The Flamin' Groovies' Cyril Jordan on How the Movie Clueless Got Him Back into Music
By KEVIN L. JONES
The Flamin' Groovies
Talking to Cyril Jordan is like chatting with a VH1 documentary on rock 'n' roll: he tells a lot of stories, and many of them make you say "Holy shit!" For a music journalist, he's a dream; every other sentence is a pull-quote. It's like interviewing Keith Richards if he didn't have an ego and loved talking about the good ol' days. But Jordan wasn't in the Rolling Stones; he was in America's answer to the Stones, the absolutely amazing Flamin' Groovies. The Groovies, who started right here in San Francisco in the mid-'60s, were so good that for a time, Mick Jagger reportedly listened to their album "Teenage Head" on a daily basis.
Jordan will be joining local pop-punkers Overwhelming Colorfast at the Elbo Room this Sunday, Dec. 16, for a benefit concert raising funds for Norton Records, the Brooklyn-based "Wild Rock" label known for its armada of fantastic reissues of impossible-to-find rock records. The label lost a majority of its record stock after its warehouse was flooded during Superstorm Sandy. We recently spoke with Jordan about his involvement with the label and his recent musical activities.
When did you first come in contact with the owners of Norton Records?
Well [Norton co-founder] Miriam [Linna] was a fanatical Flamin' Groovies fan back in the mid-'70s. She was like our first major fan in America at that time that we knew of. She came to all of our shows on the East Coast and was just raving. She was just a ball of energy.
Apparently her partner Billy [Miller] was also a Flamin' Groovies fan and apparently this is how they got together. They bumped into each other and realized they both dug the Flamin' Groovies and I guess one had albums that the other didn't have.
How did the shows with you, Roy Loney, and the A-bones come about?
Well Roy is also very close with Billy and Miriam. I think they had done a few shows with Roy and they had learned a bunch of Flamin' Groovies material. They did that for maybe a year or two, on and off. Then the idea came to bring me in on it when they got the gig at Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans.
Just for the trip to New Orleans, I was in. I had never been there. The Groovies hardly ever played the South. We played the East Coast, we played Canada, we played the Midwest and the West Coast. As far as Texas and Louisiana and those places... we never played.
That's shocking. I would've thought you ruled those areas, especially Texas. I mean, all the best live footage of the Rolling Stones is from Texas.
We were too busy trying to get a hit record in Europe to even consider America at the time... The problem with America and the reason I took the band to Europe in '72 was that I basically found out that if you wanted to get into the Top 100 on Billboard Charts, you had to sell about 35,000 45s a day for about 17 weeks. On the other hand, if you wanted to get into the Top 20 in England, all you had to do was sell about 17,000 records. Also, there was the vastness of touring America. Sometimes the next gig is like 1,200 miles away. In Europe, the next gig is 200 miles away.
And they're putting you up, and they're feeding you well...
And they're paying some really good money and the places are sold-out and they're doing advertising and they're doing radio... It's just much easier to get it going. I would suggest for any rock bands in this country to get their butts over to England and try to make some noise there. Once you've made it in England, because of what the British Invasion did, America falls right into place.
The Hendrix move, basically.
It's the Hendrix move, exactly.
Are you sitting on much more unreleased material from the Groovies?
There's odds and ends. There were a couple of items that were cut in England that haven't been released and I might do a release on vinyl this next year. You know I'm putting the band together with Chris Wilson [second Groovies singer] and George Alexander [bassist].
We are hitting the road in April. We're going to be hitting Japan and Australia and then we're coming back to cut an album that we're going to shop in Europe by this summer.
This is going to be the three frontline guys. Chris, me, and George, and George is pretty much the co-founder with me from way, way, way back.
What were Chris and George doing up until this time?
George pretty much retired from music around 1991. We had come back from a grueling European tour where we just got ripped off big time. That was pretty much it for the band. So [George] went his own way and I was out of music. That was it for me. I wasn't ever going to go back into it.
But the problem was that it ended up being like gum on my shoe -- I couldn't get it off. About four years later, around 1995, I got a letter from Paramount Studios. I opened it up and it's from a director making a film. It mentioned the actors, none of whom were known at the time, and I thought, "My God, this movie isn't going to make it onto an airplane, let alone the theaters." But I went ahead and did the deal detailed in the letter anyway. They gave me a $15,000 advance, a signature fee, and the movie turned out to be Clueless, which became this big hit.
Like I said, this damn business is like gum on my shoe, I just couldn't get it off.
Did you get back into music then?
Well, I started writing music again back in 1996 and by the end of the century I was putting a band together called Magic Christian. I did that for about 10 years.
But I put Magic Christian on the shelf right now because we've been getting offers from Europe and BBC One Television, who want to do a one-hour special -- dig this -- when we're ready.
Chris and I, we hadn't spoken for years. We had a falling out but it wasn't that we hated each other, it's just that Chris was in Europe. I didn't get back to Europe until last year, when I did a show with Roy and the A-Bones in London. Chris came to the show and when we saw each other, we just both melted. There were tears and we hugged each other. So, we kinda made up right before they offers started coming in from Europe.
When we got the offer from BBC One, I called up George and said, "Hey, listen. It might make a lot of sense to regroup right now."
Do you remember a time before rock 'n' roll?
Yeah, I remember listening to radio in the early '50s. I was born in 1948, and by the time I was at babysitters' houses in 1952 and '53, they'd have the radio on all day long and it was just horrible. It was like Hernando's Hideaway and "You Give Me Fever" and all this really awful, straight music. My mother was into '30s and '40s jazz, like Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, so I was listening to that stuff. When I got to hear rock and roll in '57 -- I heard Tallahassie Lassie by Freddy Cannon and I just went through the fucking roof. That was it for me.
Cyril Jordan performs with Overwhelming Colorfast and Roy Loney and the Phantom Movers at the Elbo Room on Sunday, Dec. 16. 2:30 p.m.; suggested donation $7-$10.