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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Jul 7 1999
Re-Grooved In retrospect, it seems like the Flamin' Groovies did just about everything wrong. Formed in San Francisco in 1965, the band -- singer Roy Loney, guitarists Cyril Jordan and Tim Lynch, bassist George Alexander, and drummer Danny Mihm -- wanted to play old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, but the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane had come up with a different idea. "We got dismissed a lot by a lot of people because we were so not in the mainstream of what was going on," says Loney. "We weren't psychedelic, we weren't blues-oriented, we didn't play 20-minute songs. We were considered sort of an oldies band to some degree, before there were oldies bands."

Thing is, as oldies bands go, the Groovies were better than most, and often just as good as the musicians they took their cues from: Aftermath-era Rolling Stones, early Kinks, and much of the Sun Records catalog. What they came up with, however, actually frames the Groovies as one of the first punk bands. Loney's lascivious growl on "Teenage Head" remains one of the great rock tributes to adolescent lust, and many of the band's early records have a theme of illicit love: "Jailbait," "Second Cousin," like that. "Slow Death" has been covered too many times to count, and when the Dictators played Bottom of the Hill in May, Loney himself was there to provide vocals.

It's been next to impossible to track down copies of the two classic records Loney recorded with the band, 1970's Flamingo and 1971's Teenage Head; small runs of import CD reissues are around, but the best option for finding them has generally involved getting in touch with Loney himself. Which is easy to do: For the past 12 years he's been working behind the counter at Jack's Record Cellar in the Lower Haight, a record store that still believes vinyl is the only music format currently extant, and is one of the few shops that religiously stocks 78s. Back in 1990, when the Groovies' 1968 debut EP Supersnazz got the CD treatment, Loney said that he hadn't heard it, as he still didn't own a CD player. But now that Flamingo and Teenage Head are slated for full-blown reissues later this month, he's back up to speed.

Both albums come out July 27 on Buddha Records, a recently formed imprint (actually a revival of the '60s and '70s label Buddah Records) that's been releasing everything from old Captain Beefheart albums to Frank Sinatra radio broadcasts to Melanie's greatest hits to (no joke) the lost Daryl Hall solo album, Sacred Songs. Loney himself did "absolutely nothing" to inspire the idea of a reissue, though he happily sat down with archivist Andy Kotowitz for a liner notes interview. Bonus tracks appended to each disc, all recorded during the Teenage Head sessions, speak to just how raw and ragged the band was: shambling covers of "Rumble," "That'll Be the Day," "Walkin' the Dog," and their own "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" and "Scratch My Back." That last song is a particular revelation to Loney. "I haven't heard [it] since we recorded it in New York, and it didn't come out on any reissue packages. I thought it was pretty much a dead issue, so I was shocked to hear it for the first time."

Loney's stint with the Groovies, however crucial, was a brief one. Musical and personal conflicts with Cyril Jordan led to Loney's departure from the group in 1971, though Jordan continued on with the band name, changed the band's style from rockabilly and R&B stomping to a Byrdsian mode, and wound up recording one of rock's finest singles, "Shake Some Action." Loney, meanwhile, launched a lengthy and labyrinthine solo career, releasing a series of records since 1979 under his own name and with other groups, the most famous of which is the Longshots, featuring members of Seattle stalwarts Young Fresh Fellows; a new record, Drunkard in the Think Tank, is finished, and Loney's currently shopping for a label to release it.

Loney also plays out occasionally with his band the Fondellas, which includes former Groovies Danny Mihm (drums) and James Ferrall (who replaced Tim Lynch on guitar) and is, as Loney puts it, "pretty much the only Groovies band out there now," although Jordan has been performing with various musicians under the Flamin' Groovies name for years. He's been noticing a resurgence of interest in the Groovies lately; there's talk of a documentary, and since Loney has remained in contact with most of his former bandmates, he's "been coming under a lot of pressure lately to reunite the Groovies, and I think it may happen. I think the time might be right for it." Noting the sonic differences between the pre- and post-Loney-era Groovies, getting the band back together might be "a big uphill climb." Regardless, promoters have been approaching him, asking what would it take to get the group to reunite.

Well ... what would it take? "The right conditions," he says, "and obviously the right amount of money. This is a group that never made any money. ... So one thing I think that would help would be to see some real payback after all this time."

-- Mark Athitakis

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Mark Athitakis


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