Friday, August 12, 2022

Thunder & Lightning: Thunder road (again)


purchase [ Born to Run ]

Faced with yet another theme where I have run the clock down to the buzzer, I am going to re-mention a song that I posted about in 2016. That *is* 6 years ago (what?), but - in addition to the time constraints, there are also just too many confluences to let this go.

-#1: an article I came across in the Washington Post last week about how TicketMaster's dynamic pricing algorithms have set some tickets for "man of the people" Bruce Sprinsteen's 2023 tour in the thousands of dollars - the question being "Does the boss know and/or care?

-#2: I am on the road yet again and continuing my somewhat disjointed first summer of retirement

-#3: I'm in New Jersey

-and #4: there have been thunderstorms almost every late afternoon here for the past week (par for the course along the East Coast if memory serves me right)

So, while, back in 2016 the clip I chose was the incredible version with Springsteen joining Melissa Etheridge on stage, here are some other performances of this wonderful musical story


I have always found the idea of the Flaming' Groovies decidedly enticing and enthralling. Even before they ever came into my personal earshot. Long before, in truth. For a while, in the early thru' mid '70s they seemed to have a permanent feature in the inky pages of the hipper than thou UK music press, peddling a mythology that so appealed to my teenage fantasies. My understanding was that they had hopped over the ocean for some such tour or other, thereafter becoming stranded, destined to eke a basic existence in the bars and clubs of London. The truth? A little more prosaic.

Let's start now, as the band have still a footprint, although that may have faded with the death, in 2019, of original member, Ray Loney. Although he had left the band in 1972, he was deemed integral enough to be granted special guest status on the 2019 tour, during which he sustained the fall that precipitated his demise and possibly that of the band. He had kickstarted the band, a gaggle of snotty nosed brats in 1965 San Francisco. With an initial foray into the A Mighty Wind type folk music of that day, the Rolling Stones seemed a far more potent influence, and he linked up with teenaged guitar poser, Cyril Jordan and George Alexander, a school friend told to learn how to play the bass guitar. With Tim Lynch on 3rd guitar, alongside Loney and Jordan, and, eventually, drummer Danny Mihm, image was as much their calling card as their scuzzy and scuffed r'n'b, all chelsea boots, shades and attitude, snarled vocals, spiky guitars and harmonica, propelling an ugly, organic rhythm. Their debut, a home-recorded and released EP, Sneakers, came out in 1968. That got them a deal with Epic records and a somewhat chaotic first long player dropped the following year. The label dropped them and they spent the next year or so on the road, honing their craft and toughing up. Kama Sutra then picked them up, with their second release for that label, Teenage Head, hitting the zeitgeist, if not the charts. No less than Mick Jagger rated it highly, comparisons being made to the Stones own Sticky Fingers. Loney, with his heart more in the rockabilly roots he had always been in thrall to, here jumped ship. Which is roughly where we came in.

I'm Drowning (1968)

Dropped again by their label, and struggling to find another, it was the unlikely haven of the UK that threw them a lifeline, via the British division of United Artists. (The US end of the organisation had not been so enamoured.) With Chris Wilson, another youthful wannabe guitarslinger, drafted in to replace Loney, and whose musical preferences aligned more with Jordan, and a new drummer, it was off to Rockfield studios in Wales they headed. This was 1972. Dave Edmunds, himself having made no small waves in an energetic amalgam of 50s style and 60s melodicism, each with a keen rock rhythmic core, was hired to produce. With hindsight, the product they there produced was probably their finest hour, including, as it did, their perhaps best known song, Shake Some Action, not then able to see the light of day.

Shake Some Action (Remastered 1976 version of 1972 original at Rockfield)

But that promise came to nought, UA not liking so much their direction as they had thought, the deal dissipating into a pair of singles. Flailing around somewhat, the band oscillated, seeking further deals and shedding drummers at a pace. Action was ultimately released, albeit in re-recorded form, on Capitol, itself not without delay, down to internal brouhahas within that company. Meanwhile, record executive Seymour Stein was setting up his new label, Sire. Without it being a major, he had the knack of hitting on zesty acts with counter-cultural and counter-intuitive appeal, garnering a roster of hip acts. Ideal for the Groovies, who found themselves back in Wales and back with Edmunds. No wonder I thought they had never been away, and their 1976 album, of the same name, finally allowed the original 1972 versions of it and a couple of other songs from those sessions, along with some new stuff, to reach the record racks. With Sire then taken over by Warner Brothers, they now had some muscle behind them.

Shake Some Action (later version)

Plain sailing ahead? Well, no, this is the Groovies, remember, never much in favour with Lady Luck.Memebers started coming and going, although the Jordan, Wilson, Alexander trio kept a grip on the baton. Sire too bounced them in 1990, and even the aggressive management style of Elvis Costello manager Jake Riviera couldn't stop them flailing between labels, their image never quite that of the team in charge of their promotion. History tells us their style was power pop, just that nobody quite ever twigged that point at the time. Eventually, in disarray in 1991, with their catalogue scattered across multiple rights holders, they split. Perhaps just as their songs, courtesy appearances on any number of samplers and collections, were becoming better known.

Teenage Head (1971)

Fast forward a further few years. Since 72, Loney had remained in the music business, on occasion with other erstwhile members of the band. When the film, Clueless (1995) included Shake Some Action on the soundtrack, that was impetus enough for him to put the band name back into use, despite having had nothing to do with that particular song or that version of the b(r)and. Coaxing Jordan back into the fold and they were off. Over the next decade there would be sporadic appearances, usually just Loney and whoever he could find, sometimes with Jordan too. With that duo, a UK tour, in 2009, led to a serendipitous hook up with Wilson, himself now a UK resident, and the founder of the not un-Grooviesesque Barracudas, self styled surf-punks. Wilson, relishing in the reconnect, put out a run of solo albums, each recouping as many of the old gang as he could, with core member Alexander and various other ex-Groovies also present, alongside he, Loney and Jordan. One of these was even entitled It's Flamin' Groovy. 

Gamblin' Man (2013) - Chris Wilson feat. Ray Loney

By 2012 it seemed logical to go the whole hog, and the band were once again an item, with Jordan, Wilson and Alexander, but Loney again on the bench. 2017 even saw a new album, Fantastic Plastic. To be fair, consistency of both material and line-up was hard to maintain, and it was often a case of whomsoever was available, willing or present, as first Alexander again dropped out and, then, Wilson took a break. This was where Loney again popped up and in, if in a nominal guest role. 

End of the World (2017)

Is that it? Uncertain has to be the answer, at leat while Jordan and Wilson survive, arguably equally so Alexander. Wilson is now back home in the States, and has supposedly semi-retired. Jordan? Who knows, but, as the co-writers of their most famous song, never say never. 

Here's a live version featuring both of them, from 2013:

(What about the song in the subject, I hear you say? And yes, you are entirely right, it is more a shoehorn to get the Groovies into a post. And, yes, you probably have heard it before, it being a cover of the Who's first 1968 US single release. I found this version on one of the legion of dodgy compilations out there, cobbled together by various offshoots of various record companies, all trying to make a belated buck on the back of the Groovies. It appears on Replays: Groovies Greatest, a double CD I picked up for a couple of quid in a supermarket, and that reawoke my dormant interest in this unluckiest of bands. Here's the original version.)

Buy some Groovies!