He was born James Marcus Smith, but the world knows him as P.J. Proby.
P.J. Proby is a singer, a songwriter and an actor who's known and worked with the very best in Rock 'n' Roll. In this interview, we'll talk to P.J. about the people he's known and in a world exclusive, for the very first time, P.J. Proby will reveal why he was really thrown out of England, and it had nothing to do with splitting his pants as previously reported in every single publication.
Here then is P.J. Proby.
Q - P.J., P.J. Proby is not your real name. James Marcus Smith is. A songwriter named Sharon Sheeley gave you the name P.J. Proby? That was the name of her old boyfriend?
A - That's right. Before she was going with Eddie Cochran, she was in junior high school with some boy whose first name was Proby something. Then in senior high school she started going with Eddie Cochran. That's how I met them both. They were going together then. That was in '57.
Q - She must've been some girl! But where did the P.J. part of the name come from?
A - I think P.J. comes from a nightclub that had just opened on Santa Monica Blvd., where Trini Lopez had just opened. P.J.'s. It was the biggest club in Hollywood at the time. I think she just lifted it off the nightclub thing.
Q - Sharon Sheeley wasn't in management?
A - No, she wasn't. But boy, did she help a lot of people. Not only did she put me on the road, but she introduced Baker Knight to Ricky Nelson. Baker went on to write loads of hits for Ricky. She introduced a little clique of us that ran around, me and her and Eddie Cochran, The Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Baker Knight, Johnnie and Dorsey Burnette, Kim Fowley. We all congregated and met at Sharon's almost every night. In 1963, she brought Jack Good up to my house in Laurel Canyon and introduced us. It all went from there. He was doing the stuff with The Beatles and brought me over here (England).
Q - Meeting Jack Good was in fact your big break, wasn't it?
A - It was. It was the biggest. I had what anybody else would call big, big breaks. I was 17 when I went to Hollywood. Elvis was just getting drafted. I called up Tommy Sands, another old friend of mine. He was too busy doing pictures with Pat Boone and the beach pictures with Annette Funicello. So he said "I'm pretty busy. Why don't you go up to Lillian Goodman. She's the vocal coach for all the MGM people when they had to do their musicals." So, I auditioned for Lillian and she accepted me. On about the third or fourth day, I went up to my vocal training, she called me into the dinning room of her house and said "I'd like for you to meet someone." She introduced me to Ray Gilbert, who won an Oscar for all the music from Song Of The South. He wrote "Zip-A-Dee Doo Dah", "Zoot Suit With A Reptile". On the third day I was there in Hollywood, I had Ray Gilbert as my manager. Ray took me over the next day to Gaby, Lutz, Heller and Loeb. They had Kay Starr, Tony Bennett, Liberace. I was too young to sign a contract. So, they called my father in Houston and he flew out. We were sitting around the table and they said "Jimmy, how much do you want to sign with us?" I said "Do I want to sign with you? How much do you want?" Daddy said "Jimmy, you go out and sit in the foyer." Daddy was a banker. I was going to tell them I should be paying them to take me on. So Daddy came out and he said "I've got your $10,000. Don't you think you owe Mr. Gilbert something?" I said "Yeah, Daddy. Well, how much?" He always made me make up my own mind. I said "Well, how about half?" He said "Ray, is half good enough for you?" Ray said "It's fine with me." So he said "OK Ray, you take the $10,000. $5,000 for you, $5,000 for Jimmy. You open a bank account where anytime Jimmy wants money, you have to sign for it." And then he said goodbye. And that was it. So, within a week of being there, Ray Gilbert is my manager. His daughter was Melissa Gilbert from Little House On The Prairie. I'm her Godfather actually. She probably doesn't even know who I am. And I had the biggest agents in Hollywood. Within a week they had me on a plane flying to New York alongside Dorothy La Mour and Charlie Applewhite on television. And Dorothy La Mour with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, all the Road Pictures. I thought, "my God, I've made it! I'm a star and I haven't even made a record."
Q - Would you think it was easier to get a break in show business back in 1957 than it is today?
A - I think so, simply because it was talent. It was all based on how good you were, how talented you were. It had nothing to do with big business or any of this "X Factor" bull corn that's going on. It was all about how good you were. When I went to audition for MCA, I had to stand in front of a desk with my guitar and play and sing to the man behind the desk. There was no such thing as tape recorder. Reel to Reel tape recorders were as big as your car almost in a studio. It was just two track mono in those days. You were really judged on your talent, plus how much swing the guy who introduced you to these people had, how much power he had.
Q - Were you singing in bands as a kid?
A - I only ever sang with Elvis and Tommy (Sands) and an extremely young George Jones in the summertime when I was on school holidays, three months out of military school. I was put into a military academy in 1948, at the age of nine. I didn't get out until I was eighteen. I went to some of the largest military academies in the United States. I graduated from Western Military Academy with a guy who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. But in the summertime I had my own radio show with Tommy Sands, working for Biff Collie, called Biff Collie's Crackerbarrel Corner We would sing at a place called The Hitching Post out at the end of Main Street and these other places scattered around Houston. Elvis came out in '53 and '54 and he was singing with us.
Q - He could do that without Colonel Parker saying anything?
A - Oh, no. Parker was there. It's just that Elvis didn't start his career until late '53, early '54.
Q - Wasn't it '55?
A - '55 he signed with RCA Victor. He was with Sun (Records) until '55.
Q - I'll talk about Elvis in a bit, but get back to Jack Good. He brought you over to England.
A - Yeah. Eddie Cochran and Sharon Sheeley were very dear friends of mine. We had put Eddie on the plane to come over to England in '60. Then we put Sharon on the plane when they extended the tour. Then, there was the car accident and Eddie was killed. When Sharon came back, we kind of all went over to her house. I was going with a friend of hers, Dottie Harmony, who had been going with Elvis. We were at the house everyday looking after Sharon. Her neck was in bad, bad shape. She used to play all those videos of people we'd never heard of, like Billy Fury and Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard. She had all this film that she'd taken while she was in England. She said the producer was Jack Good. The shows were called Oh, Boy and Six Five Special. She said "when he comes to America, he's going to do the same thing he did in England. He's going to try to do the same thing as American Bandstand." So, I just really didn't pay that much attention to it. That was about '61, '62. By '63 I was married for the first time. I was living on top of Laurel Canyon. I'd just been in a big, big argument with Liberty Records over a song I wrote called "I Only Came To Dance With You". Liberty had turned it down, Metric Music had turned it down. I took it and recorded a local Los Angeles group with it. They had a hit. So Liberty Records called me in and said "we're gonna sue that little company you went to. We want you to stand up for us." I said I wouldn't do that. "I'll stand up for the little company you're suing because I gave you all first shot at that song when I wrote it and you didn't want it. I'm not gonna sit around and let it gather dust on the shelf. You turned it down." They said "Do you have a piece of paper to prove that?" I said "No. I thought that we were all friends." I was really green about this business. I didn't know anything about getting signed releases. So they said "Well, what you're gonna do is testify for us, that you made a mistake 'cause we're suing." I said "No, I'm not." They said "Well, in that case, you're on suspension. You don't pick up any checks from Metric Music anymore." I was getting a check for $500 a month. That was a lot of money to me in 1961 and 1962. So, I was up the house. My car was repossessed. All of the electricity in the house was turned off because I couldn't pay the bills. My hair had grown down to my shoulders 'cause I couldn't afford to get a haircut. And all of a sudden my wife and I are sitting on the floor, eating tacos by candlelight when there was a knock at the door. I put my arm over the sofa and grabbed my pistol. I said "Mary Anne, would you open the door there?" She opened the door and there was Jackie De Shannon and Sharon Sheeley. I just released the pistol and said "Hello girls. What are you doing up in this area?" Sharon said "I brought somebody to see you." And with that this figure steps out of the dark and walks over to me without a word, pulls on my long hair and said "My God, it's real. You're hired dear boy. Be at C.B.S. tomorrow at ten o'clock." And he disappeared into the night. I said "What in the hell was that all about Sharon?" She said "That was Jack Good, the man I told you about. The big producer from England." I said "What do I do now?" She said "Just be there tomorrow at ten o'clock." I said "I can't. They repossessed my car. They stopped my check from Liberty." She said "I see. You just want me to come pick you up in the morning? Mary Anne, take that beer out of his hand and put him to bed. If you're one second late, I'll leave without you." Then she and Jackie left and the next day she picked me up and took me to C.B.S. We cut a pilot called Young America Swings The World. A few days after that, Jack and I started putting something together that he had wanted to do for ages and ages and ages; a Rock 'n' Roll musical of Othello. We were busy doing that. One day I just went over to the house as usual and he was packing. He said "I have to go to England. This group of boys you asked me about, there up on the wall there, they're called The Beatles. Their manager wants me to produce their first satellite TV special. First television program ever done by satellite. I'm gonna take your records over there, play 'em for the boys and their manager Brian Epstein and see if I can't get you on the show." So, I didn't think very much of it 'cause I had heard The Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and didn't really think very much of it. To me, they weren't The Ames Brothers and they weren't The Four Lads or The Four Freshmen, and that's what I considered fantastic groups.
Q - You'd seen a picture of The Beatles, right?
A - Oh, I'd seen their picture. My hair was already longer than theirs because I'd been dropped from the payroll of Liberty Records. I couldn't get a haircut.
Q - I bet yours was slicked back like Elvis. It wasn't in the mop top fashion.
A - No, it was in the mop top fashion because I'd gone over to a supermarket and a bus pulled up with a bunch of foreign students. They stepped off and they were French students and every single one of the students had their hair like that, down in their eyes. And so, I had been combing mine like that for a long time before I even heard of The Beatles. Jack left and went over to do The Beatles thing. I had an argument with my wife and moved into a Highland Hotel on Highland Blvd. in Hollywood. I was just sitting in my bedroom one night and the phone rang and said "Hello, is Mr. Proby there?" I said "Speaking." She said "This is Vivian Moynihan here from Rediffusion Television. I've been told by Mr. Jack Good that you're probably doing nothing better than trying to learn your lines for Othello." I said "You're entirely right lady. I am doing just that, and I'm having a hell of a time 'cause I'm just a country boy from Texas and this Shakespeare stuff is a bit beyond me." She said "I though as much. Well, the boys and their manager would like for you to come over for their first television special, Around The Beatles" I said "I would love to." She said "There's a ticket waiting for you tomorrow morning at 10:30 at Los Angeles Airport. I'll no doubt see you when you arrive. Good-bye." So, I put the phone down. What happened was my wife had run off with a guy and given him all my clothes. So, I only had an old pair of dirty blue jeans, no shirt, no boots. She'd given everything away. I'd gone back into the house. Right in the middle of the room, where there was no furniture, was a pair of blue, girls underwear with my hunting knife right through 'em and a note saying "If the panties fit, wear 'em." She'd given all my underwear and socks to her boyfriend. So, I was actually wearing those panties. So, I called up my friend Nan Moress, who was a secretary for Rock Hudson, and I told her "I have to be at the airport tomorrow at 10 and I haven't got any clothes to wear." So she said "Just stay there. I'll be over in about twenty minutes." So in twenty minutes there's a knock at the door and there's Tuesday Weld, this actress friend of mine and Nan Moress and they took me over to Troy Donahue. So we went over to Troy's house. Troy was about 6' 4", so I couldn't wear his pants, but I could wear his shirts. He gave me two velour sweaters. Then we went over to Warner Brothers where I was an extra as a stuntman and I snuck into the wardrobe and I stole a shirt that Paul Newman was wearing in The Left-Handed Gun and I stole the boots that Russ Tamblyn was wearing in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, which were dancing boots. They didn't last very long. Off we went the next day to the airport. Tuesday and Nan gave me $25 to get a bottle of Bourbon. That was all the money I had. So, I got the bottle of Bourbon and drank it all the way to London. When I got off, Heathrow was nothing more than a very small airport in '64. The ladder just went down to the tarmac and you had to walk to the terminal. So, when I got to the door, I was wearing these old Levis with holes in 'em. That's the only ones she didn't give away, my Russ Tamblyn boots and a crushed cowboy hat and the pilot looking shirt that Paul Newman had been wearing. I looked like something out of a John Steinbeck Grapes Of Wrath movie, and about half to three sheets to the wind. When they opened the door, there was all the press at the bottom of the ladder and a Rolls Royce waiting there and Jack Good. "Jim. Jim. welcome to England, Jim." Then somebody yells out from the press "Do something British! Do something British!" I don't know anything British. Wait, yes I do. Winston Churchill used to stick two fingers up in the air. So, I stuck two fingers up in the air. But I didn't know if you turned it around the wrong way, it meant something completely different in this country. It meant "Up Yours!" So Jack said "No, no Jim boy. Turn it around the other way." He turned my hand around and said "I'll tell you later." So, we got in this Rolls Royce and drove around the corner and Jack pulled over and thanked this man. He said "From here, we'll take a cab." I said "We're already in a car." He said "P.J., did you think this was my car? I gave this man ten pounds to let us borrow it 'cause I told the press it was yours. I told them you were rich." And so, we got a cab into where Rediffusion had booked me in Earl's Court. Earl's Court in '64 looked like World War II had just ended and there were bomb craters everywhere that were kind of boarded up with hard board and everything. The hotel they had put me into only cost five pounds a month. It was called a bed sit. It just had a bed and a sink and you couldn't hardly turn around in it. That was what they put me in. The next day we all met at rehearsals at Rediffusion and I was introduced to The Beatles. We rehearsed for fifteen days and then we shot the film. During the shooting, Jack took me down and we cut a record of a song I had played around with. It was just kind of a joke. I took an old Dick Haymans number, "Hold Me" and up-tempo it on guitar and turned it into an up-tempo song. And Jack recorded me doing it. I didn't think anything would come of it, but after the show was over I got back to America. I got a phone call a week later saying that my record had jumped in at number three and if I would come back over, this guy that owned the publishing company would pay for my ticket, and he got me my first job at the Albert Hall, bottom of the bill to Adam Faith's show. That was just about a month after we had done the TV thing. So I came back, the record was at number three and I was just "hot property." Then I went and did the show at Albert Hall and I put together a band that used brass. I did James Brown music and arranged all of it like The Flames. Now, James Brown had never been heard of in England. So when I came out with brass and everything, the place just went wild. I only got through three numbers and they rushed the stage, tearing all my clothes off. The police had to lock me in a corrugated iron toilet for an hour. Adam Faith didn't get on 'til so late that by the time he got onstage, almost everybody had left the theatre. And so the next day it was headlines: P.J. Proby Knocks Off Top Of The Bill At The Albert Hall. So that was the beginning of everything.
Q - When you met The Beatles, did you like them? Did you get along with one of the guys better than the others?
A - They were all very nice. Then one I got along with best was John. John was married to Cynthia and I was just going through a divorce, so we had something more in common. John and I were nearer each other's age. I was twenty-five and John was about twenty-four. I understood John's humor. The rest of 'em didn't have any humor, except for Ringo. He kind of sat in the background and didn't say very much. So John invited me out to his home. I'd go out there every weekend. I introduced him to Jack Daniels. So, I'd take about five fifths of Jack out there every weekend. Cynthia would make cornbread and corn on the cob and Southern food for me. Southern fried chicken. John and I just became very close. John and I would play pranks on people like Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. We'd go over to Brian's house about three sheets in the wind and steal all of Brian's clothes and then go back to my place and wait for the phone to ring. Brian would call; "Hey guys, please, please bring my clothes back. Your dirty laundry doesn't fit me anyway." So, we'd just laugh and take all of his clothes back to him.
Q - P.J., I envy you. What a position to find yourself in at that time in music history. What would you and John talk about?
A - Oh, everything. We didn't really talk all that much. He had a house, this huge, huge mansion with hardly any furnishings in it. Cynthia had let him take the top floor in this three story mansion and that was his floor to do anything he wanted. So, he painted it mat black and mat red. In one huge, huge room he just laid down these tracks, almost like a train track, but it was for cars. He and I would sit up there for hours and hours and race these cars against each other. Then we'd go into a music room and sit down. He had every instrument in the world in there. We'd take turns playing different instruments. He really amazed me when I pulled out a steel guitar and he could play it. He could even play Country And Western on it.
Q - That's a side of John Lennon the public never got to see.
A - No. Then one day we went out and bought all these little cans that meant nothing. But, you'd plug 'em in and it covered the whole of the fireplace, the mouth of the fireplace. We'd plug 'em in and little lights of every color in the rainbow would start flickering on and off. It made it look very important. And George Harrison came over one night and he looked at that and said "What's that?" John being a prankster said "Oh, that's my new security system, so I can tell everything that's going on, on the property. I knew when you came on the property." George said "That's great! I've got to get one. Where did you get it?" He said "Well, I'll tell you later." He put him on. George went away thinking he was going to call John back and John was gonna tell him where he got that thing. I think John and I spent $1.50 and put all that together, and it didn't mean anything. It looked important because the lights would flash on and off. George went away thinking I've got to get one of those for my house. (laughs)
Q - Did you sing with John too?
A - Yeah. We'd sing together.
Q - What kind of songs? '50s songs?
A - No. We'd usually sing cowboy songs, Country songs, stuff that we liked and at the time we were dictated by what we were drinking. (laughs) We did a lot of Elvis songs, the old Sun stuff. Not his newer stuff. "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", stuff like that.
Q - Explain that part about not much furniture in the home. I don't understand that.
A - That had just gotten their money and I don't think they really had that much time to settle in. They had a dining room suite. When I say they didn't have much furniture, I'm comparing it to all the Hollywood homes I went into. And of course it was absolutely nothing near that. Like only one sofa and one deep chair. That to me is not very furnished.
Q - How did the other Beatles strike you? You say they had no sense of humor? How did Paul and George come across to you?
A - Well, the others had a sense of humor, it's just that I didn't run around with them very much. In the first place when I got there, Paul and I didn't hit it off. We were rehearsing and then we had a lunch break and I was sitting at one table and Paul was sitting at another. I heard this voice behind me saying, "Well give us a song then." I looked around and there's a guy with a newspaper in front of him. He said "Give us a song." The newspaper slowly came down and it was Paul. I said "What do you mean, give you a song?" He said "Well, you're the lead singer of Rosie And The Originals. Give us a song." Rosie And The Originals happened to be a group they really liked from the States. I said "McCartney, I wasn't the lead singer of Rosie And The Originals. For Christ sakes, I'm white and I'm not a chick." And what happened was, Jack Good in selling me, to get The Beatles to bring me over to England, had told them a bunch of damn lies about me. He told them I was the lead singer for Rosie And The Originals and God knows what else. I didn't find out this until much, much later. From that moment on when I said "Why don't you sing to yourself?" I'm having lunch, Paul never spoke to me for the next fourteen days. Then, when it was on shooting day, when we were gonna shoot the master film, it turned out that The Beatles were going to introduce all of us newcomers on the show; me, Cilla Black, Long John Baldry, a little Black girl who had a hit record out, Millie. Each Beatle drew a name and I found out Paul had drawn my name to introduce me. So, I just thought, well, that's it. He's not gonna do me any favors. I might as well get on up there and do my thing, get on the airplane, fly back and get job back as a stunt man for Warner's. Nothing is going to come of this for me. So, when it came time for Paul to introduce me, I stepped up to the mark and turned around and he starts saying "Ladies and gentlemen, our good friend from Hollywood, California, his first television appearance in England, P.J. Proby!" Then he gave me that thumb sign, which means good on you and I was so shocked I almost forgot to go out in front at the television and do what I was hired to do. But I did, and after the show, Paul and I became very, very close friends and I went out and had dinner with he and his parents a lot of times. I think the thing that it was with Paul, that Jack Good had built me up so high that Paul thought I had to prove myself to him, that I was a god as Jack built me up to be. I guess when I passed the test on the screening that day, everything was fine.
Q - Were you invited to Paul's recent wedding?
A - No. I'm very good friends with his brother, Mike. I just did a tour for about eight months in England. What I do is, I use the clip of The Beatles and Paul introducing me to the world in '64. I open with that film being shown on a screen. Paul introduces me and then the film is going off and then the live band bringing me onstage to the number I'm doing. When we played Liverpool, I found out Mike McGear, Paul's brother, was coming and I get Mike to go and say "Wait a minute Bro, you did that forty-seven years ago. It's my turn to introduce him." Then Mike introduced me that night. And it went down great. I had two McCartneys introducing me.
Q - Not too many people can say that.
A - No.
Q - Did you meet Brian Epstein?
A - Oh, yeah. I met Brian the first day of rehearsal and after rehearsal was over I was going to the street to get a taxi cab. He said "P.J., come here. I'd like to manage you." I said "I think The Beatles are going to be huge within the next year. I can tell you something. You won't be able to handle anybody but them and do what's right by them, just like Parker couldn't handle anybody but Elvis. What would happen if I sign with you? You'd have to shelve me sometime in this year to come because you wouldn't have enough time for me and I don't want to get into a situation like that. So it's thank-you, but no thank-you. You'll have plenty on your hands with the boys." And I left. Looking back as everyone does, the wisdom after forty-eight years, I wish I'd have said "yes", even though he wouldn't have had the time for me. What little time he did have would have been worth it.
Q - You believe he would have made a career move for you that the world would've remembered?
A - I think he might have. The thing is, he was in a position to, and I didn't take advantage of that. You should never, ever miss any opportunity that comes along in life. Never say "no" to an opportunity.
Q - I don't understand why Brian Epstein thought he needed to sign so many groups and acts to his management company. There simply wasn't the time to devote to each act.
A - Well, he was probably looking at it in terms of he needed a support act if he was going to go on with the boys and produce the shows. And so the more bands he signed that were in his stable, then he could take a commission off them because he owned them. When he put bands onstage, he'd put them on as The Beatles' support act and he'd be collecting two or three more percentage besides the boys.
Q - Not to mention record deals, merchandising and TV appearances.
A - Yeah. I think he probably would have done as least as much for me. I would've gotten at least as much out of Brian as Gerry And The Pacemakers got and as Billy J. Kramer got. I would've gotten at least that much mileage out of Brian and that would have been a good deal.
Q - I would say Gerry And The Pacemakers received more attention than Billy J. Kramer.
A - That's only because Gerry and them were way before The Beatles. They were like 1960, 1961. Gerry had about three or four hits in a row, number ones in England and The Beatles were kind of late in getting started. They were turned down by a lot of companies before they got off the ground. Decca turned 'em down. So, they were kind of late in getting started, but once they did start, it was like somebody lit a torch in an old, dry barn.
Q - The Beatles wrote a song for you, "That Means A Lot".
A - Oh, yeah. I went up to John one night at The Ad Lib, this drinking club we used to go to, this after hours joint. I said "John, God damn you! You bring me all the way over from Hollywood and you write songs for people like Peter And Gordon and Mary Hopkins, but you don't write anything for me. And you brought my ass over here, you son-of-a-gun." He said "Well, I'll write you one, P.J." I didn't think any more of it. About a week went by. I walked in the Ad Lib again and as I walked past John I said "Hey, pal." He said "I got your song." I said "What?" He said "Here's your record I wrote for you." I said "Oh, John, thank-you. I was only half way kidding about that. Thank-you very much. Listen John, you think you could get your producer to produce me?" He said "My God! He didn't just want me songs, he wants my bloody arranger too!" But he did do it. I went to George (Martin) just once on that number.
Q - Did you like working with him?
A - Oh, yeah. We worked at Abby Road, where I did all my other stuff. But I worked for the first time in the large studio where The Beatles worked, instead of the small studio downstairs where I worked. I actually preferred the small studio. But it was a great experience. And George (Martin) was great to work with.
Q - And that song was recorded for what record label?
A - E.M.I. / Liberty. I was signed to Liberty in 1962. They distributed through E.M.I. in England.
Q - Did they do anything for you with that song?
A - No. Liberty never used me for anything but a songwriter for their Metric Music. They never did anything for me in America.
Q - Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock said that you were always more popular in England than America.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Part of the reason then has to be Liberty Records.
A - Liberty wouldn't do anything for me in America. They got me very little television. They didn't get me Shindig. They didn't get me Where The Action Is. In fact, they didn't even get me the only tour that I ever started in America when I got a hit record called "Niki Hoeky". I got a tour with Tommy Roe and Neil Diamond. Liberty didn't get that. I only got as far as Kentucky. When I went and sang at this university in Harlan County, Kentucky, I was Niki Hoeky. It's about smoking marijuana. It's in Cajun language. As the band kept on playing, we were near the end of the song and I said "Children, what do I have in my hand here?" I just held up an imaginary nothing in my hand. I said "Is this Bull Durham roll you're on?" Fifty thousand college kids: "No!" "It isn't children? Then if it isn't Bull Durham Roll, your own children, then what is it?" Fifty thousand college kids stomping their feet and chanting "Marijuana, Marijuana!" I finish the song and went back into the dressing room and Dick Clark was livid. He was running all over the place like a chicken with his head cut off, saying "P.J. I can't have that! I'm the oldest teenager in America. You'll ruin my name." I said "Dick, I don't even smoke regular cigarettes. I've got asthma, much less marijuana." "But you were simulating. You're fired!" So, my one and only chance to break America on the Dick Clark Where The Action Tour. I was kicked off in Harlan County, Kentucky. And that was it.
Q - In 1965 you were touring England with Cilla Black.
A - Yeah. That was my first tour.
Q - And somehow, someway, you split your pants and got kicked out of England.
A - What happened was, the pants split, but only across the knees. Nobody had even seen the flesh of knees onstage before. I only found out the real truth about two or three years ago. The real truth turned out to be that Gordon Mills had gone up to the guy who was promoting the tour, Joan Collins' father, and he (Gordon Mills) offered him a great deal of money to throw me off the tour and put Tom Jones on in my place. And so he accepted. So, money exchanged hands and I was to be thrown off the tour before it started and Tom was to replace me. But when they all had a board meeting, Lew Grades and The Delfonts said "we can't do that because Tom isn't even known. He's just got one record out. P.J.'s got a following. We can't throw him off the tour like that. We've got to have a reason." So then a lady called Mary Whitehouse stopped in who had a committee who got people in trouble with her if they did something she thought was offensive. A morals act committee. She said "He's an American from Texas. He will do something where I can get him. He will do something onstage. I know he will. He will do something where I can nail him." And so they said "OK, we'll let him start the tour and see if you can get him on anything." Of course, the tour started and the pants split across the knees and there was the uproar and it played right into Mary Whitehouse's hand. She went to the press, "indecent, vulgar, poisoning the minds of our teenagers." They warned me about three or four times, but the audience was going crazy and loved everything. I couldn't see anything vulgar about it. It wasn't splitting anywhere except across the knees. I'm afraid I can't brag that much to say anything could be seen that low. But it worked. They threw me off the tour at the end of the first week and put Tom Jones on in my place. But see, even if the pants hadn't split, they were ready to throw me off anyway. All they needed was some kind of an excuse that the public would buy. The money had already exchanged hands. Tom had already been brought into my place. That story has never been out in the press yet. Everybody still around the world thinks that I was thrown off the tour because of the split pants.
Q - So, I'm the first writer you've told this story to?
A - Yeah.
Q - Now I understand why people refer to the music business as "dirty" with that money exchange.
A - Yeah.
Q - Why did Mary Whitehouse single out "an American will do something wrong"? If you were French or Norwegian, would she have said that? What does that mean?
A - It means all Americans use sex in their act. That kind of inadvertently referred to Elvis. The swinging hips. In other words, Americans can't stand still.
Q - The irony of it is, Tom Jones probably split his pants onstage!
A - He probably did too, but everything else in his act, he's copied from me. He copied my opening number, "Turn On Your Love Light". He even started wearing his hair in a ponytail and we both do it. At a charity show in Wembley Stadium, I was at the bar and Tom walked up to the bar. I noticed he had his hair in a ponytail. His was all curly, curly, like colored people's hair. His ponytail looked terrible on a head of hair like that. I just said "Why don't you stop wearing yesterday's t-shirt?" "I have to wear it." And he went to America for one show and they didn't particularly like it. He came back and cut his ponytail off and never went back to it ever again.
Q - And you recorded "Delilah" before he did.
A - Yeah, I did. I didn't want to cut it. I was goaded into recording it. See, I asked Les Reed and Barry Mason to write me a song like "It's Not Unusual". I liked that song so much. And so I was doing a show someplace at one of the beaches in England... Brighton, something like that. I was in my motel bedroom and there was a knock at the door. It's Barry and Les Reed and they said "It's Barry and Les Reed" and they said "We've got your hit!" I said "that was fast, boys. Just put it on the record player in front of the bed and let me hear it." So they put it on. I said "My God. That's the worst piece of shit I've ever heard in my life! It sounds like a German beer garden song that you sling your steins to. I wanted something like 'It's Not Unusual'. Take that and shove it up your ass!" The next thing I know they did it with Tom and it's a huge hit all over the world.
Q - And "Delilah" is such a great song! How could you be so wrong?
A - I just didn't like it. I thought it would be good done in German. And also the thing I didn't like about it is it sounded like a sing-along song. I really wasn't into that kind of thing, where everybody could join in with you. I was still into the Billy Eckstein's and "A Hundred Pounds Of Clay" and Tony Orlando. In the old days I was doing all of Elvis' motion picture demos for Ben Wiseman and the writers of his motion pictures on the West coast and he (Tony) was doing the demos on the East coast. And so I was hearing a lot of Tony long before he had hit records out.
Q - What odd jobs were you doing in Hollywood before Jack Good brought you to England?
A - Well, I was a stuntman at Warner Brothers doing horse falls and steeple falls. And then I was also the motorcycle delivery boy for Ad Step and I used to deliver albums to all the record companies and out to San Diego to Toys r Us. And then I would sing out on weekends in a place in the Valley called The Palomino and a place called The Crossbar, and The Rag Doll. And then I would also sing down at a place called Mama Rosa's, where I met Timi Yuro. Her mother owned it. Timi and I worked up at Sunset Blvd. I was a drummer and she was a singing waitress. We got paid in beer and hamburgers. That was The Seawitch, right next to Dino's. So that was kind of like the odd jobs I did. Then of course I was a demonstration singer for Ben Wiseman and loads of people all over Hollywood. I did almost all of the demos for Elvis' pictures and lots of Johnny Cash and almost all of the artists Ben did for Liberty, like Bobby Vee. I was the first one to do "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes". I asked Ben "Can I have this one?" "No P.J., you haven't even got a recording contract."
Q - Let's talk about Elvis. How did you find him to be, because you met him early on, didn't you?
A - Yeah. I met Elvis when I was fourteen. He was seventeen or eighteen. He was singing with Tommy (Sands) and I out at The Hitching Post. I took my sister out there and he came on. He saw Betty and he flipped and she flipped. So, the next day when I went home, I think I went to the motion pictures, when I came home, there was a pink Cadillac in the driveway. I'd never seen such a car, with gold hubcaps and where all the chrome should be, gold plate. I looked inside and the seat covers were pink and black polka dotted. I walked in the house and of course there was Elvis with Betty. They had made a date the night before. They had dinner and everything. He came over a few times after that to take Betty out. She was going with both Tommy and Elvis. I had to make sure that neither one knew they were going with the same girl. I had to get on the phone when Elvis was there and pretend that Betty was somewhere with her mother in Corpus Christi. Then when she was out with Tommy, Elvis would drop by the house, I'd again have to pretend she was out in Corpus Christi
Q - Did you ever think that Elvis was going to get to the top in the music business? I only ask because you knew him early on.
A - I did. See, we were singing colored music and there were no White boys singing the La Vern Baker songs and all of the Black stuff that was not played on the White stations. They were just waiting for some White boy to be able to crack that. I was envious that Elvis was four years older than me and that he was gonna crack it. He was gonna be the first White boy to be allowed to do colored music on the radio, and he was. Also, he was the first Pop singer that was ever filmed. Sinatra never went on television. Elvis was the first singer to go on television and promote things, like on The Tommy Dorsey Show, Jackie Gleason Show, Ed Sullivan. No singer of those type of records in America had ever been on television before.
Q - An amazing coup on the part of Colonel Parker!
A - Just unreal. The real Elvis Presley is Colonel Parker.
Q - Did you keep in touch with Elvis through the years?
A - I didn't keep in touch with him because I went and graduated from high school in '57 and went out to Hollywood that year. That was also the year that he was getting drafted. It's just as I got there in '57 that he was going into the Army. Through Sharon Sheeley I met the girl Dottie Harmony, who Elvis went to the Draft Board with. The blonde that he's with when he's coming out of the Draft Board. We started going together and she was my first fiancÚ. He found out that were going together when he got out of the Army and he didn't particularly like it. The funniest thing is, I had been playing football, call it sandlot football, on Ricky Nelson's team, but when Elvis came out of the Army, he formed a team. We went up there to play against Elvis. When I was in high school I got a scholarship to one of the colleges in the United States in American football. So, I was pretty damn good. But when we went up to play Elvis, I had just broken up with Dottie. I had no shoes. I just looked like a wreck. I didn't have any place to live. I was sleeping on Johnny Rivers' floor in his hotel, which was being paid for by Hank Williams' ex-wife, Audrey Williams. When Elvis would pass to Red West or Sonny West, one of his taller boys, I would pick the ball out of the air. I'd read what Elvis was gonna do. I was in backfield defense. I'd pluck the ball out of the air and run for a touchdown on Ricky Nelson's team. Elvis kept saying "Watch that boy! Who is that guy anyway?" He couldn't remember me from when he was going with my sister, back in '54. It was now '60. After that particular day, I was sitting under a tree and all of a sudden this hand comes over my shoulder. "Do you wanna stick of gum kid?" I knew the voice immediately. I just looked up and it was Elvis. I said "Thank-you Elvis. Thank-you very much." "I'm having a party over at my house about seven tonight. Why don't you come on up?" I said "Well, I gotta go back to the house and clean up. Look how dirty I am." I said "anyway, I don't have a ride." He said "I'll send one of the boys down after you." And so I went back over to Johnny Rivers' hotel room and I told Johnny I was going up and he said he wanted to meet Elvis. I said "well c'mon. But whatever you do..." He kept walking around saying "I'm gonna meet The King." I said "whatever you do, don't say that in front of Elvis. He hates being called The King. The only king to him is God." So, we got up to Elvis' house. It was still light and Elvis and Red were still passing the ball in the driveway. They took Johnny over to meet Elvis and said "This is a friend of Jett Powers." I hadn't become P.J. Proby yet. I couldn't use James Smith or Jimmy Smith because there was already was an actor in Hollywood named John Smith. In those days you couldn't have the same name. So he said "This is a friend of Jett's. His name is Johnny Rivers." He said "Pleased to meet you Mr. Rivers." Johnny said 'Oh, it's great to meet you King!" Whooosh! Elvis had him up on the side of his head by his collar and his little ol' feet were dancing in the air off the ground. He said "Don't ever call me King. There's only one King in Heaven and that is God." He put him back down on the ground. Johnny said "Oh, man. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry King." Whoosh! Up he goes again. (laughs)
Q - What would Elvis have done if Johnny Rivers had said "I'm so happy to meet Elvis The Pelvis." He really would've gotten mad!
A - Yeah. Johnny was so ecstatic. He just couldn't control himself. He came over a year later when I'd gotten myself together and a house and a motorcycle to go riding with Elvis. I got pictures of him riding my motorcycle with Elvis.
Q - You had as a session guitarist, Jimmy Page. Could you see the star quality in him?
A - Jimmy was my first rhythm guitar player over here. When I went in to cut "Hold Me", I didn't know any of these people. I didn't know anybody in England. Jack Good introduced me to Jimmy Page, Big Jim Sullivan, lead guitar, Clem Cattini on drums and Charlie Blackwell on piano. That was the line-up of "Hold Me" and the flip side, "Tips Of My Fingers".
Q - But, you could see that star quality in Jimmy?
A - Oh yeah, but at that time Jimmy couldn't even play lead. He could only strum. See, I only saw those guys one day for the session. I never saw any of 'em again for a long, long time, except for Charlie Blackwell. Charlie became my arranger.
Q - Jimmy Page sure learned how to play guitar after that session!
A - Somebody told me it didn't come natural to him. He had to work really hard at it.
Q - P.J., you're still performing today?
A - I just played Liverpool (England) three days ago. It was a nightclub. It went really, really well. They want me to come back maybe every three months and come do some Sunday afternoons.