Flamin’ Groovies are back to shake some more action
Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson bring influential Guitar Pop rockers back for new album and tour
BY STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / OCTOBER 17, 2017
PHOTO: ALAIN CAZENAVE
If you browse around online or at local shops selling vintage prints, you might come across a certain concert poster from Cincinnati’s Ludlow Garage, Jim Tarbell’s iconic, long-lamented Rock club. It’s going for $150 on eBay now.
The ornately decorated blue-and-white flyer is for Jan. 9-10, 1970 shows featuring Holland’s Golden Earring (“Radar Love”) and two Detroit-area bands now considered among the greatest ever: Iggy and the Stooges and MC5. (There was also a third, lesser-known Michigan band, Sunday Funnies, advertised.)
The headliners? Flamin’ Groovies from San Francisco. If you’re wondering what they sounded like, take heed! This Friday, the band is returning to Greater Cincinnati, this time to play Newport, Ky.’s Southgate House Revival.
Though the Groovies have had long stretches of inactivity and break-ups since that 1970 Ludlow Garage show, the group’s key members have kept playing and staying true to its pioneering vision of lean, evocative, guitar-driven Power Pop, chiming Folk Rock, British Invasion Pop and bluesy, straight-ahead Rock & Roll. Even during the years when the Groovies didn’t tour or record, the band’s name has stayed alive as a kind of spiritual presence, a touchstone of how good unpretentious Rock & Roll can be. Flamin’ Groovies has also endured thanks to the wide-rippling influence the group has had on popular music, helping to shape everything from Power Pop, Garage Rock and Punk to Roots Rock and the ’80s “College Rock” that led to Alternative and Indie Rock.
The Flamin’ Groovies on the road today consists of the band’s two co-leaders — guitarists/vocalists/songwriters Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson — and a new rhythm section featuring Chris von Sneidern on bass and drummer Tony Sales, whose father, Tony Fox Sales, played with his brother Hunt Sales in Tin Machine with David Bowie. This edition of the Groovies is the result of Jordan — who co-founded the band in 1965 with Roy Loney — reuniting in 2013 with Wilson, whose initial stint with the group coincided with its golden era, during which the Groovies produced the seminal 1976 Guitar Pop classic “Shake Some Action.”
Wilson and Jordan reunited at the request of illustrious Australian band the Hoodoo Gurus, which curates a festival series called Dig It Up! After the Groovies played Australia, the two musicians stayed together and, just last month, released a rousingly fine new album, Fantastic Plastic. (Bassist George Alexander, another founding Groovie, was part of the Australian shows and plays on the new album.)
Speaking from his home near Portland, Ore., Wilson sounds confident about this new phase in the band’s career.
“We accepted this offer to do this tour in Australia and I’d already been approached by some acquaintances in Japan who wanted us to do a few dates there,” he says. “We had a good time and thought we’d keep going from there. Things are going very well indeed.”
Fantastic Plastic includes 10 originals co-written and -performed by Wilson and Jordan, plus covers of The Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad.” Album opener “What the Hell’s Goin’ On” features Wilson’s urgent, agitated vocals and loud, crunching guitar riffs akin to classic Rolling Stones tunes like “Brown Sugar” or “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” (“That’s intentional,” Wilson says), but the very next track, “End of the World,” showcases a softer, haunting quality, with Jordan handling the lead vocals for a particularly lovely melodic passage. When the group members combine their voices for harmony and unison singing, as they do on the gorgeous “She Loves Me” and “Lonely Hearts,” it sounds like it’s 1965 again.
In the 1960s, Wilson heard many of the acts of the era that were defining the changing music of the time.
“I worked at the Club 47 coffeehouse in Cambridge, Mass., a wonderful venue for that kind of music,” he says. “Anything with 12-string guitars I was enamored of then, and still am. I made a career in the ’90s (while living in England) just going around playing Irish and Scottish Folk music on my 12-string.”
Folk is a style of music that holds more appeal for Wilson than Punk. In 1976, a young Ramones opened for the Groovies in London, just as Punk was breaking. It was a pivotal moment for Punk, whose fans showed appreciation by hurtling spit at musicians they felt epitomized the new sound.
“Their music wasn’t my cup of tea, but bless them — they knew how to play it,” Wilson says of The Ramones. “They played with all their might and they got covered in people’s spit. I never saw such a thing in my life. I was horrified. Johnny Ramone came off the stage at The Roundhouse in London and said, ‘I couldn’t even hold on to my guitar pick.’ ” (Mercifully, the Groovies, for the most part, have escaped that unsanitary sign of affection.)
Among the Groovies’ other accomplishments was to release — way back in 1968 — one of the first Rock & Roll EPs. Nowadays, the longer-than-a-single/shorter-than-an-album format is a common occurrence.
CityBeat spoke to Jordan for a story about the EP trend in 2013. “We put out the first independent EP, Sneakers, on our own label, Snazz Records,” Jordan said. “It was a 10-inch record with seven songs (because) that’s how much money we had. We were lucky — Tower Records had just started (in San Francisco) and we knew the cashier, who put Sneakers right next to cashbox.”
The EP started selling, going through three pressings of 1,500 copies and helping the young band get signed to Epic Records for its first full album, 1969’s Supersnazz.
Resuming their career in the 21st century, the Flamin’ Groovies’ legacy flashes before the musicians’ eyes.
“You can’t help looking back on it all and drawing parallels,” Wilson says. “When we’re on the road now, it’s like we’re 28 again, crammed in a vehicle and making ourselves laugh because we’re so freakin’ miserable from driving six hours straight again. It has a lot of the old days in it — the good old, bad old days.”
But it’s worth it, Wilson says, when the band plays “Shake Some Action” and sees the response.
“We have to play it live every show because everybody will be singing along with gusto,” he says. “That is very heartening, I think. If it does people some good, what a wonderful thing that is.”
FLAMIN’ GROOVIES play Newport, Ky.’s Southgate House Revival Friday with Tiger Sex and NP Presley & the Ghost of Jesse Garon. Tickets/more show info: southgatehouse.com.
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: firstname.lastname@example.org