THERE are few who would even know who James Marcus Smith is, but mention hellraising, pants splitting 1960s pop icon PJ Proby, and I’ll wager a few more will have heard of him, writes Peter Devine
PJ who was born in Texas grew up listening to black musicians and their music, in spite of the racism that ruled heavily in the Southern States.
PJ worked with artistes, which included Tommy Sands, Elvis Presley, George Jones and Tennessee Ernie Ford during his early years
Still he had to wait for fame as he had promised his parents that he would finish high school in 1957 before pursuing fame and fortune.
Arriving in Hollywood he contacted his old friend Tommy Sands who suggested he go and see the local leading vocal coach Lillian Goodman who trained all the Hollywood greats.
After winning a recording contract with Liberty Record his name was changed to PJ Proby.
In 1961 Liberty released the first P.J. Proby single “Try To Forget Her” and when not working on songs was a session singer for artistes including Presley, BB King, Johnny Cash and Little Richard.
After trying his hand in the American music scene Proby relocated to Britain in 1962, where he was introduced to producer Jack Good
This success was followed by yet another transformed oldie from the same period titled “Together” also in the same style, which reached number eight in the charts,
Both singles, as did all of Proby releases charted high in the American Billboard charts. These first singles were released in Europe on the Decca Label.
P.J. was known for his exhausting visual stage performances and It was at one of these performances on January 29th. 1965 at Fairfield Hall, Croydon that he is best remembered. Proby who was the first male ever to wear his hair in a pony tail, burst out of his skin tight velvet bellbottoms. Two days later the same happened again.
While the fans loved him the British establishment was less certain and feared such lewd behaviour would cause outrage among the chattering classes. He was banned from all theatres in Great Britain and not allowed to perform his recordings on the BBC. or ATV television stations.
Despite the bans Proby carried on regardless and his recording of “Maria” from “West Side Story” was regarded along with “Somewhere” as two of the best and most exciting versions ever and are still the two of his most requested songs.
From the 70’s onwards he appeared in concert throughout the world moving also into theatre appearances in many highly successful productions and musicals including Cassio in the Rock Musical “Catch my Soul” (an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello”).
During the early 90’s, P.J. quit drinking after a few serious health scares and for the first time in years regained control of his personal and professional life. As a therapy to learn to walk and talk again he started performing as himself in Bill Kenwright’s West End productions “Good Rockin Tonight” and “Only The Lonely”. He then played Elvis once again in “Elvis: The Musical”.
By 1996, P.J. was re-signed by EMI to record the “Legend” album which was produced by friend Marc Almond
Before PJ took to the stage for his recent Sixties Gold concert the Stockport Mail caught up with him to ask him how he copes with life as a 75 year old:
Tell us an inspirational moment in your life?
I’d say when I was about three and realised life was all about fun.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Nothing!! I did enough of that at Military School from the age of nine till 17 being woken ub by reveille at 6am every day.
How do you enjoy life these days?
When do you plan to finish touring?
The day the curtains comes down on the last show
What gives you greatest pleasure in being on the road?
Being able to sleep until sound check at 5 o’clock. That’s longer than I get when I’m not working.
As the song goes, The road is long
With many a winding turns
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where. How many turns do you think you have made in your life?
All of them!
What’s your idea of a night in these days?
My idea of a night is doing everything that most people do in the daytime
Finally what would you like your epitaph to read?
“I Told You So!”