They only recorded two albums, and their first hit - the top-5 Baby Ws You -was by far their biggest Yet the band that went under the name Smith continues to hold a special place in the hearts of its fans, and the group's records hold up far better today than those of many of their contemporaries. Smith featured three lead singers, and their punchy rhythm and blues-influenced sound emphasized the Hammond B-3 organ, an instrument until then largely identified with soul bands...and with Smith's label mates, Steppenwolf.
Many popular acts of the late '60s had their roots in folk and pop music. Smith's female lead singer, Gayle McCormick, though, had worked her way up through the competitive St. Louis music scene, with a repertoire of songs popularized by Etta James, Tina Turner, and other serious women vocalists, By the time Gayle Annette McCormick was am sophomore in high school, she was in a band.
Within a couple of years, that group had mutated from The Chavels into Steve Cummings and the Classmen ("Steve was the drummer” Gayle explains, "and his father, managed us at the time"). Ultimately, they were the 11-piece show band Gayle McCormick and the Classmen, recording for the local Musicland U.S.A. label — also home for local heroes Bob Kuban and the In-Men (The Cheater) Jerry Carter and James Richard "Rich" Cliburn were on their way through St. Louis from Los Angeles, promoting a single, Norr Taste the Times, although their group, the Smiths, had already effectively broken up. Says Gayle, "They were looking for musicians to back them up locally, and got together with The Classmen. In the meantime, I was trying to make a career decision: should I continue with music, or should I pursue my original goal, which was to teach physical education — I had been accepted as a RE, major by Arkansas State College, Rich and Jerry invited me to go to Florida with them; they drove in their van, and I met them in Miami. Before long, the three of us had relocated to Los Angeles' Cliburn played guitar, Carter was a bassist, and all three sang.
Eventually, they brought on board drummer Bob Evans (originally from Detroit) and keyboardist Larry Moss (from Tulsa), forming the first edition of what was by then called, simply, Smith. Enter destiny, in the form of two former teen idols, "We were playing at a dub called the Rag Doll in North Hollywood, and doing pretty well/' says McCormick. "And one night, Del Shannon and Brian Hyland stopped in. They were taken with the girl singer and the band, and said 'We must talk'. We rehearsed in the music room of Del's house, as he brought representatives of record labels by to see us.
I remember that Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records liked us, but he wanted girl backup singers, like Aretha Franklin was using at the time. Finally, Jay Lasker, Steve Barri and Joel Sill of Dunhill Records came to the club. We were especially good that night, contracts were signed, and things were rolling." Smith's first single, supervised by Sill and Barri, was a version of Baby, It's You, that Del Shannon had helped them arrange. The song has been recorded earlier by the Shirelles and the Beatles; the Shannon-Smith arrangement was something altogether different, featuring McCormick's urgent singing and Moss's B-3. "When Jerry, Rich and I were forming the band, we always wanted a B-3," says McCormick. "Jerry would bring that big church organ down to the Rag Doll, and then, when we started to tour, he had it chopped down to portable size to take with him” The group broke big almost immediately, landing spots on "American Bandstand" and prime-time variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Leslie Uggams and Red Skelton.
Their debut album, a group called..,Smith featured several songs from their chib act and a trio of new tunes — Jeff Thomas's I Don't Believe (I Believe), Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni's I'll Hold Out My Hand (the hit single, by Texas group Clique, covered the Smith album cut, which had been slated as their next single release), and Mojalesky Ridge, written by Harvey Price, Dan Walsh and co-producer Sill. Lead vocals were divided among Cliburn, Carter and McCormick, though McCormick eventually ^merged (as she had in the Classmen) as the band's focal point, from a marketing standpoint, at least.
The album reached the top-20 nationally. In 1969, Smith was asked to record a version of The Weight, to appear on the soundtrack album for Easy Rider when the Band's version — used in the film — became unavailable due to licensing restrictions. The Easy Rider album reached No. 6 nationally, thanks in no small part to Smith's contribution. That record, incidentally, was the only Smith cut to use an outside musician other than horn players: Larry Knectal was brought in to overdub a piano.
by Todd Everett
1. Let's Get Together (Dollison, Powers, Webb) - 3:30
2. I Don't Believe (I Believe) (Thomas) - 3:40
3. Tell Him No (Argent) - 3:24
4. Who Do You Love? (McDaniel) - 2:56
5. Baby It's You (Bacharach, David, David, Williams) - 3:25
6. The Last Time (Jagger, Richards) - 5:38
7. I Just Wanna Make Love to You (Dixon, Lynch, Wackett) - 2:37
8. Mojaleskey Ridge (Price, Sill, Walsh) - 2:31
9. Let's Spend the Night Together (Jagger, Richards) - 3:52
10. I'll Hold Out My Hand (Gorgoni, Taylor) - 3:04
11. Weight (Robertson) - 4:30
12. Take a Look Around (Carter, Cliburn) - 2:25
13. What Am I Gonna Do? (King, Stern) - 2:53
14. Gonna Be Alright Now (Lambert, Potter) 2:47
15. It's a Cryin' Shame (Lambert, Potter) - 2:49
*Jerry Carter - Bass, Vocals
*Rick Cliburn - Guitar, Vocals
*Bob Evans - Drums
*Jud Huss - Bass, Vocals
*Larry Knechtel - Piano
*Gayle McCormick - Vocals
*Larry Moss - Keyboards
*Alan Parker - Guitar, Vocals