P.J. Proby is an American singer/songwriter/actor who made his mark on the pop scene in the United Kingdom in the 1960's.
His name when he was born in Houston in 1938 was James Marcus Smith. He was educated in military schools and after graduation headed for California with the intent of making it as an actor, using the name Jett Powers. He found some small roles and became friends with Sharon Sheeley, who was acquainted with a number of rock-and-roll acts of the time (she had written Poor Little Fool for Rick Nelson and was engaged at one time to Eddie Cochran). Sheeley suggested he record under the name of a high school classmate of hers, P.J. Proby, and put him in touch with producers at Liberty Records, where he made some recordings but met with little success. He continued with bit parts in movies, wrote a few songs, and recorded demos for singers such as Elvis Presley and Bobby Vee.
Proby went to England and, through an introduction from Sheeley and her friend/co-writer Jackie DeShannon, he met with British record producer Jack Good. In 1964 Good booked him on a British television production that fetured the Beatles. Proby had a flamboyant stage presence and a similar lifestyle. He made a big impression on British audiences on the special with his ponytail, frilly shirts and tight pants. Good produced several songs that Proby recorded in 1964 and 1965: a revival of Hold Me (#3 on the British chart), Together, Somewhere and Maria (both from West Side Story), I Apologise, and a song witten by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, That Means A Lot. His recordings were splashy and garnered attention, and a number of them became big hits with the British record buying public.
In February of 1965 during a performance at Luton he split his pants. Due to this and other elements of his act he began to fall in disfavor, eventually becoming banned from British televison in many quarters. His insistence on being paid prior to his appearances in live shows led to his becoming unwanted by theater managers, as did his by now common problems with his pants splitting. He continued recording but in 1966 his record sales began to slip. One song that failed to reach the British chart for him, Niki Hoeky, in 1967 became his only top forty hit in his native country, the United States. His recording of It's Your Day Today in 1968 became his final hit of the 60's on the British chart. He challenged popular Welsh singer Tom Jones to a singing contest, one which never took place. Proby had money coming in for some time but was irresponsible with it; he lived the high life and in 1968, he declared bankruptcy.
Jack Good helped Proby out in 1971 by casting him as Cassio in Catch My Soul, a rock music stage production of Shakespeare's Othello. In the 70's Proby appeared in various nightclubs and cabarets, singing popular songs of the 50's and 60's and some rhythm and blues tunes, some of which he also recorded... Mary In The Morning, Crazy, Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, Ling Ting Tong, Twilight Time, Work with Me Annie, If I Can Dream, She Cried, Burning Love, and others. He played Elvis Presley in the 1978 stage play, Elvis On Stage.
Proby would occasionally appear in the news, sometimes with stories of his troubled personal life or domestic problems. He continued recording and performing as time moved along. He would at times portray Elvis Presely in a show and he portrayed himself in Jack Good's 1993 revival show Good Rockin' Tonite as well as in the Roy Orbison revival show Only The Lonely. He toured with The Who in their show Quadrophenia in the late 90's and as late as 2010 in yet another revival show, Sixties Gold.
P.J. Proby's career in entertainment has lasted a long time. In the United States, he is most closely associated with his 1967 hit Niki Hoeky, while in the UK he is remembered for hits such as Hold Me, Together, Somewhere and Maria.
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