Interview – Cyril Jordan of the Flamin’ Groovies
In the ’70s and early ’80s, Creem was THE rock mag to follow if you were an adolescent growing up in Winnipeg who was bored of Rolling Stone‘s coverage of the California rock scene. One band that kept getting mentioned was the Flamin’ Groovies. The band took on near-mythic proportions in this music fan’s psyche, as the Groovies’ name was often invoked but the music was rarely, if ever, heard (this was before iTunes, Spotify, et al).
Cut to circa now. The San Francisco band has reformed with three of the original members from the last incarnation, which broke up around 1980. The Flamin’ Groovies are about to release their first album of new material since then, and there’s a documentary, The Incredible Flamin’ Groovies Movie, that is due out this year. The doc follows the group’s recent activities, including tours of Australia and Japan. The Flamin’ Groovies are also making their first (besides some rock fest gigs in the late ’60s) foray up to the Pacific Northwest for a tour, including a show here in Vancouver at the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday night (March 14).
In my civilian identity as a freelance journalist, I interviewed the band’s Cyril Jordan recently for the Vancouver Sun. You can see the rest of that interview here. But there were a few quotes that didn’t make the cut, including some choice (and somewhat mysterious) words about Detroit-based Creem Magazine.
Shawn Conner: According to the documentary website, the Groovies had some famous fans, including Rock Hudson.
Cyril Jordan: Cesar Romero, he and I became good friends. He would come to the Whisky [a Go Go, in L.A.]. One Friday night when we were opening for Barry Maguire he came backstage to congratulate us and bought everyone martinis. We were the house band there for a whole summer. He came every Friday and Saturday. One Saturday he brought Rock Hudson to meet us. Mr. Hudson was extremely shy. he didn’t want to go backstage so Cesar brought me over to the bar. I met him and we had a few drinks. I gotta say, outside of Ted Kennedy, he was the biggest guy I ever met. I think I came up to his elbow.
SC: Greil Marcus selected “Shake Some Action” as one of the songs he devotes a chapter to in his new book, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs.
CJ: We cut it in ’72 at Rockfield in South Wales, and ended up being dropped by United Artists. I ended up owning the copy master. As you know, possession is nine tenths of the law. I shopped that take that we cut. We wrote “You Tore Me Down” in the same night we cut “Slow Death”, “Shake Some Action”, “Married Woman”, “Get a Shot of Rhythm and Blues”, “Tallahassee Lassie” and “Little Queenie”. We recorded all of those in an eight-hour stretch. Then it took me about three-and-a-half years to get signed. We cut the album (Shake Some Action) around Christmas of ‘75 and it came out in ’76.
SC: You guys were always a favourite of Creem, the ‘70s rock magazine.
CJ: We went to Detroit and fell in love with the whole music scene there. We were ready to go back home. We didn’t have any gigs for the next three months. And the guys at the Creem offices said, “If you want to stay at the office, we close at five o’clock, you guys can have the office all night long.”
We slept in the Creem offices for three months. The guys in the band, we all had our own way of talking. We would always greet people with a “Howdy boy.” I guess their “Boy Howdy” [the Creem slogan] was a way of using that without us suing them. We wouldn’t have sued them anyway. I remember years later I saw “Boy howdy” in one of their mags and I thought, That has to be from “Howdy boy.”
They were cramped, the offices, in a very old building, up on the second floor. The events that happened there – they weren’t just putting together the magazine. John Sinclair [manager of the MC5 and the leader of Detroit’s White Panther Party, according to rocksbackpages.com] would show up with his people. We played this far-out game called Rebo Reverse*. Everybody would be sitting in a circle. Eventually the name was changed to Objects. everybody would grab a key or a lighter out of their pocket. When John said, “Give it to the next person on your left,” we would all do it. The first person who dropped the item, everyone would zero in on this person and [tell them] how they’d been fucking up. It was kind of intervention.
We were exposed to not just the music side of the culture. But also the philosophical side of the Detroit rock scene. It was a movement, man. Those guys were serious about helping change the fabric of freedom in this country.
SC: Who were some of the bands that you came up with that have been undeservedly forgotten?
CJ: Out here [the Bay Area] we had bands like Freedom Highway, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. There were tons of bands. Then you take a band like The Raspberries, who had three hit records in the Top 40 but were still treated as some kind of bubblegum. Which is such a shame, because their output was diminished by the reception they got. The Groovies have a longevity ability because our albums are really good. We always wanted to write singles. The idea of B-sides and album tracks never occurred to us. Our records are pretty much one single after another.
SC: Is the documentary warts-and-all? How would you describe it?
CJ: What happened was, our co-producer Jill Jaffe was with us in New Jersey, and we were doing a soundcheck at Maxwell’s. He called up two of his friends to meet us. Within five minutes, these guys [Kurt Feldhun and William Tyler Smith] were groovin’ so much they said we have to go home and get our equipment and we’ll be right back. And they’ve been filming us ever since.
The film, I guess it’s a documentary, but it’s also kind of Hard Day’s Night-ish. They’re following us on the road into hotels and backstage and onstage and meeting the fans and stuff. It doesn’t talk too much about the different variations we went through, and the different albums. We’re concentrating mostly on the band getting together now and writing new material.
There’s been a little bit of flack about how we don’t talk about the other versions of the Flamin’ Groovies. That’s neither here nor there. We’re basically back together and we’re taking up where we left off. We’re writing original music in the styles we love, folk-rock and R’n’B and whatever, and just trying to carry on.
SC: Were the Flamin’ Groovies ever on American Bandstand?
CJ: No but we were on the High Lid** show in Philadelphia back in ‘69. We also did a television show up in Canada, in Windsor [Ontario]. We were on that show with the great Jackie Wilson. They’re trying to track down some of the footage of television shows we did in France. There’s also an Elliot Mintz show [Head Shop, according to this post on a Yahoo Flamin’ Groovies group] we did right before we went to England. We did that show with Jacques Cousteau’s son, Phillipe, who died in an airplane accident a few years later . It was great meeting him because we were all big fans of Jacques Cousteau’s shows. His son was flattered to find out a bunch of pot-smoking hippies were into his father’s work.
*Note: I think this is what he called it…
**Note: I think this is what Cyril said, but I couldn’t find any reference to it in a Google search. Does anyone know anything about this show?