Interview by Jason Gross
Funny story... Though I had spoken to Flamin' Groovies founder in 1998, I held the article all this time hoping to speak to Cyril A. Jordan, who went on to lead the band throughout its life afterwards. Turns out it wasn't that easy- CAJ is not someone who readily does interviews. Thinking that it was wrong to deprive the online world from Mr. Loney's thoughts, it was time to finally share this one, especially as the latest breed of garage revivalists owe a lot to Roy and friends. Roy was wonderful to speak to and definitely deserves the props. For more information about his recording career and what he's been doing since, see the website decidated to his recording career at this Groovies site. And so without further adieu...
PSF: Before you put together the Flamin' Groovies, you were in folk bands?
RL: The Chosen Few (a pre-Groovies band) wasn't so much [folk]. It was a first attempt at a rock 'n' roll band. But, originally (guitarist) Tim Lynch and I were folkies, pretty much, all through high school and the early college days; Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, Dylan – all the obvious poppy stuff. We were a folk band for the longest time. Tim and I got soured on rock for a while, and it got real lame – the Brian Hyland period, early '60s. We actually had a folk band since we were kids.
After we graduated high school, that's about the time the Beatles started. That's when we decided to give up folk and do rock 'n' roll again. Before we were pretty much burned out on rock – there wasn't too much good happening – then the Beatles came along and it was like "Bands...rock 'n' roll...cool!"[Laughs]
"The hell with this folk crap, let's get amplifiers!"
PSF: Acting was also part of your background.
RL: I still to this day consider myself an actor who does music on the side, even though I haven't acted much lately. When I was at San Francisco State, I was on a drama scholarship. We just put the band together as something fun to do on the side. It kind of got carried away. Next thing I know, I had no time for acting.
PSF: Did the acting help you with playing in a band?
RL: I think so, 'cos I already had sort of a stage presence, and I was aware of presentation and communication. I think it helped me with the music a lot. As a musician, I think I'm just passable, so I think acting helped give it that extra dimension.
PSF: It seemed like the Groovies were always out of step with what was happening the mainstream of rock at a given time. Did you feel that way?
RL: We were definitely out of step with what was happening [on the American West Coast], the psychedelic folk-rock blues with people playing thirty-minute songs and stuff like that. We were into playing rock 'n' roll, just simple two minute songs.
My background, my early favorite rock 'n' roll was rockabilly, like Carl Perkins and Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino. That's kind of my roots. I think the first music we did was that. We were just playing what we loved. We tended to sound like an oldies band, before there was such a thing. Sort of like doing old rock 'n' roll and people saying "What are you doing?" [Laughs]
"This is ancient history!" But that's what we did.
So we were really out of step with what was happening here. We had a core of followers but for the most part, people thought of us as kinda lightweight I think. We didn't wear our drugs on our sleeves quite as much as everyone else did. We did as much drugs as anybody but we just didn't advertise.
PSF: The Groovies weren't a pure nostalgia act though. How did you see that the band put its own personal stamp on this music?
RL: What was interesting was that when the Groovies started, it was pretty much a bunch of guys who hadn't played music much. Tim and I had the folk background, Cyril was just learning to play and George (Alexander) had never played the bass before in his life. Our original drummer, Ron Greco, was just beginning. We were guys just learning how to do it. There was a primitive quality to what we did. We were just beginning to learn how to play. I listen to our early stuff and I say, "God, we were such kids – how did we get a record out?" We just developed and that was what was sort of neat about it – you could feel the band developing and just really learn how to play.
PSF: It's good to have that raw quality, 'cos that's what made those old records great.
RL: Oh, yeah – I think if you listen to the great rock 'n' roll records throughout history, there are mistakes, they're out of tune but they've got this intensity, this fire that just carries it. I think one thing the Groovies always had is a lot of intensity. Whatever we lacked in musicality, we made up in our complete commitment towards what we were doing.
PSF: How were you working with Cyril at that time?
RL: We were hanging out all the time. We had a friend Cab Covey and we were like the Three Musketeers. We would hang out all the time, constantly getting stoned, going to movies, then inevitably, Cyril and I would sit down with guitars and start noodling and come up with song ideas. I'd start singing something and he'd start playing against it. He was just learning to play – I taught Cyril his first barre chords. He was learning lead breaks off Beatles and Beach Boys records. It was neat. We just played off each other and enjoyed each other's company. Just got a big kick out of being together, smoking a couple of joints, playing guitars and letting it roll.
PSF: Did you feel that the Groovies didn't fit in with the other bands around you at the time?
RL: Yeah, to some degree. I felt like we were really in left field. No one took us that seriously. We weren't considered heavy – I think that was it. Everyone else was considered heavy, and we were kind of light, purposefully. Anyone who listens to our early stuff can tell you that our biggest influence was the Lovin' Spoonful. 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.
In fact the name Flamin' Groovies is a little bit of an offshoot of Lovin' Spoonful. I was sitting down and I wanted to come up with a name that sounded like Lovin' Spoonful. So it came out Flamin' Groovies.
So we were considered light at that point, but we liked it – that's what we wanted to be, a good-time party band. No political lyrics, no heavy psychedelic lyrics, just fun.
Not that we weren't into the other bands. We were totally into the local bands. We were huge (Jefferson) Airplane fans in the beginning, [and] Quicksilver [Messenger Service]. I've only lately become a fan of the Dead, though. In the last several years, I've kind of appreciated them.
There was always a few guys like Gary Duncan of Quicksilver or John Fogerty who'd say, "Hey, you guys are really cool." There'd be guys like that, but we always third on the bill at the big shows at the Avalon and Filmore. We went over well though.
PSF: What led up to the first Groovies record Sneakers? You released that on your own?
RL: We didn't have a deal – no labels were sniffing around or anything. We'd been playing for a long time, and Alfred Kramer, our manager, I think had the idea [to self-release the record]. He'd seen other bands like Snatch and Country Joe do it, just put your own record out. So he said "Why don't we get the money together and just do it?" We did it real cheap and had the whole thing recorded and mixed in ten or eleven hours one night.
PSF: A lot of bands didn't take the initiative to do something like that at the time – they'd just stick it out and pray that a major would come knocking on their door one day.
RL: That's right. Also – we went for the ten inch format. We just liked old ten inch albums. "Let's be different, let's just do something real different." It's one of the few rock 'n' roll ten inches from that period.
PSF: After Bill Graham moved out of the old Filmore West, the Groovies were putting on their own shows there, right?
RL: Yeah, after Graham moved into the Carousel, which became Filmore West, it was empty. Al Kramer, who had been a right-hand man to Graham, knew the deal there and said "Let's take it over – the rent's nothing." So we moved in there for about a year and put on our own shows. We were sort of the house band. We were on almost all of the bills. We had Grateful Dead there and Big Mama Thorton play there.
Probably the most famous and infamous show was when we brought the Stooges into town. We had played a show with the Stooges in Cincinnati just after the first Stooges album came out (1969). We were on tour through Detroit and it had a big effect on us with the Stooges and the MC5. They really knocked our socks off, their incredible volume and the intensity of the stage performance – nonstop movement up there. Massively intense.
We saw the Stooges at a place called Ludlow's Garage on a bill with us. We saw them for the first time, and went absolutely berserk. We'd never seen anything like them. We thought it was just the coolest thing we'd ever seen. We said to them, "Why don't you come play at our place?" We booked two nights with them. We brought Alice Cooper too – we played with him on the road and thought he was great. So the bill was the Stooges, the Flamin' Groovies, Alice Cooper and Commander Cody.
Nobody came to the shows, and the people that did come didn't know what the fuck to make of it. The Stooges were playing songs from Fun House and the people there just did not understand it at all! [Laughs]
So we had a real small house both nights, but it was a great show. Iggy doesn't even remember that show. He chooses to forget. When he came back years later, it was "His first show in the Bay area," and I'm like, "Yeah, right!"
PSF: So the Stooges impacted what the Groovies were doing after that?
RL: Oh yeah, absolutely. The Stooges, the MC5. If you listen to Supersnazz and you listen to Flamingo, there's a total change. It went from being very produced to just like raunchy and raw with a lot of distortion guitar. We just got heavier, decided that we had to be heavier.
PSF: You think that Supersnazz was a pretty good representation of the band at the time?
RL: Except that it's overproduced. We spent months in Hollywood at a big studio at Columbia, spending lots and lots of money. I like it but I'm more aware of the actual production than the performance. I think it's good, it just seems a little bit...watered down. We had this first-time producer, Stephen Goldman, who was a great guy. He wanted to thrown in the kitchen sink, to prove that he was Phil Spector in one fell swoop. There was just way too much going on.
He brought in Jack Nitzsche to do some arranging, brought in these side guys like Tom Scott. It was great but we couldn't reproduce it on stage; we had string quartets and sax sections. It's like, "Hey cool, we can play about three of these songs live now!"
It's just a real produced record, that's all I'm saying. It was maybe a tad sterile. But I still think it's a good record. I think it was a combination of the producer wanting to prove himself and us being in Studio A at Columbia, going "Wow!" We bumped into Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Carol Burnett, and we were saying, "Hey, we're in show biz" [Laughs] So we were lovin' every minute of it; it was like, "Let's bring in Jack Nitzsche and arrange this," and we're like, "OK, great!"
PSF: Is it true that the Groovies were banned from the Filmore?
RL: We weren't actually banned. Bill Graham didn't like me. I don't know why. He didn't like my attitude. He thought it was crappy. He didn't like our name either, he hated it. He thought for sure that it indicated that we were gay. "I don't want no faggot bands!" We were like, "No, there's not one gay member in this band!"
He wanted us to change our name before he would book us. But he came around eventually. He put us off for a long time just because of the name and 'cos he thought I was a punk or something. He was very nice to us later on. I don't think he ever really loved our music – it wasn't his cup of tea in particular. But I think because we were out there making records and we had a following, he couldn't ignore us completely. Also, there was his relationship with Alfred – they went back a ways.
PSF: What did you think of the two records for Buddha, Flamingo and Teenage Head?
RL: Flamingo we cut in no time flat. We cut it here in the city, pretty much live. The vocals weren't [live], but mostly we went for a crunchy live sound. We wanted it to be as out of control as possible. We cut "Roadhouse" ten times and it wasn't out of control enough so we pushed it until it was. We did it with a "Let's go for the throat" feel.
Then I went to New York and mixed it with Richard Robinson. I brought it back and played it for the guys and they said "It sucks!" They didn't like the mix – they thought it was missing things. I said, "Well, we cut it live and didn't add a whole lot to it."
It sounded sparse because it was a sparse record. They thought it should sound bigger, and I thought, "Maybe they're right – maybe it's too sparse, too raw." It's one of those albums where I go back and forth with it. Everybody does in the band. Sometimes I'll listen to it and say, "Hey, this is very cool" and sometimes it's like, "Ah...it just doesn't make it." It's the one album where we all go "Well..."
In the right mood, it's a great album. Whereas with Teenage Head, I think we were all pretty happy with. Recorded in New York, and we had a lot of time to cut it. We were trying to be the Rolling Stones, no question about it – we had Jim Dickerson playing piano. We really wanted to be kind of a Rolling Stones band, playing really good hard rock with a hook. And we spent some time on it and it shows. I think it's the best-produced Groovies album that I was on. It has the best feel I think and that's why it's the one that's stood the test of time.
PSF: How did the live shows the band was doing at the time compare to the records?
RL: Live, we did "Shakin' All Over" and "I Can't Explain" and a fifteen minute version of "Louie Louie." Then we'd throw in "Teenage Head" and "Roadhouse" and "Second Cousin." Live, we did a lot of covers. We did a lot with the stage show. I was doing my madman thing, throwing myself off the stage. George was really good at that too, flinging himself back into the drums. We were really getting into the show aspect of it. I think the band was pretty raunchy live. We were loose as hell, always. But when it clicked, it really clicked. Danny (Mihm) was just an amazing drummer – he and George had a great bass and drums combination. I thought they just drove it.
PSF: What about Cyril as a player?
RL: Cyril developed as a guitar player. I never thought he was a great lead player but he's like Keith Richards, a heck of a rhythm guitar player. He could play lead, but what he's really got is that tone, that rhythmic thing that just drove a lot of the best Groovies tunes. He became a really great guitar player over the years, starting from barely being able to play. I watched him grow.
He went through his ridiculous Eric Clapton period. Everyone did at one point, trying to play way too many notes on a Les Paul. People were not Eric Clapton. When he got out of that and more playing like Richards, I think it really worked.
PSF: What led you to leave the band?
RL: It was sort of a natural thing. I was getting kind of tired. We didn't have a label. We weren't playing a whole lot locally. Nobody was that keen. Timmy had left the band because he and Cyril didn't get along. That bothered me, because Timmy and I were the beginning of the band. We were the two guys who put the whole thing together. So we brought in James Ferrell, nice guy. At that time, I have to say that he was nowhere near the guitar player that Tim was. I didn't think we sounded as good.
So we continued for a while but it was pretty obvious that Cyril wanted to take the band in a new direction. I kind of lost my direction with the band. I just didn't give a fuck, actually. Cyril really did want to go into a more Beatles direction. His beginning in music was the Beatles and the Beach Boys. He's a younger guy than me and didn't have the background with Elvis and all of that. I just liked stuff that really rocked, so my concept was "Let's rock!" He was more, "Let's do some catchy pop tunes." That was never my forte as a singer, that's for sure.
He and I had some sort of falling out. I couldn't put my finger on what happened, but we drifted apart. We weren't as tight as we once were. I would go to rehearsals and go through the paces and thinking, "I really wish I wasn't here." I think it was just time for things to change.
PSF: You think it was for the best, looking back now?
RL: I guess...I was tired of it – I don't think it could have continued on as it was. Once Timmy was gone and Cyril and I weren't as close, it wasn't as much fun for me. It lost its glow, it just wasn't there.
PSF: What did you think of the Groovies records after that?
RL: I gotta say that I was really impressed with Shake Some Action when I first heard it. "Wow, this is pretty darn good." They got Dave Edmunds to produce so they had a great sound.
The first one really knocked me out, the two after that, not so much. They're OK, there are a couple of good songs on each one, though you see exactly where it's coming from. Like "Please Please Girl." Come on...you see the song that it is and...fine, whatever. It just got to the point in later years where the Groovies did whole sets of Beatles songs. There'd be like eight Beatles songs, two Byrds songs and "Shake Some Action." It just didn't work for me at all.
PSF: What were you doing after you left the band?
RL: I was working in record retail first, and then I worked for ABC-Dunhill records for five years. I got married, settled down, kind of – moved to Marin, sort of changed my life. Got more into acting, which is sort of my first love. I didn't stop writing songs. I kept my tape recorder active, I was always writing stuff. But I just didn't feel any need to do anything. I think the whole Groovies thing had taken a little bit out of me. I'd had my shot at it.
I started going out to clubs again 'cos that's what you do when you're in the record business. I would hang out at Mabuhay Gardens, checking out the punk bands like the Dead Kennedys and the Nuns and having a good time. One night, I ran into a writer named Michael Synder, who said, "I could get you a gig here any time if you have a band."
In the meantime, I had been approached by Danny, who was in this group called the Hot Knives with Tim and they were playing this kind of folk rock kinda stuff, and had their own label, K.O. They asked me if I'd be interested in doing this record with them for K.O. I ended up doing an EP called Artistic as Hell (1978). I wanted to get the Groovies to play on it and I did – Cyril, George, Tim, Danny – but I had a falling out with Cyril somewhere along the way. He wanted to produce the record and I never wanted him to do that. Once he realized it, he didn't come around any more.
PSF: How did it feel to start playing and recording again?
RL: I built up a backlog of songs that I had been writing, and I went in because I thought I was ready. It's not a great-sounding record, but I think it was a start. It felt good to go back into the studio. I got some great reviews.
I decided to put a band together. It seemed natural to work with Danny and James (Farrell). Then Larry Lee came along, and Maurice Tani. So we had a band and we decided to do some gigs. We started playing pretty regular and that was how the Phantom Movers got started. That's when Marty Arbunich from Solid Smoke appeared and said, "Wanna cut a record?"
PSF: Did you think this was kind of an extension of what you'd been doing in the Groovies?
RL: I think if you listen to the first Phantom Movers album Out After Dark (1979), I think it's an absolute follow-up to Teenage Head. It seems like a natural progression, the next step. A little new-wave-y maybe, but I don't think I changed my style that much. I didn't really get interested in playing until I'd seen the punk bands. Then the energy was back. Seemed like there was a reason to go out and do it again. Out After Dark may be the best thing I've ever done.
PSF: What about the other Phantom Movers records?
RL: I think the second one, Phantom Tracks (1980), is pretty good. Then we did this album called Contents Under Pressure (1981) and it was exactly that. There was a lot of pressure involved in that one. Marty decided that I had to have a hit, we were gonna get commercial. They just decided to push it in that direction.
I wrote a bunch of songs and they only wanted to do the ones that felt commercial to them. They were pushing me in that direction. I said, "OK, I'll give it a shot" but it just wasn't coming natural to me. It was an experiment on my part, and I was just trying to do what they wanted. We had this guitar player who was the producer, Johnny Rewind, who'd been in the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. He was gonna prove to Marty that he could make us into a hit band. There was just a lot of pressure with him. Of all my albums, it's my least favorite. I just don't think it holds up at all. There's a couple of good tracks on there but on the whole, it's just a really blatant stab at commercialism.
I did Havin' a Rock 'n' Roll Party (1982) and Fast & Loose (1983) for Marty also. Fast & Loose I think is a great record, second to Out After Dark as my favorite. Rock 'n' Roll Party was an attempt to go back to roots, so we tried to be as rootsy as possible to varying degree of success. It really wasn't a Phantom Movers album, it was a Roy Loney album with a bunch of different people on it. Our drummer at that point was Kenny Dale Johnson, who's now with Chris Isaak.
When we did Fast & Loose, it was me with a bunch of people. We had pretty much disbanded the Phantom Movers at that point. I'm happy with the albums with Marty and Solid Smoke Records – five albums, five years. Every year they paid me, so they were good guys and it kept me going. I'm proud of that body of work.
PSF: What were you doing after the last Solid Smoke record?
RL: I didn't have a band, but I was still writing. I did a tour of France with Danny and Larry in mid '85. We worked with two French guys for a rhythm section and we had a ball. At this point, I decided that I was just going to put up the money and record. I didn't have a label. The Scientific Bombs Away!! (1988) was the album that came out.
At the time that was released, my mom had died and left me some money so I didn't have to work. It's a two-edged sword. You can get very lazy in that kind of situation, which I tended to do. The album took longer than it should have and I had way too much fun and spent way too much money; I was not being serious enough I think. So it took a long time to get that record together, but we finally did. I think it's an OK album. I think the songs are great but I think the production suffers a bit here and there. But we finally got it out and that was a Phantom Movers album, at least we called it that. Norton records picked it up here – Billy and Mariam (of Norton and Kicks magazine) have been good friends and remain so today.
PSF: What were you up to in the '90s?
RL: I was still doing gigs. We did a tour of the East Coast in 1990 and sort of reunited the Phantom Movers. Part of that came out on Norton as a live album. I was doing some shit here and there. My band backed up Ronnie Dawson sometimes for his shows.
Then the Seattle band the Squirrels came down to play some gigs in the city around '91. I knew them, they'd always opened for us in Seattle and I was good friends with Rob Morgan, the lead singer. They were playing some gigs, and I was sitting down with Joey Kline, the guitar player, [and] he said, "If you came out to Seattle, we could back you up and do some shows." I didn't take it seriously though.
I get a call from Scott McCaughey a few weeks later. He says, "You don't know me, but I'm from the group Young Fresh Fellows and we hear that you wanna play up here – I think my band would be great to back you up." So it ends up being three fourths of the Young Fresh Fellows and Joey Kline, and that was the Longshots. At first, we were the Northwest Movers. We toured there for a week in '92 and I had a ball working with them. I struck up a friendship with them right away, they're just very cool guys.
At the end of the week, we said, "We should do this again some other time and cut a single." Next time the Fellows were in San Francisco, I gave Scott a tape and said, "Here's eight songs I've written." He says, "I like every one of 'em, let's do 'em all." So instead of doing a single, we did an album. Next thing I know, he's sending me tapes of things he's written and I'm sending them tapes.
I go up there in '93 and we end up doing 29 tracks in a week and a half. It was a super experience for me. I loved working with those guys. Working with Conrad Uno in Egg Studios was the most comfortable I've ever been. We cut enough for two albums but we cut it down to one album, Full Grown Head (1994), which I liked. I'm pretty happy with it.
We put that out, did some shows as the Longshots, toured around a little bit, then, basically, we lost Scott and Tad. So I got Kev Lee from Bum on bass and Graham Black from the Model Rockets on drums. Then came the New Longshots and we cut some tracks.
So I have another CD in the can. It's been in the can for two years now, all ready to go. It's stuff from the first sessions and with the new band. It should be out the end of this year or next year and the working title is Drunkard in the Thinktank. It's very similar, stylistically, to Full Grown Head, it's real rockin' with some great tunes on it.
I've been going through indie label hell – the labels want it but then they can't give you any money and then they get a huge return that wipes 'em out for two years and...you know the whole story. So I've been to three labels who wanted it, but couldn't do it for financial reasons. I'm still talking to people now about this and getting it out 'cos we're way into the next one.
I pretty much work out of Seattle now, that's where I'm recording. I fly out there, we rehearse, then we go out on the road to Spain or Japan. I don't have a band in the city now, though Larry Lee and I keep talking about putting together a band. We might do it, we're hoping to do that. James and Danny have a band now called the Fondellas, who I've sat in with several times.
PSF: You're planning to work with Cyril again too, right?
RL: Cyril's sort of been in the mood to do some studio stuff. We've talked about it a lot. I think people would like to hear us together again. He's just one of those guys, a man of moods. If he's in the right mood, it's gonna work, and if he's not, it's not gonna work. Right now, he's in an up mood so I think he's into making music again. He's really excited, saying, "We should really do this, man!" So...we'll see. I can't imagine what it'll be exactly.
He played me this song over the phone. He said, "I tried to write a song the way that you write songs." It's this kind of Stonesy, kinda riffy sort of song. I thought it was cool. So he said, "I wrote it for you." So I was thinking maybe I should write something for him. I don't know how it'll work. We'll probably get together and do a few originals and a lot of our favorite songs. At one point, he said we should do a tribute to the Kinks. I was thinking it's been done, and why? Are we going to be any better than the Kinks? No, they did it and they were great. We've been huge Kinks fans.
In the meantime, I'm also working on my book. I've been working on Memoirs of a Flamin' Groovy for a long time. It's in the stage of notes and sheathes of paper, jogging my memory. I hope it'll be fun and interesting. It's that period where there is a drug haze involved in a lot of it. I have to come out of the haze every once in a while and say, "Wow, we really did that!" Someone'll tell me, "Hhey, I say you at this club" and I'll say "I don't remember that..." and then it'll come to me.
I sit down with Danny and Cyril occasionally and talk about the old days. None of us remember it that well. In different hazes maybe, but hazes all the same.
PSF: How do you guys look back at it?
RL: Well, it was a great time. It couldn't have been better. It was an absolute ball. It was just one big party. We were called that by many people. It was just sort of a traveling party. I don't know how seriously we took ourselves and I think that maybe it was good and bad. I think we could have taken ourselves a little more seriously, musically. But I look back on it and pretty much everything the Flamin' Groovies recorded is in print and there's still interest.
I think we must have done something right. I still think we could have done everything ten times better but you're bound to feel that way. At the time, we thought what we were doing was right on. It still feels pretty right on to me. It's made my later career possible, obviously. And I'm still doing it. Every time I play with the Longshots, I have to play "Teenage Head" and "Second Cousin." I play a lot of Groovies tunes. Why not? I love playing 'em. My sets are pretty much a combination of Groovies, Movers and Longshots and some wacky covers.
PSF: Well, that's your history, and that's who you are.
RL: Right! [Laughs]
Also see our Cyril Jordan interview and our article about their early years
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