By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — 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 wildman lead singer Roy Loney and guitarist Cyril Jordan, the band embraced a mix of ’50s rock and roll (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.
The band first came together in 1965, but 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 has 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 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 would lead to the singer’s departure. Taking complete control of the band, Jordan brought guitarist/singer Chris Wilson on board and relocated the Groovies to England to capitalize on their greater popularity in Europe.
Working with future Rockpile guitarist Dave Edmunds in the studio, the band eventually put together what many consider its finest post-Loney effort. Shake Some Action came out in 1976 on Sire Records and revealed a sound that ditched some of the ’50s rock flavor for ringing Rickenbacker guitars and mod British Invasion pop. The follow-up album Flamin’ Groovies Now furthered the band’s embrace of a more power-pop sound.
Jordan would continued to lead the Groovies into the ’80s and early ’90s, but eventually disbanded the group and founded his new band, Magic Christian. However, in 2013, he reunited with Wilson and longtime bass player George Alexander after the Groovies were invited to play Australian festival dates. A series of sold-out shows both in San Francisco and abroad would follow.
In 2015, the Groovies drew packed houses performing their seminal Shake Some Action album in its entirety at a number of local shows including one at the Chapel in San Francisco. The band would return to the venue the following year to kick off a tour marking the band’s 50th anniversary. The Groovies also surprised fans when they released a new 7-inch single for Burger Records featuring the song “Crazy Macy” that came out on Record Store Day.
In the summer of 2017, it was announced that the Groovies line-up featuring Jordan and Wilson had completed the band’s first new album in almost four decades. Entitled Fantastic Plastic, the effort featuring new original songs and covers of tunes by the Beau Brummels and NRBQ was released glowing reviews in the fall.
While the band was regularly joined onstage by Loney to play their classic early songs in recent years, in 2019 the Groovies embarked on a tour dedicated to performing the watershed Teenage Head album in its entirety plus an assortment of vintage hits. The new touring version of the group that will feature Jordan and Loney onstage alongside SF musician/songwriter Chris von Sneidern on guitar, veteran bassist Atom Ellis (a member of Psychefunkapus and Dieselhed in addition to touring with the late Link Wray, Todd Rundgren, the New Cars and the Tubes) and drummer Tony T. Sales — whose father played drums for both Iggy Pop and David Bowie.
The new line-up played several Bay Area shows last spring and was headed to Europe for a full tour when Loney was sadly sidelined by a fall at San Francisco International Airport just as the band was preparing to depart for the string of summer dates. Tragically, Loney passed away from organ failure at the CPMC Davies Campus in San Francisco last month.
For this first show since Loney’s passing, the current four-piece line-up of the Groovies performs the band’s mid-70s classic Shake Some Action in its entirety in addition to a tribute to the late singer with possible special guests at the Starline Social Club in Oakland Saturday.
The group will be supported by the Danny James Pair. Oakland-born songwriter/keyboardist/bassist James first came to notoriety when he became a member of the garage-punk outfit the Cuts after signing to Birdman Records in the early 2000s. When the group split up in 2006, he started working under his own name, mixing elements of ’70s funk and soul, prog, glam rock and the hook-heavy pop of Todd Rundgren, Harry Nilsson and ELO’s Jeff Lynn.
Released in 2013, his album Pear earned rave reviews for it’s unabashedly retro analog sound and catchy melodies. While James has regularly performed with members of Once and Future Band as his backing group, last November he debuted a new duo with Once and Future keyboard phenom Joel Robinow as the Danny James Pair that earned rave reviews.
The Flamin’ Groovies
Saturday, January 18, 8 p.m. $25-$30
Starline Social Club