‘Crazy’ Cavan Grogan has just died last February and it is time to pay a special tribute to him and the Rhythm Rockers on this site and not just because I’m Welsh! I borrowed their Charly LP about 1978 or 1979 from my friend Carmine and learnt from him they were from Wales. We lived in West Wales far from ‘South Wales’ as the industrial population centres of south-east Wales are usually called. Somehow I thought they were from Port Talbot which mistake can only be explained by the fact that both Newport (where they were from) and Port Talbot were big steel processing centres. For years later, up till the mid 1990s I would always make a point of playing of playing the Rhythm Rockers’ 90-minute cassette selection as I speeded on the M4 motorway around Port Talbot on my way to Cardiff! My mistake but fantastic memories that will always link Crazy Cavan and co to Port Talbot and has made them the perfect rock’n’roll for long motorway journeys.
The Charly album which came out in Britain in 1978 (but was a reissue of their Dutch Rockhouse album issued in 1975) had a striking cover which showed them dressed fairly casually in different rock’n’roll styles (including cowboy hats!). I was brought up on Haley and liked the well-groomed 1950s style, so I didn’t really like their unkempt look, but over the years I learnt to appreciate that their look just reflected their straightforwardly honest approach to everything they did. Other photo shoots from the late 1970s showed them as a wreckin’ crew on a railway or on the docks and this was a long time before the Clash’s ‘Combat Rock’ album cover of 1982 (the Clash had already nicked the idea of their 1979 album pink-and-green lettering over a black-and-white picture from Elvis’s first LP that had come out in 1956).
But the band’s unkempt look had been preceded by a more coordinated look in 1970 at its beginning : teddy-boy drapes! Cavan and Mike Coffey, the drummer, had been local teddy boys before the band had set up and the drape was adopted by the other members in the early days. Cavan believed that they were the first ever band to don ted gear, a practice he said they would abandon soon after successful glam rock groups like Showaddywaddy started wearing ‘drapes’ in 1973. In Cavan’s words, they “really didn’t want to be confused with Showaddywaddy”. It’s probably also safe to say that drapes are not the most suitable wear for any band caught up in a hectic schedule of non-stop touring. I prefer the drape look, but it’s fair to say that despite not sticking to a strict dress code, they genuinely were both a teddy-boy as well as a rockabilly band.
Nowadays, many will define them and other British rockin’ groups of the 1970s as teddy-boy rock’n’roll as opposed to the Straycats who are deemed rockabilly.
This is, of course, nonsense as Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers were just about the most rockabilly group there was. I liken their music style to turbo-charged Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two (although Johnny Cash’s 1950s classic style having been too plodding to deserve fully the name of rock’n’roll). The Rhythm Rockers’ style grew up from the fact that the guitar playing at the beginning was an amateurish attempt to recreate 1950s rockin’ guitar styles with only the records as their cues, as the guitarist Lydon Needs readily admitted, but the musicianship did improve over the years. It has to be said that not all rock’n’roll fans have taken to their musical style as they find all their offerings sound ‘samey’, in the same way as one might react to blues, jazz and other kinds of musical styles, but while it might take a while for listeners to appreciate the variety in their offerings, their stylistic consistency over half a century is buttressed by the loyalty of their many fans.
One aspect of their music which was truly pioneering was the fact that they were original in that they composed and played mostly their own songs. Arguably, no one had composed a new rock’n’roll song since the early 1960s when the Rhythm Rockers brought out their first EP in 1973. The many biker- or hippy-styled groups that played rock’n’roll in Britain in the early 1970s all played well-known hits from the 1950s (as did the Rhythm Rockers’ contemporaries, Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets).
The Rhythm Rockers were from Newport, Wales’s third city, a little to the east of Cardiff. The group evolved around the partnership of Cavan Grogan and Lyndon Needs, first as Count Dracula and the Vampires in 1964, then as the Sundogs in 1968, until they reached the form in which they set in 1970 along with a name-change from the Sundogs to the Rhythm Rockers (they had become wary of being confused with the Sunsets, another up-and-coming rock’n’roll band from Penarth near Cardiff). One element that defined their sound was their familiarity with obscure fifties rock’n’roll to which they were introduced through the pioneer collector and importer, ted Dan Coffey who also lived in Newport.
Le groupe est lancé dès son premier concert à la base aérienne voisine de Caerwent. Ils élargissent ensuite leur périmètre en se
produisant dans des universités et des clubs de rugby. Une de leur première grande date a été en 1971 lorsqu’ils jouent avec Gene
Vincent à Swansea.
Came to London to the Hound-dog Club in the Fishmongers’ Arms in June 1971, were called back some months later for a stint in 1972. CHK
A partir de cette époque le groupe se produit régulièrement à Londres et parfois 5 à 6 soirs par semaine au « Pier Bar » de
31.March 1973 at first British Rock’n’roll Festival, Alexandra Palace, after which they were invited to rnr clubs up and down the country.
1973 first single
1974 first EP ‘rockabilly star’
1975 Hard Rock Cafe, Copenhagen, 1-month residency
Became fully professional in 1975. Signed with Rockhouse label and brought out first album ‘Crazy Rhythm’.
1976 or 1977, featured on Janet Street-Porter’s documentary on the rock’n’roll revival.
1978 ‘bringing the music back’ to the USA and Canada along with 31 British teds.
1979 subsequent tour to USA
1980 1st tour of Finland ? & gold disc awarded for 25,000 copies sold of their 1979 album ‘still crazy’ (Crazy Rhythm CRLP 01) also sold as ‘Mr Cool’ (Charly CR 30203).
1980 Olympia, Paris
Recorded at the Davoux studios on 25th-26th January 1982, the Rhythm Rockers in the Antenne 2 channel tv programme ‘Bop’n’Roll Party’ produced by Pierre Lescure which had pop and rock aficionado Antoine de Caunes presenting.
Here is a nice little apercu of how the band was in 1991 (recorded somewhere in southern France, I believe) :
Here is a tribute by Geoff Barker from 23 February 2020.
Apart from numerous covers over the years, Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers have been the subject of rockin’ songs. The first one is ‘Hey Mr Grogan’ from 1989 by the Norwegian group the Teenkats :
Another is ‘Crazy Cavan’ (using the melody of ‘are you still crazy?’) from 2015 by the French group Billy Brillantine (‘Billy Brylcreem’) :
POSTED June 2020.