Friday, April 5, 2013

Flamin' Groovies -- "Shake Some Action" (1976) (part 3 of 3)

Shake some action's what I need
To let me bust out at full speed
And I'm sure that's all you need
To make it all right

It's taken 2 or 3 lines a long time to get to "Shake Some Action," a song that I would place at or near the top of my list of all-time favorites.  But we're making up for that by honoring this Flamin' Groovies classic -- the 500th song featured on 2 or 3 lines -- with a very special three-part post.

I'm very pleased that Chris Wilson -- who co-wrote "Shake Some Action" and was the lead singer on the Groovies' 1976 album of the same name -- agreed to talk to 2 or 3 lines about the Flamin' Groovies in general and "Shake Some Action" in particular.

Chris Wilson (1978)
Before I share what Chris had to say, a little background information might be in order.

Chris Wilson was born in suburban Boston in 1952.  He flew to Los Angeles in January 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.  (Chris was not quite 20 years old at the time.)

Chris Wilson (far left), Dave Edmunds (3rd from
right), and the rest of the Groovies relax after a
recording session at Rockfields Studios in Wales
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.  (For what it's worth, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was recorded at Rockfield.)  The songs that were recorded during that Rockfield session included "Shake Some Action." 

2 or 3 lines: 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.

2 or 3 lines: 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.  

2 or 3 lines:  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.

Dick Gaughan
[NOTE:  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.]

2 or 3 lines: 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.

A worksheet from a Flamin' Groovies
recording session at Rockfields
2 or 3 lines:  "Shake Some Action" was originally recorded at Rockfield in 1972, but the Shake Some Action album wasn't released until 1976.  What 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 it 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?

2 or 3 lines: 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?

2 or 3 lines:  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 others.  The brand-new Ramones opened for you in London in a legendary appearance on July 4th, 1976.  Who were some of the other great groups you opened for, or who opened for you?

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.

[NOTE: 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 included guitarist Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies.]

2 or 3 lines: 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.
2 or 3 lines:  I know exactly what you mean, Chris.  And you don't have her legs either.  [Laughter.]

Tina Turner
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.

[NOTE: "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.   Click here to view the Stones' promotional video for "Child of the Moon."]

2 or 3 lines:  "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. 

Alicia Silverstone in Clueless (1995)
2 or 3 lines:  I'm a sucker for high school movies, and Clueless is one of the best.  Its soundtrack had several noteworthy covers -- "Kids of 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.

[NOTE: Chris was referring to the 2010 cover by a Boston girl group whose lead singer sounds like a reincarnated Phil Spector protégé.  Click here to listen to Jenny Dee & the Delinquents' recording of "Shake Some Action."]

Chris Wilson (2010)
2 or 3 lines:  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 are getting back together -- do you plan to record, tour, or both? 

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! As things currently stand, me and Cyril and George [Alexander, who was the group's original bass player] will be playing dates in Australia and then Japan.  After that, we’ll see -- although we’re all hoping that there’ll be more gigs and hopefully some new recordings.

2 or 3 lines:  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’ Groovie!  I’ve been joined by Cyril, George, Roy Loney, and former Groovies' guitarists James Ferrell and Mike Wilhem – along with Procol Harum’s Hammond organ legend Matthew Fisher.  The album comprises six new recordings – including two tracks written by Cyril – and six revised and updated takes from my previous albums.  These six have newly added contributions from George and Cyril, which really bring the songs to life.  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 that’s being put right as we speak.  We’re not quite sure what we’ll do with them once they’re polished up – maybe a single, maybe something more adventurous. Watch this space!

2 or 3 lines:  I will definitely do that, Chris.  [Laughter.]  Seriously, 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.

Original Groovies Cyril Jordan and
Roy Loney performing in 2009
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.
Thanks to Chris Wilson for taking the time to answer my questions, and best wishes to all of the talented musicians who made the Flamin' Groovies such a great band in the sixties and seventies -- and who have come together to give their fans some more great music.

Chris Wilson has a terrific website with a lot more about the history of the Flamin' Groovies.  Click here to visit Chris's website.

The previous 2 or 3 lines featured the 1972 Rockfields version of "Shake Some Action," which was released in 1976 on the album of the same name.  Here's the version that the band recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles in 1973, which Cyril Jordan thinks is the best thing the band ever did.  It's very good, but I'm not ready to forswear my allegiance to the original -- it's been one of my favorites for over 30 years, after all.

Click here to buy this song from Amazon:


  1. that last song sounds like Jack Johnson--couldn't have been in the 70s, no?

    1. Jack Johnson...1982-84 Groovie....his vocal is best IMHO. Whatever happened to Jack Johnson?

    2. Yes...that is Jack Johnson singing.

  2. Thanks Gary - Great piece on a great song. I hope you've got a ticket for the reunion concerts.