GAYLE McCORMICK & THE KLASSMEN: 1965-1968
REMEMBERING GAYLE McCORMICK (November 21,1948 - March 1, 2016)...
After a long, valiant battle with Cancer, my dear friend, St. Louis' Gayle McCormick, one of the most iconic female singers to define the era of the 60's, passed away in St. Louis, on March 1, 2016. With "A Group Called Smith", Gayle set the music world on its ear in August of 1969 with the release of their version of the Classic hit "Baby It's You". She was 67.
In the last few years, Gayle was amazed & overwhelmed at resurgence of her popularity, and the new fans she had gathered through the advent of her being featured, not only on this Internationally-known Tribute Page, but, the great number of You Tube presentations featuring her with Smith, her solo career, and, with the great local-connection recordings with Steve Cummings & The Klassmen...ALL now available to be read about, seen, and, heard World Wide through the Internet. PLUS, those who remember her from the early years, have also reunited with her music, her beauty, and, the one-of-a-kind voice that they never forgot.
Her talent is known in all 50 States, and the more-than 141 Countries that come to this Site alone. And, not only her talent, but her spirit, and, the remarkable voice she possessed will live on forever throughout the Universe...wherever music is heard.
(Gayle: April, 1982. Photo courtesy of Kevin Leitheiser)
R.I.P., sweet Gayle, you were always my friend, and I loved you. I will miss your fun-loving, beautiful self, those warm, personal talks we shared, and, that wonderful, throaty, laugh that brightened my day, touched my heart, and, made me smile...from the very first day we met in the Spring of 1965.
Jonnie King (3-2-2016)
SPECIAL NOTE: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ the Tribute to Gayle that follows on this Page, please take the time to do so. Within its words, images, and, photos, you will learn the history of this truly remarkable singer-entertainer...and why she has always had an impact on the World of Music from the very first time she ever stepped onto a stage...to the minute you're reading these words right now.
INTRODUCTION: I SHOULD PREFACE WHAT YOU WILL READ in the following paragraphs, by telling you that through the course of my life many strange events, occurrences, the finding of various things, and, reuniting with old friends, have happened. These are not "coincidences". They are situations that have led me from one point of my life to the other...and were done for a reason.
These events have always had a mystical, other-worldly, psychic, cosmic, vibration to them. The trick is to understand it when they happen, and, more importantly, why they happened.
Read on and you will learn about the particular event that compelled me to write the words you're reading right now...and, you'll see exactly what I mean:
A FEW WEEKS BEFORE MY 45th Anniversary in Broadcasting, I was looking through my Archives & Collections for some material for one of the other Websites that I run, when I came across a plastic bag filled with what looked like letters. I could not figure out what they were, or why they were saved until I opened the bag and began to go through them.
The day that I started on-the-air at KLID Radio was September 10th, 1967. Accordingly, all of these letters were dated from the years 1967 & 1968, and I was just shocked and taken by surprise when I started to read them, but I knew then why they'd been saved: They were all from friends that knew me before I started my career ! These were the people who knew me long before most of you, kind readers of these words, even knew I existed !
They were from friends who said: "Good luck...we knew you could do it !", "Once you're a big celebrity will you remember us mere mortals ? ", "Congratulations ! We can say 'we knew you when' ! ", "May this be the happiness you seek, in the career you've always wanted.", "You'll be the best, because you are the best !".
To say that I was truly moved to the inner depths of my heart and soul after reading these, 45 years after they were written, would be putting it mildly. Furthermore, I could visualize, and see, each of the writers.
THREE OF THE ENVELOPES HAD more than one letter in them, and, I remind you that in 1967 & 1968, people actually did write letters ! There was no such thing as "eMail", or, "texting". And "Cell Phones" were only used by those incarcerated in Prison .
The three that stood out were from my close, personal, "KXOK/Johnny Rabbitt" Friends: DON PIETROMONACO (The Rabbitt), GAYLE McCORMICK (Singer with "The Klassmen"), and, SHARON LOWE (One of the Official "Kay Girls" and a sweet, dear friend). Now, Sharon went on to another career after she left KXOK, but Don and Gayle were still very much "in the biz"...and welcomed me into it completely.
THAT'S WHEN I UNDERSTOOD THE REAL REASON FOR MY FINDING THESE LETTERS ON THE EVE OF MY ANNIVERSARY:
They weren't found six months earlier; they weren't found three months later. I was led to them, and their importance to me, at the exact time of my 45th Anniversary so that I could not only re-live their wonderful words and thoughts, but so that I could share with you how the lives of Don, Gayle, and, myself, intersected personally AND professionally. And to show you, how the bonds of their friendship, helped me become the "me" that you know today.
Don, Gayle, Sharon...I love you all. My heartfelt thanks for being with me from the very beginning.
AND NOW, LET'S BEGIN...
GAYLE McCORMICK WAS A SUPERSTAR. When they invented the word "Diva" they must have had Gayle in mind, for she was one of the first that it could have legally been applied to.
She was a Blond Goddess who could mesmerize an audience the minute she walked on-stage. She was also one of my closest personal friends, and our careers paralelled one another in an almost-magical way.
HERE'S THE FIRST PART OF THE STORY...and how it came to be a story to begin with:
THE FIRST PART BEGINS: 1965...
GAYLE McCORMICK WAS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT and dynamic singers to come out of the St. Louis Area from the mid-60's to the mid-70's.
Gayle and I met and became friends in 1965 when I started working with my friend Don Pietromonaco (Johnny Rabbitt) at KXOK Radio. Gayle was the featured female singer with Steve Cummings & The Klassmen, one of St. Louis' premiere bands. If you ever heard Gayle in those early days, you knew that she was destined for much bigger things and a phenominal career.
The Klassmen, in their earlier-version, had been known as the "Chevels". But changing the name to the Klassmen, and turning it into a larger group with Gayle as the female lead singer, and, Bob Medley as the male vocalist, turned the band into a veritable "powerhouse of sound". They were signed, and began recording locally with success on the Musicland, U.S.A. label. Their single releases of "Without You" and "Wonderous Time" were well received in the St. Louis Market.
Gayle's powerful voice could belt out any female hits that you'd want to hear. She took songs by Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield, Etta James, Jackie DeShannon,..and anyone else you could name, and literally made them her own !
DURING THAT TIME PERIOD, Ernie Cummings, Steve Fagan, and, myself, managed Rabbitt's Hops, Splash Parties, Club Imperial gigs, and, the Batcave. Ernie was also Manager of the Klassmen, and they were the "house band" for most of our events. That's where Gayle's talent really got a chance to bloom and grow ! She could do our outside events, as well as the inside shows...and nailed 'em all ! She was the B-E-S-T !
To know Gayle was to love her. She was just a wonderful friend, so kind and considerate to all she came in contact with, always lots of fun, with a sense-of-humour that was on a par with mine.
Even though she eventually gained National & International prominence, she kept that same "hometown" girl atmosphere about her. She never outgrew her roots. Through the years we shared many good times, as well as personal times, together, and I always valued her friendship.
WHEN MY OWN BROADCASTING CAREER WAS to begin at KLID, September 10, 1967, Gayle was one of the first that I told and she was elated that I would get to put my long-time dream of being an Air Personality into reality.
The letters that I found from Gayle, were sent to me in my early days at KLID in Poplar Bluff, Missouri...like the one from Valentine's Day, 1968, asking me to: " Take care of yourself ! Write back as soon as you can...and, stay your cool self and don't let success & teeny boppers go to your head."
At the time of the above-mentioned 1968 letter, Gayle and the Klassmen, were getting ready for a trip to California...which would be prophetic as, by that next year, Gayle would have moved to California and was becoming a success with a group she had joined there: A Group Called Smith.
ALSO, by April of 1969, I too had moved: To KAAY Radio/1090. The 50,000 Watt clear channel blow-torch out of Little Rock, Arkansas.
IT WAS AT THIS TIME THAT GAYLE'S CAREER AND MINE PARALELED ONE ANOTHER.
[ABOVE PHOTO CREDITS...Header Photo: Gayle & Smith First Album Cover (Courtesy of Dunhill Records); Top of Page: Gayle & The Klassmen In The Batcave, 1966 (Courtesy of stlmusicyesterdays.com); Beautiful Gayle poses for me in the "Bat Tunnel" of the Batcave, St. Louis. August 18, 1966; Gayle & myself at KLID Radio, Poplar Bluff, MO. December 16, 1967, from my personel collection.]
THE KING - KAAY - McCORMICK CONNECTION: 1969
IF YOU'VE READ MY KAAY INFO you know that I landed on the Airwaves there on April 21, 1969. KAAY was always one of the best of the 60's & 70's "Top 40" stations in the Country. KAAY was owned by LIN Broadcasting and part of their Chain that included WIL/St. Louis; WFIL/ Philadelphia; WBBF/ Rochester; WAKY/Louisville; KEEL/Shreveport.
KAAY's night-time signal could reach into 40 States and over 20 Countries, and my first 2 1/2 years at the station were on the 8p-11p Shift. In additon, by December of 1969 I was appointed Music Director and we churned-out many, many hits that were heard around the Country...and the World !
SOMETIME IN TOWARD THE END OF JULY, 1969, I received a call from ABC/Dunhill Records alerting me to a new album that was just released, and the single that was pulled from it. The single was a modern-day version of the Hal David-Burt Bachrach classic "Baby It's You" that had been a #8 Hit for the Shirelles during the 1961-1962 Season. It was by a group called SMITH...but the reason they were calling me was because the female lead singer featured on "Baby It's You" was none-other than my old St. Louis friend GAYLE McCORMICK !
I alerted the then-music director, my friend Sonny Martin, to the record and he initially gave the album to Clyde Clifford to use on his "Beaker Street" late-night show. And, on Tuesday, August 5th, Gayle personally called me from the Dunhill offices.
It was SO good to hear her voice again, we hadn't talked since I had moved to KAAY or since she had joined the group. She was not only excited about the album and the single, but about the fact that I was at KAAY and being heard all-over America & World Wide ! We talked for a few minutes, and then I put her on-the-air for a brief Interview...introducing her to my audience, and knowing that they were going to be hearing alot about Gayle McCormick & Smith in the future.
Due to my input, and Sonny Martin's, initial adding of the "A Group Called Smith" LP, we were among the first in the country to air it. By the end of August, the single of "Baby It's You" was on our full-time playlist, and I was SO proud of Gayle and the superb job she had done on the album, the single, and, her new-found career.
IT WAS AT THAT EXACT MOMENT IN TIME that BOTH Gayle's career, and, mine, crossed-paths and blended into a truly perfect moment:
We were both doing exactly what we had dreamed of for so many years...she was making the records, and I was playing them on the Radio !
[ "Baby It' You" by Smith would reach #5 and stay on the Charts for 15 weeks. It was produced by Joel Sill & Steve Barri, and the horns were arranged by the legendary Jimmie Haskell. To this very day, it's still a mainstay on Classic Rock stations all across the country. And, the Gold Record that I was awarded for my participation in making it a Million Seller is one of my proudest possessions. ]
A GROUP CALLED SMITH
THROUGH A QUIRK OF FATE, sometime in late-1968 or early-1969, Jerry Carter and Rich Cliburn came from Los Angeles to St. Louis promoting a record from their group called "Smith". The group had actually broken-up, but Carter & Cliburn were still trying to get some mileage out of the record they had cut and were looking for a local group to back them up with some St. Louis gigs. Enter the Klassmen...and Gayle McCormick.
Carter & Cliburn liked what they heard in Gayle, invited her to join them on their way to Miami, and. while in Florida, all three decided to re-locate back to Los Angeles. Long-story-short: Bob Evans and Larry Moss were added in L.A. and a new version of "Smith" was born...with Gayle as the lead vocalist.
WHILE PLAYING AT A NORTH HOLLYWOOD CLUB, "The Rag Doll", the legendary rocker-writer Del Shannon, along with another former Teen Idol, Brian Hyland, came in one night, saw Smith and liked their act... especially the powerful voice of Gayle McCormick. Del signed on to promote the group, had them rehearse in the music room at his house, and invited record company execs hear them at the club.
Eventually Jay Lasker, Steve Barri, and, Joel Sill from ABC/Dunhill saw them, liked them, and signed them to a contract with Dunhill.
Now, to understand the importance of Dunhill Records during that time period, you'd have to understand that their stable of artists included some of the hottest rockers on the charts: Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, and, The Grass Roots...all solid-gold performers. So, with the addition of Smith, Dunhill was again strengthening their position in the market place.
After their first album was released and "Baby It's You" hit as the single, the group was on their way with appearances on American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Red Skelton Show, and many other National shows. And, when they were asked to record a version of "The Weight" for the 1969 classic "Easy Rider", it added more sales to the album and exposure for the group.
Smith only recorded two albums: Their debut LP "A Group Called Smith", and, "Minus-Plus". After "Baby It's You", the singles "What Am I Gonna Do" and "Take A Look Around" mid-charted in 1970. (Personal note: From the first album, I've always liked Gayle's version of the Zombies "Tell Him No"...cool song, well-done.)
Smith disbanded in 1971, but Jay Lasker, the President of ABC/Dunhill, didn't want to lose Gayle, so Dunhill signed her to a solo contract.
[Above Photos: Gayle In TV Appearance With Smith, 1969; Smith "Minus-Plus' Album Cover, 1970 (Courtesy of Dunhill Records) ]
GAYLE'S EARLY YEARS & SOLO CAREER
SPECIAL NOTE: WHAT YOU READ ABOVE WERE HIGHLIGHTS FROM GAYLE'S CAREER...THE "FIRST PART" OF THE STORY.
WHAT FOLLOWS IN THIS SECTION, IS A CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF GAYLE'S CAREER, FROM OUR EARLY DAYS BEGINNING IN 1965, AND CONTINUING TO THE MID-70'S...
GAYLE ANNETTE McCORMICK WAS BORN IN ST. LOUIS, November 21, 1948. She attended Pattonville High, sang high-soprano, and was part of a choir group that performed with the St. Louis Symphony. But her aspirations were to join a band...and that she did when Ernie Cummings brought her into the Klassmen.
(Above: Gayle's Pattonville High Year Book Photo. Voted "Most Talented". Boy, they got that right ! Photo courtesy of tomcmahon.net )
THE ST. LOUIS MUSIC SCENE IN THE MID-60'S...
WHAT YOU HAVE TO REALIZE is that the St. Louis Music Scene in the mid-60's was one of the most competitive that you'd find anywhere ! Here's a partial list of groups that were in the area: The Aardvarks, Barry Ebeling & The Invaders, Bob Kuban & The In-Men, Jules Blatner Group, The Del Rays, The Cecil Davis Revue, Patti & The XL's, Hoss & The Lords, Patty McCoy & The Renegades, The Impassions Revue, The Del-Tones, Walter Scott & The Guise, The Sheratons, The Herde, and, Herman Grimes & The Spectors.
Like I said that was just a partial list...it would take a few more pages to list all of the groups vying for jobs at that time, as well as many hopeful young singers looking for work with any of the available bands.
ERNIE CUMMINGS was a shrewd businessman, his young son, Steve, was an excellent drummer, and the members that Ernie chose for the Klassmen were all great. AND, when Ernie tied-in with Don Pietromonaco (KXOK's Johnny Rabbitt) it turned out to be extremely successful for all concerned.
TO THE BAT CAVE...AND, BEYOND !
ERNIE CUMMINGS TOOK OVER THE JOB of handling Don's outside gigs, after Jim Brown - a former WIL DJ - left St. Louis to take a job in Troy, New York. Jim had been managing most of the events, and, again, Don needed someone he trusted behind the scenes. Up to that time, I had been helping Jim, but I was also working with the Southtown Players and acting in "Mr. Roberts", their Spring production.
WHEN THE JOB LOAD GOT HEAVY, and expanded to the JCCA Pool Parties, the Chain of Rocks Splash Parties, the Club Imperial Rabbitt Hops, and, the newest addition of "Bruno's Bat Cave" in the Spring of 1966, that's when Don & Ernie asked me to step-in and help with all of the events.
Since Don was on-the-air at KXOK six nights a week, he needed people he could trust to handle the outside promotions, and the group that we had was just like "family", as honest as you could imagine, and, knew how to handle almost any situation that would come up.
As I mentioned in the early part of this Page, the Klassmen became the "house band" for almost all of these events, so we all worked together, partied together, and, knew each other very well during the course of time. That included Gayle and myself.
Gayle and I had many talks during that time period and became good friends. At one time she didn't live too far from me in St. Ann, Missouri, then later she and her family moved a short distance away to Bridgeton. I knew that Gayle had so much talent for her young age, that it was only a matter of time that she could - and would - breakout into a major star.
Off-stage, Gayle was mild mannered, sweet, lots of fun...but, when she hit that Stage, you'd better watch out ! Once she grabbed ahold of that mike the power in her voice would blow you away ! Plus she was statuesque, blond, sexy, and, the guys loved her !!
HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: On Friday, May 26, 1967, we opened a new club, at a different location, called "Cloud Nyne". That next night, Saturday, May 27, 1967, after over a year of successful operation, we would close the "Bat Cave" forever. Sadly, "Cloud Nyne" wouldn't last past the end of the year.
And, yes, the photos of the Bat Cave are from my Personal Archive & Collection. Above, that's myself on the left with singer Vince Perry. It was taken in 1966 by a good friend, and one of our "Crew", Marv Summers. Thanks again, Marv !
RARE PHOTOS: THE CHAIN OF ROCKS SPLASH PARTY, AUGUST, 1966...
BELOW ARE SOME RARE, SPECIAL, PHOTOS from my Personal Archives & Collection that I've had stored-away since August of 1966. They're from one of our weekly Wednesday Night "Splash Party's" that we had at the "Chain Of Rocks Park" in St. Louis. They have never been seen before now.
I shot them myself, and they're of Gayle, Ernie, Ernie's wife, Lori, Steve Fagan (who managed the events along with Ernie & myself), Angelo Triola (a good friend of Don's and Herman Grimes' Manager), and a super-candid shot of me surprising Don with 'the pic he didn't know was comin' !
(Above 1 & 2: I sometimes surprised the gang with taking some truly candid shots. 1. Gayle had turned toward me, was stunned by the flash, and blanked out. 2. Then she realized I had just taken her picture and reacted with a big laugh ! This was at a Chain of Rocks Splash Party, August, 1966. )
(Above: Again, I surprised the Rabbitt ! He was in a session with Ernie Cummings on the left, and Angelo Triola in the middle. He had just arrived from the Studio to our Chain of Rocks Splash Party, August, 1966. )
(Above: 1. Part of our "Rabbitt Crew" taking a much-needed break. From the left...Steve Fagan, Ernie Cummings, Lori Cummings, Angelo Triola. 2. Ernie Cummings pretending to "sneak in" over the fence at our Chain of Rocks Splash Party, while Lori Cummings & Angelo Triola watch to see if he'll fall off the fence ! Yes, it was the same Wednesday night as in the above photos in August, 1966.)
(NOTE: Sadly, my friend Ernie Cummings passed away in August, 2011, in Los Angeles, California. R.I.P. Ernie...you were always one of my best, and favorite, friends. Thanks for your kindness, your help, and, your friendship. JK)
MAKING THE TRANSITION: LEAVING THE CREW...
AS I MENTIONED ABOVE, my On-Air career was to begin at KLID Radio in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and as I was preparing for it, the entire "Rabbitt Crew" was just so happy that I'd be "living my dream"...being able to use the talents that I had honed & polished for so many years and could now put into practice everyday.
My last official "working night" with the Rabbitt Crew was at the JCCA Pool Party on Monday, August 21, 1967. Gayle had been one of the first that I had told about my new job, and that night before I left she came up to me, put her arms around me, gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, and thanked me for being a friend, caring for her, and, said that she'd really miss seeing me every week. We talked for awhile, I told her the same things that she had just told me, and then left for home. It was just one of those sweet, innocent, poignant moments that you never forget.
AND, NEITHER OF US KNEW, at that moment in time, that just two years later, in August of 1969, we would be reunited - as mentioned in the above "KAAY CONNECTION" - by the separate, but similar, paths we both had chosen.
FIRST STOP: KLID RADIO, POPLAR BLUFF, MISSOURI...
ALWAYS BEING CREATIVE, before I got to KLID I had put together a "plan of action" for my show and what I wanted to accomplish at the station, regarding buiding a new image for the 7-Midnight show I would do, and the outside promotions, dances, etc., that would give a stronger presence to both the station and myself.
Don Liddenton, the owner of KLID, was a kind gentleman and gave me pretty much free-reign to do what I needed to do...he was all for anything that would benefit the station, and approved of most of my ideas.
I WAS EXTREMELY LUCKY, as I never started as a "part timer" or a "weekend warrior". I began with my own show 7-Mid, Mon. to Fri. , and from Noon to 6pm on Sunday...and I wanted every-minute-of-every-hour to count !
Since Don (Johnny Rabbitt) was my friend, he now became my mentor, and in those early days I used him as a "sounding board" for my ideas. We talked at least once a week, and sent letters ( Remember? There were no "eMails" in 1967 ! ) back-and-forth constantly. He always came up with some cool stuff, but really liked most all of my ideas too.
THOUGH MOST AREN'T AWARE OF THIS, in my first incarnation, I was known as "Jonnie Cougar". There were reasons for that, which will be described further in the Official KLID SECTION here on the WebSite. But, for now, just understand that: It worked; I had the name registered in the U.S. Patent Office as an Official Trademark; I drove a new Triple-Black, 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7 Hardtop. The visual connection of "There goes the Cougar in his Cougar ! " made for a marketing presence that was undeniably cool, and indelibly burned into the minds of all KLID listeners & fans.
One of the concepts that I wanted to put into action was to bring some of our St. Louis groups to PB for dances, and club work. As if by magic, one day shortly after I got there, a man named Buddy Clark came to see me.
Buddy was a nice, mild-mannered, gentleman who was an automotive mechanic and had his own garage. He also, was the chaparone/manager for a recently opened Poplar Bluff teen club called "The Psychedilic Comic Book". He said that the club was pretty much self-sustaining and didn't have a very big budget. They were just trying to give the teens of PB a place to have fun, and, keep 'em off the streets and out of mischief.
I told Buddy that I would be able to bring in many of my friends from St. Louis, and give him some of the best entertainment he'd ever get, at reasonable prices, so that the kids could really be proud of their club and have a great time in the process ! He agreed and we set-up a time table for the Fall Season with Friday, November 10, 1967, as our target-date for my first show .
NOW, BEFORE I LEFT ST. LOUIS, many of the groups that played at our events, and their managers, had talked to me about doing gigs for me after I got to KLID: My friend Ernie Cummings, of course, and Harvey Ebeling, Mgr. of "The Invaders" were among the first. Then came Angelo Triola, Mgr. for Herman Grimes, Stan Freidman, Mgr. of "Patty & The XL's", and, a number of others, so I knew that this would give the groups & my show exposure, and, make a lot of teens in PB very happy at the same time.
"Barry Ebeling & The Invaders" were the first to play. (That's them on the Left Side of your screen, giving me a "lift" ! ) They were there for that November 10th Show, and then returned on December 2nd. They were just perfect both nights.
THEN, FOR THE SPECIAL HOLIDAY PARTY that I'd planned for Saturday, December 16, 1967, Gayle & The Klassmen came down, and really proved how powerful & professional a solid, tight-knit group can be ! The "Teens of PB" talked about that show for the entire Holiday Season, and begged me to get 'em to come back as-soon-as-possible !!
After the show Gayle, Ernie & Steve Cummings, and, Bob Medley, came by the KLID Studio's for a look at the Station, and some after-show conversation & pix. Gayle stayed for awhile, after the others left, so that we could catch-up with some personal thoughts and info that had been happening in our lives since we last saw each other back in August.
Then, we went into the Production Studio and she cut some Promos & Drop-In's for my show. Gayle always had such a cool, sexy, voice, and the trax she cut were so perfect, that I used them - sparingly - for the rest of my time at KLID. The listeners loved 'em ! ( Little did they know that they were listening to the voice of a future International Superstar !! )
BELOW ARE A COUPLE OF THE PIX from that late-night Session. Also, I got Gayle & The Klassmen to sign-on for the 1968 Poplar Bluff High Prom. They were fantastic as usual, and I became the "PB High School Hero of the Year" for pulling-off the coup of getting this Super-Group to do the show ! Great memories...each-and-everyone !
BUT, MORE WERE TO COME. AND THE 3-WAY LINK BETWEEN GAYLE, DON PIETROMONACO, AND, MYSELF WAS JUST ONE YEAR AWAY !
Above left: Gayle & myself. Personal time after hours at KLID, December 16, 1967; Above right: Bob Medley, Gayle McCormick, and Steve Cummings from the Klassmen, along with myself, at the KLID Studios. December 16, 1967.
Above: Gayle & The Klassmen at PB High's Prom, May 18, 1968
THE KING - RABBITT - McCORMICK CONNECTION
KAAY / LITTLE ROCK...
AS I MENTIONED EARLIER, I arrived in Little Rock to work at KAAY in April of 1969. And it was in July that I was alerted to the fact that GAYLE had a new album that was coming out on Dunhill. I called Don (The Rabbitt) to see what his reaction was. He too was just elated ! Our friend Gayle, was reaching into an area she really belonged in...she was a teriffic talent, a dynamo on-stage, and, was poised for Superstardom.
So here we were, the three of us old St. Louis Friends: Don on-the-air, and one of the most talented, creative performers and Air Personalities of all-time; Gayle now signed by a major record label, with a soon-to-be landmark album & single on the way; and, myself, with a nighttime show, beaming out across America, and the World with a 50,000 Watt signal, on one of America's most-respected Radio Stations...KAAY / "The Mighty 1090".
With Gayle making the records, and Don & I playing them...it was a moment of convergence, and, a 3-Way Connection, personally & professionally, that we'd talk about for years to come.
As I've always said: "You never know you're making History until it's over with".
(Above Photo: Kenny Rogers & myself spending some quality time at the Little Rock Airport.)
TO FULLY COMPREHEND THE IMPORTANCE OF GAYLE, Smith, and their impact on the Music & Concert scene in 1969, you first have jump in our Time Machine and take a Time Travel Trip back to 1967...the year that I started:
1967 WAS "THE SUMMER OF LOVE". It was the year the "Flower Children" journeyed to Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco; the Beatles release "Sgt. Pepper", go to Wales to study with the Maharishi, and return to London when they find out that their Manager, Brian Epstein, is dead; thousands flocked to the Monterey Pop Festival; Hippies - and, Wanna-Be Hippies - popped-up in every city & state in the Union. And, in the midst of all this, May 1, 1967, Elvis married Priscilla.
Timothy Leary "dropped acid" - LSD - and urged you to "Tune In, Turn On, and, Drop Out"; Abbie Hoffman & Jerry Rubin said "Don't trust anyone over 30 !"; The word "Psychedelic" was added to Webster's Dictionary; The Who released "I Can See For Miles"...and it turned-out to be their all-time biggest single in the U.S. ; as the war in Vietnam raged on many raised their voices to say: "Make Love, Not War". "Free Love" became a phrase that was used...whether you practiced it or not.
The Counter-Culture Movement had begun...and, would continue till it reached it's zenith in 1969.
BY 1969 JIMI HENDRIX, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Starship, Cream, Vanilla Fudge, Led Zepplin, The Byrds, all were strong on the airwaves; John Lennon married Yoko Ono, hosted a "Bed-In" in Toronto and recorded a new single: "Give Peace A Chance"; the Smother's Brothers had a TV Show that dealt with themes that the CBS censors could not keep up with; at the Stones Concert in Altamont, the Hell's Angels had been hired as Security...they beat-up some of the Starship, and stabbed a Concert goer to death. Guess they hadn't heard Lennon's new single.
NBC's "Laugh-In" broke new ground for this New Generation too, and "Sock It To Me !" & "Here Come Da' Judge" were the new "catch-phrases" uttered across America; the Tribal-Rock Musical "Hair" hit the stage, and, it was, as the song said: "The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius"; Bob Dylan, back after his life-changing motorcycle crash, recorded a track in Nashville with the legendary Johnny Cash; "The Eagle" had landed, and, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, the defining moment of 1969 was "WOODSTOCK"... and it would be remembered as such for decades to come.
1969: HOTTEST NEW POSTER GIRL IN THE INDUSTRY...GAYLE !
INTO THIS SCENE, at the right time, at the right place, came Gayle McCormick & Smith. At the time the reigning "Queens of the Hottest Hippie Chicks Around" were hard-driving, hard-drinking, Janis Joplin, and, Grace Slick, the "Earth Mother" figure of Jefferson Starship. However, Smith, and Dunhill Records, were not to be denied, and beautiful, long-legged, long-waving-in-the-wind-blond-hair, tie-dyed, Gayle McCormick, would become the new Poster Girl for "Hotness" !
If you saw some of her personal appearances, saw her on National TV, or, have viewed them on YouTube recently, you know that she was just as I described. But, you should also know, that underneath the "1969" image that you saw, she was still that sweet, wonderful, "St. Louis Girl" that I first met in 1965.
If you've seen some of the photos above on this Page, you'll notice this "1969 Image" she had was altogether different. Gayle had lost some weight. She had grown-up ! She wasn't just the cute, just-out-of-high school-teen that I'd known four years earlier, she was maturing into a truly beautiful, extremely sexy woman. And she was a perfomer who could hold her own on any stage.
GAYLE McCORMICK: SOLO AND LOVING IT !
BY THE TIME SMITH BROKE-UP in '71, Jay Lasker, President of ABC/Dunhill had signed Gayle to a new solo contract. How could Dunhill afford to lose such a valuable talent ? They couldn't. And, since Gayle was so versatile, there came a new "softer" , more natural, image that would appeal to a wider audience. Because, by 1971, some of the Counter Culture/Hippie Movement had also softened, and Gayle would change with the times...as seen in the picture below.
THE ABC/DUNHILL CONVENTION AT THE CENTURY PLAZA IN L.A., JULY, 1971...
IN EARLY-JULY OF 1971, while I was in my Office at KAAY, I got a call from Marty Kupps, who was the National Promotion Director for ABC/Dunhill, inviting me to their National Convention which was taking place July 30-August 1 in Los Angeles.
ABC/Dunhill had these yearly conventions to premiere their new product line for the Fall, and to get the pulse of what those who were leaders in the Broadcasting Industry had to say about the label & its stars. I was honored to be one of the Music Director's whose opinion they valued, and joined a select-group of PD's & MD's from all-over the country for that weekend.
We were flown in to LAX, picked-up by limos, and, given rooms at the Host Hotel which was the then ultra-cool Century Plaza in Century City, California. Did I say "room" ? It was, in reality, a Suite...and it was perfect !
Gayle was to perform at the huge Saturday Night Banquet & Dinner Show, and the ABC/Dunhill Crew saw to it that Gayle & I had a bit of time before the Show to re-unite. She looked teriffic, and, wowed this tough crowd of PD's & MD's with her new image, and tracks from her first solo-LP simply titled: "Gayle McCormick". That was truly a memorable night, and, weekend for all.
ON-THE-ROAD WITH GAYLE & THREE DOG NIGHT: NOVEMBER, 1971...
A FEW MONTHS LATER, IN MID-OCTOBER, I again received a call from Marty saying that Gayle was on-tour with Three Dog Night, and that they would be in Tulsa, November 5, 1971. He, as well as all the ABC/Dunhill execs, were well aware of the connection between Gayle & myself, and he wanted me to see the show.
He said, he wouldn't take "no" for an answer, so I cleared it with my boss (Pat Walsh, KAAY's GM), Marty sent me the plane tickets, and on November 5th, I was on my way to Tulsa.
When I got to Tulsa, again, there was a limo waiting for me that took me directly to the Concert venue. Gayle was rehearsing, and, when she finished, it was time for dinner. We had a great time, a good dinner, then she left to get ready for the show.
She opened for Three Dog Night and the crowd loved her. One of the highlights from her first LP, and, one of my personal favorites that she did in Concert, was her version of the Leon Russell-Bonnie Bramlett classic "Superstar". Gayle's version is every bit as good as Karen Carpenter's was, in fact, I've always liked it better.
After her set, she joined me in the auditorium and we watched Three Dog Night...who also gave a tremendous performance. And when they did "Joy To The World", they literally brought the house down !
When the show was over we went back to the hotel. We had adjoining rooms, talked awhile, were both tired. Gayle retired to her room, I hit the sheets, and the next morning we had breakfast together then headed for the airport...me going back to Little Rock, Gayle going to the next stop on the tour.
THE FIRST SOLO RELEASE SIMPLY TITLED: "GAYLE McCORMICK"...
HER FIRST SOLO ALBUM, self-titled "Gayle McCormick", was produced by two of the Industry's best writers/producers: Dennis Lambert & Brian Potter. "It's A Cryin' Shame" was chosen as the single that was released...and it was hot !
Lambert & Potter wrote "It's A Cryin' Shame". And, though it only got to #44 in November of '71, it was still on the Charts for 12 weeks. It was a great song, and showed Gayle's versatile range. It was a veritable "Flash Back" to her St. Louis days with the Klassmen !
The arrangement was by Dennis Lambert & the "Wizard" himself, Jimmie Haskell. The pace, the tempo, the strong percussion track, those strings that Haskell used for both power & sweetening, were all spot-on, and even today when I listen to it, it's like I'm hearing her on-stage at the Bat Cave in 1966 !
Again, Gayle was maturing, and with "Flesh & Blood" in 1972, and her final Dunhill Album "One More Hour" in 1974, she proved that she was still a singer that had much more talent than she was credited for.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: I met JIMMIE HASKELL at the 1971 ABC/Dunhill Convention and took the time to tell him how much I always enjoyed his work, his arrangements, and, the strong dynamics that he incorporated into all of his productions. Many don't know this, but he had done some arrangments for Ricky Nelson on Imperial back in the 50's.
He was so kind and appreciative of my comments, and told me that I was the first one at the event that had taken the time to tell him that. I told him that it was an honor just to be in the same room with him...and it was. He was always one of the "Unsung Heroes" of the Recording Industry.
IN SEPTEMBER OF 1972, shortly after my 5th Anniversary in Radio, I left KAAY in Little Rock to work at WDRQ-FM in Detroit. At that time, Detroit was the 5th Largest Market in the country...so it was a major step in my career.
I started at WDRQ on September 20th, and it was an interesting experience to say the least: my first 5 years had been on AM Radio; WDRQ, of course, was FM. When you listened with your headphones on you finally heard the horns in one headphone, the strings in the other, and, well...you get the picture ! In AM you just heard the MONO mix...NOT the STEREO. Quite a change to get used to.
NOW, BEFORE I LEFT L.R. I had called Don and told him I was moving. He just loved it ! He thought it was so cool that I'd "moved up" from Poplar Bluff to Little Rock to Detroit IN JUST FIVE YEARS ! He said: "Man ! You know I've NEVER worked at a 50KW Station, and I've NEVER worked in the #5 Market ! But, remember all those years ago, I told you the you had more talent than anyone else I knew...and I KNEW you could get it it done once somebody gave you that first job. I am so proud of you !!" Coming from my friend, Don, who was the ultimate best to EVER sit behind a microphone, and one of my on-air-idols, those were humbling words indeed.
A few days later I got a call from Gayle. Don had told her where I'd moved to and gave her my number. She was excited when she called, was so happy when I told her that 'Baby It's You" was on the playlist, and that Jim Brown, who we had worked with in the early days of the Bat Cave in St. Louis, was the P.D. who hired me at WDRQ. She thought that was just so very cool....all of these St. Louis Connections !
Then she said: "You know Don's mad at you because he's never worked at a 50KW Station OR in the #5 Market ! " I knew she was "baiting" me with her off-center sense of humour, and I retorted: "That's not true...I just talked to him !" She laughed, knowing I'd caught her: "Okay, I was just pullin' your chain ! I can't make it too easy for you, can I ?" I said: "At least you could try ! Give a kid a break !!" She said: "No, seriously, Don & I are really very, very proud of you...you do know that, right ?" I said: "Yes, but it's still nice to hear. Especially from you, my friend the "Superstar" !" She laughed...that throaty, cool, laugh of hers.
There was a brief pause, Gayle got serious, her voice dropped to an almost hushed-tone, and she said: "God, Jimmy, we did good didn't we ? Five years ago we were in St. Louis in the Bat Cave talking about where we wanted to go with our careers...and we did it. Both of us. I'm in Hollywood the "Star Capitol" of the World making records, and you're in Detroit, the 5th largest city in America playing 'em."
There wasn't much we could say after that. It was a very sobering experience for us both to face the reality of what had gone on in those last five years : Gayle's meteoric rise to Superstardom in the Recording Industry; my, already noted, moves and ascent in Broadcasting Industry.
Again, how our careers had paraleled each other...was almost that mystical, cosmic connection that I mentioned at the outset of this Tribute: Two close friends who'd accomplished what they set out to do just a few years earlier, in professions that corelated, intertwined with each other, and ran them side-by-side at approximately the exact same time. They had done it...and won.
To this very day, I am still amazed at how it all happened.
KSLQ-FM, ST. LOUIS...
IN THE SUMMER OF '73 I moved back to St. Louis to work at KSLQ-FM, which was WDRQ's sister station. Sometime between Detroit and St. Louis Gayle & I lost track of each other, but there were reasons for that.
BY THAT TIME, Gayle had lost some interest in the music business, married a carpenter and moved to Hawaii, and really didn't want the pressures and schedules that her career called for. She just wanted to be "Gayle" again...the one that I'd known since 1965.
The "Hometown Girl" had made good, had National & International success. Had been heard on Radio, seen on TV, had given 150% to every Concert audience she played, and sold millions of records She had already done it all and, eventually, just wanted to come home, and she did just that.
IN THE SPRING OF 1976, GAYLE CALLED and said she had returned to St. Louis, was thinking of me, heard me on the radio, and wanted to get-together. I had been PD at KADI/AM-FM, but was back at KSLQ producing & syndicating my Morning Feature "The Breakfast Serial", and it was my schedule that was tight then, but we carved out a couple of evenings to re-connect.
Later we had more time, and she went with me to many different station events, parties, etc. We also went to dinner, talked almost weekly, did lots of other things together...just like we had done in our earlier days.
Gayle & I talked about how we were almost "perfect companions" as we always got along so well, never had a problem of any kind between us, and, had a warm, longtime-love for each other...she was always truly remarkable in everyway.
GAYLE, ME, THE RODEO...AND THE JAG !
ONE NIGHT GAYLE CALLED AND WANTED US to go the Rodeo that was coming to town at the St. Louis Arena on October 12, 1977. Well, I hadn't been to a Rodeo in years, but thought if we were going we'd go in style...bucking (If you'll pardon the pun !) the trend of traditional "Rodeo Rides" which would have included pick-up trucks, jeeps, station wagons, and, RV's.
Now, it's commonly known among my friends & fellow-Radio Station pals, that I have been a long-running "Car Collector"...since I got my first Driver's License and went right out a bought a 1958 Thunderbird as my first car. You're lookin' at it !
YOU SAW THE COUGAR XR-7 in the story from my KLID days, and, you're looking at TWO of the cars I own at this time: My 1961 Customized Buick the "INVICTA" (On permanent display at the National Rod & Custom Car Hall Of Fame Museum), and, my '57 Dodge D-500, alias "The Killer Dodge". AND, from 1975 to 1980, I owned "J.J."...a rare '67 Jaguar XKE Coupe. That night, after Gayle called, I got a cool idea: I decided that I'd surprise her and take the Jag to the Rodeo !
She was surprised ! Had never ridden in an XKE before. Thought is was a lot smoother ride than the "Bucking Broncos" & "Brahma Bulls" that the cowboys had to put up with. She loved the mind-blowing array of 26 knobs, switches, gauges, and, lights that stretched across the dash and greeted you when you got in, the Speedometer that read up to 160 MPH, and, she really loved the Blaupunkt AM/FM/Shortwave Radio : Listening to England & Germany on the way home, she said, was just "way too cool !" And she knew that Jag could outrun any of the horses or bulls we'd seen that night !
NOTE: When we left the Arena to get in the Jag, there was a crowd around it, as I suspected there would be...there always was. After we got in and headed out, Gayle said: "I can see why you like driving the Jag ! It makes you an "Instant Superstar ! " I answered: "No, Gayle, they probably knew you were with it, and were waiting to see you...the real Superstar ! " She blushed, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and we continued on home.
(Above Photo: That's me with "J.J." the '67 XKE Coupe...the fastest car I've ever owned ! And, it's tied with the "INVICTA" for the title of "Most Beautiful !!)
IN THE LATER YEARS, Gayle became reclusive, she didn't want to do Interviews or discuss the Music Business with anyone. That included fans. But, between us there were never any boundries, nothing that we couldn't talk about...especially our earlier days when we were with the "Rabbitt Crew" doing the hops, the splash parties, and, having fun at the Bat Cave.
One of the things we talked about was our after-show "Rabbitt Crew" hangout "Luigi's West". It was a restaurant in a strip mall on Natural Bridge Road in St. Louis County...not too far from Rabbitt's Apartment, my house, and, Gayle's. I can't tell you how many of those Luigi's Pepperoni Pizza's we scarfed down !
Those "square cut", cheese-laden, pizza-jewels were so mouth-watering that within a few minutes we'd have to order another one 'cause somebody didn't grab fast enough ! _______________________________________________________________________________________
MY FRIEND, GAYLE...
MY MEMORIES OF GAYLE have always been warm and sweet. Knowing the simple, grassroots origins that she came from, I was always so very proud of both her, and, the status that she had reached in one of the most competitive Industries on the Planet. I had admired her talent from the very first time I heard her sing in 1965. And being her friend...well, that was a treasured bonus.
She was a good & trusted friend, a pure pleasure to be with, spend time with, share stories with. She had that great, throaty, laugh, and, somtimes, a wickedly funny sense of humour. Her smile could light up an entire room. I loved her; she loved me. She was one of the best I've ever known.
When she was on-stage, and in her prime, Gayle McCormick was one of the most beautiful, powerful, polished, consumate professionals you could ever imagine...with performances that you could remember for a lifetime. And, I do.
(Above, left to right, Gayle's three solo albums: "Gayle McCormick", 1971; "Flesh & Blood", 1972; "One More Hour", 1974. Album photos courtesy of Dunhill Records.)
SOME FINAL WORDS...
AS I STATED AT THE OUTSET, I wanted to Celebrate my 45th Anniversary by honoring two of my closest friends: GAYLE McCORMICK, and, DON PIETROMONACO. Neither time, nor age, will ever dull my memories of both these special individuals. They are truly St. Louis Legends...whose talents became known Worldwide, and who touched my life in more ways than they could ever imagine.
Don (The Rabbitt) was the catalyst in bringing us together. Gayle would then become the "common denominator" between Don and myself. Don & Gayle knew me "in another lifetime", before I ever sat behind a microphone, and they voiced, in those letters that I found that had been packed away for the last 45 years, how much they cared, and wanted me to be a success when I landed on-the-air.
You don't know how much that meant to me, at a time I really needed it. Truer friends are hard to find...and I'm glad I found them.
Sometimes it all seems so long ago. But, as I re-live it now through the writing of this Tribute, it all comes back to me so vividly and with such crystal-clear clarity, that maybe it was only yesterday.
WHENEVER IT WAS, it was a time when the World around us all was much less complicated. A simpler time that was filled with wonderful friends who took the time to write to "one of their own" who was embarking on a new life, and career.
It was a time that was filled with those that I cared about, and those who knew me, and cared about me...long before I ever turned on the microphone that fateful day that would change my life forever: Sunday, September 10th, 1967.
My sincere thanks to each-and-everyone of you for taking time to come the Site and read this Special Tribute. But, more than that, thank you for being a part of my life & my career:
"You never do this alone. You're the important ones. If it wasn't for you, there would be no need for me"
Jonnie King 9.10.2012
[PLEASE NOTE: My friend & mentor, Don (Johnny Rabbitt) Pietromonaco (1935-1997), passed away in Los Angeles, California, April 18th, 1997, at the age of 61. My sweet, beautiful friend, Gayle McCormick (1948-2016), died on March 1st, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri. She was 67. They were my friends; I truly loved them.]
ON THE NIGHT OF October 21st, 2016, BOTH Don & Gayle were Inducted into the St. Louis Classic Rock Hall Of Fame. I was privileged to accept the Award on behalf of Gayle, and, Don's daughter Dena Duchek Pietromonaco, along with Tim Neely, and, myself, accepted the Award for Don.
It was a richly deserved honor for Don & Gayle...and, that the honor came from those that remembered them, and voted for them here in St. Louis where they made their earliest lasting impressions, not only locally but Nationally, was truly fitting...as well as humbling.
Our thanks to The St. Louis Classic Rock Preservation Society & Its Board of Directors, for their service to the Community, their St. Louis Extreme Celebrity Trivia Night, and these Special Awards. You can support them and their Online Stations by going to their Web Sites: www.stlouisclassicrock.com OR www.stlouistrivia.com
"RABBITT TRACKS": If you haven't read my "Tribute to 'THE RABBITT' ", DON PIETROMONACO, please check-it out ! Lots of Info, personal memories, cool stories, AND, of course, plenty of rare photos ! JUST CLICK-ON HERE and you're on your way !!
NOTE: All photos on this Page are from my Archives & Private Collection except as noted.