Band co-founder Cyril Jordan talks about his band’s classic song “Shake Some Action,” about the group’s ups and downs, about their recent rebirth and renewal, and about what it means to have a genuine legacy that the public clearly appreciates. Guest appearances by Greil Marcus, Pamela Morrison and Alex Chilton.
BY FRED MILLS
They’re baaackkkk: the mighty Flamin’ Groovies, featuring founding members Cyril Jordan and George Alexander (on guitar and bass, respectively) and drummer Victor Penalosa, along with vocalist/guitarist Chris Wilson, who of course handled mic duties during what was arguably the legendary San Francisco group’s most fruitful period, the years surrounding Groovies classic Shake Some Action. Having completed successful tours of Japan, Australia, London and the U.S. over the last two years, they’ve steadily been ramping up their 2015 itinerary, including—speaking of SSA—an April 17 stop this week in their home town where they will play the album in its entirety, and April 25 in Atlanta for the Mess-Around 2015 festival.
Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, there’s also a feature documentary about the band in the works, The Incredible Flamin’ Groovies, a Kickstarter-funded film by William Tyler Smith and Kurt Feldhun. The filmmakers have been following the band around on tour and at recording sessions, with an emphasis more on the current incarnation than earlier times, along with testimonials from “an eclectic range of talking heads, among them Mick Jones, Keith Richards, Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators, director John Carpenter and actors Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.” (Maybe Smith and Feldhun should also interview the creator of daily newspaper comic strip Zits: in a strip that ran last August 27, teenage protagonist Jeremy’s impossibly square dad was spotted wearing a Groovies teeshirt!)
Why the resurgence in popularity for the band, which broke up at the tail end of the ‘70s? (Jordan and Alexander soldiered on for a few more years with hired guns, but it was never quite the same band.) Author and power pop expert Ken Sharp explains it this way: “In terms of the Groovies’ continued appeal, for me it comes down to their seamless ability to merge the sweet and dirty and come off as completely authentic without any artifice. The Groovies had it all; they merged ’50s rock rave-up energy with studied Beatles/Stones/Byrds classicism coupled with pop smarts of an educated music fan. That equation equals pure pop nirvana.”
An understatement, methinks. Although I owned the group’s first three albums it was an afternoon in the mid ‘70s when I wandered into a record store and heard the clarion call of Groovies signature song “Shake Some Action” for the first time that an obsession was born. I think Ira Robbins, of Trouser Press fame, put it best a few years ago when he remarked to me, of “SSA,” “It’s the greatest power pop song ever. Complex, compelling, poignant, defeated, desperate, soaring, incomprehensible – what else could you want? An entire religion in 4 1/2 minutes.”
The Groovies formed in San Francisco in the mid ‘60s and releasing a trio of well-regarded but commercially unsuccessful albums (1969’s Supersnazz, 1970’s Flamingo, 1971’s Teenage Head), the group really began to hit its stride when Wilson entered the fold, replacing original singer Roy Loney. They wound up in the UK recording with producer Dave Edmunds, who helmed the iconic Shake Some Action and 1978 follow-up Now, both issued by the legendary Sire label. By the time of 1979’s Jumpin’ In The Night, however, cracks in the firmament were appearing and the band eventually dissolved. (When I talked to him in 2005, singer Wilson told me that things “sort of deteriorated badly… we just started having a lot of arguments.”)
Several years ago, though, Jordan got back together with Loney for a small tour and Wilson came to see them at a London show. An old friendship was instantly rekindled, old grievances buried. By 2013 the postmillennial Flamin’ Grooves were treading the boards, first at the behest of the Hoodoo Gurus’ Dave Faulkner, who invited them to be his special guest at the Gurus’ Dig It Up festival in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. Additional shows were booked in Japan, followed by a sold-out homecoming in San Francisco. The release of another Wilson solo album in 2013, It’s Flamin’ Groovy!, featured the full participation of Jordan, and soon enough a new song billed to the Groovies surfaced, Jordan/Wilson composition “End of the World.”
As you’ll read below, a brand new Groovies studio album is already well under way. I talked to Jordan on the eve of the band’s North American tour and found him to be enthusiastic and outgoing, simultaneously proud that they are finally getting their due from the public yet humbled by the fact that they’ve also been handed a second chance to finish the job they started out to do all those years ago. You can go HERE to read my earlier interview with Chris Wilson, from 2005, but meanwhile, let’s get shakin’ with the good Mr. Jordan…
Note: portions of the Jordan interview originally appeared in a narrative story I wrote for esteemed Atlanta music mag Stomp & Stammer in advance of the band’s Atlanta appearance. Read it HERE and a sidebar with Chris Wilson HERE.
BLURT: I’m sure you have people coming up to you wanting to tell you their first Flamin’ Groovies experience. I have my own…
JORDAN: Yeah. For some it actually led to them getting married! Billy Miller and Miriam Linna of Norton Records, just to name a few.
Speaking of whom, one afternoon I walked into a record store and the manager played Shake Some Action for me, as it had just come out. I was floored. Just dropped to my knees. A lifelong obsession was born. I had already heard the earlier records, but this was something else. So I found an address for a Groovies fan club and I wrote in, and it was Miriam who responded. Sent me a button, some photos, the fanzine [pictured below]. Later, she even sent me some then-unreleased studio demos and outtakes. She was your apostle. And she fueled that obsession of mine.
She had taken over helping us out with all that, yeah. I know she was spreading the word big time. And that’s the thing about the Groovies, one of the secrets of our longevity: because we go back so far, the fans have always sparked the fire when nothing was going on. To make that point further, when we got back together in 2013, we got this great offer to go over to Australia and Japan. A tour, all air fares paid. It was basically Dave Faulkner and his guys, the Hoodoo Gurus, who were responsible. Every year this promoter who puts on this festival tells the headliner to choose who they want to open. And they chose us and Peter Case.
That reunion: I know you and Chris had experienced a strained relationship a good while prior to that. How did the two of you reconcile? Was it, well, we’re older/wiser now, we should be able to make this work, or…?
Those things just happened. It wasn’t even thought about or set up by anyone. I had been doing Groovies songs with Roy [Loney], sort of the Teenage Head period version of the band. And we ended up doing a show in London, and I was asked in an interview a week before if it would be okay if Chris came, and I said sure, that would be great as far as I was concerned. So he came to the show, and as soon as we saw each other there were tears in our eyes. It was automatic.
There wasn’t any of this circling around one another warily, with all the old baggage there in the back of your mind?
No, no. It was amazing. It made it seem like it was the day after we broke up. Like 33 years of time and space didn’t exist between us.
Would you counsel younger musicians to understand that this is what can come with age and maturity?
It should come with age and maturity, yeah. Unfortunately, these lessons are hard to learn. The wisdom of letting go of anger. This is one of the great Christian ethics: those who maintain their anger slide into madness, and it can ruin their lives. And the other thing is, too, is that nothing last forever, and that includes tragedy. So there’s a certain amount of wisdom involved in finding this out. Hopefully people find this out. You asked me if it comes with old age—I don’t know if it does. You have to be lucky enough to realize it at one point in your life. You go to the Middle East and they are cursed—they can’t find the wisdom, and they don’t believe the wisdom of that Christian ethic, so look at what’s happened. This nomadic kingdom has collapsed, and there’s no unity.
So my point is, that to have the knowledge that you need to have a good end to your life is quite intricate. I don’t know how we did it! [laughs] Me and Chris have learned quite a lesson, and it’s amazing. It’s wonderful. We’re actually more and more excited now about writing together than we were back then.
Looking at the clips in that upcoming documentary film’s trailers, I do see some clear looks of joy on your faces, up there performing together.
Well, it was originally based on our friendships anyway. There was a real implosion. The drugs… in my column for Ugly Things that I’m working on right now I talk about how stoned everybody got back then. And to really single out a group of daredevil stoners, I would have to say the British. Brian Jones, Keith Moon… you look have to look at these cats, they were really high flyin’ dudes, and when they wanted to get stoned, it was there for them. For me, thinking about musicians of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Groovies’ story is almost symbolic of the whole thing crashing down. In came disco, electronic keyboards, A Flock Of Seagulls type bands, and the whole thing just switched from a rock ‘n’ roll induced public to a more of a new approach that had nothing to do with rock at all.
I know exactly what you’re talking about. Since you’ve regularly been doing the Ugly Things column, why not a book? You’ve got the stories and the memories.
That has come up, yeah. Somebody mentioned Jimi Hendrix: “Oh, I’ve got a story about him!” I’ve got thousands of stories. So I’ve purposely kept out a lot of them. It’s hard to! All I have to do is see a poster from that time and boom, the memories come back. Or a certain song from a year I’m talking about. So hopefully I’ll be able to write my memoirs.
How about telling me a rock story that you perhaps haven’t told before, or not very widely.
[immediately] I got a good one. It was right after Jim Morrison died, so that would have been 1970, ’71. My bass player George was dating a girl who working for Grunt Records [Jefferson Airplane’s imprint for RCA], Diane Gardner. They called me up one weekend, on a Friday, and asked me if I wanted to go on a blind date. Which is something I’d never done; I wasn’t much for dating. But I said yeah, sure, and went out with this girl. We did this every weekend for a few weeks, every Friday or Saturday night. And one night we’re sitting around at Diane’s place in Sausalito, and they looked at each other and went, “Should we tell him?” “Tell me what?”
This girl was named Pamela, and she was the widow of Jim Morrison. She’d just come back from France following that full ordeal. She wound up telling us the whole thing. He was on ice in her bathtub for the whole weekend in her apartment because the coroner’s office was closed or something. And she was very blunt about the fact that once the money from the estate was settled, which I think was something like $3.5 million, she was going to give her money to her mom and her sister then she was going to do a hot shot and join Jim. Apparently they had a pact together, for whoever was first to go.
We tried to talk her out of it, but we had to respect thins kind of thing because she was adamant. To make a long story short, during the trip to England, I was over there getting the record deal settled by myself with United Artists, with Andrew Lauder and Martin Davis. I got a call from George that Pamela had died. She was very honest about telling all of us exactly what was going to happen.
So that’s just one of the many weird things that’s happened to me…
Could we call you a kind of rock ‘n’ roll Zelig, then? In the right places—or maybe even the wrong places—at all the right times?
Well, that’s interesting. It was a small culture back then. There weren’t many of us.
I’m from the South so there wasn’t a lot of us either; I know what you mean. I got my ass kicked for having long hair a few times.
I was just thinking about that today, how it was very dangerous for us to have long hair, to be looking that way. And I was a band that was traveling all the time. You’d go to a place where people like you hang out—you’d meet Jimi Hendrix, and others, on and on and on. So it was because of my ability to travel—across two continents—that I was able to meet a lot of classic players, especially the British players.
You also would spot each other across the room because you stood out from the rest.
Yeah! We wouldn’t know each other, but we’d kind of congregate, and we stuck together easily because of that. And this has given me an ability, maybe, because I’m older, to be in service to the history of rock. My stories, to kind of outline what it was like. It was the last free country in rock ‘n’ roll! No passports, no government, it was wide open. No matter where we came from, even if thousands of miles apart, as soon as we were hanging together, it was boom!, right in the same place.
Some time ago I wrote about how all the old blues guys were dying off and their stories needed to be taken down for the record before they are all gone. But now, it’s happening with the rock guys too.
Yeah man, time marches on.
Do you have a sense of your own mortality?
Oh, well, I’ve had a sense of that since I was 5 ½—I had polio, my upper spine. I was paralyzed in my neck and jaw and was supposed to die within 6 months. I didn’t die and the doctors were pretty perplexed.
I remember getting my vaccine as a kid, on the little sugar cubes.
I got it in the arm, this big needle! I got one of the first vaccines, me and about 180 kids in the Bay Area got polio. And they’re still suing the laboratories because that first vaccine had too much of the polio virus in it.
After a 3 ½ recovery, away from school, with a nurse, I came back, and that’s when rock ‘n’ roll started. It was an incredible re-entry! [laughs] Be that as it may, as much as I was aware that I was actually gonna grow up, I was also still aware of how fragile we are. I think that’s one of the most important realizations one can have, that perspective. As soon as you figure it out, the more accessible the good life is; once you figure it out, you always have a sense of gratitude. And that concept of “gratitude” is a very important emotion to keep alive in the brain. Especially as you age. It’s the ungrateful who are sliding into madness.
That is a very profound statement, my friend.
Ah, thank you. You know, when I was a teenager, we dropped acid before it was illegal, in ’65. Having hung out from that point, when I was 15, with older guys who were already in college, we always had these drug talks about this kind of stuff.
And I think that’s one of the reasons why Chris and I were so at ease with the second chance. Because that’s exactly what it is, you know, getting the Groovies back together. Nobody thought it was going to happen.
I noticed in one of the film trailers there’s a clip of George remarking upon how, indeed, this has been a second chance. Tell me about that a little bit. There have other bands—Big Star maybe the most prominent example—who got the proverbial second chance. Some of them, of course, only in a legacy sense, posthumously.
Yeah, Alex Chilton, I miss him. He was a friend. I got a great story about him too! [laughs] This must have been about 25 years ago. There’s a blues club down here at Fisherman’s Wharf, and me and my buddy went down to check out the blues bands, and one night I see this [other friend] English guy, so we are going downstairs to the parking lot. All of a sudden there’s Alex, walking up the stairs. “Hey, how you’re doing? What are you doing? We’re going down to the car to smoke a joint…” So he tagged along. He’s in the back seat with this guy, and I’m in the front seat with my English friend. The other guy in the back seat turns on this cassette machine he’s got and plays this song he’s written, I think it’s called “I’m Against Everything.” And it was awful! Just bloody awful. Of course Alex immediately says, “Hey turn that off, that’s pure shit!” And him and this guy got into a big argument, because this guy didn’t know who Alex is, so he’s like, “What do YOU know about music?” [laughs]
I remember UA’s Andrew Lauder telling me about how he had been interested in finding Alex—Alex had had his share of hard times, and he was living out of his Valiant near a phone booth. And he got this call from Andrew Lauder to come back in.
So you never know about guys like us, man. We recorded all this stuff, and there’s a long long paper trail, and sometimes, all of a sudden, these things happen for us. It’s amazing. And it IS a second chance. In truth, we were just getting started at the end of the ‘70s, and Chris and I were just discovering our songwriting abilities. We weren’t finished, but the band broke up. So this is really a great pleasure for us.
So a couple of years ago you guys go back into the rehearsal room for the first time then: how did that feel? Tell me a little about what happened. Was it good, tentative, or…?
No, it was automatic. It was crazy. There’s footage of us doing “Between The Lines” as an instrumental, that’s in one of the film clips. That’s from the first day and the first time we did it. That will give you an idea of how fun and how automatic it was. It was second nature to us. And the more we did it, all of a sudden Chris and I started writing songs again.
Next thing we know, we’re in the recording studio. We’ve been in the studio for the past year and a half, working on the album.
My next question, then, obviously: what can you tell me about that? Where do we stand with a new record? I heard the song you premiered at Rolling Stone.
The new record has a little bit of the old, and a lot of the new—as you can tell with “End of the World.” I ask people who’ve heard it and who like it, “Can you tell it’s the Groovies?” And you can.
Oh of course. If you know the Groovies, the voices, the general vibe, yeah.
Yeah, the different sides to us, the different styles we approach. I’m very pleased—that says it right there to me that it’s working. That’s the most important thing. I don’t know how many groups who come back and it’s like, who is this? Everybody goes, this ain’t the same guys we loved…
I remember thinking that when the Small Faces and the Animals did their reunion albums and it wasn’t quite… there.
It wasn’t up to muster. Yeah. So we’re so pleased because a lot of people have said it’s very easy to immediately know it’s the Groovies. We’ve kept the same fans for so many fans, and we’ve got new ones now, a new generation, so it’s nice to keep that acceptance and to continue as we did.
I did this lecture with Greil Marcus last year in Berkeley, when he did a book signing [for The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs]. He used “Shake Some Action” in his first chapter, and he’s said that song was the inspiration for the book. I mentioned to everybody that I’m not really a rock star because they’ve got Maseratis. I told them, “I’m an artist. This thing has always been about the art, this genre I’m in is flexible as clay and it’s always exciting to re-shape it.” The new one, “End of the World,” has got a little bit of Blue Oyster Cult in it, and it’s also got a little bit of “8 Miles High” in it, and it’s also got a bit of the San Francisco improv/jam thing in it, at the end of the song. Everybody’d digging it, so I’m real excited about the album.
We’ve cut rockers, we’ve cut folk-rock, we’ve cut ballads, and stuff that’s a whole new sonic vista. Which is what we were always going for anyway. That was our attitude.
You wanna hear one of the rockers? I can play it for you.
Okay, it’s called “Crazy Macy” —she was a gun moll who robbed banks. [Jordan puts phone receiver down and turns on the stereo. Song is a kind of Liverpool-styled raveup with patented Groovies harmonies, a driving beat and a sharp ascending-then-descending chord progression.] That’ll give you an idea.
Assuming you were not playing some long-lost Bay Area-by-way-of-British Invasion track to punk me, I would say that it sounds like the Groovies playing loud from across a crowded highway.
Let me play you another one, a folk-rock one. This doesn’t have vocals yet. It’s called “Cryin’ Shame,” but Chris is gonna pop a vocal on it in about 14 days. [Cues up track, which has a solid Now vibe with a catchy beat and 12-string jangle melody, plus a submerged wah-wah going on in the background]
Aaahhh… yeah. In my mind I was kind of filling in lyrics from, say, “Between the Lines” or “First Plane Home.”
Yeah, yeah, very reminiscent of that last stuff we wrote. And I opted for Chris to be the guitarist on the wah-wah stuff; I had to talk him into it.
He’s an underrated guitarist for sure.
A lot of people don’t realize what a genius guitarist he is. For example, James Ferrell did not play the guitar part on “I Can’t Hide”—that was Chris. I was telling him the other day how I am so pleased he’s the other guitarist there with me onstage. For me and George, it’s a lot more easy to present the material onstage—to make it sound like the record.
When you put together new stuff, do you say, “Let’s do something like this old song, or like this album…” or does it just fall into place?
If that happens, that’ll come later. But basically we don’t push it on the band. At the right moment, we just play it for the band. Like, we were backstage in Tokyo, and me and Chris were alone there, and I’m just playing something and he turns to me and goes, “What’s that! That’s really cool!” So it begins like that, and once we have an arrangement going, we show it to George and Victor. I like to have a presentation, when we have something really nice. I like to do it in the recording studio, which is how we did it with “End of the World.” I showed it to George and Victor, and I think we ran through it maybe three times, and then we did a take. We got it on the second take. I loved it. Victor especially—out of all the guys we’ve had in the past, Danny [Mihm] and the others, they’ve always been capable of coming up with great arrangements for new songs, but Victor is really fast. He’s definitely a session drummer whiz. He’s in his mid-thirties so he’s the baby; I used to be the baby!
Like I said earlier, the looks on your faces in the film’s clips are priceless. Victor especially has a kind of pinch-me look at times.
You know, when we were playing those things back in the ‘70s, they’d play around all the time. But playing with Victor, I look at him and go, “You sound exactly like the record!” That was real cool. “Keep it up!” Every part. And he corrects us too! He’s having a ball. Such a big Groovies fan.
But that’s what I was saying at the start of our conversation: any kind of buzz about coming back is because of the fans. The fans are amazing.
Again, citing the film trailers, there are clips of your fans in Japan that are just amazing, how they are nearly swooning.
You know, George almost came to tears because of that first show, in 2013, he noticed that those [Japanese] kids were singing the lyrics to “You Tore Me Down”—and they don’t speak English. But they know those lyrics!
Going out on a limb here, I will presume you have a broad demographic, of young fans just discovering your records, all the way to longtime geezers like me. That must be gratifying. But—“Where were all the fans the first time around when we really needed you?”
It’s funny. You could say it feels like I went to prison for 40 years or something, then they found out, after those 40 years, that it wasn’t me! [laughs] It was somebody else. So they let me go. And I guess they’ll give me some money. [laughs] You could say, on one hand, it feels that way, and I guess it does, because it’s very difficult to stay in the same frame of mind. Anybody that says they can stay on a “level plateau” is bullshit. We are as mortal in our minds as we are in our bodies.
But to be really honest, most of the time, it feels like, we made it! Because we were down for the count. George and I went on for about 10 years, by the way…
And I wouldn’t discount that at all, either. I mean, 1993’s Rock Juice has some pretty damn solid stuff even if the only original members on it are you and George.
Yeah, but that’s because what we call “the engine,” which is the back wall of sound, drums-bass-guitars, was in place. That was Phil [Spector’s] thing; if you even go back to Teenage Head, Roy had quit playing guitar and I got to go to New York to cut the guitars. Timmy [Lynch] is on it but he got busted for heroin. Because of that I tried to cut my teeth for the band as far as being the arranger, the “engine.”
The songwriting, though, I never wanted to be “the songwriter.” Guys that do that, they’re amazing. I always wanted a partner. The Beatles’ stuff, John and Paul together… It’s better. When you have one mind, that’s fantastic. But when you add another mind to that, that’s double fantastic. And with the Beatles, it’s like Jagger said: it’s a four-headed monster! [laughs]
That’s a lot of teenage heads in one room.
[laughs] It’s insane! That was what amazed me when I saw them in ’64. I got knocked down when they came on because it was a mad rush. This was at the Cow Palace [in San Francisco]. 17,000 people. When I got up I had been knocked 15 feet from Paul. And when they did “Twist and Shout” I just went, holy shit.
It’s not very easy to do. And the way George Martin mixed that stuff—I still can’t single out the rhythm guitar of John’s part. It’s amazing. And it took me awhile to figure out what made the Beatles so heavy. As an instrumentalist I thought it was the bass, so I started learning the bass. But then I realized I would have to play guitar. The Beach Boys got me playing guitar.
In addition to writing and editing, I also work in a record store and every week I see some kid discovering all this for the first time. I see 13 year old kids buying Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.
You know, there’s still an interest from a young generation! When I was a kid in the ‘50s, the stuff that I was listening to before rock n’ roll radio, I would be at the babysitter’s house and when she was out of the room I would change the channel on the radio because I didn’t want to listen to “Hernando’s Hideaway.” Perry Como, Peggy Lee or something. Meanwhile my mom would turn me on to Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey—that was only 15 years earlier. Nowadays, the kids are listening to stuff 50 years earlier! Maybe there’s something about the digital era in which people are just inundated with so much new stuff that the older stuff has additional resonance, a purity or something.
What the Beatles and British Invasion did back in the ‘60s, well, just between you and me, the charts were getting pretty leaky—the Singing Nun went to number 1—the Beach Boys were my main thing, and then the British Invasion hit. I wound up hooking up with George, “Doing Baby Please Don’t Go” and then “Heart Full of Soul” and actually getting through them… After about an hour and a half we had a set—‘We’re a band!’ So that was the beginning of the Flamin’ Groovies. We started this when we were just kids.
I think you really have to start this thing when you are teens. You’re very close at that time, cut off from anything else—you against the world. It becomes a solid bond. And it’s always there. I grew up on hits radio, AM radio, and later underground FM radio. And you would hear Motown next to the Beatles, all part of a continuum. That doesn’t exist anymore; everything is segmented. But at least it is accessible in some way to folks who want to follow that trail. But the sense of discovery isn’t the same.
Also the speed of the process. Bands have a certain sound to them. Like the Kinks—I remember hearing that sound [hums the “You Really Got Me” riff]. You knew after that it was that band. I really don’t think the Groovies ever got that identity as a “sound” until we did “Teenage Head.” Supersnazz, I think, was too versatile.
I recall reading about it, probably in Rolling Stone, and getting curious as much for that review and the iconic cartoon cover [by Bob Zoell] without actually hearing anything yet.
We got a lot of mileage out of that cover. That was a fluke, though. I was an antique collector, and we were recording it at Columbia studios, and the artist comes in and showed us some of his stuff. We flipped out and said, hey man, could you do something for us? About a week later he came in with the cover.
I remember following the band’s progression from afar; there wasn’t a lot of access in my small town to semi-obscure records. Then I walked into that record store in college… in a sense that’s what I try to do with the kids that come into my record store, too—to light up their imaginations with something cool I can play for them.
Well, that’s what we wanted to do! We got another record deal in ’75, and we wanted to blow the fucking minds of the kids. And that’s why I had to throw some Paul Revere & the Raiders on there, throw some Beatles on there. That was us showing off. That we could play them, because it was difficult stuff. We were total exhibitionists!
When I talked to Chris a few years ago, I proposed to him that “Shake Some Action” was the song that launched a million power pop bands. People always talk about the Velvet Underground Effect. But I have preferred to talk about the Shake Some Action Effect, because everyone from Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate to Peter Buck of R.E.M. to… name your artist, these guys all cite that song as the one for them.
Yeah, back in the ‘80s, as the years went by, I would occasionally have people come up to me and want to tell me that. I came to realize that we’d left our mark.
Of course, it didn’t pay the bills back then…
It didn’t pay the bills, but we left a big footprint. It’s like I was saying, there’s something unique and something familiar about it. With the Beatles, it was all brand new, sure, but they had something familiar too, that rock ‘n’ roll root. Everybody knows that sound. And there seems to be a magic there.
The Beatles didn’t even get signed at first, back in ’61, ’62, because the record people were hearing “Long Tall Sally,” the Everly Brothers, whatever, and saying, “We need something different.” They did have it—just not what they thought.
You know, man, that’s got the basic chord structure that comes from ‘Can I Get a Witness’ [strums some chords] I do a minor chord after that one [strums again] So it’s a little bit of a twist on the classic boogie progression. It’s like the Stones, when they started writing, a lot of their songs are based on different variations. [Hums snatches of “Satisfaction” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together”] And this is an approach that’s been forgotten about. But thank god for recording studios. Beethoven—no one ever recorded him! When he had been dead for 60 years or so, if it hadn’t been for Mendelssohn… they found this trunk with all this stuff, these sheets. And because of that, we all have Beethoven. Because there was a paper trail.
Talk a little more about the Groovies movie: is all this in there, the deep history of the band, or is it more like the current scenario and live clips mainly?
Well, as it progresses, it’s mostly us onstage in different towns around the world. We’re interviewed separately too. I think the guys who are doing it are doing a great job. But there hasn’t been a session yet where they ask us about the beginning of the band, or the different versions and the other guys who were in it. I’m the guy who brought everybody in. Danny, James, Chris, Mike Wilhelm, David Wright, Victor of course. So I’m kinda like Phil Spector in that regard, where I’m kind of a supervisor. I get the positions together, I co-write with Chris, I do the arrangements, set up the session, I do all of that. Spector, or maybe Brian Wilson. I guess I’m lucky: Dave Edmunds, Brian Wilson and Phil Spector are my favorite producers, and I’ve gotten to know all three of them. And I’ve also gotten to see all of them work.
Nowadays, are you hearing any young bands that you think really have that special thing going for them? Or that just get your juices flowing?
Oh yeah, there’s one called The Strypes. Those guys are from Ireland, they wear white shirts and ties, almost look like Herman’s Hermits, but they have a really big Most of the bands that open for us tell us they were influenced by us—that happens a lot. It’s flattering!
Do you ever get the urge to take them under your wing, give advice, or even produce?
Yeah, sometimes I do. Hopefully what I tell them is helpful.
There’s a lot of knowledge worth dispensing. You’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the music industry.
Yes I have. Oh god, you don’t even know!
Photo credits: band photo by Anne Laurent; live photo of Jordan and Wilson by FG1 PSquared Photography.