P. J. Proby

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P. J. Proby
P. J. Proby in 2007
P. J. Proby in 2007
Background information
Birth nameJames Marcus Smith
Born (1938-11-06) 6 November 1938 (age 85)
Houston, Texas, US
GenresPop music, easy listening, r&b, soul, rock
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, actor
Years active1957–present
LabelsDecca, London, Liberty, EMI, Select

P. J. Proby (born James Marcus Smith; November 6, 1938)[1] is an American singer, songwriter, and actor.

Proby recorded the singles "Hold Me", "Somewhere", and "Maria".[2] In 2008, EMI released the greatest hits album Best of the EMI Years 1961–1972. He still writes and records on his own independent record label, Select Records, and performs in the UK in Sixties concerts.

Early life[edit]

Proby was born James Marcus Smith on November 6, 1938 in Houston, Texas.[3][1] He is a great-grandson of Old West outlaw John Wesley Hardin.[4] His father was an affluent banker;[4] at nine, his parents divorced and as part of the custody deal, Proby was sent to military school.[5] He began at San Marcos Military Academy, and followed with stints in Culver Naval Academy and Western Military Academy.



By the time Proby left school, he had already wanted a career "in the movies" and moved to California to become an actor and recording artist.[5] Given the stage name Jett Powers by Hollywood agents Gabey, Lutz, Heller, and Loeb,[6] he took acting and singing lessons and played small roles in films. Two singles, "Go, Girl, Go" and "Loud Perfume" appeared on two small independent record labels. In 1960, songwriter Sharon Sheeley persuaded him to adopt the stage name P. J. Proby, the name of a former boyfriend from high school, and secured Proby an audition for Dick Glasser of Liberty Records. It was a success, and Proby signed with the label and the music publisher Metric Music.[5] After a number of unsuccessful singles, in 1962 Proby began writing songs and recording demos for artists such as Elvis Presley, Bobby Vee, and Johnny Burnette, who had his final UK chart success with the song "Clown Shoes", credited to Proby's real name.[7]

Proby travelled to London after being introduced to Jack Good by Sheeley and Jackie DeShannon. He appeared on The Beatles' Around the Beatles television special in 1964.[8] Under Good, Proby had UK top 10 hits in 1964 and 1965 including "Hold Me" (UK Number 3), "Together" (UK Number 8), "Somewhere" (UK Number 6), and "Maria" (UK Number 8); the last two songs were both lifted from the musical West Side Story. He also recorded the Lennon–McCartney composition "That Means a Lot", a song the Beatles recorded in 1965, but never officially released until 1996.

Proby is remembered for an incident in January 1965, when his trousers split across the knees during a show in Croydon, London. As a result, Proby was banned in every major theatre in Britain, plus appearing on the BBC and ITV television channels.[4] The incident scandalised the British press and public, causing Proby's career to lose momentum.[9][10] Minor hits in 1966 were followed by flops, and in March 1968, "It's Your Day Today", gave Proby his last UK chart entry for nearly 30 years.[citation needed]

In 1967 Proby scored his only Billboard Hot 100 top forty hit with "Niki Hoeky". In September 1968, he recorded Three Week Hero, released in 1969. A collection of country-style ballads mixed with blues, it used the New Yardbirds, later to become Led Zeppelin, as the backing band. The album was produced by Steve Rowland.[citation needed]


In 1971, he appeared as Cassio in a rock musical of Shakespeare's Othello, Catch My Soul.[11] He performed in cabaret and nightclubs, singing 1960s ballads and rhythm and blues.

In 1977, he appeared as a contestant on the UK television talent show Opportunity Knocks. He wore an eye-mask and was billed as "The Masked Singer".[12] Signing with Good again that year, he portrayed Elvis in Elvis – The Musical but was fired for ignoring the script and talking to the audience.[13][14][unreliable source?] Later in 1977, Proby agreed to record lead vocals on some tracks by Dutch progressive rock band Focus that were released on Focus con Proby, their final album before the group disbanded in the following year.

In the 1980s, writers David Britton and Michael Butterworth attempted to revive Proby's career.[13] The pair got the singer to record covers of various songs for their label Savoy Records, including "Tainted Love" by Gloria Jones, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division, "Anarchy in the UK" by The Sex Pistols, "Sign o' the Times" by Prince, and "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. The project failed; Britton recalled Proby "hated everything we ever did" and only wanted to sing "country stuff and ballads, the old-fashioned kitschy stuff."[13]

In 1987, his Savoy Records single "M97002 Hardcore"[15] credited Madonna as "Second Vocal (Special Guest)", although this was untrue.[16][17]


In the early 1990s Proby released an EP, "Stage of Fools", and an album, Thanks. They were issued by J'ace Records, distributed by BMG. Granada TV featured Proby in a documentary.[citation needed]

In the early 1990s, Proby reappeared on stage as himself in the musical Good Rockin' Tonight, followed by playing Roy Orbison in Only The Lonely. A year later Proby returned to a new production of Elvis – The Musical, and made the album Legend.[18] It had songwriting and production from Marc Almond, and Neal X from Sigue Sigue Sputnik. A single, "Yesterday Has Gone", a duet with Almond, reached 58 on the UK Singles Chart at the end of 1996.[19]

In 1997, Proby toured with The Who in the United States and Europe, performing as 'The Godfather' in the road production of Quadrophenia.[20][21] After Quadrophenia, Proby played the UK, Sweden,[22] Denmark,[23] and Germany.[24] Proby collaborated with Savoy Books, reading for a 1999 audiobook of David Britton's formerly banned novel Lord Horror.[25]


In 2002, Van Morrison recorded a song for his album Down the Road entitled "Whatever Happened to P. J. Proby?".

In August 2004, Proby toured in Australia. From February until May 2006, he appeared with the 'Solid Silver Sixties Show 2006' – and went through six road managers/drivers[26] – throughout much of the UK, ending at the London Palladium.[27]

In November 2008, Proby celebrated his 70th birthday. EMI released a 25-track retrospective, Best of the EMI Years 1961-1972. This featured his singles, eight rarities that debuted on the CD format, and two unreleased recordings (Les Reed and Barry Mason's "Delilah"; and Jim Ford's "I'm Ahead If I Can Quit While I'm Behind"). Reed wrote "Delilah" for Proby's 1968 album Believe It Or Not, but it was omitted and became a hit for Tom Jones. Proby wrote and recorded a Christmas single entitled "The Bells of Christmas Day" with guitarist and producer, Andy Crump.[28]

In 2010, Proby toured in 'Sixties Gold'[29] another revival series of shows.

In 2015, he performed in a duet with Van Morrison on the album, Duets: Re-working the Catalogue, singing "Whatever Happened to P. J. Proby".[30]

Personal life[edit]

In 1968, Proby ran into tax problems and declared himself bankrupt.[5] Proby was once arrested in Texas for vagrancy.[5] In 1973, Proby was jailed for the shooting of an illegally-possessed weapon after threatening his partner Claudia Martin, daughter of Dean Martin, with a gun and firing several shots.[31][13]

After years of heavy drinking, Proby turned sober in 1992 after he had a heart attack while on a beach in Florida.[32][8]

In 2011, Proby was charged with nine counts of benefit fraud, totalling over £47,000. He was cleared of all charges at Worcester Crown Court in March 2012.[33] To celebrate, Proby recorded "I'm PJ." and "We The Jury" (which Proby wrote).[34] Proby said: "I was not dishonest when I claimed benefits, which I needed in order to live."[35]

Proby married and divorced several times. He had a relationship with singer Billie Davis.[4] In a March 2019 interview, he said he had married Marianne Adams when she was 16, Judy Howard when she was 17, and Dulcie Taylor when she was 21. Proby made the comments ahead of his 20-date farewell UK tour, which led to several shows being cancelled at first, followed by the whole tour. Proby disputed the accuracy of the interview in a statement to the press and to his fans.[36][better source needed]

Proby lives in Pinvin, Worcestershire.[35][8]



  • I Am P. J. Proby (1964) – UK Number 16
  • P. J. Proby (1965)
  • P. J. Proby in Town (1965)
  • Enigma (1966)
  • Phenomenon (1967)
  • Believe It or Not (1968)
  • Three Week Hero (1969)
  • California License (1970)
  • I'm Yours (1973)
  • The Hero (1981), re-released as Clown Shoes in 1987
  • Thanks (1991)
  • The Enigma in Gold – Volume 1
  • Memories (2003)
  • Sentimental Journeys (2003)
  • Wanted (2003)

Spoken word albums[edit]

  • P. J. Proby Reads Lord Horror (1999, spoken word album with musical accompaniment)
  • The Waste Land (1999, spoken word album of T. S. Eliot's poem)

Collaborative album[edit]


Early singles discography[edit]

Jett Powers[edit]

  • "Go, Girl, Go"/"Teen Age Quarrel" (March 1958)
  • "Loud Perfume"/"My Troubles" (September 1959)

P. J. Proby[edit]

  • "Try to Forget Her"/"There Stands the One" (1961)
  • "The Other Side of Town"/"Watch Me Walk Away" (1962)
  • "So Do I"/"I Can't Take It Like You Can" (1963)

Orville Woods[edit]

  • "Wicked Woman"/"Darlin'" (1963)

Selected singles discography[edit]

  • "Hold Me" (1964) – UK Number 3, Canada Number 5, Australia Number 13, Ireland Number 10
  • "Together" (1964) – UK Number 8, Australia Number 93
  • "Somewhere" (1964) – UK Number 6, Canada Number 17
  • "I Apologise" (1965) – UK Number 11
  • "Rockin' Pneumonia (1965) – Canada Number 34
  • "Mission Bell" (1965) – Australia Number 3
  • "Let The Water Run Down" (1965) – UK Number 19, Canada Number 30
  • "That Means a Lot" (1965) – UK Number 30
  • "Maria" (1965) – UK Number 8
  • "You've Come Back" (1966) – UK Number 25
  • "To Make A Big Man Cry" (1966) – UK Number 34
  • "I Can't Make It Alone" (1966) – UK Number 37
  • "Niki Hoeky" (1967) – US Number 23, Canada Number 22
  • "Butterfly High" (1967)
  • "It's Your Day Today" (1968) – UK Number 32
  • "The Day That Lorraine Came Down" (1968)
  • "Hanging From Your Loving Tree" (1969)
  • "Today I Killed A Man" (1969)
  • "It's Goodbye" (1970)
  • "We'll Meet Again" (1972)
  • "Tainted Love" (1985)
  • "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (1985)
  • "Anarchy in the UK" (1987)[37]
  • "M97002 Hardcore" (1987)[15]
  • "Sign 'o' the Times" (1989)[38]
  • "In the Air Tonight" (1990)
  • "Garbageman" (1990)
  • "Stage of Fools" (1990) – (J'Ace Records)
  • "Yesterday Has Gone" (1996) – UK Number 58 (Credited to P. J. Proby and Marc Almond featuring the My Life Story Orchestra)
  • "Love Me Tender" (2004)
  • "Oh My Papa" (2004)
  • "The Bells of Christmas Day" (2008)
  • "We The Jury" / "I'm PJ." (2012)[34]


  1. ^ a b "The Foote Files: Lost Hit Of The 60s With PJ Proby – CBS Dallas / Fort Worth". CBS Broadcasting. October 15, 2019. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  2. ^ "P J Proby The Official Charts Company". Official Charts. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  3. ^ Brady, Bradford; Maron, John (August 9, 2020). "On the Record: What albums are the best 'morning music'? | Community | heraldcourier.com". Bristol Herald Courier. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Chalmers, Robert (September 18, 2011). "PJ Proby: Could the now-penniless singer be ready for a comeback?". The Independent. Archived from the original on May 24, 2022. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e Chapman, Rob (May 1997). "That's Torn It! - The Story of P.J. Proby". Mojo. Retrieved August 24, 2021 – via Rock's Backpages.
  6. ^ "Powers, Jett (RCS Artist Discography)". Archived from the original on July 28, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  7. ^ "Johnny Burnette - Clown Shoes". 45cat.com. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Goddard, Simon (November 27, 2018). "Articles - PJ Proby". Record Collector. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  9. ^ "I Should Still Be As Famous As Tom Jones". The Daily Express. July 20, 2013. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  10. ^ Guinness Book of Rock Stars, Dafydd Rees & Luke Crampton, 1991
  11. ^ "Home.online info". Home.online.no. Archived from the original on December 8, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  12. ^ Lavigueur, Nick (August 7, 2013). "Colne Valley 60s icon PJ Proby reveals hunt for Yorkshire Ripper and truth behind Opportunity Knocks scandal". Huddersfieldexaminer. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d Aston, Martin (May 1993). "P.J. Proby: Where Is He Now?". Q. Retrieved August 24, 2021 – via Rock's Backpages.
  14. ^ Angie, Fumble (November 28, 1977). "Best Musical of the Year". Fumbleontheweb.com. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  15. ^ a b Savoy Records PJS6, 1987
  16. ^ Critical Vision, edited by David Kerekes and David Slater, 1995, ISBN 0-9523288-0-1, p. 156
  17. ^ (London) Evening News, September 22, 1987
  18. ^ [1] Archived November 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London, UK: Guinness World Records Ltd. p. 440. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  20. ^ "Tommy & Quadrophenia Live". Retrieved December 23, 2011.
  21. ^ "Kathyszaksite". Kathyszaksite.com. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  22. ^ Björn Lund. "Home2.swipnet". Home2.swipnet.se. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  23. ^ [2] Archived May 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ [3] Archived January 25, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ "Savoy Records: Lord Horror CD". www.savoy.abel.co.uk. Retrieved July 23, 2021.
  26. ^ [4] Archived May 10, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ [5] Archived August 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ "PJ Proby's official website". Pjproby.net. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
  29. ^ [6] Archived May 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ "CBC Music". Cbcmusic.ca. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  31. ^ Tennant, Ron (August 2018). "Proby in love?". The Beat. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  32. ^ "Ripping yarns". Sutton & Croydon Guardian. November 26, 2003. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  33. ^ "Singer PJ Proby cleared of benefit fraud". BBC News. UK. March 17, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  34. ^ a b "P J Proby We The Jury/I'm PJ. (CD single)". UK. April 4, 2012. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  35. ^ a b "PJ Proby benefit fraud case dropped". The Guardian. March 16, 2012. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  36. ^ "P.J. Proby Fan Forum". Facebook.com. Archived from the original on February 26, 2022. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  37. ^ "Savoy Records: Anarchy in the UK". Savoy.abel.co.uk. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  38. ^ "Savoy Records: Sign O The Times". Savoy.abel.co.uk. Retrieved November 13, 2011.

External links[edit]