Artwork by STEVEN FICHE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA More legend than band, the Flamin’ Groovies are the greatest rock n’ roll group you never heard of. It’s tempting to call them the Velvet Underground of power-pop, in that they are/were great and largely unheralded and do play what could be described as power-pop. They have also, in the course of a career spanning 1966 to, like, now, essayed any number of seminal forms: Pub rock, rockabilly, power pop, protopunk, blues rock. All styles that still give droopy graybeard rock snobs chubbies, which are increasingly harder to come by in this crazy, mixed up hippity hoppity dancey-pants age of Justin/Miley/Nikki/Arianna. Though they have released eight albums and innumerable EPs and singles between 1969 and 1993, it is primarily two songs that have writ them immortal in the pantheon of rock snobbery: a galloping, great Casear’s ghost of bluesy garage-punk snarl and Led Zep burlesque called “Teenage Head,” and a shimmering slice of power-pop nirvana called “Shake Some Action.” These songs are eternal.
Which is why I jumped at the chance to get Groovies singer/guitarist/songwriter and all around Moe-haired mainman Cyril Jordan on the phone. I was told by his publicist that it would not be easy. Jordan has zero interest in the modern miracles of post-millenial communication. He still gets wired the old fashioned way. He doesn’t have a cell phone or even an answering machine which even Bill Lord Of The Luddites Murray utilizes in the maintenance of his analog I-don’t-give-a-fuck career. But getting Jordan on the phone turned out to be no big whoop and not only was he a pussycat — unlike, say, Johnny fuckin’ Rotten — but he’s got AMAZING stories — turns out he’s the frickin’ Zelig of ’60s/70’s rock and/or roll.
In part one of this massive, 8,883-word Q&A we DISCUSSED: LSD; the Grateful Dead; Artie Shaw; the Black Panthers; how his father lost his billion dollar tapioca plantation fortune in the Dutch East Indies when they Japanese invaded in 1942 and pulverized him with their gun butts, throwing him in a POW camp and starving and torturing him to the verge of suicide; Jefferson Airplane; Bill Graham; running The Fillmore; the wrath of Imelda Marcos; Dylan comes alive at Newport ’65; seeing The Beatles final concert at Candlestick Park tripping his face off; Kim Fowley‘s lysergic libido; rolling 10 joints and taking Led Zeppelin to Knott’s Berry Farm; doing blow with Ike Turner, plus a few other things.
In part two, we DISCUSSED: Getting their gear back from The Black Panthers without getting killed; opening for The Yardbirds; when Jimmy Page invented heavy metal; Chris Dreja; Clapton; Leo Fender; Paul Bigsby; The Three Stooges; Moe Howard; Barney’s Beanery; Joan Jett; moving to England and recording with Dave Edmunds; fucking Jim Morrison‘s widow; why a Kim Fowley dance party is a little like a Cleveland Steamer; watching The Beach Boys rehearse the harmonies for “Surfer Girl” in the dressing room of the Cow Palace in 1962; watching The Byrds sound check with “Turn, Turn, Turn” for an audience of five; watching The MC5 break up while staying at the Flaming Groovies house; how opening up for Ray Charles and doing blow with Ike Turner got them a record deal; and how at 67 he still gets his thrill up on Blueberry Hill. The action picks up where part one left off: Having taken over the lease for the Fillmore in San Francisco from Bill Graham, putting on shows and using it as a rehearsal space/bat cave, the Flamin’ Groovies were surprised to learn one day that the Black Panthers had taken over the lease, which, to their mind, included all the band’s gear. Hilarity ensues. Also, did I mention that The Flamin’ Groovies are playing Johnny Brenda’s on Thursday August 24th? Well, they are. Enjoy.
PHAWKER: So why were the Black Panthers suddenly suddenly setting up shop at the Fillmore? Were they squatting?
CYRIL JORDAN: No, they had taken over the lease. Our manager had given up the lease and these were the guys who had taken it over and we weren’t told, you know?
PHAWKER: Right, I see. And did they let you take your gear out?
CYRIL JORDAN: Finally, yeah. We got our gear back.
PHAWKER: And what was your impression of the Black Panthers coming away from that?
CYRIL JORDAN: They were, well, you know this is the early days of that trip. They were all in black suits with white shirts and black ties and they were acting as if like they were some secret society. It was kind of scary, I mean you don’t want to mess with those guys.
PHAWKER: Right, and how does that lead to Roy Loney leaving the band?
CYRIL JORDAN: Well Roy got fed up, I mean by the third album we really weren’t getting any heavy record sales or anything. I think with the manager leaving and his good friend Tim Lynch leaving the band to do a year or two in jail, Roy had kind of lost interest. I remember telling Roy a couple of years ago when I had seen him at a show that he had no idea how gung ho me, Danny [Mihm] and George [Alexander] were at that point, we were more gung ho to keep going than we ever were before, so it was a quick switchover from Tim and Roy to Chris Wilson and James Farrell, I pulled both of those guys into the band. And then about a year later, I moved the band to England.
PHAWKER: Okay, pause there, before we talk about the second stage of the group, you said that you guys toured with the Yardbirds…
CYRIL JORDAN: Yeah we did three shows in California on their last U.S. tour in late ‘67.
PHAWKER: Was Jimmy Page the only guitarist or was Clapton and/or Beck on board?
CYRIL JORDAN: Well at that time Chris Dreja, the lead guitarist, moved over to bass.
CYRIL JORDAN: So it was a one-guitar band, and that pretty much set Jimmy up for that format with Led Zeppelin. Because that’s not an easy thing to do, being the only guitar player in a band.
CYRIL JORDAN: You would either have to be Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page to have pulled that off, you know.
PHAWKER: So I envy you for numerous reasons but the least of which was that you got to see the Yardbirds live. What were they like? Did the records do them justice or was the live sound just way beyond even that?
CYRIL JORDAN: They were fantastic. There was a show with the Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck and Jimmy at the Fillmore in 1966. And that show was just unbelievably amazing. Because both Beck and Jimmy were lead guitarists and Chris was on rhythm and Paul Samwell-Smith was on bass. The Yardbirds was like a band that I thought were one of the most advanced electric guitar bands that ever came out. I think they pretty much invented heavy metal.
PHAWKER: Or hard rock, for sure.
CYRIL JORDAN: They invented hard rock definitely, but Jimmy took it to another level when they put Led Zeppelin together.
PHAWKER: They definitely pushed rock and roll from that sort of thin, trebly mid-60’s British invasion garage rock sound to the big blown-out heavy, bass-y, rumbling, roaring rock and roll sound of the late 60’s onward.
CYRIL JORDAN: England was at the forefront of the technical side of amplification and everything. You know when Jimi Hendrix plugged his Stratocaster, I remember reading in an interview with Leo Fender talking about how him and [Paul] Bigsby came up with the idea of the Stratocaster in the early 1950’s, they had no idea of the guitar’s potential because the amplifiers that were out back then were only 15 watts. So when Jimi Hendrix plugged into a 200 watt Marshall you know-
PHAWKER: It was a whole new ball game.
CYRIL JORDAN: And that’s when everyone found out ‘Oh man this guitar is outrageous.’
PHAWKER: Okay so moving forward, Flamin Groovies Mach II, you moved to the U.K. to work with Dave Edmunds…
CYRIL JORDAN: No, that happened in ‘72, about two months after the band had finally moved over. I flew over ahead of the band and set everything up, I was there for about 6-7 weeks before the rest of the band came over. And we set up interviews with Melody Maker and all the big papers and of course they asked me what I was doing here and I said ‘Well we’re going to record an album’ at Rockfield Studios and we’re going to have David Edmunds produce us and I didn’t find out from Edmunds until we cut Shake Some Action three years later in ‘75 that Edmunds hadn’t even been told by United Artists that this session was coming up. He had read about it in the Melody Maker. The day that we arrived at the studio.
PHAWKER: So what did Dave Edmunds bring to the band sound or bring to that recording that wasn’t already in place?
CYRIL JORDAN: He gave us a sound that we wanted because we were very impressed by the sounds that Rothfield Studios was coming up with. When Edmunds came out with “I Hear You Knocking” I remember thinking to myself “Boy this is an incredible sounding record. I wonder where it was recorded” And then I found out it was in a place in South Whales in England and to me this studio seemed to be the new Sun Studios. It had a sound of its own that could be attached to your band.
PHAWKER: Tell me about writing “Shake Some Action.”
CYRIL JORDAN: “Shake Some Action” was probably the only time I took three ideas and fused them into one. I was working on three different songs and Chris was just joining the band after he had joined about two weeks later he moved into my mom’s house with me and so we were working on songs every night and I showed him some of these ideas for these three songs and he said ‘That’s pretty cool’ But later that night or four in the morning I woke up and I started working on the three and I decided to do an arrangement where all three ideas were part of one song and when Chris woke up the next day I showed it to him and he got real jazzed. And that’s when we wrote “Shake Some Action.”
PHAWKER: We’re did the title come from?
CYRIL JORDAN: I watch a lot of TV and I was watching this war movie called None But The Brave with Clint Walker and I think Frank Sinatra and Tommy Sands. He’s a sergeant, and he comes up to Clint Walker and he goes, “I’m ready to shake some action, sir!” I got TIVO so I went back, because I couldn’t believe I had heard somebody say ‘shake some action.’ So apparently ‘shake some action’ must have been a military term that was used probably at boot camp. When I was writing “Shake” I remember asking Chris, I said to him, I said, “Can you say that? Can you say ‘shake some action’? Does that make sense?”
PHAWKER: Right, right. It kinda doesn’t but that’s all part of the charm of the phrase.
CYRIL JORDAN: Well I wanted the word shake in there. You know, “Shaking All Over” and “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and I thought ‘Shake is a cool word. We gotta have shake in the title.’ And the other thing is too, I was being influenced by Fleetwood Mac because they had Peter Green in the band and they had just come out with a song called “The Rattlesnake Shake.” That was in the key of A and that’s why “Shake Some Action” is in the key of A. So there’s a lot of connections, a lot of roads that brought me to that song, “Shake Some Action.”
PHAWKER: So jumping forward, the current line-up of the band is all the surviving original members, correct? And there’s a documentary in the works and a new album. Is that correct?
CYRIL JORDAN: Yeah well it’s the three of us, the three forefront men, Chris, me and George and it’s been me and George pretty much since ‘65. And then we’ve got a great drummer named Victor Penalosa who was four years old when he first listened to the Groovies. So he knows every Groovies song. I mean we couldn’t do this without Victor because trying to teach all those drum parts to a new guy would just take forever, you know? When we’re working up new songs, Victor always goes, “No no, it goes like this.”
PHAWKER: And how old are you now?
CYRIL JORDAN: Well I just turned 67, so next year I’ll be 68.
PHAWKER: Were you ever, back in the day, one of those guys who said ‘Hope die before I get old’? Did you ever imagine yourself still doing this at 67?
CYRIL JORDAN: No, I had no idea. I remember the Stones used to laugh at the people saying ‘How long are you gonna do this?’ and they said, ‘Well we’re not gonna be doing this when we’re old guys.’ I don’t think any of us expected this to turn into what it did. The San Francisco music scene was a very incredible time, it was an incredible scene and it was very tribal. It was like the American Indians. All the rock bands were like tribes. They had a ton of people, they had girlfriends and friends and relatives that were attached to each band. The Grateful Dead is a great example of that phenomenon you know. It all dissipated pretty much, I think America pretty much turned its back on rock and roll in the late ‘60s. And it was England that still kept it going. I moved the band to England because we had hooked up with Ike Turner, Ike and Tina, we were opening for Ike and Tina every time they played California. We were approached by Ike and Gerhard Augustin, his manager, when we played the Whiskey, and they said they wanted us to open for them when they played California. We said that would be great. They were on the United Artists and that’s how we got signed to UA. That’s how bands got signed back in the old days. You’d open for someone like — we opened for Ray Charles in ‘69. Roy and I wrote “Headin’ For The Texas Border” for that show. We ripped off the lick that Ray has in “I Don’t Need No Doctor.” Years later when I was backstage with Ike one night doing drugs, I said to him, ‘Well how did you find out about us?’ and he said ‘Ray told me’ and I went ‘Ray? Ray who?’ he says ‘Ray Charles.’
CYRIL JORDAN: Yeah. So Ray Charles turned Ike on to us and then Ike got us connected with UA and then we moved the band to England. Because Gerhard Augustin had told me that if you wanted to get a Top 20 record in America back then, you had to sell 35,000 records a day for about 15 weeks. Right. Which seemed like an impossibility for a band like the Groovies without the kind of promo that the record companies gave us, so Gerhard said “You should move to England” and I said, “Why is that?” and he says, “Well if you want to get into the Top 20 in England, all you have to do is sell 17,000 records and boom, you’re in the Top 20.” So this is why I moved the band to England. It was becoming very difficult for- you know the MC5 moved over finally-
PHAWKER: I didn’t know that.
CYRIL JORDAN: The MC5 ctually broke up in our house in England.
CYRIL JORDAN: It’s crazy. My life is kind of an open book about that time, that rock scene. I mean I went on a blind date with Jim Morrison’s widow, Pamela.
PHAWKER: Pamela Courson?
CYRIL JORDAN: Yeah. Two months after Jim had died. Pamela came back to the Bay area and she was saying that with Diane Gardener who worked for Grunt Records, the [Jefferson] Airplane’s label, and George was dating Diane, and they called me up one night and they said ‘You want to go on a blind date?’ and I said ‘Sure’ so we did that five weekends in a row and then one weekend, Diane and Pamela were kind of mumbling to each other about ‘should we tell him?’ George and I were going what are you talking about? So they told us, this is Pamela Morrison, Jim’s widow. And you know, Pamela was totally into joining Jim. Apparently they had made a pact that whoever died first the other would follow, and none of us could talk Pamela out of it. She was waiting for the money from Jim’s estate, which I think was gonna be about three and a half million. She was gonna give that to her mother and her sister and then she was gonna do a hotshot of heroin and join Jim, which is exactly what she fucking did. I was in England at the time that happened so, you know, when I think about it now it’s like how come we didn’t stop her? But there was a reverence. Everybody respected the fact that that’s the way she felt. Nobody could talk her out of it. But my life’s been crazy like that.
PHAWKER: Well hang on. To finish on the Jim Morrison thing, there’s a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories about how or why or even if he died. What’s your take on that? Did she say anything?
CYRIL JORDAN: Well she told me she had to stay in a hotel in France for the weekend because the coroner’s office didn’t open until Monday. So Jim was in the bathtub of her room on ice.
PHAWKER: They kept his body in her hotel room all weekend?
CYRIL JORDAN: Yeah.
PHAWKER: Fucking France.
CYRIL JORDAN: It’s Europe. Europe is like…who can figure it out?
PHAWKER: So nobody was working on the weekend so any dead bodies, you keep them in your house till Monday, we’ll come get them, is that the deal?
CYRIL JORDAN: Exactly.
PHAWKER: Crazy. Well anyways, so what was it, an accidental overdose, or his heart just gave out, or what do you think?
CYRIL JORDAN: It was like River Phoenix. He did too much.
PHAWKER: An accidental overdose.
CYRIL JORDAN: Yeah, yeah. I don’t think it was on purpose. It was just, Jim Morrison, I saw him kicked out of the Whiskey, one night. He was on top of one of those little round tables. I don’t know how he got up on that thing but he was on all fours howling like a dog, Saturday night at the Whiskey. Mario, the owner, got real angry and had Jim just thrown out of there. That must have been about ‘69. So everybody knew that Jim did more drugs, he was doing heroin, he was doing acid, you know, everything.
PHAWKER: And taking a shit ton.
CYRIL JORDAN: Yeah. Pills. You fucking name it. It was you know, not long for this world.
PHAWKER: I wanted to follow up on Kim Fowley because he’s a fascinating and very controversial figure. Tell me about how did you get involved with him”
CYRIL JORDAN: Well I met Kim at the big folk festival that weekend that the ‘teenage head’ thing happened. We became really really good friends after that. You know Kim was a fantastic character. Every time I was with Kim we would laugh all night long. Everybody around us would either laugh with us or they would throw us out of the place we were in because we were making too much noise or something. But Fowley was fantastic. I remember one night at the Whiskey this big cocaine dealer came down to hang out with us and he had rolled up a hundred dollar bill and he was passing the coke around with this hundred dollar bill and Kim walks in and grabs the hundred dollar bill and he goes, “Oh, a hundred bucks. Let’s have a dance contest.” So we had a dance contest at the Whiskey and of course these two girls that were dancing with each other were the winners. Kim got them up on stage and said, ‘You’re the winners, what’s your name? What’s your name?’ And he rips the hundred dollar bill in half and gives half to one girl, and half to the other girl. Then the dealer’s just looking at us like ‘Hey, where’s my hundred bucks?’
PHAWKER: There was a big story published on the Huffington Post about Kim Fowley about six months ago that caused quite a splash. Did you read this or do you know about this?
CYRIL JORDAN: No, no no. I know that there’s been a movie done and there’s been a lot of kinda resurgence about it but I haven’t seen that yet.
PHAWKER: To say it’s not a very flattering picture of him is putting it mildly. He has long had a rep for being sleazy and exploitative, but the article makes the case that he was something closer to a predator with young girls and apparently raped one of the Runaways.
CYRIL JORDAN: Well I think one of the girls on this dance contest ended up being in the Runaways. All of that happened when we were in England. We had already moved over. We used to see Joan. Joan Jett was always around. She was 16 years old when she was wearing her black leather jacket and she was at every show. And every time I was with Jimmy, Joan was hanging around. It was like a real cool little scene in LA. My old friend Shelly that I grew up with, Michelle Meyers, she lived down the block from where I lived when I was a kid and she moved to LA when she got out of high school and immediately hooked up with the Beach Boys. That was our connection to the Beach Boys, was Michelle. And Michelle lived right across the street from Barney’s Beanery.
PHAWKER: I’ve been there.
CYRIL JORDAN: Famous place. I used to see Moe Howard all the time because Moe lived up the street on Santa Monica.
PHAWKER: I loved The Three Stooges.
CYRIL JORDAN: We’d see Moe Howard doing his little walk there.
PHAWKER: What connection did you have with the Beach Boys? I love the Beach Boys.
CYRIL JORDAN: The connection I had with the Beach Boys goes back to 62. I was backstage with them at the Cow Palace in ‘62 and I remember seeing Brian, Carl, and Dennis singing “Surfer Girl” a capella before going on stage and I couldn’t believe how perfect it was. It was unbelievable.
CYRIL JORDAN: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And [Beach Boys patriarch] Murry Wilson’s running around, pulling his glass eye out, scaring all the teenage girls. I didn’t know who he was. For a couple of years, I was wondering, “Who the fuck is this guy?” One day in ’65 he came up with a band that he was managing called The Sunrays. Had a great record called “I Live For The Sun.” Those guys are fantastic players, you know. And Dennis came up with his dad. And we were up in the Cow Palace at two in the afternoon listening to the sound checks and the Byrds came on and did “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which hadn’t come out yet. And Dennis, Shelly and I just were gaping at this performance of them doing “Turn! Turn! Turn!” I’ll never forget it. I think it was the greatest moment I can think of in rock.
PHAWKER: Wow, I envy you. I LOVE the Byrds. Last questions: Following up on the Ike Turner, what drug were you doing with Ike Turner backstage?
CYRIL JORDAN: Cocaine.
PHAWKER: What year was that?
CYRIL JORDAN: That would be like 1970. That was at a place on Sunset Strip called the Haunted House.
PHAWKER: Last question is do you still get the same thrill out of it? You’ve been doing this for a long time. You’re 67 now.
CYRIL JORDAN: It’s weird. It’s easier now then it was back then, I mean touring and traveling. You know, I get a big kick out of it because it’s completely unexpected. I didn’t expect to be doing this at this age. And it’s like, ‘Oh, we gotta go back on the road? Oh okay, far out!’ And we’re having a ball. The fans have been great. You know, it’s the fans who brought us back.