Chris Wilson of The Flamin' Groovies

Chris Wilson was only 18 years old when he flew to Los Angeles early in 1971 to join up with some guys he had once performed with in Boston. Things didn't work out in L.A., but a friend of a friend was looking for a singer for his San Francisco band, so Chris ended up moving to the Bay area. Within a year, Roy Loney - the original lead singer of the Flamin' Groovies - decided to leave the band, and Chris was asked to replace him.

In May 1972, Chris and the rest of the group flew across the pond to work with the famed Roots Rock/Power Pop/New Wave musician, Dave Edmunds. Within weeks, Edmunds had the Groovies in Rockfield Studios, a converted farmhouse in the Welsh countryside where some of the most famous rock-and-roll albums of all time were recorded. The songs that were recorded during that Rockfield session included one of the all-time greats, "Shake Some Action."
Gary Hailey (Songfacts): Chris, you and I were born the same year, so I'm curious if we grew up listening to the same music on the radio. What kind of music were you a fan of when you were in high school?

Chris Wilson: Hearing The Beatles – I saw them play live – and the Stones was a game-changer. Of course, it started with the old blues guys... they were the foundation. And you can't ignore Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. But the British Invasion was the trigger for me.

Songfacts: Did you grow up in a musical family? What kind of music were you exposed to as a child?

Chris: My father's family came from Scotland so I heard lots of Scottish folk music when I was growing up - I still play some of that stuff in my solo set. I wouldn't say I had a musical family but there was music around and my uncle played. It's funny how all that early exposure influenced my tastes - I've wanted to record a folk album for a long time. Maybe it'll happen... it would be nice if it did.

Dick Gaughan is a Scottish folksinger and songwriter who is a master of the acoustic guitar. DADGAD is also known as Celtic tuning. Jimmy Page was a fan of it: "Kashmir" is one of the Led Zeppelin songs that features DADGAD tuning.
Songfacts: Is there a particular Scottish folk performer who has influenced you?

Chris: My acoustic guitar playing's been influenced by people like Dick Gaughan – his use of the DADGAD open tuning changed my style. But you try and learn from everyone. Ears open - that's the rule.

Songfacts: You wrote "Shake Some Action" with Cyril Jordan, who was the guitarist of the Flamin' Groovies from the band's formation in 1965. Tell me a little about the process of writing that song. Did the music or lyrics come first?

Chris: Cyril had the idea for the music, I think. But the lyrics... we'd sit around Rockfield and swap lines and ideas. If we were in different parts of the house and we had an idea for a song we find each other and pick up a guitar. Back at the start we worked in a really simple way – swapping licks and phrases. "Shake Some Action" really wasn't that difficult in that respect.

Songfacts: "Shake Some Action" was originally recorded at Rockfield in 1972, but the Shake Some Action album wasn't released until 1976. Why did it take so long for "Shake Some Action" to appear on an album?

Chris: We thought "Shake Some Action" might be a single. However, our record company [United Artists] had other ideas and released "Slow Death" as our first single. We thought was an album track, not a single. We should have stuck to our guns. If "You Tore Me Down" and "Shake Some Action" had been released as singles in 1972 rather than "Slow Death" and "Married Woman," who knows how things might have turned out?

Songfacts: What did your producer, Dave Edmunds, contribute to the sound of the song - was your vision of the song/arrangement different from his?

Chris: Dave added loads of effects to the guitars on the first attempt at "Shake Some Action," which we thought might have been a bit too much. That's why we cut a second version back in the US in 1973. In the end they're both good, albeit a little different – we're happy if people like the song. What more could we ask?

Songfacts: One of the first things the Groovies did when you went to England in 1972 was play at the Bickershaw Festival, where you shared the stage with the Kinks, Captain Beefheart, the Grateful Dead, and many other legendary bands. Who were some of the great groups you opened for, or who opened for you?

The Damned were the first English punk band to have a record on the UK charts and to tour the United States. The group's founding members include guitarist Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies.
Chris: The Groovies gigged a lot. We supported David Bowie early on... he was a strange one. We also toured with The Damned as support – that didn't end well; they were really rude about us so we let them go. We played Berlin in 1980 supporting The Police, which was a show that's worthy of a story on its own. There's a recording of that show and we were really on fire... but were pulled off stage before our time was up.

Songfacts: The Flamin' Groovies released a lot of covers - you recorded several Lennon-McCartney songs and a bunch of Stones songs, including "Paint It Black" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." What do you think were your best covers?

Chris: There was always an issue with covers. I thought we had really strong songs of our own – Cyril Jordan, however, wanted the covers in the set and he got his way. It was a bone of contention, although we did record some great covers if I say so myself. My favorite is our take on the Byrds' "Feel a Whole Lot Better" – we really nailed that song. And I think I put in a creditable performance on the Groovies' version of "River Deep, Mountain High," although I've not got the lungs of Tina Turner if you know what I mean.

Songfacts: I know exactly what you mean, Chris. And you don't have her legs either. [Laughter.]

"Child of the Moon" - a song that is unknown to many Stones fans - was the "B" side of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which was a huge hit for the Stones in 1968. Neither song appeared on the group's next album, Beggars Banquet, but both have been included on various compilation albums. Here is The Stones' music video for "Child of the Moon."
Chris: We'd often talked about recording the Stones' "Child of the Moon" but never did – something I put right last year in Paris. My French band cut the song for a "live in the studio" album.

Songfacts: "Shake Some Action" has been covered by a number of other artists. Who do you think did the best cover version of it?

Chris: The best cover version of "Shake Some Action"? That's easy – the one that was featured in Clueless. Both me and Cyril made some money from that, a rare situation for the Groovies and a welcome one, too.

Songfacts: I'm a sucker for high school movies, and Clueless is one of the best. Its soundtrack had several noteworthy covers: "Kids In America" and "All the Young Dudes" as well as Cracker's cover of "Shake Some Action."

Chris: There have been some pretty odd attempts to cover "Shake Some Action," including one by a girl group that heavily referenced Motown – that one was kinda cute I guess.

Chris was referring to the 2010 cover by a Boston girl group whose lead singer sounds like a reincarnated Berry Gordy protégé. Here is the Jenny Dee & the Delinquents' recording of "Shake Some Action."

Songfacts: You and Cyril hadn't been getting along for some time when you left the Groovies on Halloween night 1981. But I understand that the Groovies have gotten back together?

Chris: Yes, we're back together again. We finally realized that the bad blood and ill feeling was just plain stupid – it just took us 30 years to reach that conclusion! Cyril and George [Alexander, who was the group's original bass player] and I played some dates in Australia and Japan earlier this year. And there's a new album on the way - three tracks already recorded.

Songfacts: You recently finished recording a new solo album that features several of the Groovies. Tell us a little about that album.

Chris: That album's named It's Flamin' Groovy! I've been joined by Cyril, George, Roy Loney, and former Groovies' guitarists James Ferrell and Mike Wilhelm – along with Procol Harum's Hammond organ legend Matthew Fisher. It's not quite a Groovies album... but it's pretty darn close. And to top it all we've found two lost recordings from our ill-fated 1981 sessions in LA's Gold Star studios. They were abandoned before they were finished but now that's been put right.

Songfacts: Chris, it's great to hear that you guys are working together again. The Flamin' Groovies are quite a story, and it sounds like that story isn't over yet.

Chris: The bottom line is that the Groovies are about to embark on a new chapter and everyone's fully committed to getting the show back on the road.

September 10, 2013.
To read more by Songfacts contributor Gary Hailey, please visit his music blog, 2 or 3 Lines.

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Comments: 1

  • Linda B. from Las Vegas, NvDoes anyone know what happened to Jack Johnson who is singing in the video? BTW--that video is a different version of the song than is being played. That is, song and video do not match.
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