Andy Howells chats to American rock singer PJ Proby ahead of his appearance on the Sixties Gold tour this October.
“I was brought over to the UK for 15 days and that was 52 years ago,” says American singer PJ Proby as he recalls the moment TV producer Jack Good booked a career-changing appearance for him on The Beatles 1964 TV Special Around The Beatles.
“He played them my records and they agreed to put me on their show,” recalls the singing star, “I was introduced to the world by Paul McCartney on the first TV show to go out by satellite, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Then I was destroyed by Mary Whitehouse!”
PJ Proby appears to have a little laugh as he recalls the late social activist known for her strong opposition to social liberalism and mainstream British media, both of which she accused of encouraging a more permissive society. However once Mary Whitehouse got the singer in her sights, it was no laughing matter for him when his trousers ripped during an on-stage tour performance whilst supporting Cilla Black.
“The minute my pants split across the knees on stage, Mary Whitehouse put it out on the headlines – Obscene!,” says Proby, “Just that one word was enough to convince the public that I’m not good for their children to go and see. If I’d have been wearing Levi’s they’d have split, I was doing a James Brown type of act. I’d shake my hair and do knee slides across the wooden stage. The stage would have ripped blue jeans or any kind of material. The only thing that got ripped was my knees and I even have it in my act now.”
PJ Proby’s on stage reputation didn’t affect his record sales, which saw him riding high in the British charts with hits such as Hold Me and Somewhere. “She couldn’t take away my voice,” he says,” but she could control the system and had me banned from theatre’s for forty years. I didn’t play in another theatre until The Searchers called me up to join them on tour in 2001.”
Thankfully Proby has been a regular fixture on the 1960s touring circuit since The Searchers gave him the call and fans will get the chance to see him perform live once again at St David’s Hall on October 12 when he takes part in the Sixties Gold show alongside The Searchers, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, Wayne Fontana, and special guests from the US, Gary Puckett and Union Gap.
Proby’s colourful career stretches back to the 1950s, where he counts working as a bodyguard for Hollywood stars and been a hit songwriter amongst his credentials. His composition Ain’t Gonna Kiss You No More written under his real name, James Marcus Smith was the title track of a hit EP for The Searchers in 1963, who like The Beatles, were still relatively unknown in America at that time.
“By the time I got over here, The Searchers already had hits with a bunch of Jackie De Shannon Songs,” remembers Proby, “I met the guys and their original drummer, Chris Curtis, had a big American record collection, which he used to go through to get numbers for The Searchers. We spent a whole night going through records on the floor and we came across one by The Drifters which they never really did anything with called Let The Water Run Down and Chris said “That will be a hit PJ!” So I went and recorded it and that was the first time I got in the American charts.”
PJ’s friendship with The Searchers continues to this day and he’s delighted to be touring with them again, “I’m friends with all of them, they are just like brothers and their wives like sisters,” he says.
PJ is also looking forward to meeting fellow American Gary Puckett on the forthcoming Sixties Gold tour. Puckett, along with his band The Union Gap, took the US and UK charts by storm with their hits Lady Willpower and Young Girl in the late 60s. “I always thought Gary had a great voice,” says Proby, “I’m looking forward to meeting him because we know the same people. I knew his producer, a friend of mine named Jerry Fuller, before Gary was even on the scene.”
Catch Sixties Gold at St David’s Hall on October 12, for ticket details visit stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk