In recent years rock and roll has provided some surprising second acts. Television, Big Star, Roky Erickson and Rocket From the Tombs are among those whose unexpected returns yielded quality beyond warmed over oldies acts.
Now comes legendary band the Flamin Groovies, which performs at Potawatomi's Northern Lights Theater Saturday, May 10. Nearly five decades dedicated to rock and roll. Think about that. Fifty years. As cult groups go it is the alpha and the omega.
Beginning in pre-psychededelic 1965 in San Francisco, the group was always the odd band out, blending high energy pop, rockabilly and roadhouse sounds. Its first release in 1968 was a 10" record the pressed itself, predating DIY by a good decade.
Founded by the great visionary Cyril Jordan and bassist George Alexander, the Groovies peaked with early albums Flamingo and Teenage Head before frontman Roy Loney moved on.
"Roy left about two seconds after we cut Teenage Head," Jordan says. (According to legend Mick Jagger claimed Teenage Head out-Stoned the Stones.)
The next chapter saw the Groovies add singer Chris Wilson for a wall of sound meets the Stones approach. Working with Welsh producer Dave Edmunds, the Groovies recorded the majestic power pop archetype "Shake Some Action" in 1976. Touring England at the height of punk dressed in Carnaby Street suits, once again found the group a step out of time.
Cyril Jordan, coming off a nasty bout of food poisoning, is calling from Memphis, ground zero for most things rock and roll. Still he is undaunted. It seems every reply to a question moves on to tangents that ultimately tie back to the subject at hand. As interview subjects go he is way up there, as well-versed as T-Bone Burnett.
Our wide ranging conversation touched on his favorite producers: Edmunds; Phil Spector ("The last time I saw him he had me and Darlene Love singing a tune called ‘Let Me Sing You My Goodbye Song’"); Brian Wilson ("Brian had to record the next morning, but ten minutes later he reappeared in his pajamas saying ‘I don’t want to go to bed’ – his genius turned him into a little child.") and Kim Fowley ("When "Alley Oop" came out we went nuts. It was beatnik stuff before the whole Beatles trip."); his iconic see-through Dan Armstrong guitar ("What year is yours? Mine is from 1969 and is No. 78."), even sharing a joint with Ted Kennedy in ’68 and playing as the house band at the Whiskey A-Go-Go for two Summers ("We opened for everybody.")
In the late ‘50s, starting out on acoustic Jordan switched to electric when he heard the Ventures "Walk Don’t Run."
"Today kids play electric first and have a ton of pedals," he says. "Starting with a folk background I learned a lot of tricks that come in real handy on electric.
"We’ve never played Wisconsin " he says, "but we used to get up to Michigan a lot and played with the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom." As for jump starting the Groovies last year he said "we had three weeks and by the third day or rehearsals if felt like the day after we broke up. "
That would be roughly 20 years ago.
In the early '90s Jordan took a break from music to work on his other passion as an illustrator, even doing work for Disney. Wilson had long since jumped ship to play with British group The Barracudas, among other projects.
Asked what he’d like the Flamin’ Groovies legacy to ultimately be, Jordan is candid.
"I don’t think that way. I’m puzzled that the band has not been forgotten. We never had a hit. "Shake Some Action" made it to No. 132 on the Billboard charts."
Then he hits on a key point: "In the old days we were signed to major labels and even though they got swallowed up over the years our albums have always been reissued. We have always had a presence."
And it doesn’t hurt that a cover of "Shake Some Action" appeared on the soundtrack to the movie "Clueless."
He says lineups of the various eras of the band all retained common elements.
"We were always on the same page and always wanted the next album to be better than the last and we retained that motivation. We never sold out," Jordan says, "and were never contemporary at any time. Like Mickey Mouse, every generation of kids still like it."
When the band gets back to California, Jordan says it will continue work on the next album.