"P. J. Proby", born James Marcus Smith on 6 November, 1938, is a singer, songwriter, and actor noted for his theatrical portrayals of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, plus interpretations of modern standards in the vein of Tom Jones. The stage name P. J. Proby was suggested to him by a friend named Sharon Sheeley who remembered an old high school boyfriend.
Youth and early career
James Marcus Smith was born in Houston, Texas. He grew up in a military family, where he received an education at a base school. His family moved to Los Angeles, California where he developed an interest in rockabilly music and Elvis Presley. Using the stage name Jett Powers (More Info) he took acting and singing lessons, and appeared in movies with small roles. Two singles "Go, Girl, Go", and "Loud Perfume", were released on an independent label, but were not noticed. In 1962 he began writing songs and recording demos, for artists such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
Proby was spotted by the label Liberty Records. He travelled to London, where he met the songwriter Jackie DeShannon, in 1963. She introduced him to television producer , who saw Proby as a future star. By then dropping Jett Powers in favour of the name P. J. Proby, Good deliberately created an overtly sexual image for Proby. Appearing on The Beatles' television special in 1964, he received great media interest with his tight trousers, frilled shirts, and pony-tailed hairstyle. Under the production of Good, Proby's balladeer style and theatrical presentation scored a string of hits in 1964 with "Hold Me", "Together" (featuring session guitarists Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page), "Somewhere", "Maria", and "I Apologise".
A royalty dispute with Liberty Records in 1966, broke his run of success in the UK singles chart. His career was also affected by controversies. Wearing skin tight trousers on stage, they split open during a concert in England. The women in the audience went wild. Somehow, the trousers split again at the next venue. Critics, and the audience, were divided on whether he was using a gimmick to promote his image, or that he was just an eccentric rock star. During a concert with Cilla Black in 1967, he asked to be paid in advance, and was dropped from the rest of her tour by theatre managers. He also challenged Tom Jones to a singing contest, but Jones did not respond.
Back in the USA
In 1967 Proby scored a Top 30 hit "Niki Hoeky" in the United States. He was then cast in the [London?] production of ''Finian's Rainbow'', but was overshadowed by financial problems. Indeed, poor investment decisions led Proby to briefly declare himself bankrupt. He returned to the United States to rest, and started a horse breeding business. In September, 1968, with the future members of Led Zeppelin, Proby recorded the album ''Three Week Hero'', which was released in 1969. A collection of country-style ballads mixed with blues, the album is notable more for its association with Led Zeppelin than its commercial success.
Success on the London stage
In 1971, he appeared on stage as Iago in a rock musical version of Shakespeare's ''Othello'', called ''Catch My Soul'' (More Info) The play enjoyed a successful run in London's West End. After he continued to perform mostly in cabarets and nightclubs, singing 1960s ballads and rhythm 'n' blues material. Signing with Good again in 1977, he portrayed Elvis Presley in a theatrical production of
''Elvis - The Musical'', which received rave reviews, winning a award. In 1978, Proby recorded with the Dutch rock group Focus releasing ''Focus con Proby''. He then returned to singing in clubs, before embarking on a change of direction.
In 1993, Proby appeared in the
biographical musical... as himself. Two years later in
1995, Proby appeared in the Roy Orbison tribute show "Only the Lonely".
By 1996, Proby was acting again in "Elvis - The Musical"
His career followed a similar path trod by Tom Jones in the 1980s, who began to cover contemporary songs. Proby began with a version of Joy Division's epic "Love Will Tear Us Apart", followed with Soft Cell's "Tainted Love", and then, less advisedly, The Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK". He did enjoy minor success but, unlike Jones, was largely neglected by the media. In 1989, the Southport based author/songwriter Ron Ellis recorded Proby singing one of his compositions, "Hot California Nights", and released the recording as a CD single on Da Doo Ron Ron Records. Unfortunately for Ron, Proby was not fit to promote the release, and it failed to sell. It is now a rare and highly collectable CD, and became another part of the legend that is P. J. Proby.
Rise of the legend
By 1990 P. J. Proby was an alcoholic wreck, living in the back streets of Bolton, Lancashire. He was offered a recording deal with the Preston-based, J'Ace Records, and this led to the release of a single ''Stage of Fools'', and an album ''Thanks'' released on J'Ace Records. It was distributed internationally by BMG and it brought P. J. Proby back into the record shops, for the first time since he left Liberty Records almost twenty years before.
Granada TV featured Proby with the head of J'Ace Records, John G. Sutton, in a documentary - ''PJ Probably'' - and BBC TV featured Proby, and Sutton, on their flagship current affairs programme ''This Week''. Following his return to the public eye, in 1991, Proby suffered a heart attack whilst performing at The Landsdowne Hotel in Blackpool, which curtailed his activities until 1995. Then he reappeared on stage in the biographical musical ''Roy Orbison'', playing the title role. A year later Proby returned to a new production of ''Elvis'', and released the critically acclaimed album ''Legend'' (More Info) The album featured contributions from Marc Almond, and Neal X from Sigue Sigue Sputnik. A resulting single ''Yesterday Has Gone'', reached Number 58 on the UK chart at the back end of 1996. It was his first appearance in that list for almost thirty years.
In 1997, P. J. Proby toured with The Who in America and in Europe, performing as as "The Godfather" (More Info) in the road production of ''Quadrophenia'' (More Info) After ''Quadrophenia'', Proby continued singing by doing performances in UK, Sweden (More Info) Denmark (More Info) and Germany(More Info) In addition, he had been touring in "Sixties Gold" (More Info) another revival series of shows, for some years. In August 2004, he also toured successfully in Australia
From the 26 February until 7 May, 2006, P.J. will be touring with the "Solid Silver Sixties Show 2006" (More Info) throughout much of the UK.
As early as the 1960´s, P. J. was called "The Living Legend". That is not an overstatement today, as Proby is still admired by the British public and another 'comeback' is not out of the question: "The Living Legend - Still Going Strong".