By Blake Maddux
Chris Wilson was born in Waltham in 1952. He briefly lived in Somerville in the late 1960s before heading out to Los Angeles in January 1971. Although the musical opportunity that he had followed to the City of Angels did not work out as he had hoped, he was invited to join a band up the coast in San Francisco called Loose Gravel. When that group struggled despite its efforts, Wilson figured that he would head back home to Boston. Before he could depart, however, he was offered the recently vacated spot in The Flamin’ Groovies, a Bay Area outfit with whom Loose Gravel had toured.
“And now the rest,” as Chris Wilson himself says, “is history.” Wilson would record three albums with The Flamin’ Groovies, including the 1976 classic Shake Some Action.
In 1982, Wilson moved to London, where he lives to this day. On Thursday, November 14, he and the reunited Flamin’ Groovies will burn a trail to Radio in Union Square.
Wilson spoke to The Somerville Times by phone from Cleveland, where the band was preparing for upcoming dates in Toronto and Detroit.
Somerville Times: What is the status of the new Flamin’ Groovies album?
Chris Wilson: We have three songs recorded so far that are actually done, one of which is going to be showcased on rollingstone.com. It’s going to be streamed. It’s called End of the World. The other two songs we’re kind of holding back a bit. We’re going into the studio at the end of this tour, toward the end of this month, and we should hopefully be recording two or three more tracks.
ST: Are you taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the new material?
CW: That’s exactly it. I think our fans are very pleased because our musical style has not changed one whit. The new songs are very much in the same vein as our old ones; perhaps even more optimistic and positive, it that’s possible.
ST: How did the reunion of you and original Flamin’ Groovies members Cyril Jordan and George Alexander come about?
CW: A couple of years ago, Cyril was playing in London, which is where I live now, with The A-Bombs and [former Flamin’ Groovies lead singer] Roy Loney. We had a fabulous reunion that night. I had been in touch with George soon after that, and had spent the last Christmas and New Year’s with him in Arizona, which is where he lives just outside of Tucson. They took part in the record that I’ve got out just now, called It’s Flamin’ Groovy, which has got many ex-Flamin’ Groovies on it. It’s a good record. Until the actual Flamin’ Groovies record comes out, it’s a bit of a sampler.
ST: What were the audiences like in Japan and Australia earlier this year?
CW: Absolutely over the moon, man. I had played in Japan in 2012 with a British band called The Barracudas, a band that I joined when I came to Britain in 1982. We were kind of overwhelmed because people kept screaming for Flamin’ Groovies songs. Luckily because the guys in The Barracudas are all Flamin’ Groovies fans, they didn’t get p.o.’d at me!
When The Flamin’ Groovies came, it was really moving because there were kids in their early 20s who were singing lyrics to You Tore Me Down and stuff like that. It was incredibly moving for us. We had an amazingly positive reaction, and everywhere in Australia as well. The Groovies had gone there in 1986. I think they played a month there. We only had a couple of weeks this last time, and it was just absolutely fabulous. It was really, really great. We look forward to going there again.
ST: Tell me about the Rolling Stones tribute in which you recently participated at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
CW: I’m told we stole the show. I had a 102 degree fever. I was very ill with bronchitis, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I had the time of my life. They put us up in the Ritz-Carlton.
To come on stage with all these amazing, amazing musicians, and we were probably the least-known of everyone, but we were greeted like absolute brothers. We got a standing ovation. It was fabulous. We did Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Parachute Woman, and Paint It Black.
ST: You were born in Waltham, MA, but I understand that you once lived in Somerville.
CW: I did when I was between 16 and 17. I lived a few places in Somerville, but it was so long ago. Don’t ask me the street names! I cannot remember. It was like 45 years ago. I’m forgetful. I’m an old geezer now!
In those days it was hard getting flats when you were a teenager. Somerville was a place where they really didn’t ask questions as long as you came up with the money. I remember having a really good time there.
ST: The Ramones had just released their debut album when they played on a bill that The Flamin’ Groovies headlined in the summer of 1976. What do you remember about them?
CW: They were a bunch of really sweet guys when we met them. They supported us at The Roundhouse [in London] on July 4, 1976. It was The Stranglers, The Ramones, and The Flamin’ Groovies.
One of the most horrible things I’d ever seen was Johnny Ramone coming backstage after their set covered in spit. People had spit all over them, and he was in tears.
ST: What do you think of the covers of Flamin’ Groovies songs that artists such as Yo La Tengo, Cracker, and Tommy Keane have done over the years?
CW: They’ve all done such wonderful jobs! They’ve done fabulous jobs. It’s the ultimate accolade to see younger bands covering any of your songs, ever.
You can’t imagine what if feels like to have people care enough to cover your songs. It’s an incredible privilege and a wonderful feeling. I love ’em all, and I can’t think of a bad one.
The Flamin’ Groovies, with The Connection and Andy Shernoff, Thursday, November 14, Radio, 379 Union Square, 617-501-2293. Doors at 7:00 p.m., show at 8:00 p.m. Tickets: $25 advance / $28 day of show.