Smith iTunes Tracks


Formed in Los Angeles, California, early in 1969, the group called SMITH might’ve missed on a Woodstock spot, but they had one asset in their favour: blonde bombshell Gayle McCormick, who could belt out the phonebook at five paces. The singer from St. Louis, Missouri, was an inspirational choice for Messrs James Richard Cliburn (guitar and occasional lead vocals) and Jerry Carter (bass), who must’ve thought all their wishes had come at once after languishing in the dust-bowl of the garage music scene as The Trippers.
Between 1966-67, under the guidance of producer John Marascalco, the co-penned boogaloo cues `Dance With Me’ (b/w LITTLE RICHARD’s `Keep A Knockin’’) and `Taking Care Of Business’ (b/w Chavez-Chaney’s `Charlena’) – licensed to Dot and GNP Crescendo from Ruby-Doo Records respectively – failed to sell outside of Hollywood. Both Cliburn and Carter formed The Smiths, and produced by Ron Budnik, the pair contributed the long-lost nugget, `Now I Taste The Tears’, for Columbia Records, in spring ’68; it was refused airplay for its spirited “Hey Joe” gunslinger-type conclusion.
In need of a foil to perform the parts the impressive Cliburn couldn’t reach, SMITH – as they were now billed – roped in the brooding Gayle, a seasoned singer at 20 years of age who’d started out as frontwoman for The Klassmen (on two singles) and a blue-eyed soul voice that could just about match TINA TURNER, ETTA JAMES and JANIS JOPLIN. Initially a covers act, adding keyboardist Larry Moss and drummer Bob Evans, SMITH were discovered by early-60s star DEL SHANNON, who arranged a cover of BURT BACHARACH’s `Baby It’s You’ (formerly a Top 10 hit for The SHIRELLES) and convinced Dunhill-ABC Records to release it in advance of their debut set, A GROUP CALLED SMITH (1969) {*7}.
While the said single was still riding high in hit parade (at #5), the schizoid album gate-crashed the Top 20; fans of foxy lady Gayle were catered for by way of re-vamps of The ZOMBIES’ `Tell Him No’, DINO VALENTI’s `Let’s Get Together’, WILLIE DIXON’s `I Just Wanna Make Love To You’ and CLIQUE’s `I’ll Hold Out My Hand’; the VANILLA FUDGE-meets-BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS-esque power of Cliburn rolled off the other half through BO DIDDLEY’s `Who Do You Love’ and The ROLLING STONES’ pair `Last Time’ and `Let’s Spend The Night Together’, among others. Invited to infiltrate the glorious soundtrack to Easy Rider, performing `The Weight’ when the original movie cut by The BAND wasn’t granted a license, SMITH were now carved in cult history.
Things looked bright and promising for SMITH when `Take A Look Around’ bounced into the Top 50 the following February, but something was amiss when originals Cliburn and Carter were posted awol on the quintet’s minor hit cover of CAROLE KING’s `What Am I Gonna Do’. In their place was the similarly-gifted vocalist/guitarist Alan Parker (ex-NEW SOCIETY, ex-SUMMERHILL) and bassist Judd Huss, who were to feature on sophomore set, MINUS-PLUS (1970) {*6}. An understated bluesy, soul-folk record that once again showcased the high-octane power of Gayle (especially on the title track), SMITH didn’t have the staying power of their peers. After they disbanded soon afterwards, ALAN PARKER released an eponymous solo LP in 1971 (featuring Gayle and Judd); `Band Of Angels’ (his sophomore set) was delivered a year on; GAYLE McCORMICK almost immediately went solo, releasing the first of three LPs in ’71 and on to a handful of funky soul chart hits including `It’s A Cryin’ Shame’. She died of cancer on March 1, 2016 – aged 67.
© MC Strong/MCS Mar2016

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