Interview with Chris Wilson | By Jim Kaz
While The Flamin’ Groovies rarely get the air time that the likes of The Stooges, MC5 and the New York Dolls receive, the band was nevertheless a pivotal piece of the pre-punk puzzle. Formed back in the mid ’60s in San Francisco—predating the aforementioned proto-punks—the band played gritty, street-wise rock ‘n’ roll, while the mainstream was singing hazy homages to peace and love.
Originally led by guitarists/vocalists Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan, the band released a few albums over here to a loyal but cult following, receiving wider acclaim in Europe. Loney would eventually exit to be replaced by vocalist/guitarist Chris Wilson. During this next chapter, the band would help pioneer a new strain of rough-edged, but melodic music that would come to be referred to as power pop, as exemplified in its timeless anthem, “Shake Some Action.”
After a seemingly endless hiatus, the Wilson/Jordan lineup is back together, along with veteran Groovie George Alexander on bass. I sat down with Chris Wilson to get his take on all the action, as of late.
Kaz: What are you up to these days?
CW: Right now? As little as possible… I ain’t the busy type most days. But more generally there’s The Groovies to think about and my new album to promote.
Kaz: What was the motivation for reforming The Groovies?
CW: I’d recorded some songs and I thought “let’s get George and Cyril involved.” Modern recording techniques—the whole digital revolution—have changed things. People can fly in parts from all over the world now. And you know what? It worked. It proved the magic was still there. So we talked some more and the reunion grew from that.
Kaz: Was Roy Loney asked or considered to be part of the reunion?
CW: Roy ‘s an old friend. He’s on the new album, but there was never going to be a version of the Groovies with both of us. I mean, he’s played with Cyril in recent years, which is fine. I played live with him, too. But you can’t have a band with two front men.
Kaz: How does the new material compare or contrast with the classic stuff?
CW: That’s not for me to say. We’ll let the fans judge, although we’re happy with it. We think the new material rocks. If we didn’t, we’d not be recording it. You know, the Groovies were all about the quality of the product. We always wanted the best sound and the best songs. Let’s hope we still have it!
Kaz: The Groovies are often credited as forefathers to both punk and power pop. Do you feel this is accurate? How has the band impacted those scenes?
CW: Well, punk ain’t my thing. We gigged with The Ramones in 1976. Nice kids but limited players. We had them sitting in our dressing room looking on confused as we played all these fancy chords. As for who we influenced, I don’t know. I’d like to think we rattled a few cages and shook the odd tree, but from inside a band it’s often hard to figure out the greater impact.
Kaz: Do you feel the band has received the credit it deserves?
CW: No. And that’s a fact. We worked hard on creating a sound—in the studio and live—at a time when there simply wasn’t an attention to detail. We were against the grain in that respect. Pioneers? No. But at a time when live music was gaining momentum, we were that rare thing: a band that wanted to sound as good on stage as we did in the studio.
Kaz: What were/are the band’s general influences.
CW: We were influenced by The Byrds, The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks and a whole bunch of old blues men. Add a pinch of soul, R&B, folk… oh, the list goes on. The Groovies were eclectic and we never got the credit for it. We soaked up stuff from all over.
Kaz: Why did the Wilson/Jordan lineup disband?
CW: It didn’t. I left and they carried on for a while without me. Things had come to a head. It got ugly. Money, drugs, madness—you name it, we messed with it. But the music was always good. We might have had problems offstage, but when we plugged in, those issues were forgotten. Bands aren’t healthy places to exist, let me tell you that. They can turn friends into enemies.
Kaz: What is your favorite Groovies song, album and why?
I have a few songs I cherish—“Next One Crying,” “Yes I Am,” “I Can’t Hide,” they’re all great tunes. But “Shake Some Action” has paid more bills for me than any other. Follow the money, that’s what I say. It keeps your belly full and your glass topped up. Amen.
Kaz: “Shake Some Action” is a masterpiece. Did it come naturally, or take a while to construct?
CW: Well, Cyril wrote the music and we shared the words. Songs have a way of developing all to themselves; you can’t dissect ’em. If you do, the magic gets lost. There’s always an element of mystery, the dark stuff of the imagination involved and you don’t want to look too close at that or it’ll vanish.
Kaz: What does 2014 have in store for the reunited Flamin’ Groovies and your solo work?
CW: Great stuff, I hope! You know, the Groovies have always been outside the general trajectory—we’re our own people, for better or for worse, and that’s been a feature of our career. The next 12 months will be what they are; we have to hope the gods will see us as contenders, and not play-things!
Kaz: Any bands from the past that you’d like to play with or see reunite?
CW: I’d love to have played with some of the great blues and folk players of the past— Chicago meets the Scottish lowlands, via Ireland ‘s best bars. Now that’s a musical blend I’d pay to enjoy. That’s really the roots of so much I play.
But if I had three wishes I’d probably want to play with The Beatles circa 1966, The Stones a year or so later, and maybe Gene Clark (Byrds), or Beefheart, Dylan, Dick Gaughan, Davey Graham, Muddy Waters or Zeppelin.
You should never close musical doors, you never know what you’ll miss. Open your ears and soak it all up. Who knows, sometimes something good might rub off.
Check out Chris Wilson’s new solo album It’s Flamin’ Groovy on Twenty Stone Blatt Records.
The Flamin’ Groovies Documentary In The Works Via Kickstarter!
The Flamin’ Groovies US Tour Dates:
April 26 – Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vvKy9
April 28 – One Eyed Jacks, New Orleans, LA – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vvL7e
May 1 – Austin Psych Fest @ Red 7, Austin, TX – www.austinpsychfest.com
May 3 – House Of Blues, Houston, TX – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vvLEG
May 4 – Kessler Theater, Dallas, TX – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vvLZr
May 6 – Hi Tone, Memphis, TN – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vvMiC
May 8 – Plush, St Louis, MO – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vCsC6
May 9 – House Of Blues, Chicago IL – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vvMCR
May 10 – Potawatomi Bingo, Milwaukee, WI – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vBXfX
May 11 – Turf Club, St. Paul, MN – Tickets: http://ow.ly/vvN2p
The Flamin’ Groovies Spain Tour Dates:
29 May – Sala El Sol, Madrid
30 May – Explosivo Club, Zaragoza
31 May – Kafe Antzokia, Bilbao
1 June – Sala Acapulco, Gijón
4 June – Sala  de Apolo, Barcelona
5 June – Loco Club, Valencia
6 June – Sala El Tren, Granada
7 June – Sala Stereo, Alicante
The Flamin’ Groovies France Tour Dates:
10 June – Club Cargo, Caen
12 June – La Trabendo, Paris
13 June – Parc Expo, Nancy
14 June – John Lennon, Limoges
15 June – Moloco, Besancon
16 June – Toulouse
17 June – Secrete Place, Montpellier
(Italy and UK tour dates to be announced soon)