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O.C. SMITH STORY


  O.C. Smith is not only a classy singer, but also a genuine storyteller in music.  His warm baritone voice graces many songs that we know and we love, and yet we don’t seem to fully comprehend the amount of music he’s come up with during his 45 years of recording.  O.C. is capable of switching from his first love, jazz, to soul, pop, country, inspirational and beach music, and always maintaining a high level of performance.  Although we tend to put him in the MOR category, musically there’s much more to this gentleman.

  Ocie Lee Smith, Jr. was born on June 21 in 1932 in Mansfield, Louisiana, close to the border of Texas and about thirty miles from Shreveport down south.  He once stated that the name Ocie may derive from the Oceola Indians, from his father’s side (Black Music, July 1977).

  Ocie’s own father was brought up in a small town called Leesville in Louisiana.  He didn’t want to become a farmer like his father - Ocie’s grandfather - so after completing his senior year in college and coming back home he one day climbed on his mule, headed toward the freight train passing by, tied the mule to a nearby tree, hopped aboard a train and left Leesville.  According to Ocie “if nobody has gone down to untie that mule, he is still standing there, tied to that tree.” (from the book “Little Green Apples – your spiritual guide to an everlasting harvest of joy and prosperity”, by O.C. Smith and James Shaw; IBSN 0-87516-785-3; 2003).

  Ocie’s father, Ocie Lee Smith, Sr., soon wedded Ruth Edwards Shorter, and both his parents became teachers in the nearby Shady Grove.  His mother taught music.  They moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, when Ocie was ten. 

  Ocie’s son, Ocie Lee Smith III (further Ocie III): “My grandpa lived in Arkansas most of his life, in Little Rock.  He was a teacher, and then he ended up working for the government.  An astounding thing about him was that he had a PhD degree, but he never made more than 250 dollars a week.  He was very humble.  He played music also.  At one time he was grandma’s principal.” 

  Ocie III: “My grandmother and grandfather separated.  My father moved to Los Angeles with my grandmother, and he would visit his dad in Arkansas every summer.”  In L.A. Ocie attended Jefferson High School, where he became interested not only in sports – football and swimming – but also learned music under the guidance of a famous teacher, Mr. Samuel Brown.  Next Ocie attended East Los Angeles Junior College for a year or two before going into the service.  (He maintains that at one point, in later years, he returned to Louisiana and attended Southern University in Baton Rouge and majored in psychology).

  Ocie was determined to become a musician from early on.  Although surrounded by church music and some blues in his childhood home, his first love since the high school years, however, would be jazz.  For the Dynamic O.C. Smith album he told the liners writer, Leonard Feather, that “I’ve been singing just about all my life.  I listened to musicians more than singers – Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker… Later on I dug Nat Cole, and I went into the blues bag – B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and, of course, Ray Charles.  My favourites today (in ’67) are Ray Charles and Tony Bennett.” 

  In later interviews Ocie has added to the list of his favourites and influences also Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan.  Ocie III: “When he was with Count Basie (’61 – ’63), his idol was Billy Eckstine.  There was one show, where dad and Billy had an opportunity to do a duet, and dad was just elated over that idea.”

  In July of 1951 Ocie joined the Air Force.  Ocie III: “In high school dad had met a guy by the name of Terdema, and they became really, really good friends.  They went to military as cousins.  They weren’t really cousins.  Him and Terdema wanted something easy, so they ended up becoming MPs.  My father had a knack of getting in trouble in his younger days, and Terdema would pretty much pull him out of it.”

  “Once dad went off the base, but he went further than allowed.  When he got back, his punishment was to paint the whole mess hall floor the next weekend, when everybody else was on leave.  He didn’t do it till Sunday night about five o’clock in the evening.  He called Terdema, who told him to take a mop and mop the floor.  When the sergeant came in, he found the mop under one of the chairs.  A couple of days later they’re doing a flight test and they had decided to play a trick on dad while on flight.  Sergeant signalled everybody to sit down.  Everybody sat down, all but dad.  He was standing and talking, and the plane went upside down and dad is on the roof of the plane hollering and yelling.  Then the plane came right side up and dad landed in a seat, and the sergeant said to him ‘don’t ever try to fool me again.  This is your punishment’.  That’s the kind of stuff that he would do.  He was very mischievous.”

  Although officially in Air Police, most of his time Ocie spent in Special Services entertaining the troops wherever he was stationed, and he also toured with Horace Heidt.  Whenever possible, he used to sneak out to sing in local clubs, too.  At one point he spent fifteen months in Alaska.  Ocie III: “They had a talent show on the base.  Dad won first price.  He was stationed in Alaska then.  That first price was to be able to fly home and see your family for the weekend.  He flew home to see my mother, and – guess what! – I was conceived on that trip.  I was born in 1955 in New York.  My mother’s name was Lorraine Mary Smith.  She was born in 1933 and she died in 2004.”

TUTTI FRUTTI

  After his discharge in 1955 Ocie went to New York, where he played the local clubs, and there he cut his very first record in ‘55 with Art MooneyTutti Frutti was the flip to You Can’t Take My Heart (on MGM 12165), released in January of 1956, and on that side Ocie tries to cover Little Richard with a big band.  At this point I must express my gratitude to Mr. Steve Propes for commenting all those Ocie’s 50s singles that are missing in my collection.  Steve has written several fine books on doowop, including “L.A. R&B Vocal Groups 1945 – 1965” (with Galen Gart).  He also hosts a radio show, and you can find his playlists at www.45sshow.blogspot.com.  Ocie’s follow-ups on MGM in 1956 were jazzy renditions of Lost Horizon And Shangri-La and At Last My Baby’s Coming Home.

  An appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts TV show earned Ocie a recording contract with Cadence Records out of New York (and based also in Nashville, Tennessee), which was popular with the Everly Brothers and Andy Williams at the time.  According to Steve, Ocie’s first Cadence single in 1956 called Slow Walk (orchestra conducted by Leroy Kirkland) was a pop black sound with a C.C. Rider type of a stroll beat.  Actually it was a vocal put over the tenor saxophonist Sil Austin’s hit song that very same year on Mercury (and a year later covered by Bill Doggett on King).  Forbidden Fruit on the flip is, in fact, cha cha.

LIGHTHOUSE

  Ocie’s rest two Cadence singles were released in 1957.  On a fast jazzy swinger about Billy “the Kid” called Bad Man Of Missouri, the orchestra is conducted by Archie Bleyer, as is on a bluesy & jazzy mid-paced swayer on the flip titled If You Don’t Love Me.  Light House (Lead Me To My Pretty Baby) has Archie as a conductor again, and this emotional song turned into a small local hit for Ocie.  It even has some sound effects, ocean waves and birds, on it.  The flip, Too Many, is also a medium tempo song with piano and guitar backing and with a more pop sound to it.

  Ocie’s next four singles in 1958 – 59 appeared on Citation out of Boston, Massachusetts.  It was Irving Szathmary’s label, and they had an office in New York, too.  On an elementary, mid-paced pop ditty titled How Times Have Changed (b/w an ordinary version of Try A Little Tenderness) Ocie performs with the Rice Henderson Orchestra, who had their own singles on Citation, too. 

  A Tex Curtis written melody called Song Of The Dreamer had been cut earlier by Billy Brooks and Eddie Fisher, and on this poppy, slow-to-mid-tempo song Ocie is backed by lush strings but with no vocal group this time.  Hey There is a medium-tempo, organ-backed show tune with Irving himself conducting the orchestra.  In 1960 Ocie still cut one single for Big Top in New York, You Are My Sunshine / Well I’m Dancing (and reportedly had loose musical connections with Leiber and Stoller in the first half of the 60s).

  In New York a jazz trumpeter ever since the 20s and a famous arranger, Sy Oliver, heard a demo Ocie had cut after his USAF days and asked Ocie to join his band as a vocalist for weekend gigs around New York City, which proved to be a valuable learning experience for Ocie in terms of stage appearance.  After Sy’s band, Ocie went to work in the Catskills, a mountain resort area close to New York, where he performed in a hotel lounge six nights a week.  Ocie III: “After the military my father won the Ted Mack Amateur Hour and a talent show at the Apollo Theater.  Then he ended up going with Basie, where he took Joe William’s place.”


O.C.'s marriage picture

COUNT’S VOICE

  After hearing about Joe Williams’ plans to leave Count Basie, Sy arranged an audition for Ocie, and in early 1961 Ocie joined the Count Basie Orchestra as a vocalist for 2 1/2 years.  In that capacity Ocie had the chance to travel not only in different parts of the U.S.A., but also all around the world.  With Basie, he and Irene Reid visited also Finland in 1962.  Basie was recording for Roulette those days, and although Ocie sang on some of the tracks – including a Gröna Lund concert in Sweden in 1962 - they remained unreleased at the time and saw the light of the day on Mosaic Records only in 1991 (see the discography).

  In the sleeve-notes to the Dynamic album O.C. recalls that “Basie was wonderful.  He gave me a completely free hand.  This was a unique experience from every point of view.  I got to see so much of the world and learn so much about people – we were in Europe five times, in the West Indies, and just about anywhere you can mention in the United States.”

  After leaving Count Basie in 1963, Ocie cut one single for Juggy Murray’s Broadway label in New York, an uptown ditty called Everybody But Me and a slow, saddish ballad titled Mr. Night.  On this record there are already some of the elements Ocie became famous for in later years.  Pop & soul has replaced pop & jazz.

  Ocie III: “When dad left Basie, he packed up the whole family.  There were three kids.  There was my older sister, Sherryn, myself and a newborn by the name of Kelly.  Dad put us all on a train with my mother and sent us all to Los Angeles.  We thought we were coming to Los Angeles for a vacation to visit my mother’s mother, but about three weeks later my father drove his ’56 convertible Buick from New York to Los Angeles, with all of our belongings hitched on the back of his car.  My mother ended up getting a job at General Hospital, and dad would be home during the day, and him and Redd Foxx and Slappy White would drive around looking for gigs.  Finally dad pushed his way into a night club, Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper.  It ended up being a landmark.  It was the place, where ‘who’s who of Hollywood’ would come to see dad.  This was in 1964.”

  Already before settling in Los Angeles Ocie had turned into O.C.  Ocie III: “My father’s name is Ocie Lee Smith, Jr.  When dad left Count Basie and started working trying to create a career for himself – this was in 1963 – he was playing the Concord Room in New York.  The marquee had ‘Ocie’ on it. He wasn’t that popular then as a solo artist, and people weren’t as sophisticated as they are today and they were mispronouncing the name.  They were calling him ‘Ossie’ and different names, so he changed the name to ‘O.C.’ for visual effect and also for easy identification.  He never got it changed legally, though.”

  From Los Angeles O.C. regularly toured the American military bases in the Far East in ’64 and ‘65, but after each month-and-a-half-long tour he returned home to rest and spend time with his family.  Ocie III: “When I was a little boy, he spent a lot of time with the kids.  He definitely was a family man in the early days.  Then obviously he got busy.  Once he got busy, it was a little bit different story.”

  “He loved jazz.  He used to hang out at a place called the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles.  My mother used to say all the time that he was just an average singer, but he was determined to make himself a good singer – and he perfected the craft.”

THAT’S LIFE

  O.C.’s manager at the time, Lee Mack, got his protégé signed to CBS, and in early ’66 the first single hit the streets.  A mellow, slowly swaying and highly memorable song called That’s Life (by Kelly GordonDean Kay Thompson) was produced by Allen Stanton, arranged and conducted by Mort Garson and it had a full orchestra with a choir on the background.  O.C.: “I knew the song told a true story for me, because I’ve had my ups and downs and been over and out!  After the single was released, things sort of started to mushroom.”  On the b-side there was Jimmy Roach’s poppy, pleading beat ballad titled I’m Your Man.

  That’s Life made some noise but didn’t sell enough copies to hit the national charts (later, in early ’67, it bubbled under at # 127).  While riding in his car Frank Sinatra, however, heard the song on the radio, arranged a meeting with O.C. at the Pied Piper and asked for O.C.’s blessing to cover the song.  O.C. was flattered, and almost a year later, in late ’66, Frank took the song into Hot 100, where it climbed up to the # 4, which, however, wasn’t enough for a gold record certification.

  O.C.’s follow-up, Beyond The Next Hill, was a slow, big-voiced “cabaret” ballad, again produced by Allen Stanton and arranged by Mort Garson.  It was backed with a jolly and light toe-tapper called On Easy Street.  Still deeper in the MOR territory was Luther Dixon’s song, The Season, which was released in 1967.  This lush and pretty ballad was now produced by Jack Gold and arranged by Ernie Freeman, and as a melody it was one of O.C.’s biggest favourites.  A swinging dancer on the flip named Double Life was written by Jerry Fuller.

  In the summer of 1967 O.C. released his debut album, The Dynamic O.C. Smith (Columbia 9514), produced by Jack Gold.  They brought into the CBS studios in Hollywood a couple of hundred fans, served food and drinks and in the line-up of Jack Wilson (piano), Jimmie Smith (drums), Ray Brown (bass), Herb Ellis (guitar), Larry Bunker (vibes) and O.C. on vocals they recorded a couple of hours’ worth of music, which then was cut down into eleven songs.  The repertoire chosen for the album consisted of live performances of That’s Life and The Season and jazzy renditions of such standards and show songs as On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Work Song, Fever and What Now My Love

THE SON OF HICKORY HOLLER’S TRAMP

  Jerry Fuller is credited as a mixing engineer on the Dynamic album (you can read Jerry Fuller’s history in our # 2/2005 issue as an insert to the Al Wilson story, part 2).  Jerry: “On the Dynamic O.C. Smith I think I assisted.  That was one of the first jobs they gave me like I was an apprentice, and since I was the fan of O.C. they let me do that.  I loved that album.”

  “When I got my job at CBS, Jack Gold was my boss.  When they were getting rid of an artist like O.C., they would first go to their staff producers to see if anybody was interested before they dropped the artist.  When I heard his voice, I agreed to take him.  And I guess he suggested me to do it, because O.C. had already recorded one of my songs, Double Life, which I had submitted to Columbia, when I was still with Four Star Music and Challenge Records.”

  The Son Of Hickory Holler’s Tramp, a controversial song about an abandoned mother with fourteen children becoming a prostitute to make a living, was written by Dallas Frazier and had been a # 22 c&w hit for Johnny Darrell on U.A. in 1967.  Jerry: “I wasn’t familiar with the song, but Glen Campbell told me about it.  He had played on the Merle Haggard session at Capitol Records.  Glen had played guitar earlier, and Glen and I are really close friends.  He said ‘I heard this great song today’, and he played a little of the song for me.  I said ‘it’s a great song’.  He said ‘Merle’s playing at the Palomino Club (in North Hollywood) tonight, let’s go over and see’.  So Merle did it on stage, we came back to my house and we put on the little tape machine I had and I showed it to O.C. and H.B. Barnum the next day.”

  H.B. Barnum has been active in many roles in the West Coast music business ever since the early 50s – as a producer, musician, a recording artist, a label owner, manager… but, most of all, as an arranger extraordinaire (you can read also his history in our # 2/2005 issue).  Since 1968 Jerry Fuller and H.B. worked together for six years on many projects, mainly for O.C. Smith and Al Wilson.  Jerry: “Somebody suggested that I’d give him a call.  They called him ‘the Boy Wonder’.”

  In early ’68 they released O.C.’s stunning and storming version of The Son Of Hickory Holler’s Tramp – produced by Jerry Fuller and majestically arranged by H.B. – which climbed up to # 2 in Britain but was less successful in the States (# 32-r&b; # 40-pop), partially due to its lyrical contents and consequently some radio stations banning it.  O.C.: “I always dug country music; the songs have their own style and tell a story.”  This song, as well as all of O.C.’s recordings during the next two years, was cut at the Columbia Studio A in L.A.

    On the b-side of the single they put The Best Man, a beautiful and saddish ballad of a lost love and final service.  Jerry: “We did the single session first.  We did The Son Of Hickory Holler’s Tramp and The Best Man – that’s the song that I wrote – and maybe another song.  If the song is a hit, then we go and finish up the album.”

MAIN STREET MISSION

  The ensuing album is one of the best – if not THE best – c&w-meets-soul records.  With highly melodic tunes, imaginative arrangements and perfect vocalizing it belongs up there with the other highly praised masterpieces of the genre by Ray Charles, Esther Phillips, Solomon Burke, Joe Simon etc.  Released in early summer of ’68, produced by Jerry Fuller and arranged (and conducted) by H.B. Barnum, it reached the # 1 spot on the r&b charts for two weeks (# 19-pop).  The rhetoric and fact-free sleeve-notes were written by Della Reese.  She was chosen, because she shared the same manager with O.C. at the time.

  The familiar songs – Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Take Time To Know Her and Honey (I Miss You) – are all approached from a new angle, so one tends not to listen to them as just another ordinary version.

  The House Next Door is a story-telling mid-pacer written by H.B. Barnum and Lee Carr.  H.B. Barnum: “Jimmy Norman was the first one to record that.  In fact, I recorded that song again recently.”  Seven Days is a perky mover about a relationship starting and ending within one week.


O.C. with his family

LITTLE GREEN APPLES

  Main Street Mission (by Fuller – Barnum), a dramatic ballad of a broken man, was chosen as a follow-up to Hickory (b/w a Fuller’s fun song – Gas, Food, Lodging).  Jerry: “I got a call from a promotion man in Chicago, Jim GreenMain Street Mission was already out there and struggling.  He said ‘for this market alone I’ll order 200,000 of Little Green Apples, if you’ll release it’.  I said ‘great, you got it’!  So we just stopped Main Street Mission, and did a quick release on Little Green Apples.”  Main Street Mission managed to reach # 105-pop before it was withdrawn.

  O.C.’s cover of Bobby Russell’s gentle and innocent, almost a “kiddie” type of a ballad, Little Green Apples, hit the market in the early fall of 1968 and became O.C.’s biggest hit.  It went as high as # 2, both pop and r&b, and was certified gold.  Jerry: “There were two people, who had that out before we put it out.  Roger Miller, of course, but it was very dull-sounded.  I remember, when I first heard it, I thought ‘well, we’ll just do a different rendition of it’.  Patti Page had it out, too, and it was produced by my boss, Jack Gold.  We covered his record, but he was happy about it.”  Little Green Apples became a Grammy winning Song of The Year in two categories, General (pop) and Country.

  For this scribe one of the musical highlights in O.C.’s career was hidden on the b-side of Apples.  A great mourning ballad of a girl living too fast called Long Black Limousine was written by Bobby George and Vern Stovall, and Vern was to first one to cut it for Crest in 1961.  Jerry: “Vern’s a great writer, and he’s still around.  Especially for that Hickory album I went to Nashville.  Most of the things on it are sort of country songs, and we just did it in a more jazz, blues and r&b kind of rendition.”  After Vern, the song was covered, among others, by Gordon Terry, Bobby Bare, Joy Miller and Glen Gampbell.  Jerry: “Glen brought my attention to that one, too.” 

ISN’T IT LONELY TOGETHER

  For a follow-up to a huge hit Jerry and H.B. found Isn’t It Lonely Together, a touching ballad of a couple growing apart.  The song was written by Ray Stevens, who – as well as Robert Knight – had cut it a couple of months earlier.  It was backed with a clever mid-pacer about self-deception called I Ain’t The Worryin’ Kind.  Its co-writer, Billy Edd Wheeler, had recorded the song for Kapp in ’68.  Jerry: “Billy sent it to me.”

  In spite of the high quality of Isn’t It Lonely Together, the song didn’t repeat the success of Apples (it stalled at # 40-r&b; # 63-pop), so they went for another melodramatic Bobby Russell slowie, Honey (I Miss You).  The momentum was already lost (# 44-both r&b and pop) and, on the other hand, Bobby Goldsboro had turned the song into gold just a year earlier.  Honey was flipped with a catchy lilter titled Keep On Keepin’ On, co-written by O.C. Smith.

  In early ’69 in conjunction with Honey they released O.C.’s third album, For Once In My Life (# 8-r&b; # 50-pop), again masterminded by Jerry Fuller and H.B. Barnum.  Jerry: “It was a mixture.  Of course, Wichita Lineman was already a hit, as was Hey Jude and the title song.  Stormy was a hit by Classics IV.”  A fatalistic beat ballad named Cycles was an oft-recorded song, witness Frank Sinatra in 1960.  Jerry: “That was something that O.C. did on his shows.  O.C. always kept his jazz roots, and that’s why he would occasionally sing a song like Cycles.”

  Promises, a Barnum co-written high-speed stormer, as well as Melodee, Jerry Fuller’s ballad, appeared on this album for the first time.  Jerry: “the first time… and the last!”  An impressive farewell ballad called Sounds Of Goodbye (by Dick Heard & Eddie Rabbitt) - released at least by Tommy Cash a year earlier - concludes the album.  Jerry: “It was probably in the charts, and I used to just buy the top-20 country records, listen to them and see, if they would connect into r&b.”

  “I remember there was a certain instrument called the theramin, before the moog and the synthesizers.  If you turned this thing on, it made eerie little sounds.  There were only two theramin players enlisted in the musicians book, and H.B. loved using weird instruments.  I called one person, but his wife said he’s been dead for ten years.  I called the other number, and I got this little old man that came over and he played this theramin thing, because we were trying to get weird sounds for Sounds Of Goodbye.  It didn’t work out at all, and we wound up using the steel guitar instead.  All the musicians loved that man so much that, when they would take a break, they would all stand around and have him play the theramin stuff.  We didn’t use him on the record, but I paid him and he was happy.”


O.C. with his several awards

DADDY’S LITTLE MAN

  Mac “Scott” Davis’ catchy, uptempo song of praise called Friend, Lover, Woman, Wife (# 25-r&b; # 47-pop) was an apt summer release in ’69 (b/w a bittersweet country song,  I Taught Her Everything She Knows).  Jerry: “We had Friend, Lover, Woman, Wife first on Mac’s album.  That’s just about the time Mac and I became friends.  He, his wife and his son Scotty used to come to my house and hang out.  He already had hits that he had written – like In The Ghetto for Elvis – and I said ‘you know Mac, you don’t sing bad’, so I signed him to Columbia as a singer and produced his first album.  We were so close that every time he would play one of his new songs I’d say ‘hold on, I need that song for O.C.’.  So I always got the first shot at all of his songs.”

  Another Mac Davis song, a slightly sugary ballad in the Little Green Apples vein called Daddy’s Little Man, became the second black top-ten single in O.C.’s career (# 9-soul; # 34-pop).  On the flip an energetic uptempo ditty titled If I Leave You Know was written by O.C. Smith and Red Steagall.  Jerry: “Red Steagall and a person by the name Don Lanier were both golfing buddies of mine.  They wrote Ray Charles’ Here We Go Again, originally recorded by Buck Owens.  Red Steagall is a rodeo performer.  He was a bull rider.  He still to this day has a cable show on rodeos.  He and our families were close, too.”

  O.C.’s final 60s single was Jerry Fuller’s big-band mover titled Me And You (# 38-soul; # 103-pop), backed with a cover of Frankie Valli’s ’67 gold hit, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, arranged this time by Benny Golson.

  The second album in 1969 was called At Home (# 7-soul; # 58-pop), and on the back cover of the album there’s a picture of O.C.’s son, Kelly.  His fourth child, Robert, had been born in 1968, three months premature – at 1 pound, 7 oz. – and while in the incubator to save his life, he went blind.

  Cover tunes, usually with a big orchestration, this time included Color Him Father (the Winstons), Clean Up Your Own Back Yard (co-written by Mac Davis for Elvis), My Cherie Amour, Didn’t We and San Francisco Is A Lonely Town, arranged by Tom McIntosh into a mid-tempo beater.

  Sweet Changes is a rocking mover, whereas a MOR ballad called The Learning Tree is the title tune to the movie by the same name, directed by Gordon Parks in 1969.  It precedes his box-office smash, Shaft, by two years.

MOODY

  The only album that was released in 1970 was O.C. Smith’s Greatest Hits (# 177-pop), which included eight earlier hits and three single-only sides.  Besides Me And You, there were the plug sides of two successive singles, a lush ballad called Moody (# 114-pop) and an almost ragtime type of a swinger named Primrose Lane.  The sunny Isn’t Life Beautiful was the flip to Moody

  In the latter part of 1970 Jerry Fuller produced and Artie Butler arranged an update version of Baby, I Need Your Loving (# 30-soul; # 52-pop), which may have a too hurried tempo for those, who cherish the Four Tops ’64 hit. 

  Another Fuller – Butler collaboration occurred on the first ’71 single, Downtown U.S.A., which was a fast, driving song with a big “street” sound and a social message in the lyrics.  This goodie was backed with a mid-paced, big-band swinger called That’s What Life Is All About.  The funky Clean Up Your Own Back Yard was lifted from the At Home album for the follow-up, and it had another Little Green Apples / Honey clone titled I’ve Been There on the flip.

TALL OAK TREE

  The first single taster from O.C.’s next album was a driving and rocking, almost funky cover of Dorsey Burnett’s ’60 Era hit, Tall Oak Tree – Jerry: “Glen Campbell had a version of that out, too” – backed with Jerry’s own catchy, mid-tempo swayer, Diamond In The Rough.

  Jerry: “I took H.B. Barnum with me to Nashville.  There was a studio there called Columbia B, and we had 52 musicians in that one little bitty studio, which they called ‘the Quanset Hut – which it was… converted.  We had to place one set of the players up on the stairwell, and they were just bumping into each other.”

  H.B. Barnum: “That was one of the most memorable things we did.  It was a very small studio.  Columbia in Los Angeles, where we normally were recording, was a huge studio.  We had dozens of musicians in a room that was made for ten people.  It was so tight that I could not even stand in front of the orchestra.  I had to stand in the middle of the orchestra.”

  “We would run a song one time, and the piano player wouldn’t play.  By the third or fourth time he played, and actually well.  It cost me time, because he’s not playing for the first couple of times.  Then I happened to go over to the piano, and the music was on the top of the piano upside down.  He said he does read well but he can’t see.  I took a good look at the guy.  The guy was blind!  He was ‘Pig’ Martin… a great, great Nashville player.  He would listen to it a couple of times, then the third or fourth time he would play perfect.  They had a blackout during the session.  All the lights went out, and he was the only guy that could walk out through the whole orchestra without breaking or touching anything.”


O.C. in studio with Charles Wallert

HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT

  Jerry: “About that time Columbia’s policy was that the established artists did a lot of the hits of the day in their own style.  I was producing Johnny Mathis at that time, and we pretty much did the hits that were out there.”

  For the title track of their ’71 Nashville album (# 49-soul; # 159 –pop) and also the next single (# 38-soul; # 91-pop) they recorded a driving, uptempo version of Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night.  Sammi Smith had turned the song into gold earlier that year, Joe Simon soon followed with his version and a year later Gladys Knight was to come up with her utterly soulful, beautiful rendition.  Since then the song has been covered numerous times, but rarely in such a rousing style as O.C.

  Another Kris Kristofferson song, For The Good Times - which Ray Price popularized in 1970 – is interpreted in its original beautiful ballad form.  Mac Davis’ tale about his son, Watching Scotty Grow, was a hit for Bobby Goldsboro in 1970.  Jerry: “As a matter of fact, I recorded that one with Mac on his first album called Song Painter, and I wanted it out as a single.  Mac didn’t agree, so I called Bob Montgomery in Nashville, who was producing Bobby Goldsboro, and that’s how Bobby got that hit.  To this day Mac Davis thinks I gave it to him behind his back, so to speak.”  O.C.’s version is a swinging mid-pacer.

  A slowie called The Long Drive Home was originally cut by its writer, Paul Hampton, on Dunhill in ’68, whereas What You See is a Barnum co-written mid-paced bouncer, which Al Wilson recorded two years later for his Show And Tell album.  It takes a lot to beat Jerry Butler’s achingly beautiful rendition of the Gamble-Huff-Butler ballad titled I Stop By Heaven on his Ice Man Cometh album, and O.C. can’t do it, either.

  Empty Arms was a # 2 r&b hit for its writer, Ivory Joe Hunter, in 1957.  Jerry: “Ivory Joe Hunter is O.C.’s uncle.”  Remembering is a big-sound speeder, while Dwain Blackwell’s Really Big Shoe is a slow-to-mid-tempo swayer.  Jerry: “Dwain brought me that song.”

DON’T MISUNDERSTAND

  The Nashville album practically meant the end of the musical liaison between Jerry and O.C.  Jerry: “I think that’s the time, when I left Columbia.  I couldn’t get along with Clive Davis, so I left.  We parted as close friends.  I always thought O.C. was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  We parted different ways.  I started my own production company and got into a contract with Bell Records.  I almost didn’t have time to go anywhere else.  But O.C. always left the door open in case I was able to do something.  He was a very well respected person.  He became a preacher after that.”  Stepping forward to these days, Mr. Fuller doesn’t have his studio anymore.  “It took a dive because of the heavy rains last year, and I sold all the equipment.”

  O.C. started the year 1972 with two movie songs.  Suddenly It’s All Tomorrow is a lush lounge ballad from Otto Preminger’s ’71 comedy Such Good Friends, and another sugary slowie called Don’t Misunderstand (# 102-pop) comes from Gordon Parks’ 1972 sequel, Shaft’s Big Score.  The latter one was produced by Snuff Garrett.  On the soundtrack (MGM 36; # 100-pop) O.C. sings on three tracks, on the theme song titled Blowin’ Your Mind, Move On In and Don’t MisunderstandBlowin’ Your Mind ended up on a ’91 Sire CD compilation called Pimps, Players & Private Eyes.

LA LA PEACE SONG

  Al Wilson and O.C. had a battle with Johnny Bristol’s catchy mid-pacer called La La Peace Song.  Johnny produced and H.B. Barnum arranged it on both artists.  Al Wilson: “Johnny had produced it on O.C. Smith, and Columbia didn’t do anything with the record… no airplay, no nothing.  When Johnny left Motown, he came to us.  We went into the studio and put it down, and about three weeks after my stuff came out they started re-servicing O.C. Smith, which confused the market” (The Al Wilson story, part 2; # 2/2005).

  Indeed, O.C.’s La La Peace Song was first released in the summer of ’73 (Columbia 45863), to no avail.  When Al’s version started making waves over a year later, Columbia re-released O.C.’s original (now on Columbia 10031), but chart-wise Al took a narrow victory in the end by # 19-soul (# 30-pop) as opposed to O.C.’s # 27-soul (# 62-pop).  Al is correct that they both lost, because the song is mesmerizing and with proper promotion would have scored better.  The b-side to O.C.’s single was another fascinating Bristol-Martin tune, When Morning Comes.

  The following album, La La Peace Song is a hotchpotch, so no wonder it didn’t enter the charts.  On the brighter side there’s a third catchy Johnny Bristol song called I Wish You Were With Me, Mary.  But, in lack of new material, they included as many as five old songs from the Jerry Fuller period (Friend Lover Woman Wife, My Cherie Amour, Daddy’s Little Man, Baby I Need Your Loving and The Son Of Hickory Holler’s Tramp) plus the movie song, Don’t Misunderstand.

  Besides those Bristol tracks, all arranged by H.B. Barnum, the most interesting song is Thom Bell’s and Linda Creed’s I Think I’ll Tell Her, which was produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.  This mellow, pretty song was produced by Thom Bell on Ronnie Dyson in ’73.  O.C. was supposed to cut a whole album with Gamble and Huff, but then Johnny Bristol came up with his La La Peace Song, which was one of the reasons the project was shelved.  But it wasn’t the main reason.

  Thom Bell: “As a matter of fact, I Think I’ll Tell Her was written for O.C.  We did it with Ronnie, too, but O.C. Smith was before Ronnie Dyson.  When I recorded O.C., we were still in the building across the street from the building that we built (and where they moved into in the fall of 1973).  A lot of those things stayed in the can.  In fact, there’s a lot of stuff in the can on a lot of the artists that we did.”

  O.C.’s career started going downhill musically after he and Jerry Fuller parted ways.  Johnny Bristol or Gamble & Huff could have resurrected it, but at that time O.C. didn’t have his company’s support anymore.  Those days O.C. had some problems in his personal life, too.  He was living fast, and his father passed away in 1974.  Soon after that he got divorced.  Business-wise Columbia Records fell under the payola investigation and in the shuffle also O.C.’s manager was sentenced to prison and O.C. was falsely defamed – they claimed he had gambling debts - for not cooperating and providing information for investigators.  After the dust had settled, Columbia’s new management wanted to re-sign O.C.

  Ocie III: “Dad was a country boy with big dreams.  Once the dream fulfilled itself and he recognized what the business was like, he didn’t like it.  My father never wanted to conform.  He was always the kind of person that would stand up.  He always had to have the last word – ‘I know what I’m talking about, and this is it’.  That was his attitude.  So when the record companies really wanted to control him, he decided to walk away from the industry on the big scale.  All he really wanted to do was to create music.  He wouldn’t sign the contract with Columbia first.  Then when he decided he wanted to sign, they wouldn’t want him to sign.  They had already found Lou RawlsYou’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine was specifically written for dad, but when dad wouldn’t resign the contract they gave the song to Lou Rawls.”

  “After Columbia he pretty much couldn’t get a job anywhere in the industry, so he decided to go underground.  He left home in 1975.  He divorced my mother.  He met Robbie.  Family relationships changed completely.  He ended up going to work at The Memory Lane (a small night club in Los Angeles).  It all came crushing down at once.  At that time he found Dr. Frank Richelieu, who took him under his wing, and dad started studying the Science of Mind.”


O.C. with Barry White

TOGETHER

  The musician, producer and composer John Guerin had played drums on the Hickory Holler session and most of the rest O.C. sessions after that… not to mention the hundreds of other L.A. sessions and tours he took part in during his forty plus years of active playing.  John passed away at 64 due to heart failure on January 5 in 2004.

  In the mid-70s John was also a member of Tom Scott’s L.A. Express, who used to tour with Joni MitchellMax Bennett, another L.A. Express player, brought John a catchy, relaxed mid-pacer written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel called Together.  John introduced the song to O.C., who liked it, and together with a couple of other tunes they cut it at the A & M Studios in Hollywood.

  The company they chose was Caribou Records out of New York, simply because L.A. Express recorded for that company – along with Gerard, James Vincent, Matthew More and later the Beach Boys.  Ironically, Caribou was distributed by CBS.

  Released in late ’76, Together reached # 62-soul (in the U.K. it peaked at # 25), and it was backed with an ordinary bouncer titled Just Couldn’t Help Myself, composed by Max Bennett, Joni Mitchell and John Guerin.

  O.C.’s second and last Caribou single was Max Bennett’s lush ballad called Simply Life, which Valdy had cut on A&M in ’73.  Come With Me on the flip is a galloping ditty by Max and John.  The single went unnoticed.

  The success of Together, however, called for an album, and in addition to those earlier tracks recorded at the A&M Studios they went to the Devonshire Studios in North Hollywood to cut some more and complete a new eleven-tracker for O.C.  Among musicians you can spot such names as David Foster, Sonny Burke and Mike MacDonald on keyboards, John Guerin on drums (naturally) and Max Bennett on electric bass, George Bohannon as one of the horn players and Tom Scott and Ernie Watts on woodwinds.  Max and John produced, and among arrangers there were Carol Carmichael, Dale Oehler, Jerry Peters, Johnny Mandel and John & Max.

  With such names one would imagine that they’d come up with a masterpiece… but no!  The songs let you down, and you can sense that those average melodies – mainly by John and Max - don’t inspire O.C., either.  There are some familiar tunes like the speeded-up version of You And I (by Johnny Bristol), the gospelly Sweet Lov’liness (by Peggy Lee) and the lush Empty Hearts (by Michael McDonald), which tend to rise above others.  Pretending is a tender late-night ballad, whereas O.C.’s own song, I Found The Secret, is aimed at disco floors.

LOVE TO BURN

  The next album, however, was something else, but it’s also a well-kept secret, since it escaped all the chart action.  The producer was Joe Porter, who is best-known for his wonderful work with Gladys Knight & The Pips in the early 70s but who has done production work also for Bobby Darin, Lesley Gore, Thelma Houston and Ann Peebles, among others.  The label was the L.A. based Shady Brook, distributed by Janus, a division of GRT.

  The first single, released in the latter part of ’78, was a relaxed beat ballad called Love To Burn, which climbed up to # 34-soul.  It was backed with a somewhat dusky slowie titled Give Me Time.  The follow-up was a big-voiced, melodic beat ballad named Can’t Be The One To Say It’s Over (by Cathy Cornell), but it didn’t score anymore.  For the flip they chose Living Without Your Love, another beat ballad, which had been recorded by Samantha Sang, Leif Garrett and Dusty Springfield earlier.

  The ensuing Love Is Forever album in 1979 was packed with more tasteful and melodic beat ballads: the beautiful I Don’t Know How To Look For Love (also cut by the 5th Dimension), the compelling Better Off Just Loving You (its writer Tony Wilson recorded it on Bearsville in ’77), the hurting A Woman Afraid To Love Again and the poignant What Are We Gonna Do About Us.

  Of the two long disco tracks Billy Ocean’s Everything’s Changed loses in energy and excitement to a 7-minute dance fiesta called You Thrill Me (also known by Lynn Anderson, Exile and Audrey Landers), which they put out as a maxi single, too. 

  Love Is Forever is one of O.C.’s better albums and deserves more than just a line or two in discographies, but because of its commercial failure at the time the chances for its reincarnation as a CD are unfortunately quite slim.


O.C. and Charles Wallert

CHARLES WALLERT

  One of the most influential figures on the beach music scene, the “singer’s producer” and the producer of almost all of O.C.’s recordings since 1980, Mr. Charles Wallert, was also a close friend with O.C.

  Charles was born on June 14 in 1949 in New York City.  Charles: “I never thought of music as a career, but when I was twenty-two months old I used to imitate Johnnie Ray.  I saw it in my baby book.  When I was about five, I played guitar and read music… before I even went to school.  My first pay job was in 1957.  I was one of the first to imitate Elvis.”

  Professionally Charles was drawn into music in the 70s.  “I had a pretty famous night club, Bachelors III.  It was made famous by Joe Namath, the football player, and a lot of people would come in.  Ronnie Limar, a friend of mine who used to sing in a band with me, came in one night and wanted me to manage him.  I did start putting his shows together, and when it came time to record I started really getting interested in doing that.  Gamble, Huff and Thom Bell – they were like mentors, and I really loved their sound.”

  “A couple of years I hung out around a couple of studios and observed.  Then I wrote and produced in 1975 Ronnie’s first record called Love Came on BRC Records (a subsidiary of Brunswick), and from there on I knew what I really wanted to do.  I did Funk Express, I did an artist named Donnie Burks, I did Lenny Welch and I had a big hit with a group called East Coast with RSO Records.”

  “We grew up in a time, when music was driven by great songs.  The American soul music evolves from the Atlantic sound.  The Atlantic sound changed from the hardcore r&b to the mellower Drifters sound that led to Motown that led to Philly.  I know that was the basis of what my sound is today.  We just grew up in a time, when song was more important and the artists were real artists.”

  “O.C. had been my favourite, when he did Daddy’s Little Man and La La Peace Song.  If there was an artist I wanted to produce, it was him.  O.C. was appearing at a Playboy Club in New York City.  A friend of mine was a disc jockey, and we went there to see him perform.  We got backstage, and I got introduced to O.C., and we immediately liked each other.  I told him that I wanted to produce him.  I had a song for him, Dreams Come True.  We got together in L.A.  After that we made a deal and we became very good friends in the process.  I was still doing some stuff with RSO.  I think I was in the middle of the East Coast album.”

DREAMS COME TRUE

  Charles Wallert wrote and produced a beautiful and enchanting ballad called Dreams Come True, which on the Family label scraped the charts at # 92-soul in late 1980.  Charles: “O.C. loved that song.  He performed that song even before we recorded it.”  T.G. Conway, who was featured in our previous issue, arranged the song and played keyboards on it.  Nothing But The Best on the flip was a disco ditty.

  The album carried the same title, Dreams Come True.  Charles: “We did the album in New York and in Philadelphia.  Family was a label with a group of people that I was involved on the creative end.  That was with RSO for a second, then with Brunswick and then separated from Brunswick.  When O.C. and I got together, we made a deal that whatever we did the masters would always return to us.  It would be a joint survivorship” (laughing).  East Coast recorded for Family, too.

  On the jacket it reads: “In memory of Van McCoy, a genius, a friend, an inspiration to all of us who participated in this album.  We dedicate this album to you.”  Van had a fatal heart attack on July 6 in 1979, so his three arrangements on the album must be among his last musical contributions.  Charles: “It might have been.  Van McCoy wasn’t doing arrangements for anybody at that time.  He was past the arrangements.  He was an artist and a producer.  He really liked my work, and I was very flattered.  I was very blessed to work with him.  He was a gentleman.  He had very good musical taste.  He’s never been given credit for some of the great songs he wrote – Young And In Love, Baby I’m Yours.”

  First of Van’s arrangements appeared on a dancer called You Mean The World To Me Sweetheart.  Charles: “I wanted O.C. just really get into the melody and be natural.  We were putting him in the style of that day.  With Van McCoy’s arrangement it tended to be a little disco.”

  The song was written by Melvin and Mervin Steals.  “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love (by the Spinners) was a record that probably changed my life.  When I heard that recording, I thought it was the greatest produced record of all times (prod. by Thom Bell).  I listened to it over and over and over again.  So I tracked down the writers, the Steals brothers.  I went to Pittsburgh.  We were doing an album for Ronnie Limar at that time (1975), and You Mean The World To Me Sweetheart was the title of his album.  Steals brothers and I became very good friends.  I thought they were fantastic writers.”

  Another dancer that the Steals brothers wrote and Van arranged was Walkin’ On Air.  No Sooner Said Than Done was not only arranged, but also written by Van.  A pumping disco cut called Falling In Love With You (So Easy) was arranged by its co-writer Michael Foreman.

  A slowie called Baby Come Back had been a gold record for Player in ’77 on RSO.  Charles: “That’s the only song I’ve taken co-arrangement credits for, because when I heard that song originally I felt that with a r&b arrangement O.C. could do a good job on it.”

  Under the “art direction” for the album one of the two names that are listed is Robbie Smith.  O.C. married her in the latter part of the 70s, during the Together days.  Charles: “She’s got a master’s degree in architectural design.”

  Commercially the album left a lot to desire.  Charles: “Brunswick Records was going through some problems at the time.  We were happy with it creatively.  It was a good work, and it was the beginning of a very wonderful friendship.”

  “I always thought that O.C. should have been cut in a Philly style.  I found out later on that Gamble, Huff and Thom Bell did record him, but something happened with those.  Thom Bell tried O.C. on Break Up To Make Up.”

  Thom Bell: “Gamble and Huff produced him, but they needed some songs, and we wrote two songs for him.  He sang Break Up To My Make Up, but that really wasn’t made for him.  That was really made for the Stylistics, but he loved it so much that Gamble and Huff asked me, would I do it on him.”  O.C. was also the first to sing Stop, Look, Listen.  “I was just doing the production for Gamble and Huff on him, so I don’t know what happened with that product.  I don’t even remember ever hearing it.”

LOVE CHANGES

  O.C.’s next album, Love Changes (# 61-black), appeared first on South Bay Records out of Los Angeles in 1982, and it was produced by – surprise, surprise! – H.B. Barnum.  H.B.: “With my writing partner, Walter Johnson, we did that album for a guy, who had a private label, South Bay.  He turned out to be a real bad guy, took off with the tapes and everything, and the next time it appeared it was on Motown.  We didn’t even know it was sold.  O.C. and all of us were looking for that guy.”

  The title song, a melodic and mellow slow-to-mid-tempo bouncer, was put out as the first single; first on South Bay, then on Motown (# 68-black).  The b-side, Got To Know, was a beater with a Latin touch.  The follow-up was a soft, smooth dancer called I Betcha (b/w a ticking dancer named That’s One For Love).

  The rest of the repertoire consisted of more dancers (We’re Making Love, We’re Making Music and I’m Glad I Fell In Love With You), one mid-pacer (If You Knew), one beat ballad (You’re Still My Lady) and one ultra-slow song called Girl, written by Levert-Williams-Michelle Williams.  H.B.: “That’s the O’Jays.  They didn’t record it themselves.  I was one of the first ever to record the O’Jays” (since 1963). 

  H.B.: “That was a great album.  That album should have been a major hit, except that I had a problem with Motown, so when they got it they just killed it.  The album had already gotten to the charts over here before Motown.”

  Charles: “In the early 80s I was going through the divorce, and I had two very small daughters.  I just wasn’t doing anything.  I was at the release party for Love Changes.  My favourite song on that album was You’re Still My Lady.”

  Ocie III: “Dad and Charles Wallert were the best of friends.  They were tight.  At one point dad had strayed away from Charlie and did an album called Love Changes.  From my understanding he was not pleased with that project, and from that moment on he never strayed away from Charlie again.”

  Ocie III has been involved in music business himself.  “I recorded for a subsidiary label of Columbia Records called Chicago International Music for four years in the early 80s.  I toured all around the United States.  I worked with my dad and Johnny Cash on national television.”  His album on that Maurice White’s label was called (My Old Friend) Pop Music.

WHAT’CHA GONNA DO

  O.C. Smith and Charles Wallert reunited and released their next product in 1986 on Rendezvous out of Brooklyn, New York.  Charles: “I was involved in that.  Again we were doing some joint ventures.  I was always on the creative end.  A lot of people put together labels at that time, and they wanted us to do the work.  So we would go in and do the creative part of it again.  It came out at a very interesting time, because nobody wanted to play ballads at that time.  Then Whitney Houston came along.  This album really is the one that changed our careers and lives, really.  It existed for a couple of years, and again the masters are back with us.  O.C. had three nationally charted singles on that.”

  Charles is talking about their What’cha Gonna Do album, produced by Charles and arranged for a big orchestra by Joseph Joubert.  Robbie and O.C. are on the cover of the album.  The title tune, a pretty and tender ballad, was released as the first single (# 53-black).  Charles: “Lenny Welch was an artist that I produced.  He was appearing at a nightclub called Sweetwater, and I went in to see him.  He performed the song on stage that blew me away.  I said ‘Lenny, we got to record this’.  That song was What’cha Gonna Do.  I hadn’t been in the studio for awhile.  I knew I had to get back.  Lenny never wanted to record it.  I was in a very serious automobile accident (on March 1, 1985).  I was in a hospital for about two months.  O.C. sent me a card to the hospital.  Lenny Welch called me to see how I was doing.  It was almost a year after I heard that song.  He said ‘if you ever want to record that song, go right ahead’.  I was in the traction, but I called O.C. and said ‘get ready, as soon as I get out of here we’ll record it’.  Lenny never recorded the song.  O.C.’s the original.”

  The other song they did during the first session for the album along with What’cha Gonna Do was a beautiful ballad called If The World Should End Tomorrow.  Charles: “It had a very spiritual message.  We always try to do something with an inspirational message.  The great legendary black comedian Timmy Rogers wrote that.  The last time I saw Timmy was at O.C.’s funeral.  He was in his 90s.  Timmy was responsible for getting O.C. signed to Columbia Records.”

  The follow-up single was a version of Barry White’s ’74 gold record, You’re The First, My Last, My Everything (# 52-black).  Charles: “I always liked the song, so I wrote those little words in front of it – our vision of it – slowed it down, and that was the second hit.”


BRENDA

  There’s a real person behind the catchy and poppy uptempo item called Brenda (# 58-black).  Still on crutches, Charles flew to visit his lady friend, Brenda, to Houston, took her to L.A. with him for further O.C. sessions for the upcoming album and there she heard for the first time the song Charles had written for her.  Charles: “The third single was Brenda.  All of a sudden we started getting these calls from the Carolinas, these stores, and the next thing there was like 17,000 singles in one spot.  The population of the beach wasn’t 17,000.  I started learning about this thing called ‘beach music’.  The first time O.C. and I went down there to one of these festivals, we saw about 12,000 people dancing to Brenda, and O.C. was treated like a true superstar he was.  In the Carolinas 45 was still popular, and Brenda was going through the roof.  Then we did the research of what was going on.”

  “In the southern states it was segregated.  When white kids would go to the beaches in the Carolinas and Virginia, that’s the only place they would hear this soul music and do the dance ‘the shag’.  So they didn’t call it black music, when they went to their home town.  They called it beach music.  It was one of the best-kept secrets, but it was a whole lifestyle.”  In 1989 O.C., Charles Wallert and the song Brenda won five Beach Music Awards.

  Besides the three hits, the album contains a toe-tapper called Never Say Never, an almost funky beater and O.C.’s own melody titled You Saved Me and Charles’ catchy dancer named Spark Of Love.  Johnny Bristol’s La La Peace Song has a heavier beat to it this time.  Charles: “I covered that, because at that time the calypso sound – that happy horn sound – was kind of hot.  We just wanted to tell that story in a contemporary way.”

I FOUND THE ANSWER

  In 1986 O.C.’s voice could be heard also on another album, which in style somewhat differs from beach sounds.  The Reverend O.C. Smith sang Sweet Love with Della Reese, I Found The Answer with Eric Strom and Merry Clayton and joined in the Gospel Medley with all of the above plus Vermettya Royster.  The album was called Della Reese and Brilliance and it was released on Atlanta International Records (10112).

  It didn’t seem to bother O.C. to work both on the spiritual, and secular side.  Ocie III: “There was no controversy whatsoever.  He did some stuff with the church.  I call it message music.”  Charles: “During the whole time he was studying the Science of Mind.  I studied that philosophy as well.  The church opened in October ’85.  When he came to that church, the beach music came to us.  He had a new career again.”

  The Reverend?  When going through his late father’s belongings in 1974, O.C. found numerous metaphysical books.  Later he met his spiritual mentor, Dr. Frank Richelieu, and from 1980 onwards he started attending Science of Mind services, was ordained in January 1985 and nine months later his City of Angels Church of Religious Science opened own services on Aviation Boulevard.  In 1996 they moved into their new church on Grosvenor Boulevard, and today Robbie Gholson Smith is running the church. 

  Some of O.C.’s theses were “greet each day by first greeting the God within you”, “approach life like the successful and wealthy gold prospectors”, “go forth and claim your good”, “life cannot be limited, so don’t even try”, “count your blessings and watch them multiply”, “start each day with positive, pure, and productive thoughts”, “break the habit of negative thinking”, “have high goals”, “guard the door of your mind and the gateway of your mouth”, “meditate daily, at least three times a day”, “the only time you have is NOW”, “release and let go of things that are not working for you”, “never look back”, “practice the attitude of gratitude”, “decide to be a victor and not a victim” and “you are greater than you know.”  You’ll find more about the church at www.cityofangelschurch.com.

  Ocie III: “It was a complete turnaround.  I believe he had a calling for ministry.  His purpose was the people.  When he was a singer, he related to the people.  When he became a minister , it was the same thing.  It was all about the people.  When he was popular, a celebrity, the family went on the back burner, and his public became his family.  We got very little of his time at that point.  The ministry changed him a lot.  He tried to walk a perfect line after he started the ministry.  He stopped smoking.  He stopped drinking.  He didn’t eat sweets.  He didn’t eat meat.  He exercised 2 1/2 hours a day.  He studied constantly.  His whole make-up was Science of Mind.  His whole philosophic perspective changed, when he got involved in this ministry.”

BILLY FOSTER

  One artist, who is a member of congregation and was even married by O.C., is Mr. Billy Foster of the Medallions.  Billy: “I was born on June 17 in 1938.  My aunt, Madam Florence Cole McCleve was an original Fisk Jubilee Singer.  First I auditioned for Jester Hairstone, an actor and a musical director, to participate in light opera workshop - production of Africa Heartbeat - in School of the Music and the Arts in California.  He was later able to place me in a movie, Carmen Jones (Otto Preminger’s film in 1954), to do vocal background on the soundtrack.  In the 50s I also sang in a choir at the Second Baptize Church.”

  “After the Marine Corps, Charles Wright of the Twilighters (later know for his Watts 103rd Street Band) wanted me to sing with him, but I missed that session they did for Cholly Records (Eternally in ’56), so I auditioned for Dootsie Williams for the Medallions and they excepted me in 1957.” 

  Billy joined the Medallions after they had released their most famous recordings, The Letter/Buick 59 and The Telegram/Coupe De Ville Baby (in ’54).  Billy with his high tenor was a member of the second incarnation of the group, which recorded for Dooto such songs as For Better Or Worse, A Lover’s Prayer, Behind The Door, Magic Mountain and 59 Volvo (in ’57 – ’59).  “I think Dootsie had a deal with Volvo automobile company, so Vernon Green (their lead tenor) sat down and composed that song with the help of Dootsie.  When Vernon wrote that beautiful song, Magic Mountain, he was in hospital watching that mountain through the window.”  Billy also sings background on Joe Houston’s Ko Ko Mo those days.

  “We did here locally El Monte Legion Stadium almost weekly.  Then we worked clubs in L.A., we did Downtown Theater in San Francisco and did west coast tours with the Penguins, the Flamingos, Richie Valens, Richard Berry…”

  “Then I went to jail.  It was a probation violation.  It was petty stuff, but I ended up going to jail for three years.  It really took me out of music.  I went in in ’59 and got out in ’62.  After that I met Etta James.  I opened up an office in Las Vegas.  We were booking topless dancers, and I met Etta, because I decided to do a promotion with her.  We put up a show with Sugar Pie DeSanto, who was one of the artists that sang with her (e.g. In The Basement in ’66).  Etta would also ask me money periodically, because she was on drugs.”

  “We became a couple, and I ended up marrying Etta James.  We were together for 4 1/2 years.  We have a son.  He’s a producer and he’s a drummer.  He travels with her.  I co-wrote the song I’d Rather Go Blind.  We ended up going to Chicago.  Then I started using cocaine and drinking, and we ended up breaking up eventually in the late 60s.”

  In the 70s Billy worked with drug rehab, went to prison again, but has now been clean and sober for 26 years.  “Four years ago, before Vernon Green passed, I decided to try to bring the Medallions back, and we ended up doing a couple of doowop shows here in California, went to Ohio and even to England.  Since Vernon passed, we haven’t really been doing anything major.”

  “O.C. was my pastor in the church I belong to.  He would come to the recovery home that I direct and participate in our annual dinners.  He loved his music, and he loved musicians.”


AFTER ALL IS SAID AND DONE

  In 1987 Charles re-recorded nine songs from O.C.’s pre-beach period and put them out as Greatest Hits on Original Artist Records.  The same year they released another compilation called Romantic Collection drawn from the Dreams Come True (4 songs) and What’cha Gonna Do (5 songs) albums.  In 1990 all eighteen were released as My Favourite Songs on Castle Communications in Europe.

  Charles wrote a beautiful melody called The Best Out Of Me and produced it on O.C. for the Carolina label.  Charles: “We were going to start a label down there with some people, but it never quite turned out.  The Best Out Of Me was one of O.C.’s top songs.  When I did O.C.’s eulogy, that’s what I quoted – ‘he brought the best out of me’.  This easy floater had a full orchestration, arranged by Joseph Joubert. 

  On Carolina the single was preceded by Chuck Jackson’s How Long Have You Been Loving Me. Actually Chuck recorded a whole album with Charles for a label called Triune those days.  Chuck: “What happened was the company went defunct just before my release, and that’s why it didn’t come out.  That album’s just lying dormant.”  One album by Cuba Gooding, though - Meant To Be In Love - came out on Triune in 1993 (TRI 4162).

  In 1993 O.C. appeared on a Charles Wallert produced compilation titled Love x 3, together with Cuba Gooding and Chuck Jackson.  The CD appeared on the aforementioned Triune (TRI 4144).  Charles: “That was again a group of people in New York, and it was distributed by Ichiban.  We then pulled the album away from them.”  O.C. had four songs on the set, a different mix of The Best Out Of Me, a slight remake of Brenda, a somewhat angular dancer called The Wisest Of Us Are Fools For Love and a beautiful, mellow ballad called After All Is Said And Done, which was also released as a single.  Charles: “That cut was written by my good friend, Jimmy George.  It appeared on the adult contemporary charts, and it was big also on the beach music market.”

  O.C.’s own solo album on Triune in ’93 was titled After All Is Said And Done (TRI 4153).  Yes I Will is another pretty ballad that Charles wrote.  Charles: “O.C. did the second take on it and it was so perfect I said ‘that’s it’.  He always wanted to do things again and again, and I let that happen until at some point you have to stop.  I kept that take.  It was so magnificent.” 

  I Could Write A Love Song is a beat ballad written by Marilyn McLeod and Pam Sawyer.  Charles: “That came to me as a demo from Tony Sylvester of the Main Ingredient.”

  Of the other songs on the CD, As Long As I Have You is a smooth slowie, Friends a mellow mid-pacer and Still In Love With You and I’m In Love nice toe-tappers.  What’s notable for a 90s album is that they had as many as sixteen string and nine horn players on the background.

  O.C. and Charles didn’t have any more joint releases in the 90s.  Charles kept being active on the music scene with such artists as the Embers, George Benson and Dionne Warwick.  In fact, in 2004 they released on Bluewater (www.bluewaterrecordings.com) a highly recommended compilation produced by Charles.  The 15-tracker - The Embers: Beach Music Super Collaboration Album (BLWR 1001) - contains not only entertaining tracks by that six-piece blue-eyed beach group, but also contributions from George Benson (New York City), Cuba Gooding (Meant To Be In Love), Darryl Tookes (Dance With Me), Ronnie Limar (Lifetime Guarantee), La Tanya Hall, Coral and – of course – O.C. Smith (Brenda, Save The Last Dance For Me).

   O.C., on the other hand, made visits on other artists’ albums.  On Kim Waters’ Tribute CD in ’92 his vocals graced two standards, If I Didn’t Care and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Warlock 2735).  He’s a guest vocalist on four tracks on Horace Silver’s Pencil Packin’ Papa on in ’94 (Columbia 64210).  For the second time O.C. sang a duet with Della Reese on a gospelly swayer called Fill My Cup on Della’s CD, My Soul Feels Better Now, from ’98 (Homeland 9820).  O.C. does a bluesy duet with Barbara Morrison, too (Going To Chicago), sings with Marcia Griffith, does a cameo appearance on Thom Mason’s CD (De-Ja-New), sings Days Of Wine And Roses on Red Holloway’s Standing Room Only CD (Chiaroscuro 361 in 2000) and Whispering on Ahmad Jamal’s CD, In Search Of A Momentum (on Dreyfus 36644 in 2003).  Also worth mentioning is that Nancy Wilson paid tribute to her pastor, O.C. Smith, by singing Little Green Apples on her 2004 CD, RSVP (Rare Songs, Very Personal), on Manchester 1013.

  H.B. Barnum: “We did a Christmas song with O.C. and Freda Payne (on Christmas With Freda And Friends in ’96; Dove 8148).  O.C. and I remained very good friends, and he is one of my favourite people.  My father was his pastor at a town called Natchitoches in Louisiana.  They called him H. Brown Barnum.  O.C. was one of the first artists that after the session called up and said ‘thank you’.  During the time he had a big hit with Little Green Apples, O.C. used to raise a German shepherd that used to be in his car all the time with him.  One day there was a knock on my door and there’s a German shepherd on my doorstep with a little baby pup, which I named Apple.”

DOIN’ THE SHAG

   Beach Music Classics And Love Songs is a compilation of O.C.’s fifteen beach songs.  It was released in 2000 on Ruby Jude Records.  Charles: “That’s the lady, who really took us about the beach music scene.” 

  On the set there are two songs they had put out already in the late 80s on Original Artist Records, a nice floater called Doin’ The Shag and a re-recording of the ragtime swinger, Primrose Lane.   Charles: “We recorded Doin’ The Shag in 1988.  First there was a lot of criticism down there, because I put in the middle the anniversary waltz.  These people were used to dancing steadily to the same beat, and I was breaking that.  They were all confused, when that came on.  It took them awhile to realize that that was an opportunity for them to really show off their dancing and come up with some innovative thing.”

  Charles’ and O.C.’s next project was an elegant CD named I Give My Heart To You on Ruby Jude, released in 2002 – and again with a rich orchestration!  The title song is a soft, beautiful ballad.  Charles: “That was the first song I co-wrote with Jimmy George, and O.C. loved that song.  We recorded the vocals at Capitol Studios.  The way I do my production is that I put everything on a computer, we transfer it and then I start replacing it.  When I bring somebody into the overdub, they can play to the full arrangement.  That’s how you get the warmness of the sound.”

  Among the poppy, light dancers on the set there are Hangin’ On A Heartbeat, Where Is The Loving (Only You & I Know), This Is Gonna’ last forever and still a so-so shuffler called A Night 2 Remember.  Mid-tempo toe-tappers include Unconditional Love and Whatever It TakesJimmy George’s Everytime, a duet with Angela Clemmons, is a soulful and touching ballad.


SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME

  Charles: “There was a novel out called Beach Music by the famous author called Pat Conroy.  Pat and I met each other.  He loved Brenda, he loved O.C., he loved beach music and he got me a copy of the manuscript, which had Save The Last Dance For Me in it.  I said ‘I’m gonna record the song on O.C.  I listened to the original, and I looked at the script.  The original was too fast.  It wasn’t romantic enough.  It was more choppy.  I started coming up with the arrangement, and I called Joseph Joubert to write it down.  We recorded it and decided to put that out.  Ruby Jude was putting out a beach music compilation called All Aboard, and I said ‘I got one for you’.  I wanted to keep us active till our own album came out.”  On the beach music charts O.C.’s fine and nuanced interpretation of Save The Last Dance For Me hit number one!

  The album also contains a mellow ballad titled Supposed To Be, which the Winans had recorded earlier.  Charles: “O.C. wanted to do the song.  He was performing it at church.”  Understand is a spiritual ballad with a big choir backing O.C. up.  Charles: “I was very inspired by his teaching.  I wrote the song, but I kept it for awhile before I recorded it.  He loved the song.”  The concluding track is O.C.’s own toe-tapper called Isn’t Life Beautiful.  Charles: “O.C. would come up with some songs once and awhile.  He was doing that in church.”

  The fate had it that I Give My Heart To You was released posthumously.  Ocie III: “He was overworked.  He did a service that day at the church and went home.  When I finally made the Thanksgiving dinner at his house, it was about six o’clock in the evening.  Soon after the dinner he fell asleep.  At seven o’clock next morning I got the call.  He had gone to the bedroom.  He took off his clothes, got into bed, started complaining about gas pain, got up and went to the bathroom.  He walked to the den, and he was found lying on the floor, where he had died at some point.”

  H.B. Barnum: “O.C. was a good man… a real honest man.  He had a lot of problems, but he was always straight up, and I just loved him very much.  I have a Thanksgiving dinner every year for the homeless, and O.C. always came in.  He called me the night before the Thanksgiving and said ‘H.B., we just came in from a tour, and I don’t think I’ll be there tomorrow’.  I said ‘I understand.  I get somebody to do it.  Thank you for calling and letting me know’ – and then he passed away the next day.  O.C. was a great guy.”

  Charles: “In November 2001 I received messages ‘call me back, call me back’.  I immediately called L.A. and found out that he had passed away.  That was a total shock.  I spoke to him that morning.  We spoke about every day.  He was one of the special people.  He was gentle, he was funny, he was talented, he was calm, he was just a wonderful person to be around.  And he was my best friend.”

  O.C. passed away on November 23, 2001, at the age of 69.  Four thousand people attended his funeral.  Governor Jim Hodge proclaimed June 21 (O.C.’s birthday), 2002, as “O.C. Smith Day” in South Carolina.  Now O.C.’s son is working on a movie project about his father’s life.  Also a tasteful, 15-track compilation titled Remembering O.C. SmithLove Ballads (on Bluewater) is now available.  Charles: “The Embers did a beautiful job on the song I wrote, We Made Them Dance.  It’s a story of O.C. and myself.  I’d like to make a special mention of Bobby Tomlinson, founder of the Members.  We all continue to let the world know, how great O.C. was.”

Heikki Suosalo

O.C. Smith Single Discography

O.C. Smith Album Discography


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