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Interview – Cyril Jordan, The Flamin’ Groovies – April 2013

| 28 April 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

You don’t so much INTERVIEW Cyril Jordan of the infamous Flamin’ Groovies, as throw him some thoughts and let him reminisce and ruminate. An intelligent and talented man, he was there at what Hoodoo Gurus guitarist Brad Shepherd calls ‘Ground Zero For Rock n’ Roll’ – San Francisco 1967!

Reunited for the first time in a long time with singer/guitarist Chris Wilson The Flamin’ Groovies are rounded out by bassist George Alexander and drummer Victor Penalosa, and are excited to have been dragged Down Under by Hoodoo Gurus for their second annual DIG IT UP Invitational, alongside Blue Oyster Cult, The Buzzcocks and many more.

Strap yourself in, turn up, and enjoy the rad ride!!

Flamin Groovies Cyril Jordan 01

100% ROCK: Hello Cyril, how are you doing today?

Cyril: Hi Shane! How you doing buddy?

100% ROCK: Very good, thank you for talking to us today.

Cyril: Thanks for the call.

100% ROCK: Where are you at right now?

Cyril: I’m at home in San Francisco.

100% ROCK: Cool. So are you looking forward to coming Down Under for the Dig It Up tour?

Cyril: Oh yeah, where are you calling from?

100% ROCK: I’m in Perth.

Cyril: Oh you’re in Perth! Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. The last time I was in Perth one of the fans came backstage. She was this real sweetheart, and she asked me if her father could come back and meet me. I guess he was a rock and roll fan. And this lovely old Australian guy comes back and we click, me and him, immediately, and it turns out he was the Mayor of Perth, and he says to me, ‘Mate, if there’s anything I can do for you, just let us know’, and I said ‘Well, there is one thing’ and [you guys] loved the Americans at that time, and so I said to him ‘can we have a photograph taken with the America’s Cup?’ and they showed up, they closed the yacht club, took the cup out of the case, put it on the floor and we all sat next to it and we got a photo with it.

100% ROCK: That’s incredible.

Cyril: Yeah, what a cool guy, man.

100% ROCK: Fantastic. So it’s been a fair while since you’ve done a full tour of Australia.

Cyril: It’s going to be twenty-five years, at least twenty-three or twenty-five. I can’t really remember when we were there.

100% ROCK: We all know that the Hoodoo Gurus have for a long time been a fan of The Flamin’ Groovies, but how did the Dig It Up tour come together for you guys?

Cyril: Well you know what, the promoter told me that every once in a while he puts a tour together and then he has Hoodoo Gurus [pick their] favourite band. This time around they said ‘We want The Groovies’, and the timing was perfect. In 2011 I had gone to London, I hadn’t been there in thirty years, and I hooked up with Chris Wilson, who I hadn’t seen in the same amount of time, and word got out that we had made up and we were hanging out again, and offers started coming in last year. Then this tour, I got a call from the promoter about this tour, and it just happened very naturally. It wasn’t like we got together and [made it happen], we just started hanging out again and pretty soon word got out, and the [scene] developed and it’s got to this point now where we’re putting a show together in about a week, and going into rehearsal for five hours a day, rehearsing every day until we leave for Japan. We’ll test the material out in Tokyo and then we’ll bring it to Australia.

Flamin Groovies Cyril Jordan 02

100% ROCK: That’s so good to hear, we’re really looking forward to seeing you.

Cyril: You know what’s really cool about this is: there’s two really cool things; I’m very jazzed about having Chris on the tour. I would say from about ’75 to about ’77 we had three guitars, plus a bass. Chris Ewan played guitar. He put the guitar down towards the end of the 70s, and he became a singer, and I always thought he was a great guitar player, he was very natural and I remember Keith Richards saying, talking about writing rock and roll music, he pointed to the neck of this guitar and he said ‘there’s mysteries in there’, you know? And Chris is real good at finding those fucking mysteries. So he’s going to be the rhythm guitar, I’m going to be lead and man, because we’ve got George too, we’ve got all the vocals now of the band. And the other thing that is going to be unique about this show is we’re going to do choice cuts of the whole catalogue of when Chris was with us. Yeah, and we never did that in the old days. We were always playing the current album when we played live.

100% ROCK: Great. Well we’re certainly going to be looking forward to the show.

Cyril: It’s going to be a first.

100% ROCK: Now, in doing the research for the interview I found out some interesting facts. Apart from anything else not only were you very influential to power pop bands, but also bands like The Rolling Stones were influenced by Teenage Head and Shake Some Action: Why do you think The Flamin’ Groovies never really crossed over into bigger success?

Cyril: It’s a very simple answer; we lost our manager, Alfred Kramer. Around ’68, late ’68, he took off never to be heard from again until about three months ago, I got a call from this idiot. [laughs] I hung up on him. He took $25,000 of our money – I had bill collectors up my ass all through the early 70s. That’s one of the reasons I split and went to London – I thought ‘I gotta get out of the country’. But… you know, we didn’t have a manager, and we didn’t have a publicist, and we were just a bunch of rowdy guys who knew how to play. I don’t want to brag, but I have to say that we were even more earthy than The Stones, and I think that’s why The Stones dug us, you know.

100% ROCK: For sure.

Cyril: When Roy [Loney – guitar/vocals] was in the band there was a real R’n’B side to the band, you know, and I remember Rodney Bingenheimer telling me back in old America of the 70s that every time… [Mick Jagger] was currently staying in LA that summer, when it came out, and Rodney said every time he came over to Jagger’s house, Teenage Head was on the record player.

100% ROCK: It’s interesting…

Cyril: Marianne Faithful…. Roy was in Paris like five years ago, and he was taken to Marianne’s house by a bunch of friends of hers, and his, for afternoon tea, and Marianne had broken her ankle and she was in bed, so everybody came in the bedroom, and she hadn’t really noticed Rory, so they had a little party and then it was over and everybody was leaving and she got out of bed, she jumped down the hallway, and all of a sudden she grabbed Roy and she went ‘Wait a minute, you’re the lead singer of The Flamin’ Groovies!’ and he said ‘Yeah, that’s me,’ and then she went, ‘Oh my god!’ and she hugged him and she said to him, you know, ‘you have no idea how much the boys (and that would be The Rolling Stones) loved your band back then’… she said ‘It was only The Beach Boys and The Flamin’ Groovies they were listening to’.

100% ROCK: Wow, that’s a good memory to have.

Cyril: Oh man, yeah. You know, it’s funny because I haven’t… I met Brian Jones back in the 60s and I was in a room with all The Stones way back when… years before they knew anything about Teenage Head or The Groovies. But, I’m always looking forward to the day that I bump into Keith Richards. That’s going to be a heavy day.

100% ROCK: So like I said, I did a bit of research for this interview and the two things that really struck me the most was: you did an awful lot of drugs back then, but your memory is really clear.

Cyril: Well I didn’t do the hard stuff. I don’t consider cocaine a hard drug unless you overdo it. I’ve been using cocaine on and off since about 1968, and I still occasionally dabble. I smoke pot all the time, but I never did speed or heroin, I never took pills, and I stopped drinking when I was twenty-four because I was in L.A. at a friend’s house at four in the morning, and I said ‘I’m gonna go to the house across the street’, [it was a] little bungalow like they have in Hollywood, and I passed out. Seven thirty in the morning I woke up laying on the pavement, wearing a $500 pair of snakeskin boots and a red coloured suit, so I got up and I said to myself, you know, ‘you’re not really dressed for the occasion.’ And so that was it, you know. That’s probably one of the reasons why I still have…. You know it’s funny, my memory is better now than it ever was. I write a column in a magazine called The Ugly Things. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that.

Flamin Groovies Cyril Jordan 03

100% ROCK: No.

Cyril: But I have a column called The San Francisco Beat, and I started it last year, I’m on my third column right now, I actually have a deadline on Sunday so I’ve been working on it all day. But it’s called The San Francisco Beat, it starts in 1962, talking about the music scene in San Francisco year by year. So the column I’m writing right now is ’65, and it talks a lot about the birth of The Groovies. You might want to check it out.

100% ROCK: I will Google it as soon as I get to the computer.

Cyril: It is jam packed with me crashing, renting a limo and trying to crash The Beatle truck… there’s incredible stories in there. I think you’d get a big kick out of reading…

100% ROCK: I was going to ask you, I mean your memory is that clear, you’ve done more than most around the rock and roll scene, you were there at the very beginning, so do you have an autobiography planned, or something like that?

Cyril: You know a lot of people have asked me about that in the last couple of years, and I’m finding doing this column has given me a chance to start writing a lot of stuff down, so I would imagine yeah, pretty soon I’m going to be doing something. I was thinking of calling it ‘Mercury in Retro’.

100% ROCK: Ha ha.

Cyril: Mercury is retro, everything goes wrong. I was thinking of doing a stand-up comedy routine about it, about how the planet Earth might be a great place, but when Mercury is in retro we all get planet fucked. I mean what the fuck is this about? Must be a planet somewhere else where some planet ain’t in fucking retro and we’re all going crazy.

100% ROCK: Wow, so… amongst some of the many weird stories I found when I was researching for talking with you – you smoked pot with Ted Kennedy?

Cyril: Yes, that was in high school. The reason why that happened is very simple to answer. We were, that year, in ’68 when Bobby was running for President, Bobby Kennedy, we were the rock band for the Democratic Party. I don’t know how my manager got this, but every week we were playing Pacific Heights in some mansion or some shit, for McGovern and Ted Kennedy, Bobby, it was insane. And at one of these gigs I took a break, because we used to do like, three sets, and I went and lit up a joint and one of the San Francisco Chronicle columnists, a guy named Herb K, pretty famous guy, he came out and he started asking me questions, then I handed the joint to him and he took a hit off it, and then Kennedy walked out talking to Herb, and Herb gave Ted the joint. Now Ted is like one of the biggest guys I ever met, him and Rock Hudson are the tallest people I ever stood next to, and Ted took a big hit and he sucked it down about an inch and a half, you know, I should have put it in fucking Lucite, you know? But back then it was no big deal, because every time we played, we played like five times a week. Ted Kennedy was backstage [often], so it was no big deal, you know what I mean? But now when I look back and I go god, I was in high school smoking a joint with that kid… Jesus Christ, that’s like really heavy!

100% ROCK: Yeah totally. So despite the lack of mainstream success and maybe the money and all that sort of stuff, you’ve certainly lived an impressive life, and you’ve got that life experience there. Do you have any major regrets?

Cyril: Yeah, I mean, financially things have been very tough on me since the computer started selling music, all my royalties went down from $20k a year to about $1800. It was… so I’ve had to start taking part time jobs, and I’m going to be sixty-five this year, so when I look at my life I kind of go… yeah maybe I should have been a magician, because that’s what I was before rock and roll, I worked in a magic shop and I had a one hour magic show that I used to do in old folks’ homes and birthday parties, you know, and I went straight from that into music, and… back in the 80’s the magic bug bit me with a vengeance. I got sucked into it big time. I’m a huge collector of magical apparatus and antique books. That is still with me. But you know, once you get old the only regret is that you’re not young anymore. If you’re lucky, you know what I mean? Because no matter how great a life someone has had, you get older and you go ‘Oh shit… I’d like to be a little bit younger again,’ and that’s a natural regret. I wouldn’t call it a regret. It’s just part of life.

100% ROCK: One of the things I was going to ask you, and you’ve partly just answered it, was from the perspective of someone who was around at the birth of rock and roll and who has been in and out of the industry for fifty years, what’s your take on the modern age with file sharing and the lack of album sales and things?

Cyril: Well, you know the new musicians, most of them, they’ve somehow got the idea that they’re all geniuses and they’re doing original music, and a lot of them don’t have roots. I mean, I would say that this is the main reason why there is nothing really exciting going on in music, because these kids are not aware of people like Robert Johnson, for instance, or somebody as great as The Castaways, who had a big hit with Liar, Liar back in the 60’s. They don’t have any roots of classic rock. Now, they grew up knowing that rock and roll bands are really cool, and that’s the coolest thing you can do, right, but they forgot the reason WHY rock and roll bands became so big: they were playing rock and roll! And these kids are not playing rock and roll. I’m actually kind of excited because we’re going to do a bunch of Chuck Berry stuff in our set, and that kind of music isn’t even heard anymore live, so I’m kind of anxious to see the reaction of people when we go on stage and play this classic style rock and roll. The Beatles came out playing this classic style rock and roll. They’re version of Long Tall Sally is unbelievable. It’s better than the Little Richard version by a mile, and they reminded us all of how great that music is, and this is why they became multi-millionaires and set the world on fire. It wasn’t just because they were great singers and great writers, they were playing rock and roll music, man. And these kids today, they’re not playing… I don’t know what kind of music they’re playing. It isn’t rock and roll still, and that’s why they’re not creating a big phenomenon.

100% ROCK: Sure.

Cyril: You’ve got everybody working on their album, you know what I mean? You can break up with your old lady next week, get a new girlfriend and within two days she’ll be talking to you about how she is working on a new album. She’s a nobody. You know what I mean? It’s like, ‘Hey man, not everybody can do this thing,’ if you know what I mean? It’s not an easy thing to learn how to do, and it takes years, and years, and years… and the kids today, they’ve been playing for six months, or a year or two, and then they form a band. I mean, all of us… I remember Clapton saying… ‘we were all signed by the time we were seventeen to record labels, but that’s because we had been playing guitar since we were seven, so we had ten years of learning the guitar.’ So we were definitely more capable as players by the time we were on stage, as compared to the kids today.

100% ROCK: Totally. I’ll leave you with just one question; what does music mean to you in your life?

Cyril: I don’t know, the older I get the more I love animals, and I shudder to think what we would be like if we didn’t have cats and dogs. It brings out the kindness and humanity in people, and I think music does that for me. I don’t know what my life would be without it. I think there would be a big, big gap in it. It’s not just rock and roll music, I love all kinds of music. Not the bullshit kids come up with…

100% ROCK: I’m with you on that one…

Cyril: Like I said earlier, I don’t know what kind of music it is but its not rock and roll, and these kids… a lot of these kids want to be in bands because they want to emulate and become part of that thing that we all called rock and roll back in the old days, but they forgot the main ingredient, and that’s rock and roll. You’ve got to play rock and roll man, these guys don’t get it! I don’t know what happened. Somewhere along the line they lost the book of instructions.

100% ROCK: It’s been fantastic talking to you, I can’t wait to see you live.

Cyril: Thank you for the phone call.


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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