Gary James' Interview With
Brenton Wood

He may have been born Alfred Jesse Smith, but the world knows him as Brenton Wood.

Brenton Wood enjoyed pop success with a Top Ten hit back in September 1967 called "Gimme Little Sign". Still performing today, Brenton Wood spoke with us about his recording, touring and performing career.

Q - How's the world treating Mr. Brenton Wood as we speak on this winter day in 2004?

A - Pretty good. I'm enjoying the sunshine in California.

Q - Oh, yeah. Where in California?

A - I'm in Marine Valley, Riverside.

Q - Where's that?

A - It's out by Palm Springs. Everybody's heard of Palm Springs.

Q - Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you'd still be singing in 2004?

A - Not really. Actually, I didn't know how long a hit record lasts. Some records last longer than others. I'm finding out. That's the writers advantage, you know. (laughs)

Q - Did you ever have a desire to do something other than sing for a living?

A - I had planned on being an auto mechanic. I was actually working at an aluminium factory out in Torrance (California) and I was doing pretty good out there. I had been singing nine, ten years prior to that and I hadn't really been successful. I'd write songs and I'd gotten them recorded, but I hadn't had a hit record or anything.

Q - You say you'd written songs and had them recorded by other people?

A - Yeah. I had a songwriter's contract for four actual recordings a year. I don't know if they were demos or for promotional purposes, but I did four songs a year from 1957, all the way up to 1967.

Q - Who was your publishing deal with?

A - I was writing for Double Shot Records. They weren't Double Shot then. They were like Screen Gems.

Q - Still, you had to work in the aluminium factory?

A - Well, yeah. I had to live. (laughs) So, I was starting to get paid pretty good to run those heavy equipment machines.

Q - Who recorded your songs?

A - They gave a song to Ricky Nelson. He did "Gimme Little Sign". A group named Foxy did "I Like The Way You Love Me". They had a guy named Wilbert Wade. He was in high school with me and he also did "Gimme Little Sign". I was just having a good time, but, it don't look like I'm gonna have a hit here. I'm almost 24 years old. (laughs) So, I better be thinking like...future.

Q - When did you know you could sing?

A - Well, you know when it was? When I first started, it was like playing piano. I taught myself piano by watching this other person play the piano. Mimicking him. Picking it up and taking it a step further. Then, I started getting into those songs that were on the radio and how you would play them. I said "I can do that." (laughs) Then, I started copying them. Then I had to study what the hell they were talking about. It seemed like it should be a pretty simple tune. I can do that. So, I started singing along with my playing. After I started playing, I started having girlfriend problems. So, I started writing about that stuff. I found a little niche and I let different girls hear what I'm doing on the tape.

Q - What were some of the songs you wrote at that time?

A- "I Think You Got Your Fools Mixed Up", "Gimme Little Sign", "I'm The One Who Knows".

Q - Were you ever part of a band?

A - No. I just went to work and wrote songs in the evening. It was more or less a challenge for me...perseverance.

Q - Besides Wilbert Wade and yourself, who else was on Double Shot?

A - They had a group called The Count Five. They had a hit record called "Psychotic Reaction" At one point, they had Bobby Day (Rockin' Robin) on the label. They had some members from War, the saxophone player...Charles Miller, that was associated with a group called Senior Soul. They've had a lot of people over the years after I left.

Q - How hard did Double Shot have to work to promote "Gimme Little Sign"?

A - You know, there's two songs that didn't take much promotion on those albums back then, and that was "Oogum Boogum" and "Gimme Little Sign".

Q - How did life change for you when "Gimme Little Sign" became a hit?

A - A drastic change. I went from working in the steel mill to out on the road, not getting any sleep, not getting any rest...nervous, working every night...trying to get from one interview to the next interview.

Q - Did you go on the Dick Clark Cavalcade Of Stars Tour?

A - No. I did the Dick Clark TV show a lot. I did a tour with six guys pulling a U-Haul in a station wagon. We had six weeks on road. This was the time when there were riots in different states. From L.A. to the mid-west. I think we stopped in Philadelphia.

Q - Were you the headliner or did you share the bill with other acts?

A - I was on the bill with other acts, but I was a head liner with the songs in between shows.

Q - Who were you on the same bill with? Do you remember?

A - Do I remember? I was on the same bill with The Young Rascals, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson...a lot of the Bubblegum acts. I've had shows with Janis Joplin, Big Brother and The Holding Company.

Q - What type of venues are you performing in today?

A - I do concerts at state fairs, casinos, and convention centers...and I do some club dates.

Q - Recording wise, what have you been up to?

A - Right now, I'm working on a 'live' album.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* Brenton Wood had three Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967
"The Oogum Boogum Song" (#34), "Gimme Little Sign" (#9), and "Baby You Got It" (#34)