K: So, thus, the Phantom Movers?
R: Well, here's what happened. I was doin' that, and [Groovies drummer] Danny [Mihm] was in this band with Tim called the Hot Knives, and they were kind of a folk-rock band, but they had their own little label, called K.O. Records. And they talked me into doing an EP for them. They wanted me to do a single, but I said, "Why don't I do an EP? It'll be four songs...I have SO MANY songs." So I went in and cut "Artistic As Hell" for them in a little studio, with basically the Flamin' Groovies backing me, because every Groovie is on the record. [We cut] four songs, and I thought it was pretty good...it got some pretty great reviews, actually.
But I didn't have a band, so I was at the Mabuhay one night and I run into this guy Michael Snider, who's a rock writer in San Francisco. We're just talking, and he says, "Y'know, I got some clout here. I could get you a gig here if you had a band." He just sorta threw it out. I said, "Yeah?" He said, "Yeah, I could get you a gig here." I said, "Okay, I'll put a band together."
So I went with Danny right away, and he pulled James in. Larry Lea I met through Marty Arbunick, who ran Solid Smoke Records [the label which brought James Brown's epochal "Live at the Apollo 1962" album, among other gems, back from oblivion]. He just said, "I know this kid, he's a really great guitar player. So Larry came over and auditioned for me. I said, "Yeah, you're cool, you got it." And then Maurice [Tani] came into it late, we auditioned bass players, he was by far the best, and that was it. We had a band, and started rehearsing, mainly in front rooms - didn't even hire a space, we just semi-acoustically rehearsed in somebody's front room for about a month, and at some point we started playing, and we got the offer from Solid Smoke to cut a regular record.
We were not called the Phantom Movers at that point; we weren't called the Phantom Movers until I wrote that song "Phantom Mover." Up to that point, first it was the Roy Loney Band, then it was Roy Loney and the Rockin' Zeds, we had a few different things going. And finally, after that song, I think Marty actually said it, "Why don't you just call yourselves the Phantom Movers?" and yeah, well, why not? So the song came first and then the band.
K: You had a couple of records out on Solid Smoke?
R: Actually, Solid Smoke put out five records. The first two were on Solid Smoke, the second two were on War Bride, and the last one was on Double Dare, but that's all really basically Solid Smoke.
K: I just recently got that live thing ["Action Shots"] on Marilyn, with various lineups including Larry Lea.
R: Yeah, Larry's pretty much on everything on that. That's just from CASSETTES I had accrued over the years, playing different clubs: the Stone, the Berkeley Square. Board tapes. I used to have a TON of that stuff. I had an offer to put that stuff out. Why not? It's kinda rough, but hey...
K: It's a pretty jumpin' little record.
R: Oh, yeah. I think it's pretty good. I like it a lot.
K: Skipping forward in time a little bit, you had the Fondellas, which had Danny and James. Is that band still active?
R: No, it isn't, unfortunately. We lost our bass player, who moved out of town, and our rhythm guitar player kind of faded away. It just became kind of hard to pull it together. I don't know if it's totally OVER, but it's definitely on hiatus at this point. We'll see if we get something together.
It was a band that I sort of came into after the fact. It was already a band, but they couldn't hang onto a singer. They kept having singers either leave or get thrown out; they weren't good enough. So finally at one point, Danny just broke down and came to me and he just said, "Look, would you wanna be in our band for a while, just help us out? We need a singer, we don't have one." I said, "Sure. It'll be fun for me. I'll learn the songs, play some shows, get to rehearse, just have some fun."
And it was good for me, but it was their act, pretty much. They ended up doing a few of my tunes, but for the most part with the Fondellas, I was just sort of a hired hand.
K: Did you do any recording with them?
R: No, we didn't, unfortunately. We did a little home stuff that's very, VERY funky sounding, very loose. And there's a couple of videos of us playing live where the soundtracks aren't too bad, for what they are. We were very hard rock. It was very...it was LOUD. We were really loud. It was"crunch factor," it was a crunchy sort of band. I kinda thought of it as "geezer rock;" these old guys up there crankin' it up, gettin' off on it. I think our attitude was really, "Fuck you if you don't get it." Really like that. So we played some gigs, got some people diggin' us, but it just sort of ended. I think it may come back together at some point in some form or other.
K: How'd you hook up with the Young Fresh Fellows from Seattle?
R: Well, what happened was, the Squirrels from Seattle...they're kind of a comedy rock band, I've known them for years...everytime the Phantom Movers played Seattle, they were our opening band, because Rob Morgan was a huge fan of mine, and made sure his band opened for us. I got to meet the Squirrels, I've seen the Squirrels play a lot, I LOVE them, they're just hysterically funny, they're sorta like a modern Bonzo Dog Band. Anyway, they played San Francisco, I guess about '91, came down and played some shows down here, and then after their set, I'm sitting around with Joey Kline, the guitar player, and he said, "You know, if you came up to Seattle, we could back you up and have a lot of fun." I said, "Sure! Why not? I'm game. Let's do it!"
So we kinda kept in touch, and then at some point, he said, "You know, I talked to Scott McCaughey, and he's a big fan of yours, and he thinks HIS band would be better to back you up than the Squirrels, 'cause they're more of a rock'n'roll band." So basically, the band ended up being three of the Young Fresh Fellows and Joey Kline from the Squirrels, and that was it. It was called the Northwest Movers initially.
K: Yeah, I've got a live tape that Ron Sanchez sent me.
R: He followed us around and taped a whole bunch of shows.
K: Up in Vancouver...
R: Yeah. The sound is pretty horrible, but the band sounds pretty rockin'.
K: There's definitely a thread that runs through all your stuff besides the tunes, and the phrase that I love from the notes to the Marilyn live thing is "primitive rock with taste."
R: Yeah, that's what I've always called what I do. When people want me to pinpoint it, that's what I always come up with, seems like. I think that's what we do. And the band is great; the Longshots has gone through some changes since then, because Scott McCaughey is way too busy, touring with REM and doing the Minus Five and trying to put the Fellows together for some stuff, 'cause they've got a new record coming out. So basically I've lost Scott and [drummer] Tad [Hutchison], and I have a new Longshots.
K: I've got that one Longshots record from five or six years ago...
R: "Full Grown Head."
K: Right, which is a great record...is there any more recent material?
R: Oh yeah, there's a follow-up to that, sitting around in my house right now. We recorded 29 tunes! I just need to find somebody to put it out.
K: That's the thing, it seems like indie distribution is kinda...
R: Oh, it's the WORST right now. It's never been worse than it is right now. Nobody wants to spend any money 'cause they're AFRAID! Everybody's kinda running scared at the moment, and I don't blame 'em. The industry is in upheaval, there's no doubt about it. Nothing much is selling at this point. Major bands can't tour. It's kind of a drought at the moment.
K: Why do you think that is?
R: I think there's a whole generation coming up who DON'T BUY RECORDS. They're too into their computers or something. The audio thing has become TOO LITTLE for the new generation. It's not enough, they want the WHOLE experience. I think records are kind of...some people just DON'T BUY RECORDS. They can download any song they want, and they don't bother to go buy stuff.
I HATE CDs, I gotta tell ya. I HATE digital sound, I truly DESPISE digital sound, because it's NOT FONKY. It's totally non-raunchy, it's totally selective, it's like taking all the mistakes out of a Bo Diddley record. You DON'T DO IT; you just don't do it. There would be no Link Wray if we had nothing but digital sound. I mean, when they digitalize something, they TAKE THE DISTORTION OUT half the time, and you listen to Link Wray, and it's NOT LINK WRAY anymore!
K: There's nothing there!
R: No! If you take the distortion out of Link Wray, WHAT IS THERE? I ask you! Same with Bo Diddley. I really hate digital sound; I'm just so totally against it, and I think it's kind of ruined it for a lot of kids today. They don't know what real rock'n'roll's supposed to sound like!
K: That's kinda disheartening. I mean, the technology is whatever it is, maybe you're right, kids are more into computers and videos, but it seems like in pockets, anyway, certainly in a town like San Francisco, there's a pretty vital scene - no?
R: I don't think so. It's pretty dead here right now. Everybody I talk to is, "God, there's no place to PLAY here anymore!" It's very dead. Clubs are closing right and left. It's not happenin' here that much. Most of the people I know - the naysayers - blame it on the dot-commers. They go, "Oh, some of these dot-commer types...they go to clubs just to HANG; they don't care about the music! It's just a place to be and throw money around!" And there's something to be said about that. But I just don't think there's a real music hardcore following right now, a loyal...I mean, there probably IS, but it's so SMALL that it's just not keeping clubs alive. So no, I think the scene here is really...I don't know where I'd play if I played here now. I have a hard time finding places I WANT to play in the city. There's a lot of bands coming up, but they go right by me somehow. I don't know if it's just because I'm getting old...if I don't hear the Chuck Berry licks, my mind shuts down or something, I don't know. I don't THINK so, but...
K: What records, if any, have you heard in the last year that excited you?
R: I listen to OLD records, I never listen to things that are new, unless somebody sends 'em to me, like I have my friends Nutrajet out of Florida, who I really think are neat, and they sent me their CD, and I go, "Oh, this is great!" Most of what I hear is what people send me. I don't really go looking for new music. I guess I'm just like a lot of these people, I don't really listen to the radio much, I don't watch MTV or VH-1 particularly, I don't know what's supposed to be happening. So when I sit home and play records, most of the time I listen to a lot of jazz...I'm kind of a bebop guy, I listen to a lot of late forties to mid-'50s jazz, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, I LOVE that stuff. That's kinda where my mind is at. When I listen to rock, I drag out the Kinks and the Stones, the Ramones, that kinda stuff...Pretty Things, I LOVE the Pretty Things.
K: Did you see 'em when they came around?
R: I did! I saw them here at Bimbo's, and it was not a particularly great night for them, unfortunately; it was one of those OFF nights. But it was great to see 'em. I'd seen 'em once before, when they were on Swan Song.
K: Oh, yeah...the '70s...woo-oo-ooo.
R: They were opening for the Kinks. A whole different thing, altogether.
K: You ever go to Las Vegas Grind or any of those events?
R: No. You know, we've been offered...they've been trying to get a Groovies reunion together for a real long time, and I thought it was actually gonna happen when the BMG things came out (the "Flamingo" and "Teenage Head" CDs). I was in the Fondellas at the time, and we were approached by a couple of agencies saying "We could get some BUCKS for the Groovies to reunite. There's kind of a buzz on the reissue of these CDs." So I thought, "Well, here I am in a band with James and Danny. We play Groovies tunes. I'll just call Cyril up to see if I can get him interested, and it would be real easy to just sort of JUMP IN and do it." And it just was impossible; Cyril just couldn't get his head in that place at all.
And I think a lot of it stems from the fact that the Groovies for him is the LATER Groovies, when it was HIS band, and it was a whole different sound. I think he'd have a hard time going back and playing "Teenage Head," "Slow Death," "Louie Louie," "Shakin' All Over"...I just don't think he has it in him to play that stuff anymore. I mean, if the money was HUGE, I think he woulda found a way to do it. Cyril's looking for big bucks, wants to make big money. The rest of us said, "Hey, if we could make a grand or two a night apiece, hey, fine." For him, it's more like, "Nah." A little...I dunno, delusions of grandeur or something. He's a great guy, I don't wanna put him down. He just sees it differently, and I also think he just doesn't wanna do it that bad, and you'd have to come up with something MAJOR to get him to do it. He's never been that comfortable onstage. Not like me; I'm an actor, that's what I DO. I love being onstage, thrive on it. He's the opposite. He has to work himself up to going onstage. Which is too bad, 'cause he's a terrific guitar player, he writes some great melodies.
I'm sorry to see him not wanna do it. I think he just got angry at the business really a lot. He really has a lot of bad feelings toward the record business and how it screwed him. How he THINKS it screwed him, anyway. It's too bad, I thought it'd be so easy to do, and it just ended up being IMPOSSIBLE to do.
K: Even if you could get three out of five original guys together, people would probably be willing to pay to see it.
R: I'm going back and forth on it. Basically my feeling is you can't do it without Cyril because...you CAN'T. Because he's such a major IMAGE, at least, of the band; come on! And he DID keep the band ALIVE for several years after I split; he kept it going until just a few years ago, actually. In some cases, it wasn't for the BETTER. To my mind, he sorta dragged the name around through the mud a little bit at some points, with sorta halfass bands that played all Beatle tunes. I mean, there's too many good originals; why would you wanna hear THAT?
K: Yeah, I've got this thing that they did over in Australia that's not too swift.
R: "One Night Stand?" THERE it is. For one thing, that drummer doesn't have a clue...does NOT have a CLUE how to play those songs! I mean, he kept the name alive, but at times I'm not so sure that was a good thing.
K: So what are you doing with most of your time now?
R: Well, I'm working with Larry Lea. We're putting together a band called the Original Amateurs, writing a whole bunch of tunes. We're planning to do something with that. Probably record some stuff. We're thinking of ourselves as songwriters who perform, too. I'm with Bug Music, and they sort of asked me to send them songs for different artists and stuff, and well, maybe I should try that for awhile...write for other people.
But the Original Amateurs would basically be a band, as soon as we get a rhythm section we can deal with. The Longshots still exist, whenever I go up to Seattle. I go up there about once, twice a year and we do some shows. I have these guys I play with in New York...the Bitter Hearts, they're called. It's Chris Cush, who runs Mojo Guitars in the Village, and Chris Butler from the Waitresses, Peter Steuart and Alex Totino. These guys called me up and said, "Hey, we were thinking we would learn the whole 'Teenage Head' album if you came and sang it." Sort of a tribute to the "Teenage Head" album. I said, "Sure, why not? Pay for my ticket and I'm out there." So we put it together and did all of "Teenage Head" plus about half of "Flamingo" and some other live staples like "Can't Explain," "Shakin' All Over," and people loved it...people really, really dug it.
We did it a second time and hopefully we'll do it again real soon. That was a lot of fun. We played Handsome Dick's bar, Manitoba's. So cool. The sound is amazingly good in that place. You just play in this little corner, right next to the bar, and people just JAM in there. Boy did we have fun! .. It was just terrific.
I'm a big Dictators fan. They're great. Absolutely. Can't wait for the new CD to finally come out. They've been talking about it so long. When I played Manitoba's, of course we got Dick up to sing "Slow Death." Then last time they played here, I got up and sang "Slow Death" with them. We sorta trade "Slow Deaths."
K: I know in Australia, people really think highly of the Flamin' Groovies, especially the lineup you were in.
R: It's funny. It's hard to find somebody who likes the Groovies from beginning to end, but there are people. I haven't heard it yet, but there's this Groovies tribute coming out of Spain, on Safety Pin. Kike Turmix did it, who's an old friend and fan. Thirty-five bands playing Groovies tunes!
K: Bands from all over, from Europe, from Oz, from here...
R: Oh, yeah, all over! The Young Fresh Fellows are on there (it's the only track I've heard so far). And it's a pretty even split between the early and the late, so at least half the songs are mine, so that's pretty cool. I'll be anxious to hear it.
K: It seems like Spain is really becoming a happenin' place for rock'n'roll the last couple of years.
R: Yeah! I love Spain, boy I love Spain. The Longshots toured there twice and just had so much fun!
K: That's right, you did a live record over there.
R: It was part of our deal. "Well, there's not much money in this, but if you give us an album, you'll make a little more." "OK, sure." It's the sort of thing, you cut it at one show; no matter how good the show is, THAT'S THE SHOW. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a somewhat mediocre show, but y'know...
K: There ya go. Any plans to go back over there?
R: I hope so. I'm talking to a couple of different labels about putting out "The Longshots 2," and one of them is in Spain. And hopefully, IF they put it out, they'll want us to come there and play. Actually, the name of the album is "Drunkard in the Think Tank." And we've got some great cover art. I'm pretty sure it's gonna be out by the middle of next year. I'm talking to a couple of different labels, and I think it's gonna be out, FINALLY. It's been in the can for several years, and we've got about half another album in the can that we just started. So there's plenty to be done. I think the Original Amateurs will have an album in the can before next year's out.
K: Any closing thoughts?
R: You know they did a "top 100 San Francisco bands of all time" in the Chronicle here about six months ago? Groovies ended up FOURTH. Yeah, it was Sly Stone, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater, Groovies. Could you believe it? Out of a hundred! So we were above...
K: The Jefferson Airplane. HAHAHAHAHAHA!
R: Moby Grape...
K: Maybe there IS a FORM of justice in rock'n'roll.
R: It was pretty amazing! And of course they got a lot of letters going, "What the FUCK are you TALKIN' about? Who ARE these guys? What'd THEY ever do?" But sort of the take they had on it was, these guys did their own thing, and they taught a lot of young bands that you could just get out there and do your own thing and it was more attitude than anything else. And I've always thought that was true about the Groovies...we weren't the neatest band in the world, but we had a great attitude.
K: And you look at continuing impact and influence, I'd say that's probably valid.
R: Yeah! I think so. It's amazing, 'cause I meet people all the time that think we were HUGE, at some point, and I go, "No, no. No, we were never huge. We never made the big money. But we had an influence. People remember us.
K: You might not have had top 10 hits like Creedence, but how many other bands could get this tribute album out in Spain with 35 bands from all over the world?
R: Right! I'm very flattered, and it makes me feel very, very good that these bands still consider our music valid enough. I talk to bands all the time and they go, "Of course, we play 'Teenage Head' every once in awhile, we play 'Slow Death' or 'Coming After Me' or 'Second Cousin';" they just sort of throw some of our songs into their set.
K: It's out there. It's part of the literature. It's like Chuck Berry.
R: We've become sort of garage band staples in a way, which I think is just terrific, and I've always loved hearing people's take on our stuff, what they like about it, what attracts them to it.
K: Since we're in a Bar, what do you like to drink?
R: I'm a big vodka man. Vitamin V, that's me. VODKA! Stolichnaya, completely. With a beer back. That's me in a nutshell.
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