Buddah 5683, 1976
I inhaled the prescription I got from Doc Rock, then left L'Hotel and the students rioting at the University across the street to walk the streets of Paris up towards the Boulevard St. Germain-des-Pres through the warm May afternoon. Turning left at the church of St. Germain-des-Pres, I went along the boulevard toward the intersection where another turn led me into Place St. Michel and Gilbert Jeune, the book and record store where I hoped to confirm what the editors of Rock News International, Michel Esteban and Lyzzi Mercier, told me the night before. Confirmation was in the basement record department at Gilbert Jeune; in a pile as I stepped off the down escalator were double album sets bearing the legend Flamin' Groovies. I opened the album jacket, and was face-to-face with a photograph of myself taken seven years before in a recording studio in San Francisco. There's something odd about standing in a store basement looking at an article for sale with your picture on it. I glanced left and right to be sure no one was aware I was looking at myself, then I looked again. Anyway, no one would know it was me. In the picture I had long hair, parted in the middle, that fell past my shoulders and a tie-die cotton blouse from Kensington Market. As I looked at the picture my hair was cropped short, and recently a cab driver looked at me in a suit and dark glasses and asked me if I was with the CIA.
My part in the Flamin’ Groovies' story started in 1969 when I was twenty-three and worked for Buddah Records in New York City. Neil Bogart was my boss and at my prompting he signed San Francisco's one-and-only Flamin’ Groovies, and let me produce them. Earlier that year I'd gotten their first album, Supersnazz (Epic BN 26487), played it once, then again and again. Their uninhibited rock & roll style was a knock-out, although I thought they looked goofy in the cartoon costumes they wore in the picture on the back of the album.
In his book, Electric Tibet (Dominion Publishing Co., North Hollywood, California, 1969), James N. Doukas classified the Groovies as part of the "second wave" of San Francisco bands. This second wave, he said, included Santana, It's A Beautiful Day, Creedence Clearwater, The Sons of Chaplin, The Ace of Cups, and the Groovies. Doukas wrote about the Groovies: "The most fitting words I can think of are: A living motion picture of the joy part of rock music." The Groovies established themselves in San Francisco by 1968 as a local band to watch, playing the two big ballrooms in town, The Fillmore and The Avalon. They also put out their own record, called Sneakers (Snazz Records), of seven original songs. (Sneakers was reissued in Europe in 1975 by Skydog Records, Amsterdam/ Paris.)
Sneakers attracted the attention of Epic Records who signed the group and assigned Stephen Goldman to produce them. They flew to Los Angeles where they spent an expensive month signing Epic on their tabs and recording Supersnazz, an album that is the Groovies at their most spontaneous and loveable. Their rendition of Huey Piano Smith's "Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu" was pulled from the album as a single and went Top 40 in San Francisco.
They came to New York City on a promotional trip in 1969 only to find out that Epic wasn't renewing their contract. In those days Bill Graham held a Tuesday audition night at The Fillmore East and this particular Tuesday another band's cancellation gave the Groovies their first opportunity to play New York, They were everything their record promised, a high flying rock & roll band with a sound that boogied from side to side as it rocked and rolled out at the audience. The morning after the concert I met them at their suite in the Gorham Hotel with the intention of writing a story for Hit Parades on their terrific music. The meeting sparked a mutual affection that let to their contract with Buddah's subsidiary, Kama Sutra Records.
Their recording career continued with the two albums I did with them, Flamingo (Kama Sutra KSBS 2021) in 1970, and Teenage Head (Kama Sutra KSBS 2031) in 1971. Then they moved to London and in 1972 Dave Edmunds produced them for United Artists Records: "Slow Death" b/w "Tallahassie Lassie" (UA UP35392) and "Married Woman" b/w "Get A Shot Of Rhythm. And Blues" (UA UP35464). In 1975 a recording of a 1971 Groovies' rehearsal in San Francisco was released as an extended play 45 under the title Grease by Skydog Records (FGG 001). Two more Dave Edmunds' productions were also released: "Let The Boy Rock'N'Roll" b/w "Yes It's True" in France (Philips 6078-501) and "You Tore Me Down" b/w Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Him Or Me (What's It Gonna Be?)" in the U.S. (Bomp 101). The Groovies had attracted enough notice in Europe by 1975 to warrant the release of Flamingo as This Is The Flamin’ Groovies in Germany (Metronome/Kama Sutra 201.707), and a Flamingo-Teenage Head repackage in England (Polydor/Buddah 2683003 Select)
In 1976, the Groovies recorded a new album, Shake Some Action (Sire Records SASD-7521) which made the American charts. At the same time the combination set of Flamingo and Teenage Head saw another repackaging, this time in France, as Collectors Items: Flamin’ Groovies (CPF/Kama Sutra 940106/ 07) which is the album I found in the Gilbert Jeune's basement And, now comes this record which includes material from both the 1970 and 1971 sessions I produced with the Groovies.
At this point I present you with each of the Groovies: the lead singer and writer of many of their songs was Roy A. Loney, who quit the band shortly after the release of Teenage Head. Guitarist, singer, and often co-writer was Cyril Jordan, who is still part of the Groovies' front-line. Lead guitarist and occasional vocalist was Tim Lynch, who has since quit the band. Bass player was George Alexander, who also continues with the present band. The drummer was Danny Mihm, who with Tim has a new band called Hot Knives. I liked them all, although I was closest with Cyril and Danny.
Flamingo was recorded at the Pacific High Recording Company on Brady Street in downtown San Francisco. We started on Friday night, March 20th, 1970, and for the next three weeks belted our way through the Groovies' repertoire of rockers. Commander Cody made his recording debut playing piano on three of the cuts, and a former member of the Charlatans, Richard Olsen, was the engineer.
Ten months later the Groovies came to New York for the Teenage Head sessions at Bell Sound Studios. Flamingo had been an intense no-goofing-off effort; the second recording was more informal. Rock & rollers dropped in out of the New York night to hang out. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played washboard on the Groovies' rendition of Michael Wilhelm's arrangement of Robert Johnson's "32-30". Jim Dickinson played piano on some cuts. Karin Berg, Jean-Charles Costa, and Richard Meltzer provided background sounds as The Flame-ettes. Lisa Robinson, Lenny Kaye, Lillian Roxon, Dannv Fields, Dave Marsh, and other rock people added to the good time atmosphere in the big studio on Bell's top floor. Besides the songs that were released as Teenage Head, and a subsequent single of "Have You Seen My Baby?", we recorded "Can't Explain", a few hours of them playing live in the studio, and a couple of jams with Jim Dickinson sitting in on piano.
The albums I did with the Groovies received critical acclaim, but no enormous sales, and the Groovies, 1, and Kama Sutra eventually parted company. The Groovies moved to London where Teenage Head especially was a strong import seller. I didn't see them again until 1973 when Lenny, Lisa, and I caught their set at a college mixer in London. That night they did their version of "Sweet Jane," a song I'd turned them onto years before; it was a performance I'll never forget, the Groovies' brash rock rhythm cast across one of Lou Reed's most inspired songs.
But enough memories. The truth about the Groovies is still on their records. I'm happy to have been a part of getting it pressed into plastic.