To say Cyril Jordan and his band the Flamin' Groovies have had to wait for their just due as rock legends is an understatement of monumental proportions.
Born and bred in San Francisco, the Groovies have weathered many a storm over the past 48 years. Jordan's integrity, which kept the band firmly rooted in the classic rock 'n' roll of the '50s and '60s, has meant that fame and fortune eluded him in an era in which jumping on the latest band wagons of psychedelia, album-oriented rock, punk and new wave may have allowed him an easy path to status and stardom.
Having cut their teeth on the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and many other pioneering rock greats, the Groovies were criticized for producing music that was seemingly out of step with the status quo or flavor of the month. They also seemingly played in the shadows of bands such as the Rolling Stones, who, like the Groovies, produced in their infancy a country blues-based rock that was gritty, dirty and downright unadulterated.
And while the two groups have taken dramatically divergent paths over the past five decades, for the Groovies, it appears that time may be finally on their side.
Jordan, original bass player George Alexander and charismatic lead singer Chris Wilson recently reunited after three decades, and the ground swell of interest in their rebirth has already reached international proportions. Earlier this year, they sold out tours in Japan and Australia; they're currently on a U.S. jaunt. Jordan attributes the band's rebirth to the countless reissues that have come out over the years.
"Because we had seven albums and were on four major labels, all that stuff has been re-released over and over and over for 32 years without any physical presence of us," Jordan says. "So we have had this incredible hype that nobody has ever had. If anyone was the Johnny Appleseed of rock 'n' roll, it was us."
The group has been holed up in Cleveland rehearsing for the tour at the Beachland; it even played at the recent Rock Hall-sponsored Music Masters tribute to the Rolling Stones; the Groovies' songwriting duo of Jordan and Wilson performed a few classic Stones songs, including "Paint It Black" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which they had recorded as covers back in the '70s.
"It meant absolutely everything to us and to do anything associated with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is prestigious to us," Wilson acknowledges. "I could not believe we were asked to do this."
As far as the band has travelled to gain such inclusion, it was its exclusion during its early days and a DIY attitude and determination that led to self-production of its first recordings on 1968's Sneakers.
When it all began in 1965, the band was already travelling upstream against current of hippie culture that was associated with the likes of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. After starting out as the Chosen Few, seeing the Beatles at Candlestick Park changed everything.
"I studied one player after another," recalls Jordan. "But as far as the guys who found the secret, the mysteries of the guitar neck: The Beatles were geniuses at playing the guitar in a way that nobody had ever played before."
Jordan and co-founder manic singer Roy Loney, along with bassist George Alexander, played blues-based, boogie-woogie rock. Within three years of launching, Epic would sign the teenage group. Their debut LP Supersnazz came out in 1969.
After the release of 1970's Flamingo and 1971's Teenage Head, the rock world noticed the band. Teenage Head epitomized the versatile Groovies' sound that at times was classic blues, boogie-woogie, soul and rockabilly all mixed together. Numbers like "High-Flying Baby" and "Whiskey Woman" exemplified the raw, unadulterated rock sound that made the Groovies a force to be reckoned with. Even Mick Jagger reportedly gave props to the Groovies for having put out a better record.
The Loney-Jordan relationship was a rock marriage that had its ups and downs, with Loney wanting to mimic the Stones and Jordan wanting more of a Beatles and British Invasion sound. The abrupt dismissal by Epic proved to be the breaking point, and Loney soon left the band.
His departure led Jordan to take full rein of the band. With this reinvention, the band added Wilson who wrote power pop classics like those on Shake Some Action, Now and Jumpin' In the Night, the band's three releases on Sire Records.
"I learned everything about songwriting from Roy," explains Jordan. "We didn't do [harmonizing] that with Roy because me and Roy singing together didn't sound like John (Lennon) and Paul (McCartney), but me and Chris sound like the Everly Brothers. That music is very difficult; you have to have the tools."
In 1972, having established living quarters in England, the band connected with English producer and rock guitar legend in his own right, Dave Edmunds. The band recorded at the famous Rockfield Studios in Wales. From those recording sessions came a glut of Groovie classics, including the timeless "Shake Some Action" that would anchor the album in 1976 with other fan favorites "You Tore Me Down" and "I Can't Hide." Shake Some Action would be the band's only charting album in the U.S.
Wilson left the band in 1981, and it appeared that he would never look back. For him, the Groovies had run their course. Jordan and Alexander would carry on for another six years with minimal success. By 1992, it appeared the Groovies had made their last groove. But then in 1995, producers making the film Clueless approached Jordan about redoing "Shake Some Action" for the film's soundtrack. By this time, he had been out of music for four years and working as an animator, even doing work for Disney. Paramount gave Jordan a $15,000 advance and the movie and soundtrack became minor hits; for a time, Jordan was back in the music biz.
In 2009, Jordan and Loney reunited for a Flamin Groovies show at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. Then, in 2011 at an A-bones show, Jordan bumped into Wilson, and they began working together.
"There is something very, very strange and indefinable about how easy it was," Jordan says of reuniting. "There is something really mystical about it. I've always looked at rock 'n' roll as a magical thing. By the second day of rehearsal it was like 1981, the day after we broke up. Thirty-two years [later], time and space didn't mean shit."
This past April, on invitation by Australian alt band the Hoodoo Gurus, a revamped Groovies band of Wilson and Jordan played together for their first time since 1981 at the Gurus' annual Dig It Up Festival. With Alexander in the fold, the band was back, along with new drummer Victor Penalosa who has added an injection of youth to the line-up. The band has been working on songs for its first new release in three decades and will test-drive some of those numbers amidst a catalog run of old Groovies classics. For Wilson, there hasn't been a better time to get the Groovies back together.
"I don't know how to put that into words," he says. "All I can say is we are going up and up and up, and it's going to go through the roof. We are having such a good time."
The band has been working on songs for its first new release in three decades and will test-drive some of those numbers amidst a catalog run of old Groovies classics. Jordan, Alexander, Loney and other ex-Groovies James Ferrell and Mike Wilhelm have even helped Wilson on his fourth solo effort, It’s Flamin’ Groovy.
“I am taken a little aback to all of this because I have been a way from it for so long” says Alexander, who had hung up his bass. “I don’t know where it’s going from here, but the respect and adulation we have been getting from the crowd, from the promoters; and I am thinking to myself, ‘who are we?’”
And while, in truth, passive rock music listeners may still ask that same question, the Flamin’ Groovies are to died-in-the-wool garage and/or classic rock fans across the globe, one of rock’s most beloved and enduring bands.
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