Johnny Cymbal was a multi-talented individual who assumed various roles in the music industry, and recorded records for a variety of labels over a number of years. Two of his records, which he recorded under different names, became big hits in the 60's.
He was born John Hendry Blair in Ochitree, Scotland in 1945. He moved with his family to Goderich, Ontario, Canada in 1952 then to Cleveland, Ohio in 1960. When he was very young, his parents were divorced, and he took the name of his mother's second husband Nick Cymbal, whom he always regarded as his father. From that point on his name was John Hendry Cymbal. Thus Johnny Cymbal is not a stage name, but his real name. A big fan of Elvis Presley, Cymbal learned to write songs and play guitar at age 13 and began a life-long fascination and involvement with the music industry.
He signed with MGM Records at age 17 and went to Nashville, where he recorded two records that went nowhere. He began working with Philadelphia disc jockey Jack Gale as his manager, recording for various labels without success, until one of his records took off nationally in 1963. He recorded Mr. Bass Man on Kapp Records, with studio bass vocalist Ronnie Bright, formerly of the Valentines and the Cadillacs, handling the bass lyrics. Bright appeared on other records including Barry Mannīs Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) and Jackie Wilsonīs Baby Workout. Cymbal wrote Mr. Bass Man at age 17. It rose to #16 and it put the 18-year-old Johnny Cymbal on the rock-and-roll map. He also had a minor hit that year with Teenage Heaven.
He toured worldwide. Bright and intelligent with a good sense for business, affable, unpretentious, and with a great sense of humor, Johnny Cymbal had become a teenage idol. He had a very good singing voice and quite a stage presence, but always regarded himself primarily as a songwriter. He also arranged and produced records. Because of his considerable talents in a variety of areas, he was in demand by the record labels and performed a variety of tasks for a number of record companies.
Over the course of his career he wrote more than 200 songs. He was delighted when a song he had co-written, Mary In The Morning, which had been a hit for Al Martino, was recorded by none other than Elvis Presley. Mary In The Morning sold over ten million copies. Over time his compositions were recorded by artists ranging from Ed Ames, Eddy Arnold, Mike Curb, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Jan and Dean, Trini Lopez and David Cassidy (Rock Me Baby) to Glen Campbell, Frankie Ford, the Partridge Family, Gene Pitney and the Spencer Davis Group.
He continued to record under a variety of individual and group names, among them Brother John, Dallas, the Eye-Full Tower, Milk, and Taurus. Cymbal recorded using the name of his younger half-brother, Derek, who played in his band. Collaborating with record producer George Tobin from Musicor, he recorded Cinnamon on the Bang label and it became the biggest selling record ever for Johnny Cymbal as a singer, late in 1968. Cymbal's brother was in the band, but did not do the lead singing. That was handled by Johnny, under the name Derek. Cinnamon went to #11.
In the 1970's Johnny Cymbal wrote songs with a partner, Peggy Clinger, with whom he became quite close. At times they performed together as Cymbal & Clinger. Johnny struggled when she lost her life to a drug overdose. He moved around to various parts of the country, including for a time back with his parents who were now in Chico, California, as well as taking up residence in other locations that included Boston, New York City and back once again to Cleveland. He moved to Nashville and wrote country songs in the 80's, many of which found their way to the country charts. He also did work in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Talented as a singer, songwriter, and record producer, and highly regarded as well as well liked in the industry, Johnny Cymbal's life was cut short at age 48 when he died of a heart attack in his sleep in Nashville in 1993. Ronnie Bright passed away on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2015 at age 77. As a performer the record-buying public remembers Johnny Cymbal for his two top twenty hits, Mr. Bass Man in 1963 and Cinnamon (recorded as Derek) in 1968.
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