If there’s a label, it’s probably been hung on the Flamin’ Groovies.
Protopunk. Power pop. Garage rock. Blues-rock. New wave. Hell, even “a reincarnation of the Beatles”—they’ve heard it all.
“People always try to pigeonhole you,” says singer-guitarist Chris Wilson, chuckling at the urge to classify, “but labels are unnecessary. We’re just a rock ’n’ roll band.”
Still, there’s no denying that the Groovies have been hugely influential across the breadth of alternative music, despite their biggest hit topping out at No. 142 on the Billboard chart.
Founded in San Francisco in 1965, the Groovies rarely found themselves in lockstep with the mainstream (or, for that matter, the counterculture). While Haight-Ashbury was turning on and dropping out, they were recording Supersnazz (1969), an earnest, cheery collection of rock ’n’ roll stompers. Great fun but not, apparently, what the nation needed as it tore itself apart at the end of the ’60s.
Time and place aligned somewhat with 1971’s Teenage Head, a growly, bluesy gem often touted as a first-rate American version of Sticky Fingers. (Indeed, Mick Jagger reportedly thought the Groovies did it better.) But again, sales didn’t reflect the group’s craftsmanship.
Enter Wilson—stepping in for departed lead singer Roy Loney—and a Welsh sojourn with producer Dave Edmunds at the legendary Rockfield Studios in 1972.
“A lot of great songs came out of being there,” the 62-year-old Wilson says, on the line from his home in Oregon. “Being in the middle of the Welsh countryside, there was very little else to do but sit and play. We had a studio full of great instruments, and we’d just bash things out all day.”
There, the Groovies created their magnum opus, “Shake Some Action”.
“We literally wrote it there in the studio in Rockfield,” Wilson recalls of their signature single, a yearning tale of romantic loss and defiance so staggeringly great it strikes like a bolt from the blue in the ’70s quagmire of prog rock and singer-songwriters.
Languid but driving, brash though sentimental, the result is so definitive that music writer Greil Marcus would place “Shake Some Action” at No. 1 in his book The History of Rock ’n’ Roll in Ten Songs.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Wilson says with a laugh, “because he’d written some disparaging things about us years ago. I don’t know what caused him to change his mind, but it warms the cockles of my heart.”
Between critical praise, a new tour by Wilson and original Groovies Cyril Jordan and George Alexander (plus newcomer Victor Penalosa on drums), and a documentary in the works, it seems that the band is on a roll. When asked if the Groovies are finally receiving the recognition they deserve, Wilson laughs heartily.
“Well, that’s not for me to say; I don’t know what we deserve. I’m just hoping that it shows we have a lot of fun and we’re still true to the music—hopefully, it gives people a good time and a few minutes of forgetting about this crazy-ass world.”
The Flamin’ Groovies play the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday (March 14).