Here's Part 2 of my 1993 Goldmine feature on The Flamin' Groovies. You can read the introduction here. Now, it's time to hear from Cyril Jordan. Both parts originally appeared in the January 8, 1993 issue of Goldmine. Thanks to Goldmine editor Jeff Tamarkin for setting this up back then.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This was over 25 years ago. Some opinions held by either the writer or the interviewee may have changed in all that time.
GROOVIN' WITH CYRIL JORDAN
Cyril Jordan is The Flamin' Groovies. Ever since Roy Loney left the group in 1971, Jordan has been the undisputed leader and predominant driving force of the Groovies. Although the group has never achieved the level of popular success that may seem their just due, Jordan has diligently kept the Groovies' flames a-burning. From the group's beginnings as The Chosen Few in 1965 through the 1992 release of Rock Juice, a brand-new Flamin' Groovies CD, no one could ever accuse Cyril Jordan of being a quitter.
The secret of Jordan's continued determination may lie in his own enthusiasm. After all this time in the music business, Jordan remains a fan at heart. This is evident as he speaks of the buzz he still gets from listening to favorite artists, whether it's The Byrds creating folk rock in 1965, The Searchers coming back for one more shot in 1980, or a forgotten band screaming like ol' Roy on an obscure cover of the Groovies' "Second Cousin." That's genuine love of the music.
The following interview was conducted on October 20, 1992.
GM: Do The Flamin' Groovies exist today as an actual performing unit? Is there a band?
CYRIL JORDAN: There's never a band until we go on the road. It's always been that way.
GM: Are you going to be touring in support of Rock Juice?
JORDAN: We're definitely going to Europe and Australia. I don't know if America's ready for the Groovies yet, you know?
GM: Well, I'm not sure that America will ever be ready for the Groovies, but....
JORDAN: Probably not!
GM: Tell us a little about how Rock Juice came to be. A lot of the songs date back to the 1984 demo tapes. Were they recorded for the album?
JORDAN: Well, I've been working on them since those days. The reason why "Step Up" is not on that album, and will never be on any album, is that song has been stolen from me. Someone has released an album that's got no authority at all. There's no papers on it, no one's paying royalties. Anybody that buys that album [Step Up] is literally stealing money from me and [Groovies bassist George Alexander].
GM: Literally a bootleg, then?
GM: Moving on to happier subjects, you did the cartoon art on Rock Juice. You've been a cartoonist for quite some time.
JORDAN: I draw quite a bit. I mean, I've been drawing since I was a kid.
GM: Do you think it competes with music as a passion, or is it something you like even better than music?
JORDAN: No, it's just something that I've always done, and apparently it's easier to do for me as far as getting work. I mean, I'm drawing professionally for a year, and all of a sudden I get to draw Mickey Mouse.
GM: You were doing some work for Disney comics. Is that domestically, or for the European market?
JORDAN: No, that was for America, and it's not something I'm doing right now. It was basically for Gladstone Publishing.
GM: That was in the Mickey Mouse title itself?
JORDAN: It was the Mickey Mouse title itself, yeah. It was basically just covers. But it was a great gig. I mean, not everybody can say they drew Mickey Mouse for Walt. But yeah, apparently it's a lot easier [for me] to get to the top of that realm than it is to the top of the music realm.
GM: Do you have any specific influences as a cartonnist?
JORDAN: No, not really. I mean, I'm influenced by comic art on all levels: Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant [by] Hal Foster, Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon--those are all big influences on the art. As far as the funny animal stuff, Carl Barks is definitely up there, you know, on the top list.
GM: How did you develop the ten-string guitar sound? That kind of gives the current Groovies recordings a more distinctive sound.
JORDAN: The ten-string kind of happened by accident. When it did happen, I ended up writing about seven songs on the damn set-up. And one day I was over at a friend's house--I couldn't play these songs on a regular guitar, I mean like on a six-string or a twelve-string, it just won't work. The ten-string is missing the G-string, so it's kinda like the jazz guys in the '50s, where they weren't playing the third, the third note. It's the difference between the major and the minor. So I just got rid of that, and it made finger-picking a little more audible. It has a feeling like a piano, where you have your left hand playing the accompaniment and your right hand doing the melody. It sounds like two instruments.
GM: Very distinctive sound. I want to leave today behind for a little bit, though we'll be coming back to it, and I want to go back to the birth of The Flamin' Groovies. How did the band get started?
JORDAN: Well, me and George got together. I bumped into George at a bowling alley one night in the pool room. I was talking to my girlfriend on the telephone, and this guy was just in the next booth playin' a harp. And so I told her to hold on for a second. I started talkin' to him and we became really good friends that night. So he came over to my band's rehearsal the next day--I was rehearsing with a bunch of high school friends--on his Honda 50. Everybody spent the day ridin' around on the Honda 50, except me and George, who pretty much spent the time playing music in the garage. And, in about a week after that, George brought me over to meet some of the guys he was working with, and that was Tim Lynch and Roy Loney.
GM: This was The Chosen Few?
JORDAN: Yeah. So I brought in a friend, Ron the Ripper [Ron Greco], on drums and later on I brought in Danny Mihm on drums. But, pretty much George had a thing going with Roy and Tim, they were kinda like a folk group for years before I met George. And so, when me and George got together with them, it was almost like two different groups got together, two different sections came together to become one section.
GM: What kind of music did The Chosen Few do?
JORDAN: Oh, everything that was happening on the charts back then--"Gloria" was a big one, "The Last Time," "Satisfaction," "Here Comes The Night," "Mystic Eyes"--there [was] a lot of Them, Kinks, Who, a lot of that stuff. We didn't do an original until about two years after we were The Chosen Few. And that was called "I Belong To Me," which became "Roadhouse" later on.
GM: A lot of the bands that you name are the same kind of bands that would often be listed as influences on The Flamin' Groovies in years to come. So, even then, it seems like you had a lot of the same reference points.
JORDAN: Oh, yeah! I've never left those reference points. I've always been jazzed about the same people.
GM: How did The Chosen Few evolve into The Flamin' Groovies?
JORDAN: Well, somebody found out that there was another Chosen Few somewhere--I mean, there must have been hundreds of Chosen Fews.
|L-R: Tim Lynch, Roy Loney, George Alexander, Danny Mihm, with Cyril Jordan in front|
GM: Bill Graham seemed to have kind of an antagonistic relationship with the Groovies for a long period of time. What did that stem from?
JORDAN: That's for personal reasons. Outside of the fact that there's a lot of reasons that Graham had himself that nobody ever knew about and maybe didn't make any sense. But in the beginning, our first manager, Alfred Kramer, was Bill's right-hand man, the first guy that worked for Bill. Our rhythm guitar player's girlfriend, that was her brother. But, we figured, hell, let's see if we can talk ol' Alfred into managing us and then maybe we can get some gigs at the Fillmore. Boy, were we wrong. Just as soon as Alfred started managing us, he split from Graham and left him high and dry. So there was this battle between Bill and Alfred for years.
I remember one night Alfred called us up and said, "Bill wants you to play the Fillmore." We were all excited. I was 16 years old. Then about two days later he calls up again and says, "Well, Bill doesn't know if he wants you to play. He doesn't like the name." We're like, "What do you mean he doesn't like the name?" "Well, he thinks the name is like a homosexual thing. He doesn't dig it."
I always thought that this was extremely funny, years later, with him supporting gay right [laughs]. What's he doing getting mad at us for a name? We're not even relating it to that bull. We're relating to The Lovin' Spoonful or The Rolling Stones. We were thinking of syllables and that's why we came up with Flamin' Groovies.
GM: Same kind of name.
JORDAN: We wanted something that was meaningless, too. That didn't have any meaning at all.
GM: The Groovies didn't fit into the San Francisco scene at all at the time, it seemed.
JORDAN: No, they were all looking for meaning. They were all looking to be valid and serious or whatever. And I think that's the main reason we didn't click with that scene. We could care less about making statements of importance. We just wanted to rock out.
GM: How did you come to make Sneakers? It was pretty much unheard of for a band to self-release a record in 1968.
JORDAN: We couldn't get a record deal. Nobody could relate to us. So we just thought, what the hell, let's do what Country Joe did. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The Berkeley band Country Joe and the Fish released their own EP in 1966.] Let's put out our own record. When we did that, I think we sold about three thousand copies, first pressing. Epic Records heard about it, and they wanted to sign us. So that is basically how we got signed.
GM: After Epic signed you, did it seem like you were on your way to becoming stars?
JORDAN: It really did [laughs]. We went down to Los Angeles to cut an album. We were wined and dined by all the honchos down there at Epic. They got us a Beverly Hills pad to stay in, which just happened to be owned by Elvis Presley. "EP" was on the bedsheets. So we thought we were on our way because we were in Elvis's Hollywood house, and we were making this record. It just took like three months. I mean, we'd have guys coming in the studio; Simon and Garfunkel would come in the studio that we were using and just block it out for three weeks. So we'd just have to hang around. That's why that album took so long to record. But we definitely did think we were on our way.
GM: Did you catch any heat from Epic, subsequently, when the album didn't take off? The single got some airplay but never really established itself at the retail level. Did it come back to you?
JORDAN: The thing with Epic was inevitable. Because basically, Epic is a tax write-off for Columbia Records. It's not supposed to make money. Bobby Vinton was the only artist, back then, on Epic that was really supposed to chart.
GM: So perhaps if you had done a cover of "Blue Velvet."
JORDAN: Yeah, maybe if we had cut "Blue Velvet." We covered "Rockin' Pneumonia." And what was funny was, Johnny Rivers somehow got a hold of it and cut another version that was pretty close to the one we cut, and got a hit with it. I got a big kick out of that.
GM: It would have been a bigger kick if yours was the one that had gotten the airplay.
JORDAN: Well, when Roy decided to cut "Rockin' Pneumonia," I thought to myself, "This is a bad choice for a first single." Let's go with an original, you know? It really wasn't my decision at all. That was the days when Roy was kind of running the band.
GM: By the same token, though, the first single off Rock Juice is a cover, "Sealed With A Kiss."
JORDAN: "Sealed With A Kiss" is a little bit more of a...innovative version. "Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu" was mostly Timmy and Roy. Like I said, when I joined the Groovies, there were two groups. It was like this folk group and then there was me and George, who were into the rock. It was always creeping in, the stuff that Timmy and Roy wanted to do. I had a lot of trouble with Tim. Tim was lead guitar and I was lead guitar. That's a problem when you got two lead guitar players and one of the guys don't want to play rhythm. That's basically the reason why Tim's not in the band anymore. He is barely on the Teenage Head album at all.
GM: It's said that you played most of the guitar parts by yourself on that.
JORDAN: That's pretty much when I started taking over the band. People in the band, at that time, were kind of half-assed about it. Things needed to be done. Rhythm guitars needed to be put on. So I just ended up doing it, because nobody else was there to do it. The Groovies were dissipating slowly. And George and I didn't want that to happen. We didn't want the group to die. Roy was thinking of getting back into theater. So, it was just a decision after Teenage Head that George and I continue on and the other guys go their own way.
GM: After Supersnazz, Richard Robinson, a rock journalist, saw you, was blown away by you, and recruited you to the Kama Sutra label. How were you able to get out of the Epic contract?
JORDAN: The Epic contract? That was funny, because they had blown it somehow, technically, on the contract. They had done something. I cannot remember what it was now. But it did give us an out. As soon as we were approached by Kama Sutra, it was no problem at all. See, Epic didn't really care. They didn't want to hold to anything because, again, they're not really supposed to be making money [laughs].
It's like the new Maverick label. I'm sure you've heard about it: Madonna's new label. This label is not supposed to make money, this is a tax write-off. I chuckled when I saw it in the newspaper, you know, "looking for new talent." And I thought to myself, somebody better put out a warning. It's amazing how many record companies are in the biz that aren't supposed to really make money. A lot of groups that sign to these labels vanish. People go, "Oh yeah, what happened to that group? Didn't make it. Didn't do that." It's like, hey, the business is a hell of a lot more intricate than most people realize. It interferes with culture tremendously.
So there was no problem. If we were on Epic, Epic could care less. If we're leaving, Epic could care less. We went straight over to Kama Sutra and cut, I think, the worst album of all the LPs we've cut, which is Flamingo. It was recorded on 12-track. I always hated 12-track. It's one-inch tape like 8-track but there's four more tracks squeezed on there, so all the other tracks get shrunk.
GM: Teenage Head holds up much better.
JORDAN: Teenage Head was 16-track and, again, there was more of a...See, on Flamingo again, it was just like, "We gotta make an album so let's do it quick." And it was kind of rushed. I don't think Tim and Roy really wanted to be in the band at that time. So when Teenage Head came about, it had been, I think, a year, year and a half since Flamingo. And George and I were just dying to do something valid and real. That's why we kind of took over that album.
GM: To some great result. Now I would suppose Roy Loney's departure from the group couldn't really be called amicable at that point.
JORDAN: No. Roy was, again, never really there. He was only kind of half there, in the band trip, and that's why he eventually just split from it. Because with no success, it kind of knocked off the guys that were hanging on, do you know what I'm saying? When something is successful, it's really easy for everybody to be there. But when it's becoming difficult, then you get to see who really is intense about it. And like I was saying, it basically ended up that Danny, George, and myself were really the guys that were intense about being in a band. And that feeling came across on Teenage Head.
JORDAN: Yeah. That goes back to around '69. The Charlatans were idols of the Groovies. Here was another band nobody was relating to. Musically, these guys were just incredible. It's amazing that most people in rock still have yet to hear of The Charlatans. For me, The Charlatans were one of the great 12-string bands of all time.
JORDAN: Well, Willy, I guess, is doing some solo thing. I haven't seen him in a while. He's just put out a tape of Loose Gravel stuff, a CD of all the great Loose Gravel stuff. For any Groovies fan, I would say get this tape, because if you dig the Groovies you're definitely gonna dig this stuff. It's all guitar.
GM: You can't beat an endorsement like that. How did the Rockfield sessions come about? How did you wind up working with Dave Edmunds?
JORDAN: That was a fluke. Andrew Lauder [head of A & R at United Artists in England] wanted to do biz with the Groovies, so I flew over to England. Andrew was talking about where I want to record and I did mention Rockfield. United Artists did mention that they had a connection to Rockfield and that wouldn't be a problem with Dave Edmunds. So, when I was doing interviews with the NME and all those people, of course, they would ask, "What are you doing here?" And I would say, "Well, I'm here to record with Dave Edmunds down in Rockfield."
Now, when I became friends with Dave, I didn't find out until about three years later--one night rolling around drunk in the hills of Wales with Edmunds, spilling our guts to each other--that David had been told by Kingsley Ward, who owned Rockfield Studios, that he was going to record some American group. They read about it in the NME. It's like, you ain't never contacted Dave and said, "Do you want to work with the Groovies?"
GM: The word was on the street, so to speak.
JORDAN: Yeah! So I guess Dave figured he had to do it [laughs]. It was really crazy when I found this out. I had figured everything was hunky dory.
The sessions went great in '72 when Dave came down, when he finally arrived to the studio. That night we cut...I think we recorded seven songs. We cut "Shake Some Action." I wrote "You Tore Me Down in the studio [in] like 10 minutes. We cut that. We cut the beginning of "Married Woman," "Slow Death," "Little Queenie," "Tallahassee Lassie." I mean, all those things were cut that night in eight hours. That's how much fun we were having.
GM: Right about the time of the Shake Some Action LP, a lot of critics were starting to say The Flamin' Groovies were going in a more overtly '60s-influenced direction, and some were calling the group revivalists by this point. Does that seem accurate? How would you respond to that?
JORDAN: I chuckle when I hear that stuff. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. It's amazing how many times people are wrong with their opinions. And I think it's because they basically don't know what they're talking about. Shake Some Action, again. A revivalist album? How can a revivalist album still be available today?
George and I, when we kind of took over things in '72 and revamped the band, and I brought in James Farrell and Chris Wilson--we wanted to get back to a point where it wasn't just me and George who wanted to play music. We wanted the other guys to enjoy it as much as we were. And that's where the change came about. But as far as George and I were concerned, every album we ever did, nothing was changed. It was the same thing. We were making another album. We're trying to do our best and pleasing ourselves more than anybody else.
We've had fans that loved Teenage Head and hated Shake Some Action. And I've never been able to understand that. On the next CD, there will be a lot more "Slow Death" type [songs]. See, we have two levels of our music. We have kind of Beatlesque levels, where there are a lot of harmonies and the tunes are very melodic, and then occasionally we just kinda rock out, like on "Slow Death." That side of us is still there. It's just [that] I haven't really felt the urgency to rock out that much, because the Stones are rocking so well. You know what I mean?
GM: You were also called, a little bit later on, a power pop band when the power pop label was being bandied about pretty freely. Is that fair?
JORDAN: Power pop? I kind of dug that phrase. I thought it was appropriate because it was a little more oomphy than regular pop records. I wanted to bring the guts back into pop, but I didn't want to kick out the melody.
GM: Did you see yourself as having anything in common with any of the other bands who are being referred to as power pop?
JORDAN: No, not really. There wasn't a feeling of comradeship, so to speak, with any of the groups, which was kind of puzzling to me back in those days. It was like every man for himself was the vibe. We used to get sabotaged if we played shows where there's like 15 bands on the bill. We did a show with The Police, in Germany, who were running the PA system, sabotaged everybody: Mitch Ryder, us, The Cramps, Rockpile. The monitors were off on the PA system for all of our performances. And when The Police came on it sounded beautiful.
I think that whole approach started creeping in around '75, where you had management being ruthless with their groups and not wanting any contact with other groups. All of the groups were kind of like islands by themselves, so to speak, in those days. As opposed to the way it was in the '60s, when everybody used to work on everybody else's records.
GM: Sire, for whatever reason, marketed The Flamin' Groovies as a new wave band along with print ads for The Ramones, Dead Boys, Talking Heads, Radio Birdman, Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Did you fit with that crowd at all?
JORDAN: We fit in better with those guys. I mean, The Ramones used to open for us in Europe. I loved all of those groups--Richard Hell, all of those groups that [Sire Records president] Seymour [Stein] signed in the beginning. I thought, 'This is great." Like the new wave tag, I didn't really notice it. I wasn't paying attention to the hype that record companies attach on to you. They either dig it or they don't. And if they dig it, most of the times, they dig it the wrong way. You let them do their thing, do you know what I mean? If they want to stick "new wave" on it, go for it.
GM: A label is a label. The three records that you did for Sire are sometimes considered the band's best work--that, or Teenage Head. Do you have any thoughts on that? What do you think the band's best work is?
JORDAN: Well, I'm real proud of Teenage Head because I figure that's the first time we actually got a sound, an instrumental sound that was identifiable to us. The other albums are kind of like we're experimenting, we're searching. I think Supersnazz had way too many styles of music on it. It made it very difficult for people to relate to it. I mean, there was almost...Dixieland was almost on there! We had rhythm and blues. We had rock. We had ballads and a little bit of Dixieland with "Bam Balam."
I felt, hey, we can play all styles of music, but let's zero in on a certain style. So Flamingo got a little closer, but I'm not satisfied with Flamingo because the sound on that album is not happening. PHR Recording Studios were just not happening as a studio, as far as I was concerned. So I'm definitely not into Flamingo.
But Teenage Head, we made a breakthrough on that one. The equipment we were using was really high quality and also we definitely got an idea of what type of music we really wanted to start doing originally. Original music is hard, very difficult to create. A series of original tunes that all relate together as one style of music--that's a very difficult thing to do. I would say it took the Groovies almost three LPs before we actually got to that. So Teenage Head, I'm very proud of it. But, as far as my favorite, I wouldn't really be able to say. Because at the time of each release, each album is my favorite. [Right now] Rock Juice is my favorite.
GM: Fair enough. Now, 'round about the time of the late '70s, the band didn't seem to be shipping many units at the retail level. By this time, do you think the revivalist tag or the amount of covers you were doing hurt the band's commercial prospects?
JORDAN: No. The band didn't do well commercially because we didn't relate to the modus operandi, so to speak, of how to become commercial. First of all, we didn't have management. We could care less about management. If there's any reason why the Groovies never had commercial success, it's because, number one, the Groovies never cared that much about commercial success. Because it got to a point where what you had to do become successful commercially was degrading in the extreme. So it got to a point where I didn't really care to do the dog like everybody else. It's so stupid, the kind of competition. I remember at one point we had the California Raisins as competition! They were getting more hype than we were from the same company.
GM: That's a sad comment.
JORDAN: It just shows what I'm trying to say. When you're competing against machinery like that, you better have an equal amount of machinery or you're gonna get snuffed. It's that simple. Most people don't realize that who they hear about has got nothing to do with their talent. Maybe it's got a lot to do with who their manager knows.
GM: Do you think that's been true for maybe longer than is generally acknowledged?
JORDAN: I would say it's been true for at least 20 years.
GM: You could level the same accusation against The Beatles to some degree, the way that Brian Epstein managed their success.
JORDAN: Oh, if it wasn't for Brian, you would never have heard of The Beatles. We owe everything to Epstein because Epstein had to fight for two years against incredible indifference. What it turns into is "I know more than you know." And if the guy that you're arguing with is A & R at a record company, then you've got a problem. It always turns into that, you know, "My taste is better than your taste." Well, Brian proved that there were a lot of people that we were wrong.
GM: Well, The Flamin' Groovies, if nothing else, never sold out. You certainly retained your artistic integrity and purity in that respect.
JORDAN: Well, you can't really say that about us because it never even occurred to us [laughs]. By the time that thought came into our minds, it was way too late to go back and start kissing butt again.
GM: There was a story around at one point--I'm not sure that I would consider this specifically selling out--that "Shake Some Action" was being considered for a TV commercial in Europe.
JORDAN: Oh yeah, for English Fords.
GM: Did anything ever happen with that?
JORDAN: No. Again, because we don't really have management so we didn't really have anybody to kind of take advantage of that. One of the guys working in advertising for Ford in England was a big fan of the Groovies. It was basically his idea. How did you hear about this? It's amazing!
GM: I think I heard about this in the fan magazine, in Flamin' Groovies Quarterly.
JORDAN: Wow, no shit. Well anyway, that was basically his idea and we thought it's be a great idea. Especially if the car was named Action or something.
GM: There's a story, possibly apocryphal, that Dave Clark was offered a lot of money by the Hefty trashbag people to do a commercial using "Glad All Over." Glad sandwich bags.
JORDAN: Did he do it?
GM: No. He refused to.
JORDAN: You know, it's amazing to me that any of this is looked upon as nostalgia or a revival. The type of music that those guys made, whether it was the DC5 or The Beatles back in the '60s, is the greatest stuff that's ever come down the pike. And it wasn't just a contemporary period of music. Like for me and George, this is timeless music.
GM: Greg Shaw of Bomp! used to say, "What's cool once is cool forever." It doesn't really matter what time frame it occupies.
JORDAN: There are some things that are just timeless. Mickey Mouse is one of them. The kids always love Mickey, it's amazing. I think rock 'n' roll, along with boogie woogie, is up there with Mickey. It's going to forever turn people on.
GM: After Jumpin' In The Night, there was a rumor that Phil Spector was going to be producing the next Flamin' Groovies album.
JORDAN: He was. But because, I guess, Seymour got the bill for the Ramones album, and between you and I, Seymour's never spent more than 10 grand cutting an album of the Groovies. It don't cost too much to cut an album for us. Evidently, the Spector project was like a quarter of a million with The Ramones. I think this is why Seymour bowed out of the deal. He didn't want to go through that again [laughs].
GM: That Gold Star stuff was the last we heard of the Groovies commercially for quite some time. After Chris Wilson left, the years from '81 to '86 seem kind of like the Groovies' lost years. What was going on at that time, from around the time of the Gold Star tapes to....
JORDAN: Do you remember the time Dylan got wiped out on the motorcycle? And then we didn't know what was happening for about two years or something. And even today we still don't know really what happened. But we do know that something bad happened. Well, you can pretty much give the same analogy to the Groovies at that period. It was a really terrible time. I broke up with my girlfriend, my friends turned on me, the band fell apart, and I didn't see anybody almost for two years. I didn't even see sunlight for two years. A very strange period.
And I came out of the hole and went into rehearsal. I got Paul Zahl together on drums, called up George, and the three of us rehearsed this stuff, this material you hear on Rock Juice. We'd get together three or four times a week for about a year and a half, without vocals, without any lyrics. We would just play this stuff instrumentally and get back in shape.
GM: How'd you wind up in Australia?
JORDAN: I got a call from this guy Noble [Aim Records owner Peter Noble]. You know, "We'd love to have you come to Australia and do a tour." Which we did, and that's when we cut the album One Night Stand with Noble. It was great. Australia was just great. I mean, what a rockin' place.
GM: You went over very well there. The reports, anyway, seemed as though you played to very enthusiastic crowds.
JORDAN: We had a real good band. The version of the Groovies at that time was just really, really a grand live band to take on the road.
GM: The group was rumored to be recording an album, late '80s, in San Francisco. The only thing we had ever heard about it is that you were supposedly doing covers of The Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away" and Them's "Baby, Please Don't Go." Has anything ever happened with that stuff?
JORDAN: No, not really. As a matter of fact, I don't really remember cutting "A Million Miles Away." We put it in the set, and maybe there's recordings from gigs of these songs, but they were never cut in the studio.
GM: There's a live recording of "Baby, Please Don't Go" that came out as a fan club record.
JORDAN: Oh, really?
GM: In The Flamin' Groovies Quarterly.
JORDAN: I'm not aware of that. I broke off contact with Mr. Noble around...oh, must be about 1989, late '89-1990.
GM: This actually came out before that. I think this must have come out about '88 or so.
Now it brings us back to the present, to some degree. You just made your first video, for "Sealed With A Kiss." What kind of an experience was that?
JORDAN: That was great. I didn't really notice that we were being filmed because we were in the studio working with a camera crew around us. So, it wasn't really something that made the session different, but it turned out really nice.
GM: If you're getting set for the European tour, what would the set list reflect? What kind of material would you be doing?
JORDAN: It will be a lot of material off Rock Juice. There'll be a few oldies. You know, "Shake Some Action" will be in there, "Slow Death," "Teenage Head." And then there'll be a bunch of new ones. I would say half the set will be new stuff. I've got three albums in the can.
GM: Do you know if Sire has any plans to reissue the three albums domestically?
JORDAN: No. I have no idea.
GM: And you don't have any control over that, I presume.
JORDAN: No, no. I would imagine if we have some success with Rock Juice that they would do this.
GM: You once said, this is a couple of years back, that you haven't really been blown away by an album since The Byrds put out Mr. Tambourine Man in '65. Still true?
JORDAN: Still true. Occasionally, a song will do it for me. But then I get the album of the group and it just doesn't continue. Like the whole album is killer. But, occasionally, there is a song here or there. Or occasionally there's a band, like The Black Crowes. I'm really impressed with The Black Crowes. These guys are a throwback to the way we used to do it. They're a real band.
GM: They seem like a Teenage Head-era Flamin' Groovies. I think that's a fair comparison.
JORDAN: I haven't really picked up any of the material yet, but I definitely saw a couple of performances and I was real impressed. These guys are actually getting over, right?
GM: It's time for that back-to-basics stuff once again. Theoretically, it all runs in cycles and the real rock 'n' roll cycle should be about due.
JORDAN: You would hope so. You would definitely hope so.
GM: I'm curious to get your opinions on some of the bands that you've played with for one-off gigs over the past couple of years, usually around the Bay Area. The Sneetches, first of all--you've done some shows with them.
JORDAN: They were great to play with. Great local band that nobody has heard about. They've got the spirit the Groovies had, the early Groovies, where it's just like, well, if they don't dig it, we're just gonna keep on doing it, you know? That kind of thing.
GM: Long Ryders. Sid Griffin is certainly a big fan of yours.
JORDAN: Sid's great. The Long Ryders are a great band. What's happening with Griffin? Is he doing anything?
GM: He has a new band together, Sid Griffin's Coal Porters. I don't think they have any records out yet, but they've been starting to do some gigs around. They must have something because another Flamin' Groovies fan in San Francisco contacted me and told me that Sid Griffin's new group is just like The Long Ryders never went away.
JORDAN: Oh, far out. Great. I had fun jamming with all those bands. There's so many of them I lost track.
GM: Well, you covered The Hoodoo Gurus' "Bittersweet" on One Night Stand.
JORDAN: Oh, yeah. Right. Yeah, we figured we'd do that for them when we did Australia. Because we got on really well when we met those guys, there was definitely a thing happening there. And if the distance hadn't been so great between us, I mean Australia and America, we probably would have done some recordings together.
GM: A lot of the Flamin' Groovies stuff over the years has been covered by other bands. Have any of the covers impressed you? Is there anything that you've been pleased with or touched by?
JORDAN: Well, I don't keep track of much of it. There was a cover of "Second Cousin" that came out about 14 years ago that was--that blew me away. These guys, I can't remember who the hell it was, but they didn't know all the lyrics. There's a point, there's a section there where Roy just screams and it's completely inaudible, I mean, as far as what he's saying, you know? But these guys managed to, with their phrasing and diction, they managed to copy it verbatim. I mean, it was like a perfect rendition. Even the screaming part, where you can't tell what the guy's saying, he's just screaming like Roy [laughs]. It's amazing. [NOTE: Jordan is probably referring to a cover by New Legion Rock Spectacular, whose version of "Second Cousin" is listed in a Bucketfull Of Brains discography with a release date of 1975.]
GM: He's got the attitude. He's got the music in him.
JORDAN: He's definitely got the attitude. But so much of this stuff has come out, I mean, I hear about it from somebody like you in an interview, or maybe a fan'll send me something from Europe. Like somebody just cut "Shake Some Action" on their solo album, some big heavy metal group out of Europe or something. That was kind of neat, I kinda dug that version. It was kind of neat to hear a Led Zeppelin style version of "Shake Some Action."
GM: [laughs] I'm not sure I want to picture that. I think the first Groovies cover I ever heard was The Dictators doing "Slow Death" on their Bloodbrothers album.
JORDAN: Oh, really? That was a good version. I think that was the first time that anybody started covering us, really.
GM: I remember reading in Trouser Press or one of the fan magazines at that time that it was the first Groovies cover that anyone was aware of.
JORDAN: Wow. It probably was. [NOTE: There were apparently several Groovies covers that predate The Dictators' "Slow Death," including New Legion Rock Spectacular's "Second Cousin."]
GM: The Searchers should have done a cover of "You Tore Me Down" when they were on Sire, around the same time you were.
JORDAN: Well, I was supposed to produce those albums for The Searchers.
GM: Really? This is the first we've heard of this.
JORDAN: This was what was gonna be happening. Basically, the project was taken out of my hands by Seymour Stein and the studio I had set up, Rockfield, was used. So that's why the album was cut there, because I had already set the wheels in motion for it to be cut at Rockfield. And they did a great job, didn't they?
GM: Oh, The Searchers' stuff for Sire is, I think, among the best that they've done, and that's saying something.
JORDAN: Yeah. And it's mind-blowing how obscure it is, you know?
GM: It's terrible. That's something that cries out for reissue.
JORDAN: Oh, man! I mean, that first album was just mind-blowing. I just could not believe how many good songs were on there.
GM: Wonderful, wonderful stuff, and a big demand item for CD reissue, I think. In Goldmine, we've been running a poll of the readers' choices for CD reissues and that comes up on a couple of lists.
JORDAN: Well, it definitely deserves to be re-released and heard by people, because, yeah, I agree, I think it's some of the greatest stuff they cut. What a mind-blow, you know? What was it, 1976, '77 when they did that?
GM: I think the first one came out in 1980.
JORDAN: 1980. Okay, it came out a little bit later. That much longer after their golden time, which was...what? '64 was when they were really happening. That they were able to come up with something that great was just mind-blowing to me and George at the time. I was very sad about not being able to be a part of the project.
GM: It would have been kind of like a dream come true, I would imagine.
JORDAN: I don't think I would have made it much better. They did such a good job anyway. Rockfield's a great studio to cut in.
GM: Except for The Searchers, are there any other bands, from the past or present, that you'd like to work with as a producer or collaborator?
JORDAN: Oh, any of those bands from England at that time. Any band that is a guitar band and really just wants to play and try to experiment with electric guitars and try to play rock music I would love to work with, whether they are known from the old days or whether they are brand new.
GM: You commented on Flamingo and Teenage Head already. I'm curious about your thoughts on The Flamin' Groovies' Now album.
JORDAN: One of my favorite albums. One album that I kind of really just took over the whole production of it, and got involved. I mean, I play more instruments on that album--a harpsichord, a lot of keyboard stuff--than I played on any other album. I usually do most of the guitar work. I usually do most of the writing.
I would like to clear up a point, though. Christopher Wilson gets songwriting credit on all the Sire albums. And it wasn't really a kind of partnership like Lennon and McCartney was. It got more and more to where Chris was not really bringing in songs. I wanted a songwriting partner. I hate writing lyrics, so I would let Chris write, "fill in a verse here, give me some good lines." But musically, even on the Teenage Head stuff, there were songs that I wrote back in the first version of the Groovies band, I didn't even get credit.
GM: Roy got most of the songwriting credit at that time.
JORDAN: Roy got most of the credit. It wasn't until Teenage Head where I finally put my foot down, "I want some credit." By the time we did the Now album, I finally was able to just take the whole band and just shape it the way I wanted to shape it in. Just like on Shake Some Action too, it's all my stuff. So it's really strange to have people relating to the loss of Chris Wilson to the Groovies. Chrissie was great with us on stage, but he wasn't much help in the studio. I mean, as far as the inventing side of it, it's always been pretty much my baby.
GM: Any comments on the sequel, Jumpin' In The Night?
JORDAN: Jumpin' In The Night, again, one of the better albums. A very sad point of time for me because how could I cut an album that good and have it released...I think 400 copies were made of that damn thing, or something. I mean, I don't think they really pressed it up at all. But again, one of my major, major albums. "Jumpin' In The Night" alone, that tune was like, "Wow!" When I wrote that I went, "My God! If the Stones ever hear this, man, they're gonna blow chunks."
GM: "First Plane Home" was a highlight.
JORDAN: That was kind of a stand-out song, from all those tunes. We wrote that because we were getting real homesick. Sire was giving us a lot of trouble. They really didn't want to cut that album. I kind of had to force Seymour to pick up that option and cut that album. So maybe that's why the album came out a year and a half after it was recorded. And it snuck out [laughs].
GM: Any further comments on Jumpin' In The Night?
JORDAN: Not really, except for the fact that I hope that one is re-released.
GM: Are you familiar with Sire's compilation of your stuff, Groovies' Greatest Grooves?
JORDAN: Yeah, I helped put that together for them.
GM: How do you think that came out? Is it fairly representative?
JORDAN: Pretty representative, yeah. I was really jazzed when that came out because I knew that with CDs, if we didn't do something like that, the Groovies would just vanish off the racks forever [laughs]. We are either going to go CD or we're gonna just bite the dust.
GM: About the only criticism that I've heard about that was that it gave short shrift to the earlier stuff. "Teenage Head" is the only thing from Kama Sutra that's on there.
JORDAN: I had nothing to do with the selection of tunes. That was put together by the guys at the label.
GM: And not surprisingly, it covers the Sire stuff.
JORDAN: Yeah. And it's funny, because they did want to include "Teenage Head," which was not a Sire recording, on the compilation. So, they had an idea themselves of what our greatest stuff was, I guess.
I don't know if you are aware, but I did computer art on that piece. Did you ever get to see the stuff that was done for that?
GM: I haven't been able to see the CD + G. I don't have the equipment to play it back.
JORDAN: Yeah. Nobody I know has the equipment, but the whole album has got computer art for each song. I spent like a week down in Los Angeles with the company, drawing the specs for all the stuff. Some of it's real funny. "In The U.S.A." is really good. You can't do much with the computer type of filming. It pans from left to right and it blinks on and off. But we still managed to come up with some nice graphics.
[2018 POSTSCRIPT: Shortly after this interview was published in Goldmine, a reader and Groovies fan named Anthony Gliozzo sent me a VH-S copy of Jordan's Groovies' Greatest Grooves graphics. Thanks again, Anthony!]
GM: For a band that really hasn't released that many official records, you have a lot of cool picture sleeve singles, all of which are available in different parts of the world, usually. Any comments on that?
JORDAN: [laughs] Well, we've always had control of the artistic realms of these types of projects--album covers, ads, whatever. I've always thought we should have strict control over these things because of the image that we're trying to convey. And a lot of fans, who bootleg a lot of this stuff, have picked up on that, that we're really concerned with picture sleeves, images, and like that. So a lot of that stuff was done without any of our help at all. I have to admit that a lot of those fans did a nice job.
Bootlegs don't bother me. The only bootleg that really bothers me is the Step Up bootleg, because that was like somebody who was working with the band. I mean, if a bootleg comes out in Europe from a live show in Barcelona, I can't really be that angry, do you know what I'm saying? If a person comes into the gig with a tape recorder and cuts it and wants to put it out because he loves the band, I'm not going to get angry about that. There's no way.
GM: Any comments on The Gold Star Tapes?
JORDAN: It was a joke that they came out. The money was not paid for the session, therefore no tapes were released to me or to the people from France who started the session. What they had and what I had was a cassette that was made secretly on a 30-dollar tape recorder, hiding under a chair in the studio, recording playbacks. This is what was released without any authority. That is the one European bootleg that I am not too pleased with, because of the sound quality.
GM: Getting back to an American bootleg, are you familiar with the Valencourt Plaza tape that came out from the Jumpin' In The Night tour?
GM: That's made the rounds. I haven't seen a vinyl copy. [NOTE: The show was bootlegged on vinyl under the ill-chosen title Jumpin' In The Night.]
JORDAN: Is it good-sounding, or what?
GM: It's pretty rough-sounding. It duplicates a little bit the Live At The Whisky A Go-Go '79 album.
JORDAN: Like I say, if you're taping a live show, it's going to be difficult to get a good sound anyway. But bootlegging studio tracks is basically what I was trying to define here. There's a big difference between a bootleg of a studio track. Like I say, the Gold Star tapes that were bootlegged [was] an absurd release because the quality of the recording is awful. We're not even talking fourth-generation anymore [laughs].
GM: What did you think of the semi-official Flamin' Groovies live album, Live At The Whisky A Go-Go '79?
JORDAN: That one I was kind of pleased with and I did authorize that one.
GM: Subsequently, two songs from that were released on disc, on a compilation called Groove In. Are you familiar with that?
GM: That was actually the very first Flamin' Groovies CD.
GM: A combination of stuff from Flamin' Groovies '68, Flamin' Groovies '70, that stuff. And "Shake Some Action" and "First Plane Home" from Live At The Whisky, and "Slow Death" is on there too.
One hopes that some day there will be a comprehensive reissue series combining, for example, all the different tracks that have been on European and domestic issues onto one disc.
JORDAN: Yeah. The Now album has three different versions floating around. There's a photograph version and then there's two different Sire versions with different order of songs and different songs.
GM: Now, it's almost 30 years on. Do you think The Flamin' Groovies may seem poised to make it.
JORDAN: It would be nice to keep recording good quality records, like once a year. I would love to do that. I don't really care anymore about "making it," so to speak. I would actually prefer not to make it, so I wouldn't have my son kidnapped by maniacs and have his ear cut off or something [laughs]....
2018 POSTSCRIPT: The release of Rock Juice did not make 1993 into The Year Of The Flamin' Groovies, though Creem magazine did at least publish an article about the group and its then-new album. No further Flamin' Groovies albums were released after that. The Flamin' Groovies finally ceased.
Cyril Jordan formed a group called Magic Christian, named for the 1970 film that starred Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. Magic Christian's music was quite good, and a worthy successor to the Groovies' sound on Rock Juice. Most--perhaps all?--of The Flamin' Groovies' studio recordings have been reissued, including a terrific, comprehensive 2-CD set called At Full Speed, which includes all of the Sire-era tracks. Eventually, Cyril Jordan and George Alexander reunited with Roy Loney for live gigs as The Flamin' Groovies. Chris Wilson even joined in for an encore at one show, an event that had once seemed, y'know, really unlikely. Credit to all parties for transcending the accumulated baggage of the past.
Both Jordan and Wilson remain in the current edition of The Flamin' Groovies, and they released an album called Fantastic Plastic in 2017, 24 years after Rock Juice, 38 years after Jumpin' In The Night. George Alexander plays on some of the album, but Chris von Sneidern has occupied the bass spot for recent live shows. Is this finally The Year Of The Flamin' Groovies? No, it is not. And that's okay. To fans, every year is another year of the Groovies. Let us bust out at full speed, 'cause love is all we need to make it all right.
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