The life of James Marcus Smith began on November 6th. 1938 at Herman Hospital in Houston, Texas.
As a young boy, Jim, like many others was influenced by black musicians and their music.
In spite of the racism that ruled heavily in the Southern States, he listened to all the Baptist Gospel singers
around his area on Sundays and sang along with them.
In those days nearly everybody in the South used to sing in Church.
As a three year old his Uncle Dan took him to a recording booth at the nearby fairground and recorded him singing
his first ever recorded song called “Roll Out The Barrels”.
Jim met and worked with Tommy Sands and Elvis Presley, George Jones, Tennesee Ernie Ford,
The Collins Kids and many others while growing up in Houston at places like The Hitching Post,
The Egals Hall, TheSouth Maine Olde Spanish Trail for the leading D.J. at the time named Cliffie Stone & Biff Collie.
Still he had to wait for fame as he had promised his parents that he would finish High School before pursuing
fame and fortune.
He had already been attending San Marcos Military Academy, in San Marcos,
Texas since he was 9 years old and in the Summer for three months he studied at the Culver Naval Academy
in South Bend, Indiana.
He graduated in 1957 from Western Military in Alton, Illinoise. After this he made his way to Hollywood.
On 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.
She introduced P.J. to songwriting Oscar winner Ray Gilbert.
Ray took Jim to the big agents Gaby Lutz, Heller and Lobe who had such names as Liberace, Kay Star,
Frankie Lane and many other famous names on their books. Jim was signed up and was named “Jett Powers” as they
thought that “Jim Smith” was too ordinary. Jim then met up with a girl named Sharon Sheeley who had written a big
hit for Ricky Nelson called “Poor Little Fool” and at the time was going with Eddie Cochran.
they all became the closest of friends.
Jett by now was going with Sharon’s friend Dotty Harmony and began writing with Sharon, Dotty, Jackie De Shannon,
Dick Glasser, Baker Knight, The Burnett Brothers, Johnny and Dorcy and many others around at the time
At the same time Jim was introduced to Kim Fowley who used him in his new group The Hollywood Argyles who scored a
big hit with the 1960 “Alley Oop”.
Sharon later took him to Liberty Records where they signed him to a songwriting and singing contract after
Sharon changed his name yet again to P.J.Proby after a boy she had dated before going with Eddie Cochran when in
Junior High School. On that day a first step to world wide fame was taken.
In 1961 Liberty released the first P.J.Proby single “Try To Forget Her” and “There Stands The One”
produced by Dick Glasser with vocal backing by the Johnny Mann singers. Glen Campbell on guitar, Leon Russell
on keyboards, David Gates on bass, Hal Blane on drums plus a string section.
Proby kept busy in the studios as a session singer for such artists as BB King, Johnny Cash,
Little Richard and Elvis Presley. But his burning desire was still to have a successful career as a
In 1962, Sharon Sheeley and Jackie de Shannon composed a number and gave it to Proby titled “The Other Side of Town”
which was coupled with “Watch Me Walk Away” composed by their friend and producer Dick Glasser
(Dickie to Sharon and Jackie). The production was very good but the company did not do any promotion work on it
for Proby. This was a pattern to be repeated until P.J. started his recording career in England.
It was Sharon and Jackie who introduced Proby to the talented and charismatic producer Jack Good.
In late 1963 Jack Good travelled back to England at the request of Brian Epstein to produce the first T.V.
special to be screened worldwide of the fast rising group “The Beatles”. The program was to be called
“Around The Beatles”, with a few newcomers at the time named Cilla Black,
Long John Baldry (more famous now for discovering Elton John and Rod Stewart) and a little black girl named Millie.
Jack took with him some demo tapes of P.J. which impressed Epstein and the “Boys”, enough to have Jack send for
him in Hollywood.
Through the Satellite Telstar the show was broadcast all over the world giving millions of people the chance
to get to know P.J.Proby.
That breakthrough lead to Proby’s arrangement of the old 1939 Dick Hayames ballad “Hold Me” which P.J. turned into
an up tempo rocker reaching the number three spot in the British charts.
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, However P.J. was still
under contract to Liberty Records USA, who won a successful court action against Decca in their bid to get Proby back.
In 1964 Liberty Records issued the first Proby L.P. in Britain simply titled “I am P.J.Proby” containing all the
music that P.J. and Charles Blackwell had put together for Decca. Once again Liberty Records gave the single nor
the album any P.R. work nor big marketing campaign. P.J. was beginning to realise that if he was to make things
happen, it was going to all be down to him and himself alone would have to sell himself, by himself and so he did.
P.J.Proby in Town” respectively arranged and produced by Johnny Spence, Johnny Scott and Ron Richards with songs
by Les Read and Barry Mason gave Proby more than enough opportunity to present his wide range of abilities.
Highlighted on this album were such numbers as “I Will” (written by Dick Glasser for his sister), “My Prayer”,
“To Make A Big Man Cry”, “What Kind Of Fool Am I” and P.J.’s favourite from his favourite musical “Carousel”
“If I Loved You”.
Jim has always yearned to play Billy Bigelow since watching one of his idols Gordon Mc Cray in the Part.
P.J. was known for his exhausting visional stage performances. It was one of these performances on January 29th.
1965 at Fairfield hall, Croydon in London that Proby who was the first male ever to wear his hair in a Pony Tail
in the last century at least, burst out of his skin tight velvet bellbottoms doing his act based on the coloured
shows he had been used to attending in the rougher areas of Downtown L.A..
He explained to the frantic press that the ripped clothing was an accident due to the weak velvet material,
but when two days later the same thing again happened, the audiences were wild with excitement,
as they had never witnessed such body movement onstage nor such provocative mood and they loved him.
However the British system that govern the music scene were less enthusiastic. Jim was banned from all
theatres in Great Britain and not allowed to perform his recordings on the B.B.C. or A.T.V. television stations.
By February 24th., Proby was unable to perform almost anywhere although he was headline news in every newspaper
and paparatzi.. As a counter attack to this total boycott on P.J., Liberty released a single on February 27th.
The recording was “I Apologise”. This was with no promotion or personal appearances permitted yet it still reached
number 11 in the charts with no Radio or Television Promotion, Proby continued his recordings despite the door
being slammed on him by the industry. In November 1965, he once again proved to his loyal fans that the “magic”
was never to leave him. 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 the most requested songs.
From the 70’s onwards Jim appeared in concert throughout the world moving also into theatre appearances
in many highly successful productions and musicals. Jack Good cast P.J. as Cassio” in the Rock Musical “Othello”
(an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello”). Other successful stagings followed in particular the lead role in
the musical “Elvis” that played London’s West End in 1977 for which he accepted on behalf of the play the
Evening Standard Award for best play of the year.
P.J. went on to repeat his same role of Elvis once again in 1996 along with the Roy Orbison story “Only The Lonely”
and life story of Jack Good “Good Rockin Tonight”. P.J. then got a call from some old friends, Pete Townsend and
Roger Daltrey asking him to join them on a World Tour of the production Pete wrote and filmed around the same
time he put together “Tommy”, called “Quadraphenia” in which they wanted P.J. to play “The Godfather”.
After a huge success with “The Who” and the Quadraphenia Tour”, P.J. recorded a CD for EMI produced by another
friend Marc Almond which Jim regarded as some of the best work he has ever done with contemporary music.
EMI refused to market or promote this recording with all of this wonderful music on it and today “Legend” as
it was titled still sits being hidden from the public and his fans somewhere in the halls of EMI.
To say P.J.Proby is talented, is an understatement. He’s a giant and as the album states a “Legend”,
who has made an indelible impression upon the music and the entertainment industry.
There is no dispute that P.J.Proby is one of the most exciting and talented performers of our time.
Hope to see you on one of his shows.