By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Roy Loney, the fiery lead singer who fronted legendary San Francisco proto-punk garage rockers The Flamin’ Groovies before splitting off for a solo career, has died at age 73.
The news first surfaced that Loney had passed away Friday morning during an operation in a Facebook post by band friend and noted New York City punk rock photographer Roberta Bayley.
The San Francisco Chronicle later reported that Loney died of severe organ failure at the CPMC Davies Campus in San Francisco.
The band would also pay tribute to Loney with a post on its official Facebook page.
“We luckily were able to do a number of shows with Roy towards the end, and he was a trouper despite his failing health,” said Ace Annese, who worked with the band as part-time road manager on recent tours. “So many of our heroes and icons from the Golden Age of Music are leaving us, and that’s the saddest part. But he left us all some classic songs to remember him by, and I personally am glad I got the chance to know him these past few years.”
Initially, there was no word whether the surgery or recent hospitalization mentioned were related to the injury Loney suffered in a fall at SFO back in June when the band was headed to Europe for a tour playing the Groovies’ watershed Teenage Head album in its entirety. It was later confirmed that they were not.
One of the most legendary garage-rock bands to emerge from San Francisco during the ’60s, the Flamin’ Groovies released a series of albums that made little impact on the charts, but exerted a major influence on many punk and power-pop acts that followed in subsequent decades.
Anchored by the songwriting partnership of founding wild man lead singer Loney and guitarist Cyril Jordan, the band embraced a mix of ’50s Sun Records rock and rockabilly (frequently covering songs by the likes of Little Richard and Eddie Cochran), feral garage-rock originals and an ear for punchy pop melodies that nodded to the British Invasion bands of the era. While they may have been out-of-step with the psychedelic sounds that dominated the era, the Groovies would endure to have just as much impact on rock as contemporaries the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane.
Loney got his start in the early ’60s playing guitar and singing with Tim Lynch in the San Francisco band the Kingsmen (not to be confused with the Washington state group with the same name that scored a hit with “Louie Louie”), which would later change its name to the Chosen Few before eventually bringing Jordan into the fold and transforming into the Flamin’ Groovies in 1965.
It wasn’t until they self-released their Sneakers EP in 1968 that they score a record deal with Epic. The resulting debut Supersnazz had so little commercial impact that the label dropped the group within a year of its release, but the album would later become a cult classic. Embodying the same kind of joyful celebration of primitive rock and R&B that would be echoed in both the New York Dolls and the Ramones, the Groovies delivered ferocious originals like “Love Have Mercy” that stood up alongside new renditions of already classic tunes “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Something Else/Pistol Packin’ Mama.”
The band bounced back by signing to Kama Sutra Records and producing the equally spectacular Flamingo and Teenage Head (featuring the monstrous proto-punk title track), but growing tensions between Loney and Jordan over the direction of the band would lead to the singer’s departure after a performance during the final run of shows at the Fillmore West prior to the venue’s closure in 1971.
While Loney would work in a number of music industry jobs — at one point serving as a sales representative for ABC Records — it would take time before he managed to record and release any new music as a solo artist. In 1978 he released the EP Artistic As Hell with help from Lynch and Jordan before teaming with his new group the Phantom Movers (which also featured former Groovies Danny Mihm on drums and James Ferrell) for the classic Out After Dark album the following year.
The group would put out several more well-received albums and play live regularly before Loney took another break from performing music until he teamed with garage-rock/roots imprint Norton Records to release 1988’s effort with the Phantom Movers, the raw, reverb-drenched The Scientific Bombs Away!!! Jordan would regularly resurface during the ’90s and 2000s, recording with new collaborators like the Longshots (which included members of the Young Fresh Fellows) and making frequent appearances on San Francisco stages to deliver gritty takes on his classic Flamin’ Groovies tunes with admiring disciples.
While the reunited post-Loney Groovies line-up featuring Jordan with singer/guitarist Chris Wilson released the 2017 album Fantastic Plastic, Loney often joined the band onstage to play their classic early songs, The more recent activity eventually led to a string of shows this year performing the landmark Teenage Head album in full. After a series of dates around the Bay Area in the spring, the band was set to tour Europe when Loney’s accident at San Francisco International Airport as the group was preparing to fly out of the country, leading the Groovies to embark on the tour without him.
Loney’s passing was marked by hundreds of social media posts by friends, journalists, fellow musicians and fans.
RIP Roy Loney. Legendary Garage Rocker and original lead singer with the Flamin’ Groovies. He will live forever in the Underground Garage.
— Stevie Van Zandt (@StevieVanZandt) December 13, 2019
Damn. The one and only Roy Loney – co-founder of The Flamin Groovies, leader of The Phantom Movers, the Teenage Monster himself – has died at the age of 73. The sad news confirmed by legendary photographer Robert Bayley. Maybe the most underrated true blue rocker ever. R.I.P. pic.twitter.com/QD9zpDed60
— Bob Mehr (@BobMehr) December 13, 2019
RIP Roy Loney, a true R&R original.
"We were definitely a good-timey jug-band, a euphoric band. That was what we wanted to do—get real high and enjoy yourself. That's what we did." pic.twitter.com/2LxGBbh4i9
— Joe Bonomo (@BonomoJoe) December 13, 2019
Roy Loney "Teenage Head," July 2009 with Cyril Jordan, Miriam Linna & Billy Miller, Maxwell's, Hoboken, New Jersey. Teenage monster, California born and bred. Half a boy and half a man, half at sea and half on land… pic.twitter.com/mKBHXCPP97
— Nikki Kreuzer (@NikkiKreuzer) December 13, 2019
Awful news: Roy Loney, the original lead singer of the legendary cult rock & roll band the Flamin' Groovies, has died. https://t.co/0VJPz4TCIX
— Stephen Thomas Erlewine (@sterlewine) December 13, 2019
So far, there has been no information released about memorial services for the singer, but tributes to his contributions to rock and roll are sure to be mounted locally for the San Francisco hero in the coming weeks.