Posted April 18, 2013

Greatness in the Groovies


Flamin Groovies circa 1978.

Thirty-one years after they last graced a stage in Spain, US powerpop supremos the Flamin Groovies are out on the road again. Mid-period vocalist-guitarist Chris Wilson is back in the fold, teaming with originals Cyril Jordan (guitar-vocals) and George Alexander (bass.) One of the catalysts behind the regrouping is the Dig It Up! travelling festival in Australia, curated by fans and friends the Hoodoo Gurus.

PATRICK EMERY cornered CYRIL JORDAN just before a run through Japan and Australia kicked off.



Is it true you grew up listening to classic music?

Oh yeah, I could hum three minutes of the Pastoral Symphony by the time I was three.

Ron Loney and Tim Lynch were in a folk trio before morphing into the Flamin Groovies.  When and how did you first meet them?


I met them in 1965, I think it was June.  I met George Alexander and we started talking band talk.  I invited him to come by and check out my band – a bunch of guys in high school.  George came over on a Honda 50 and we didn’t end up jamming because everyone was riding on his Honda 50 that afternoon.  But I came over and met his friends, Roy and Tim, and I brought a drummer with me – a guy named Ron Grecho, who ended up in a band named Crime about 30 years later.

You were originally playing mainly covers.  What songs were you covering in your first sets?


It’s funny because we were basically a Rolling Stones copy band.  We opened with the Stones’ version of Round and Round, and we closed with I’m Alright.  The first show we did, I remember that intro and closing, and in between we were doing The Last Time.  I don’t think we did any Beatles songs, but I think we did Heart Full of Soul by The Yardbirds.  It was mostly Them, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and The Lovin’ Spoonful. 

It was a perfect union – I was a young guy who’d been learning Chuck Berry solos and intros to songs.  I didn’t know much about chord structures.  I could play Gloria on chords, but I was more of a lead guy.  But by the time I met Tim and Roy and George they were accomplish guitarists – they could all finger-pick like Joan Baez!  And they could do harmonies – they were all good singers. 

So we’d be sitting around that first night wondering what to play, and someone would say ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and I’d start it, and everyone in the band would just fill in, and we’d play it perfectly all the way to the end.  And we’d do that for every song that was suggested that night.  So by the end of the night we had a whole set, and we realised we’d become a band.  And I don’t know how we came up with the name The Chosen Few, but we were stuck with that name for about a year.

When did you first start writing your own material?


That must have been about 1966, when we saw the Beatles.  I came back from Europe – I’d been there the whole summer, staying with relatives in Holland.  I came back, and it was my birthday, and the Beatles were staying at Candlestick Park in San Francisco – that was their last show.  The next time they played live it was on the rooftop in London doing Get Back. 
The next day we changed our name to the Flamin Groovies.  We started to become an original band – Roy started writing, I started writing.

San Francisco around that time was supposed to be an amazing place for artists and musicians.  It’s said that the character of the Haight-Ashbury area changed after the so-called Summer of Love when the innocence and excitement began to be replaced by a more unsavoury element.  Is that your recollection?


You put that very well.  A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, or don’t know about it.  I would have to say that by 1968 the people who were going to the Fillmore that year were people who in 1965 and 1966 were a little too skittish to go down to the Fillmore district, which was the negro part of town.  I have to admit that for the first couple of months of 1965 when I heard about these shows – I was in high school – I thought ‘I’m not going down to the Fillmore district’!  But when the area started getting famous, a lot of people who weren’t hippies, who were collegiate people, sports people, whatever, they started turning up at shows. 

The community got bigger, but we lost the identity, as far as the identity of what the hippie trip really was.  I write a column in a magazine called Ugly Things, and the column I’m writing right now is about 1965 – each column is a year in the music scene in San Francisco.  And in this column I mention that in June 1965 there was an unknown band in San Francisco called The Charlatans, who had a 6-week engagement at a place called the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City.   This is where Chet Helms, who came out from Texas with Janis Joplin and the guys from Big Brother, they were all hanging out.  This clique who became known as the Family Dog later on, this was basically out of the Red Dog Saloon. 

I wrote this column because it dawned on me that these people were the first hippies.  Everybody copied them – when you came to San Francisco you’d walk down Haight Street and you’d say ‘there’s Chet Helms’, but then you’d realise it wasn’t, it was just some guy who was dressed like him.  The hippie fashion thing spread like fire!

In the original line-up of the Groovies Roy was said to be the Stones guy, while you were more the Beatles and Byrds guy.  Was there a lot of creative tension between the two of you?


I wouldn’t call it tension.   We were very cooperative.  Roy taught me pretty well everything I know about writing – he’s a great lyricist.  He’s very quick with the idea for a song, and direction for where the lyrics will go.  I learnt a lot from Roy.  Basically, the reason Roy left in 1971 after six years of being in the band, after we released Teenage Head, is that we were given bad deal by Karma Sutra. 

It’s funny because Teenage Head is one of our greatest albums, but when we released it, the critics loved it, but the record company was really paranoid about the title.  So they didn’t put the title on the album – it says on the back of the album ‘The Flamin Groovies present Teenage Head’.

I understand that it was Kim Fowley who came up with the title of that record.


Yeah, I was on acid with Kim Fowley at the Big Sur Folk Festival for about eight hours back stage.  We were thrown out of one back stage area after another because we were so over the top.  Fowley is one of the funniest human beings you could ever meet.  He’s doing stand-up constantly!  I was in hysterics that night – as a matter of fact, I laughed so much that night that the next day my mouth was wide open.  I couldn’t close it because I’d been laughing for eight hours on acid. 

And all Kim was doing was saying he wanted to get some teenage head!  After a while I couldn’t stop cracking up.  I came back to the city having had this bad influence.  Kim Fowley is one of my idols – he’s on Alley Oop, which is one of my all time favourite albums, and I love his other instrumental stuff as well. 

We should have given Kim a writing credit on Teenage Head, but we were just kids.  We didn’t realise til years later – and I’ve since made amends with Kim.  But back in those days I’d get these acetates from Kim Fowler.  He was writing with Morris Bonfire, the guy who wrote Born to Be Wild.  There was this one song called Wild Wild Party where the singer says ‘the dog came in and shit on the floor’, and I was trying to tell Kim that we couldn’t cut this!

Is it true that I once smoked pot with Ted Kennedy?


Yes it is.  That year, 1968 when Bobbie was running for President, the Flamin Groovies were the rock band for the Democratic Party in California.  I don’t know how our manager got that gig, but every week we were playing one of these parties.  Towards the end of the year we played one at North Beach, at a brick warehouse.  We were doing three sets.  I remember seeing Ted about five feet in front of me for the whole show. 

Ted is a very large, tall guy.  I went outside during one of the breaks to smoke a joint, and Herb Caen, the San Francisco columnist asked me for the joint, so I gave it him, and Ted came out and started talking to Herb, who introduced me.  And Herb gave the joint to Ted, and Ted being a big guy sucked that thing down about an inch!  But back then it was no big deal.  It was just another gig – it was either Jimi Hendrix or Ted Kennedy.  Those days were fantastic. 

You kind of got used to it.  But now when I think about it, I think ‘Jesus Christ, I was in high school and I’m smoking a joint with Ted Kennedy!’

When Roy left, and Chris Wilson took over as singer, did you think it was going to be the catalyst for a major change in the band’s musical direction?


Like you said, I was more of a Beatles and Byrds man, and Roy was more of a Stones guy.  When Chris joined, because of the harmonies we could do together, we could do Beatles-style harmonies, which wouldn’t have worked with me and Roy, because Roy’s voice is a different type of voice.  So it was natural to try and explore that influence of the more melodic pop side. 

I wrote ‘You Tore Me Down’ in about 10 minutes at Rockfield.  We cut all of our major songs in one eight hour session at Rockfield in April 1972.  We cut ‘Slow Death’, ‘Shake Some Action’,

‘Get A Shot of Rhythm and Blues’, all of those were cut that first night with Dave. 

[Unfortunately at this moment the operator cuts into the call to tell me I’ve got one minute of interview time remaining.  This means I have to omit a number of questions, including asking how Cyril cut his hand on that fateful 1978 tour with Radio Birdman.]


This particular line-up has played for about 30 years.  Who suggested the reformation, and was it difficult to get everyone to agree?


It wasn’t difficult to get everyone to agree.  It came about naturally, and there actually was nothing contrived or surprising about it.  At the end of 2011 I went over to London.  Chris had been living over there, so that was why I hadn’t been seen him.  I invited him to the show and said maybe he could jump on stage.  He was extremely nervous because we’d had a bad falling out, which is why we hadn’t talked for 30 years. 

But the minute I walked into the dressing room and saw Chris it was all hugs and tears.  And after that when word got out that me and him had made up and we were hanging out together offers started coming in.  We got an offer from BBC1 to do an hour-long TV show.  So

Chris and I started talking, and Chris had been talking to George – George had been working with him on his solo album the year before.  By about August last year we’d all decided to give it a go, and we were trying to work out how to do this. 

We got the offer from the promoter in Australia, and also in London and Japan, to do this tour, which gave us a good kick start, because it’s quite a lot of money, which is what a band needs.  So when we get back from the Australian tour we’re going into the recording studio in Sausalito and cut some demos of some new material, and try and kick start this band into touring and maybe do another album.

Sydney
The Enmore Theatre & Surrounds
Sunday 21 April 2013
Featuring Hoodoo Gurus, Flamin' Groovies, Blue Oyster Cult, Buzzcocks, Peter Case Band, The Stems & More to be Announced!

Tickets from $117.70 inc fees on sale Feb 8
Online: Ticketek (GA & Reserved) & Oztix (GA only)
Phone: (02) 9550 3666 or 132 849
In Person: Enmore Theatre Box Office, Ticketek & Oztix outlets

Sydney
The Annandale
Tuesday 23 April 2013
Tickets $50.00 + bf
Online: feelpresents.oztix.com.au
Phone: 1300 762 545
In person: Oztix outlets

Melbourne
The Palace Theatre & Surrounds
Thursday 25 April 2013
Featuring Hoodoo Gurus, Flamin' Groovies, Blue Oyster Cult, Buzzcocks, Peter Case Band, The Stems & More to be Announced!

Tickets $125.00 + bf
Online: Ticketek & Oztix
Phone: 132 849 or 1300 762 545
In Person: Ticketek & Oztix Outlets

Melbourne
Caravan Music Club
Saturday 27 April 2013
Tickets: $48.00 + bf (General Admission) or $58.00 + bf (Reserved Seating)
Online: www.caravanmusicclub.com.au
Phone: 03 9568 1432

Perth
The Astor
Sunday 28 April 2013
Featuring Hoodoo Gurus, Flamin' Groovies & Peter Case Band

Tickets $67.00 + bf
Online: ShowTicketing & Oztix
Phone: (08) 9370 5888
In person: The Venue & Oztix outlets

 

 

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