It was 1971...the year my mild curiosity about rock'n'roll ballooned into
a full-blown obsession that hasn't abated since. The old standbys the Who
and the Rolling Stones were evolving from good old hard rock bands into
entities which were more, uh, artistically evolved but less satisfying on
a pure bedrock level. (Synthesizers? Horns? Latin jazz? Feh.)
Luckily, there were other sounds in the air. The Stooges' "Funhouse" and
the Velvet Underground's "Loaded" had been released the previous year, and
the MC5's "High Time" arrived in the spring to realize the promise of the
Five's previous erratic outings (not that anyone was paying attention by
that time). With one other, these records would become the poles of my rock'n'roll
compass. The fourth: the Flamin' Groovies' "Teenage Head."
Even the SLEEVE of "Teenage Head" radiated cool. These guys from San Francisco
(Whatthefuck? Home of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead? No way!)
sure knew how to look like a rock'n'roll band...specifically, the Rolling
Stones, 1969 version, U.S. variant. There they were in all their slack glory...Cyril
Jordan kickin' back on a studio stool in his snakeskin boots, rockin' out
on a Perspex Dan Armstrong (just like Keef!); George Alexander the archetypal
hippie in shades and chest length hair (kinda like, uh, Craig Chaquico or
something, or even myself at that moment in my misguided youth); Tim Lynch
looking for all the world like a hip chess club member, Danny Mihm like
a hood; and leaning up against the wall, cigarette dangling from his lip,
like a cross between James Dean and Russ Tamblyn (Riff in "West Side Story"
and brother of Standell Larry)...the boy himself, frontman extraordinaire
Roy A. Loney. Roy left the Groovies not long after "Teenage Head" bombed
ignominiously, while Cyril Jordan reinvented the Groovies as a power pop
juggernaut, finally playing out his hand several years later with a band
that was a pale shadow of its former glories. (Did I hear somebody say something
about "No just in rock'n'roll?" I thought so.)
When I reviewed the reissued CD version for the Bar last year, I wrote,
"Roy Loney, please call home." Little did I know that Roy's been quite a
busy boy since leaving the Groovies, albeit one whose activity has taken
place below most people's Rock Action radar. Ron Sanchez set me straight
with some care packages of Loney toonage, and offered to connect me with
the boy in person for some live interview action. After several failed attempts
to connect (my bad), Roy joined me at the Bar from his home in San Francisco
in early December 2000.
K: Going back to the early Flamin' Groovies days, I always thought that
you guys were kinda swimming against the tide of what was going on in San
Francisco back then, but listening to the live stuff from the Matrix on
the reissued "Supersnazz," maybe you had a little more in common with some
of the bands, like the Charlatans...
R: Yeah, I would say if anything the Charlatans were one of our main influences
back then, as far as local bands. And the Lovin' Spoonful was a big influence
on us. I think it's pretty obvious from those tapes from the Matrix that
we were into that kinda goodtimey, jugband, euphoric kinda thing at that
K: And you were kinda coming from the folkie, Kingston Trio bag, too.
R: Well yeah, because [original Groovies guitarist] Tim [Lynch] and I had
had a sort of Kingston Trio-type band all the way through like junior high,
through high school, called the Kingsmen and then it was called the Cape
Town Singers later on. So Tim and I did a folk thing totally. When we were
LITTLE KIDS, we dressed up like the Kingston Trio and went on talent shows.
So you and Tim Lynch were kind of the genesis of the whole thing.
R: Pretty much, yeah. I've known Tim since probably first grade, five or
six years old, so we go way back.
K: And you were doing acting already by that time?
R: I started acting at about eight. Just one of those things, I think it
was at summer camp, and they said, "Hey, does anybody wanna be in the drama
club?" and I just sorta said, "That sounds kinda like fun." And that was
the beginning...I got HOOKED the minute I got onstage.
K: Do you ever see Tim nowadays?
R: Yeah, I do, as a matter of fact. I just saw him about a month ago. He's
just living out of town. He was a little ill, and I went up to see him,
just to see if he's okay...he's fine now.
K: Is he still doing music?
R: A little bit. He's sorta jamming with a local thing, a little contingent
of friends up there, and I said, "Well, I wanna come up and maybe just jam
with ya," thought that'd be great. I just talked to [Groovies bassist] George
[Alexander] too, recently. Trying to get him to pick up his bass again and
kinda get back into it. He's been working for the post office for about
30 years, on and off. He's got a real secure job, he can probably retire
real young, and so he's sticking with it. He works a LOTTA hours, he doesn't
have a lot of free time. That's one reason I don't see much of him. We TRY
to get together now, when we can.
K: What about [Groovies guitarist] Cyril Jordan?
R: Cyril at this point is pretty much incommunicado with everybody. He's
not doing any music as far as I know. He's pretty much doing a lot of artwork;
he's kind of a cartoonist. That's another big love in his life, and he just
kind of does that pretty much.
K: Some of the stuff you guys did, which is pretty commonplace now -
putting out your own record, having your own club (well, that's not SO commonplace)
- where did you get the idea? Doing that first record "Sneakers" on your
R: Well, what happened is we just didn't get any offers or anything, and
we had all these tunes, and we said, "You know, maybe we should just do
it ourselves and get something out there. It'll be a demo for the labels
and a chance to get some of our music to the people." We just put the money
together and did it.
K: What do you think when you hear that record now?
R: I think it holds up real well, as sort of an artifact. I think it's great.
It really brings me back to a time that's long gone, a time I had a lot
of fun. A period in my life that's just really fabulous. I think it holds
up. It's real fonky, you can tell it's kinda homemade, it's got that sound.
I think we cut the whole thing and mixed the whole thing in about eight
hours. We knew the songs well enough, so it was pretty good just going through
How long had you been playing out as the Flamin' Groovies at that time?
R: I'd say about three years. PLAYING OUT for about three years, not as
the Flamin' Groovies. The Flamin'Groovies name came a little later.
When we started out, we were the Chosen Few, then Lost and Found, then finally
we didn't like either of those that much.
I came up with the Flamin' Groovies one night, just sittin' around stoned,
it just kinda came out. Everybody HATED it. "That's the WORST thing I've
ever heard!" And then we never came up with a better name, and they said,
"Well, why don't we just try that?" That was it.
You know, when we first started playing music, we were basically the Rolling
Stones. That's what we did.
K: Who WASN'T back then?
R: Yeah. I mean, that was why we picked up instruments. We said, "If THOSE
guys can do it, WE can do it." George Alexander was our high school buddy.
He had never played the bass in his life. He said, "I'll play in your band.
What do you want me to do?" I said, "Learn the bass." No problem. We were
the nucleus, Tim, George and me, and then we went looking for other people.
At what point did Cyril come in?
R: He was actually the last guy to join. He knew Ron Greco, our original
drummer. Ron said, "I know this kid who plays lead guitar a little bit."
He WAS a kid, too, when I first met Cyril. He was like fifteen, I think.
Real kid. And he didn't play very well at the beginning, but he was just
such a GREAT kid that we said, "I like this guy, let's keep him around,"
and of course he learned to play great.
K: Back in those early days, did you guys feel any affinity with what'd
now be called the "garage" scene in the Bay Area and especially San Jose,
bands like William Penn & His Pals, the Oxford Circle, the Chocolate Watch
R: There's no doubt that the Groovies were into those groups. The teen club
scene was really happening before the Fillmore thing kicked in! You know,
the Baytovens, Vejtables, Mojo Men, Peter Wheat & the Breadmen, etc. The
Battle of the Bands era. Top Forty radio record hops. It was a fun, naive
time. No drugs. Just the prospect of sex and a whole lot of dancing! Sweet
K: The whole thing with the Matrix, you actually owned the club, didn't
R: Not the Matrix; we PLAYED the Matrix a lot. The place we actually RAN
for about a year was the Fillmore after Bill Graham moved out. The original
Fillmore, on Fillmore. He moved out to Market Street to the Fillmore West,
and that place was empty. Well, our manager at the time, Al Kramer, had
worked for Graham in his early days, kinda knew the ins and outs of the
place. And we got a real good deal on the lease, so we took it over for
about a year and put on shows. In fact, we brought the Stooges and Alice
Cooper to San Francisco for the first time. And NOBODY liked it! Nobody
came, and the few that did, didn't get it AT ALL. We had met them on the
road, and thought they were just sensational. And so, "We gotta bring these
guys to San Francisco!" Iggy won't even remember, he doesn't even mention
that show. They did two nights, a Friday-Saturday night thing. Commander
Cody was on the bill, and then us, 'cause we were pretty much the house
K: It seems like back then, there was a connection of some sort between
you guys and the Detroit bands.
R: Yeah, there was. The first time we got into Detroit, it just clicked.
Just did. We walked into the Grande and there was the MC5, and "What the
FUCK is that? I wanna do THAT!" It really turned us around quite a bit..
It radically changed our sound. We got HEAVIER after the Detroit experience.
We saw the Stooges, the Frost, you know, we just said, "Wow, this is GREAT,
this is just SOMETHING ELSE AGAIN." So it hardened up our sound quite a
bit. I think "Flamingo" is pretty much an offshoot of the Detroit experience.
K: Let's back it up just a minute to the Epic record, to "Supersnazz."
It seems to me like on that one, you guys were pretty much manipulated in
the studio. Is that accurate?
R: Yeah. I think what it was, the producer...it was his FIRST BIG JOB. Steve
Goldman. It was his first production job, and he just wanted to prove himself.
We spent a LOT of time...I remember one day, Cyril and I spent eight or
nine hours getting the harmonies on one song just perfected. And we were
in Studio A, Columbia Studios in Hollywood. It was like, "Wow!" Paul Revere
and the Raiders were next door! It was like that...pretty mindblowing experience
for a bunch of KIDS who'd just barely learned to play. I've always felt
that what's funny about that record is, here we put out our own little thing,
which is just kinda very funky, and then we got this contract right afterwards,
and we were still just barely feeling around for a sound. We really didn't
know how to play that well. It was like, "Wow, we're gonna put out a major
label record...are we READY?" And I think that record sorta shows that we
were kinda grasping at every possible straw. I mean, it's all over the map!
K: Yeah, there's a lotta different threads happening...the '50s rock'n'roll
thing, some of the goodtimey Lovin' Spoonful thing still happening...
R: It's a little overly produced, is my only problem. I think it's a little
K: Quite a leap from "Sneakers" and bashing down the tracks in eight
R: Right! We spent MONTHS...maybe two months, off and on, in Hollywood.
And they put us up in this great mansion with a pool, where Elvis supposedly
stayed when he was making movies, right above the Sunset Strip. We really
felt like we were gonna HAVE to be huge. "We're gonna be so huge....we're
already reaping the rewards with this Hollywood mansion!" So it really kinda
turned our heads. We were kids, just starting to kinda get into it. Pretty
K: So was it around then that you started doing a lotta national tours?
K: What kinda gigs would you guys play?
R: Those were the days of halls and larger clubs...people would just rent
halls and bring in a few acts. Small halls and larger clubs pretty much.
I saw a poster of a show (it was a little later on) when you guys headlined
at the Grande Ballroom with Mitch Ryder's Detroit and I think Commander
R: Right. I think it was like a John Sinclair thing. Benefit or something.
K: You can definitely hear the results of your exposure to the Detroit
thing on "Flamingo," which is such a great record.
R: Yeah! Oh, definitely. It hardened up our sound a whole lot. Got a little
more bluesy, a little more hard-edged, LOUDER for sure. A lot louder..
K: The guitar action on that record, Tim and Cyril both, is just phenomenal.
R: Yeah! Oh, yeah. It's one of those "guitar battle" type albums.
K: Did you guys actually relocate to New York to work with [producer] Richard
R: No. Well, only in the sense that we were put up at HoJo's for a month
and a half. What happened was, the first time we went to New York, we were
on Epic. We played the Fillmore East one night as kind of a special guest,
a surprise performance. And Richard saw it. He had really loved our EP and
loved "Supersnazz" and wanted to produce us. At that point, he was working
as a writer for Hit Parader
magazine, and wanted to do an interview
with us. And during the course of the interview, we sorta said that we were
not that happy with Epic and he said, "Well, what if I get you a new deal?
I'm sorta scouting for Kama Sutra
, whaddaya say?" And that's the
beginning of that.
K: Kama Sutra was kind of a cool label for awhile there, with
you guys, NRBQ, Hackamore Brick...
R: Right. At the time, they were getting a little bit out of the bubblegum
thing. They had Curtom at that point, as part of Buddah, which was Curtis
Mayfield. And they had Brewer & Shipley, which was kind of a Seals & Crofts
kinda thing. Buzzy Linhart.
K: There's a New York piece of esoterica for somebody! Let's talk about
"Teenage Head" a little bit. Such a great record, and it stands up so well.
R: Kind of a funny record, too, because the way it was, Cyril used to come
over my place and we'd sit down with my tape recorder and try and write
songs, and we ended up with about five that were really finished. So we
went to New York basically with about five songs. The first thing we cut
was [the Who's] "Can't Explain," which didn't end up on the record at all.
We never actually finished it, but it's come out on bootlegs.
K: It's a bonus track on the CD.
R: Yeah. At that point, Tim wasnÕt there. Tim was late getting to New York;
he was hung up in the city. So the first day in the studio was just everybody
but Tim, so Cyril got to go guitar-crazy and play all the parts. The big
overdub trip. So we cut "CanÕt Explain" and then Timmy showed up, and then
we started recording for real. We pretty much decided to do [Randy NewmanÕs]
"Have You Seen My Baby" and I had "Evil Hearted Ada" finished, and then
Cyril and I had four or five other songs. So we finished recording everything
we had, and Richard says, "You know, we donÕt have an album here. We just
donÕt have an album." So we said, "Okay, give us a few seconds."
we went to the hotel and wrote "Teenage Head" and "Doctor Boogie" that night.
They were sorta things that had been around in our heads for sometime. "Doctor
Boogie" is pretty much a ripoff of a Doctor Ross song called "Boogie Disease,"
with new lyrics and kind of a new structure.
"Teenage Head"ÉI had started that lick a long time ago [hums riff], sort
of a Kinks riff, I think itÕs from an early Kinks record. And the term "Teenage
Head" was cropping up a lot because Cyril was hanging out a lot with Kim
Fowley, and probably Kim FowleyÕs favorite thing, at least it was then,
was teenage head. The term was cropping up all the time, so we said, "LetÕs
write a song called ÔTeenage Head,Õ and weÕll use that [hums riff]," and
we did it in one night. It was pretty cool.
K: When the record came out, there were a lot of comparisons to the Stones
and "Sticky Fingers."
R: "Sticky Fingers" IN RETROSPECT was a pretty great album. At the time,
it was sorta weak. I thought when it first came out, "Hey, itÕs not rockinÕ!"
K: It was definitely something different for the Stones. But was that
intentional? You guys definitely had that Stones "Ya-Yas" vibe down.
R: Yeah! Like I said, we started out as the Stones, then we turned into
the LovinÕ Spoonful for awhile, then we turned into sort of the MC-Stooges
for awhile, then we sorta ended up being the StonesÉjust like a nice medium
ground; somewhere between pop and hard. The Stones were the best. Still
are, in many ways.
K: They were kinda like the template for every band that started up between
Õ65 and Õ69.
R: Yeah, yeah. The later Stones thing was IT. The thing to learn. So I really
think "Teenage Head" is Stones-influenced all over the place, no doubt about
K: The blues thing is there, the acoustic thing, "YesterdayÕs Numbers"
which is such a great song.
R: Yeah! I think thereÕs definitely a "BeggarÕs Banquet" feel about it.
K: The tag to "Teenage Head" where itÕs almost like "Street Fighting
Man" with that drone thing going on.
R: Oh, yeah. That was a totally Stones-influenced album. ItÕs funny, Ôcause
the song "Teenage Head," a lot of people go, "Oh, thatÕs the first punk
song." I keep hearing that, but IÕmÉ"What are you talking about?" I donÕt
see it, I just donÕt hear it.
K: It was definitely a milestone, though. I mean, what other American bands
were playing that hard, besides the Detroit guys?
R: I think it was more attitude than music we were talking about. The general
consensus about the Groovies is "They were a bunch of punks." We really
WERENÕT! We really werenÕt at all! We could be punky, but we werenÕt punk.
We got stoned, we had fun.
K: Now in Õ71, you left the band. Why was that?
R: It was just a combination of things, really. Both records on Kama
did NOTHING, absolutely nothing. We didnÕt know if they were going
to pick us up for another record, we didnÕt really WANT them to. Cyril was
sort of changing his musical direction. He wanted to move into a more pop
direction. And I was sorta losing interest. I just wasnÕt into it. I was
having a hard time making rehearsals by that point. I was like, "Naah, I
donÕt wanna be bothered." And so it was sorta generally decided that I was
a stick in a mud and I should go. Time for this guy to leave, heÕs not digginÕ
it, and I WASNÕT digginÕ it, so it was fine by me. Cyril took it in a new
K: The jangly Byrds-Beatles thing.
R: Right! Which is where CyrilÕs musical education starts. Cyril started
with the Beatles. That was IT for him. For me, my beginnings are really
Elvis, Chuck Berry, that sort of thing.
K: And you still hear that in your stuffÉthat blues thing, that rockabilly
R: Oh, yeah. It's who I am really, no doubt about itÉitÕs what I AM.
K: Before you left, you wrote "Slow Death," didn't you?
R: Yeah. We wrote "Slow Death" when we were in a hotel in Detroit. There
were all these drug wars going on, people were just getting shot and stuff.
We wrote that song kind of about that. We kind of wrote it in the hotel
room, AGAINÉthe last song we wrote together.
K: The UA record that came out, that was actually Chris Wilson
by that point.
R: Yeah. I had left by that point. They had sort of floundered for a year
or so, and I think somehow Georgie got connected to that guy in England
K: Andrew Lauder.
R: Right. And he was sort of a fan of the band and brought them over there
to cut some stuff, and the first thing they did was that, "Slow Death,"
and "Tallahassee Lassie" was the flipside. To be honest, I've never liked
that version a whole lot. I always thought it was a little, I dunno, SOFT.
The riff deserves a little more crunch. I thought it was just a little overly
produced and a little too clean.