Legendary Bay Area rockers Flamin’ Groovies formed in San Francisco during the height of the psychedelic era, coming on the scene like fearless anachronisms, mixing amped-up covers of rock and roll oldies with their own gritty material. The band was unapologetically out of step with the times, melding Chuck Berry riffs with Brit pop in neat three-minute songs during the height of the extended jam. They pioneered the DIY (do it yourself) ethos a full ten years before the movement caught on, recording a seven-song EP in 1968. The Groovies established themselves as cult favorites, influencing both pub rockers and punks alike, inspiring groups like the Dictators and Royal Trux, while never acquiring the popular following they deserved.
The band was formed in San Francisco in 1965 by Bay Area natives Loney, Jordan, Lynch, Alexander, and original drummer Ron Greco (who was replaced by Danny Mihm a year later) at a time when the city was a counterculture mecca. The San Francisco sound that was born in the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore Auditorium was pioneered by acts such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. In live performance these bands often meandered into extended jams, melding blues-rock with pyschedelia. Into this chemically enhanced mix stepped the Flamin’ Groovies with uninflected rock and R&B riffs compressed into neat three-minute aural blasts. Guitarists Jordan and Lynch provided the framework for their wild-haired frontman Loney, whose often-inspired channeling of Delta bluesman growl created a sound reminiscent of Ronnie Hawkins, Captain Beefheart, Little Feat, and the blues-based rock of the Rolling Stones.
After gigging around San Francisco for a couple of years, the Groovies were unable to secure a record contract even as local bands that dominated the scene found homes at the major labels. The band then took the almost-unheard-of step of financing and releasing a seven-song EP, Sneakers, on their own Snazz label. The effort helped land a deal with Epic.
Their debut full-length album Supersnazz, released in 1969, mixed originals by Loney and Jordan with rock ‘n’ roll classics, including songs made famous by Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, wrote “Supersnazz indeed: Chuck Berry hot licks, pistol-packin’ mamas, rockin’ pneumonia and boogie woogie flu!—sans corroding traces of the condescension, dilettantism and sweaty strain which usually mar this kind of thing. The Groovies, like no other group working in this area, communicate the sense of truly youthful enthusiasm and fun which was at the heart of early rock.”
Supersnazz was a portent of things to come: the Groovies’ formula of old-school rock ‘n’ roll mixed with a dash of psychedelia and an attitude teetering between snotty and reverential. Alone among their cohorts in the San Francisco scene, the Groovies delved into some of the same dangerous territory that Detroit bands like the Stooges and the MC5 were exploring in the middle of the country. Unimpressed by the album’s poor sales, Epic dropped the Groovies, who quickly rebounded with a deal at the Kama Sutra label.
In 1970 the band recorded their second LP, Flamingo. The album featured the original lineup (with the addition of Commander Cody on piano) and consisted, with the exception of one song, of Loney and Jordan originals. The Groovies defiantly continued to mine the vein of straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, while popular tastes veered in the opposite direction. Loney’s “Second Cousin” track pays backhanded homage to one of his idols, the notorious Jerry Lee Lewis, with the recurring line “I’m going to make my second cousin my first bride.” Like its predecessor, Flamingo was well received by the critics and the band toured extensively in support. As with their debut, however, the band’s sophomore album failed to sell. Part of the problem seemed to be the limited distribution capabilities of their small label but the band went into the studio and produced a second album for Kama Sutra, one that proved to be the apex of the Loney-era Groovies.
In 1971 the Groovies recorded what was to become their most lauded and influential album, Teenage
For the Record…
Members include George Alexander (born on May 18, 1946, San Mateo, CA), bass; Ron Greco, drums; Cyril Jordan (born in 1948 in San Francisco, CA), guitar; Roy Loney (born on April 13, 1946, San Francisco, CA), guitar, vocals; Tim Lynch (born on July 18, 1946, San Francisco, CA), guitar; Danny Mihm, drums. Later incarnations include James Farrell , guitar; Terry Rae, drums; Mike Wilhelm, guitar; Chris Wilson, vocals, guitar; David Wright, drums.
Group formed in San Francisco, CA, 1965; released eleven-inch EP Sneakers on Snazz label, 1969; signed to Epic, released first LP, Supersnazz, 1970; signed contract with Kama Sutra, relocated to New York; second LP Flamingo, 1970, followed by Teenage Head, 1971; released singles and a live EP; relocated to England, collaborated with musician/producer Dave Edmunds; Shake Some Action, recorded in 1972, released 1976; Still Shakin’, a compilation of earlier recordings, released by Buddah, 1976; second Edmunds-produced LP, Now, released on Sire label, 1978; released Jumpin’ in the Night, 1979; band effectively disbanded after 1979; released Bucket Full of Brains, which was recorded live in 1971, 1983.
Head. The band moved to New York, where they re-teamed with Flamingo producer Richard Robinson (husband of rock critic Lisa Robinson). On this album the core Groovies were accompanied by Memphis piano maestro Jim Dickinson, best known for his work with the Rolling Stones and Big Star. With the exception of one song by Randy Newman and one song by Robert Johnson, Loney and Jordan penned all of the album’s material.
The prevalence of bottleneck guitar and blues-inflected boogie is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ work at the end of and immediately after Brian Jones’ tenure. In fact, Teenage Head was inevitably compared to the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, released the same year. From the opening track, “High Flying Baby,” with its roiling guitar hook augmented by slide and Dickinson’s boogie-woogie piano riffs, to the album’s closer “Whiskey Woman,” the energy level is high. Unlike the Flamingo sessions, where the hard-partying Groovies were kept in check, Robinson wisely turned the session itself into a party. The recording sessions were a veritable who’s who of the rock world, including Lenny Kaye, Dave Marsh, Richard Meltzer, Danny Goldberg, Danny Fields, and the notorious rock Svengali Kim Fowley, who, according to Andy Kotowicz’s liner notes to the 1999 reissue, coined the expression that inspired the album’s title track.
The band’s cover of Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby” was the album’s only single, which the Groovies transformed into a guitar-driven rave up. Similar treatment was given to the Robert Johnson classic “32-20.” On “Evil Hearted Ada” Loney did his best early-Elvis imitation and added a Sun Studio echo-effect on the vocals and Scotty Moore guitar licks. As Rolling Stone critic Greg Shaw wrote, shortly after the album’s initial release, “Teenage Head is bound to sell at least 50 copies; that’s how many rock critics are mentioned on the back for having been at the party. If you missed it, don’t despair, it’s as near as your favorite record store.”
While the album sold more than 50 copies, it did not do much to raise awareness of the band outside of the closed circle of rock cognoscenti. Loney and Jordan quarreled over the band’s direction, and Loney left in 1971 to pursue a solo career. Lynch also departed and Jordan, now titular leader of the group, enlisted guitarist/vocalist Chris Wilson and James Farrell to fill the vacant slots. Under Jordan’s direction, the Groovies moved in the direction of Byrds-era folk rock.
The band relocated to the United Kingdom teaming up with producer Dave Edmunds, of Nick Lowe and Rock-pile fame. They began to record their first post-Loney LP in Wales the following year, with David Wright replacing Danny Mihm on drums and Dave Edmunds on guitar, piano, and backing vocals. Jordan and Alexander were the only two original Groovies left—newcomer Wilson shared songwriting credits with Jordan. The album also featured covers of songs written by W.C. Handy, Chuck Berry, and Lennon/McCartney. This material was shelved, with exception of “You Tore Me Down,” released as a single on the BOMP label in 1974, until the release of 1976’s Shake Some Action. The album did well, by Groovies standards, reaching 142 on the Billboard charts. The album’s relative success inspired Buddah to release a compilation of songs from Flamingo and Teenage Head as well as some live-studio recordings of rock ‘n’ roll classics, including “Shakin’ All Over,” “That’ll Be the Day,” and “Louie, Louie.”
In 1978 the Flamin’ Groovies released the Edmunds-produced Now, comprising original material by Jordan and Wilson along with such covers as the Stones’ “Blue Turns to Grey” and “Paint it Black” and the Beatles’ “There’s a Place.” The following year the band released Jumpin’ in the Night, produced by Jordan and Roger Becherian, which, in addition to Groovies originals, included covers by Warren Zevon, Roger McGuinn, Lennon/McCartney, David Crosby, and Bob Dylan.
Because both albums were released at the height of the early punk movement, the band’s softer sound seemed as out of place as the rough-edged garage sounds of the Loney era. After completing Jumpin’ in The Night, the band effectively ceased to exist. The 1983 release of Bucketful of Brains, however, recorded live at the Fillmore West in 1971, created a new interest in the band, particularly in the Loney’s hard, raw sounds. Numerous reissues of old material followed, including outtakes and live versions of classic Groovies material. The group remained popular in Europe, especially in Germany and France; during the 1990s, the classic Buddah/Kama Sutra releases were reissued on the new Buddha label.
Sneakers (EP), Snazz, 1968.
Supersnazz, Epic, 1969.
Flamingo, Kama Sutra, 1970.
Teenage Head, Kama Sutra, 1971; reissued, Buddha, 1999.
Still Shakin’, Buddah, 1976.
Shake Some Action, Sire, 1976.
Now, Sire, 1978.
Jumpin’ in the Night, Sire, 1979.
Bucketful of Brains, Voxx, 1983.
Flamin’ Groovies’68 (live), Eva, 1983.
Flamin’ Groovies ’70 (live), Eva, 1983.
Slow Death-Live!, Lolita, 1983.
Super Grease, Skydog, 1984.
Live at the Whiskey A Go-Go ’79, Lolita, 1985.
Roadhouse, Edsel, 1986.
One Night Stand, Aim, 1987.
Groove In, Revenge, 1988.
Groovies Greatest Grooves, Sire, 1989.
The Rockfield Sessions, AIM, 1990.
Sixteen Tunes, Skydog, 1991.
Step Up, Aim, 1991.
Oh How Groovy, Discurios, 1992.
A Collection of Rare Demos and Live Recordings, Marilyn, 1993.
Rock Juice, National, 1993.
Rockin’ at the Roundhouse: Live, Mystery, 1993.
Flamin’Groovies, Polydor, 1994.
California Born and Bred, Norton, 1995.
Live 68/70, New Rose, 1995.
Live at the Festival of the Sun, Aim, 1995.
Groove In, New Rose, 1996.
Supersneakers, Sundazed, 1996.
In Person! (live), Norton, 1997.
Oldies but Groovies, Aim, 1997.
Grease: The Complete Skydog Singles Collection, Norton, 1998.
Yesterday’s Numbers, Camden, 1998.
Absolutely the Best, Varese, 1999.
Backtracks, Renaissance, 1999.
Slow Death, Norton, 2002.
Fortune, July 23, 2001, p. 280.
Rolling Stone, December 13, 1969; May 27, 1971.
“Flamin’ Groovies,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (November 19, 2002).
“Flamin’ Groovies,” Trouser Press Record Guide, http://www.webcom.com/~smholt/groovies/history/tprg.html (November 19, 2002).
“Sharps & Flats,” Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ent/music/review/1999/08/02/groovies/ (November 19, 2002).
Additional information was obtained from the liner notes to Teenage Head, Buddha Records, 1999.
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