Oh, Kraig had definite ideas about music and he was definitely one of a kind. He was just on another level.”
In 1980, he married his wife, who was a section head in regulatory affairs at Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati. In 1993, she was transferred to Baltimore and the couple settled in Fells Point.
Discovery Channel was a major client of his production business, and they contributed to more than 200 shows. In addition to his production business, Mr. Greff continued touring and in 1994 was on the road with Diana Ross as her keyboard engineer.
In 1995, he cofounded The Crawdaddies, a national touring band that performs a mix of Cajun, Zydeco, funk, swing, soul reggae, roots and rock.
The Morning Sun
“We weren’t a traditional Zydeco band. We had our own unique sound, and a lot of that was because of Kraig,” Mr. Huntington said.
“As musical director, he helped develop The Crawdaddies into a polished, professional act,” Mr. Edelson wrote in a biographical profile at Mr. Greff’s death. “In addition to the steady stream of Crawdaddies albums, he also released several of his own, including ‘Hammond’ Eggs’ in 2008 and ‘Joy,’ a holiday solo piano CD in 2011.
“I was 20 or 21 when I first met him and here was this road-hardened and such a brilliant musician who wanted to work on projects with me, which I thought was pretty special” Mr. Ayd said.
Until his accident, Mr. Greff had still been touring and performing locally on piano, accordion and Hammond organ, as well as composing and producing original music.
“Kraig had a great heart and was a truly wonderful person. He was not pretentious and what you saw was real,” Mr. Harrison said. “I still feel his spirit is around us.”
A celebration-of-life-gathering was held March 6 at the Sound Garden Record shop in Fells Point.
In addition to his wife of 43 years, Mr. Greff is survived by a stepson, Shawn Story of Dubuque, Iowa; two granddaughters; and three cousins.