PJ and friend
Monster of Rock

b y   J o e   J a c k s o n

Hot Press (Ireland's premiere rock paper!),
Christmas New Year Special '87—'88

HE WAS BORN THE SON OF A MAN WHO WOULD LATER become a Texas millionaire. He was making Hollywood movies in his teens and demos for Elvis, top ten hits and TV shows with The Beatles in his twenties. By his thirties he was being described as "a man crucified, a genius destroyed, a beautiful animal caged." So where has life left him now as he nears fifty? Where? Drawing the dole and waiting for the Manpower interview during which he will be asked "What exactly is it you do Mr Proby?" (Or, 'Smith, James Marcus'—his real name).

PJ Proby sings and occasionally releases records. He recently did a version of the Sex Pistols Anarchy In The UK—a strange but somewhat fitting choice. Had Sid Vicious lived he might, by now, be a mirror image of PJ Proby. Or of Johnny Angelo.

Johnny Angelo: the quintessential teen idol whose story was told by Nik Cohn in the book Melody Maker rates as 'the best rock'n'roll novel ever written', I Am Still The Greatest, Says Johnny Angelo. First published in 1967 it was suggested at the time that the central character was based on Proby. In the new edition, however, suggestion gives way to statement as Proby stares at us from the cover of the book.

Pictured over his shoulder is a bloodied Sid Vicious looking glazed, while a gold-suited Elvis smiles and Christ hangs dying on the cross. Or dead. For Johnny Angelo is a composite, a hydra-headed monster spawned on the hideous side of rock'n'roll. And so he's also Jim Morrison, Janis, Iggy Pop—maybe even you and me. But just as his story is 'a bizarre fable for our time, capturing its sickness and horror yet staying true to its grandness and allure', the same must be said of the 'actual' story of PJ Proby.

It's all here. Proby as exquisite singer—eternal adolescent, drunk, racist, 'faggot-hater', paedophile and would-be killer. Or should we say "Proby as myth-maker, myth-faker and, in the end, myth-creator, fucked by his own myths?" For if Proby did, in effect, 'write the book' he's also had a further 20 years to live up—or down—to his image as Angelo. Or was he always that way? Is he simply the greatest bullshitter in rock or, particularly now, is he a man with so little to lose he doesn't give a damn what he reveals about himself or anyone? That is for you to decide. This is PJ Proby. Or is it Johnny Angelo? Or an unholy composite of the two? Let's go find out.


PJ PROBY CLAIMS HE HAS BEEN DRINKING, SHOOTING AND longing to be an outlaw since he was about five. As a budding outlaw he can't have cut too terrifying a figure, looking, as his mother decreed, like Little Lord Fauntleroy, hair slicked down and dressed in pretty white clothes. "She treated me as though I was wrapped in cellophane," he recalls.

His father, he claims, "started out as a janitor in a bank and later bought banks in LA and California!" Money didn't buy him love.

"When I was six years old, mother made me listen to all dad's speeches on the radio. I was being shaped in his image," he remembers. "But at the same time I was getting knocked out of shape because, as dad spent all his time at work, mom took out all her frustrations by beating the shit out of me and keeping me locked away from other children. All I had to fashion myself on was daddy and these pictures of him as a boxer and hunter. That's why I became a sports fanatic and took up hunting. Dad's study was filled with antler heads and guns..."

If his father's hobby fuelled in Proby a lifelong obsession with weapons (his current apartment is decorated with what he describes as "models of all the guns I've ever used"), how did being the son of a man who owned a bank affect his attitude to money?

"When I was seven years old dad showed me a hundred dollar bill and said 'Don't you ever be without at least a hundred dollars as long as you live.' He drummed those values into my head."

Proby's parents parted when he was nine. "That affected me very badly," he admits. He was made a Ward of the State of Texas (meaning that neither parent was chosen to raise him), and sent to the first of a series of military schools, in which he was to remain until his mid-teens. His father was granted visiting rights but during vacations he chose to stay with his mother. He was 'about fifteen' when Elvis first stayed at their house.

"He was going out with my step-sister and he'd stay whenever he played places like The Eagle's Nest in Houston. Me and Elvis and Tommy Sands used to tour together. Later, for years, I did Elvis' demos on the West Coast."

According to the NME, Proby was sacked by Elvis for 'balling one of the latter's chicks.'

"I wasn't sacked for anything," protests Proby, "I'd met Dotty in '56 through Eddie Cochran's girlfriend. I'll never forget that night. I'm in their house and here comes this blonde down the stairs—fucking beautiful man. I immediately recognised her because when I was in Culver Academy I used to jack off to this movie magazine picture of Dorothy Harmony! Now here she was in the flesh... I'm shaking, thinking—she's been with fucking Elvis, how'm I supposed to top that?"

If Proby didn't regard the word as 'soft', he'd probably call himself a 'romantic'. "I was always in love," he says. But he also was nervous meeting girls.

"I still can't ask a girl for a date,' he says, "I get someone to do it for me. If the girl says 'no', then it's not direct rejection—- I can't handle that." This, he suggests, is part of the rason why, apart from masturbation, sexual activities in his early to mid teens were non-existent.

"The first time was with a Jewish girl just after I got out of school. But because I'd been locked away from girls all my life I couldn't ask a girl 'would you like to go for a milkshake', much less 'would you like to fuck?' So I had to call up a friend and say 'I want to get laid, can you fix it up for me?' And she did, that night."

Proby had moved directly from Military School to Hollywood. "Normal relationships just didn't exist there," he recollects. "All you had were homosexuals passing themselves around all the directors and girls doing the same thing."

Proby claims that within two weeks of arriving in Hollywood his voice coach (ex-opera singer Lillian Goodman), introduced him to his first manager, Ray Gilbert. Proby began appearing in 'post-Dean movies' and in TV shows like Gunsmoke. He also released his first single Go Girls Go and did session work with the likes of BB King and Harmonica Slim. In 1958 he joined the Mellow Kings, with whom he had his first number one Tonight, Tonight.

"I became the lead singer because the original singer got done for murder," he says. "I toured America with.them but eventually they all got sent to jail. Even our bass player carried a machine gun in his case!"

Was this typical rock'n'roll behaviour at the time? "Oh yeah. When we played San Diego, the manager of the hotel tried to stop Dion and The Belmonts from slitting tyres in the parking lot and they stabbed him in the gut. They all went up for manslaughter, except Dion—he was a junkie even then."

Proby claims that to keep such stories out of the press "you had to go underground with your activities or have someone buy you out of trouble, as with those faggots Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Liberace. I worked for Liberace's manager and he had a hell of a time paying off people like Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper and other gossip columnists."

Proby claims he himself paid off a guy. "Only once," he adds, "to keep him quiet about the fact that I was fucking everybody's wife and daughter. The flaming sword went-wild! But then, as I said, everybody was at it in Hollywood. The studio even had this Marilyn Monroe lookalike and me and other guys, who now are BIG TV stars, all used to have one night a week with her."

Despite such indulgences, Proby still found a little time to work. He was signed by Liberty Records in 1959, first as a songwriter, then a recording artist. He worked with Jackie De Shannon, Randy Newman, David Gates and Leon Russell. He also married Marianne Adams in 1960.

A few of his compositions were recorded but his break finally came when Jack Good brought him to Britain to appear on TV with The Beatles. With hits like Hold Me and Together (featuring a guitar solo by Jimmy Page), he became the hottest solo act in British pop. He also played in integral, if inadvertent role, in the formation of the one group which seriously rivalled the popularity of The Beatles and The Stones in the mid-'60s, The Walker Brothers.

"I'd already written and produced Scott Walker's Dalton Brothers single I Only Came; To Dance With You in the States. Then when I was hopping back and forth doing Shindig, Garry Leeds, this very rich son of a sorry, son of the man who invented scents for Max Factor, pleaded with me to give him a job in the PJ Proby Orchestra so he could get to England. He was such a bad drummer I had to put him on tymballi but I did let him move into my house in Innismore Mews."

Proby claims that Leeds was quick to partake in the legendary 'parties' that took place in Innismore Mews. Proby describes scenes of vulgar decadence with apparent relish.

"I was going out with Diana Dors nearly every night and when I'd come back in, there'd be wall-to-wall bodies fuckin' and suckin'. One famous female star getting it in one I corner, a Merseybeat group getting it in another. And on one particular night, Gary Leeds had 'Anne The Potato Girl' stretched out on the floor with new potatoes stuffed up her. And Kim Fowley was marking my rug with chalk while 'Anne' was trying to set up a new world record by spurting potatoes out of her pussy! That's the kind of stuff that was going on. But what I didn't know was that Leeds had rifled all the numbers of the top agents from my phone book, contacted them, then went home and bullshitted his daddy into financing him and Scott and John to come over here and do a Righteous Brothers thing."

Proby knew The Beatles. He and Lennon got on well, he says, because they were roughly the same age and "mentally, totally on the same level."

"Me and John and sometimes Ringo could talk about things like Louis Bellson and Lenny Bruce, whereas the other two'd say 'what the fuck you talking about? Are they kin to Gene Vincent?' And I'd say, 'You're out of State, boy, go get another syringe!' John had a great sense of humour, scaring the shit out of us putting on his own 'Phantom Of The Opera' show, raiding Brian Jones' house when we were pissed. Mostly harmless fun. Playing with his model planes, singing together..."

Proby and Lennon both loved rock'n'roll. Most of the tracks Proby had cut for Liberty were he says, "Big Mama Thornton and Bill Broonzy songs the way Elvis should have sung them but couldn't. 'Cause he couldn't sound like a real nigger to save his life."


PROBY'S GARGANTUAN EGO WAS MATCHED BY ONE OF THE most powerful singing voices in popular music of the era.

When both forces married and met a song strong enough to sustain the double battering, the result was often breathtaking, on ballads like If I Loved You and When I Fall in Love. But rockers like I'll Go Crazy and Rocking Pneumonia, Proby took and, in the purest rock tradition, fucked into submission. It was on this level that he and Lennon felt at one.

"I was happy with the booze," he says, "they'd be talking about things like surrealism and things they saw on LSD. That's when Rock got boring for me and I started drinking really heavily at home on my own."

But back before the drugs, the excess booze and the boredom there was the sexual hysteria which had been the hallmark of a Proby stage show. If he rode a rock song into submission, he used much the same tactics on stage. He claims he brought cock-rock to British pop.

"Even The Beatles had no balls with their 'I Want To Hold Your Haeeaaeand.' Jagger was just prancing about. Cliff was too pussy-footed by far. Billy Fury was the only one who got it even halfway right but nobody here sang or danced or talked like a nigger. So—I based my whole act on James Brown's Harlem Show. My first appearance was at the Albert Hall and top of the bill was this wimp Adam Faith, the biggest pussy-whipped mother I ever saw! But then everyone who worked for——————————at the time was queer! (Adam Faith did not at any time work for the manager named here by Proby).

Proby claims that in British pop in the late '50s and early '60s, so many key entrepreneurs were gay that if the young singers didn't 'bend', at least in the beginning, their careers would be stillborn.

"That's how it was. There were very few who didn't let that one guy in particular suck their little cocks. Some became gay, others bi." Nowadays, it's gone back to that, he claims. Was that kind of pressure put on him?

"Oh yeah. Tab Hunter chased me 'round the couch. And as for Little Richard! When I was just a kid I was dropping a demo 'round to his apartment. The door opens and here's this jungle bunny with his hair in curlers and he's wearing ruby red lipstick and saying 'ooohhh a white Marcel.Come in baby.' So I said, 'Wait a sec—I was sent by Bumps Blackwell.' And he says, 'oh he sends 'em all!' So I fucked the demos at him and beat feet down the hall, like fast! Bumps hadn't told me that he was a queen! But a lot of that had ended when I got here in '64. The only homo I met here was Epstein and he didn't bother me."

If Proby's stage persona was not as androgynous as, say, Bowie's, his gestures and his outfits were decidedly 'effeminate'—velvet shirts, sailor trousers and even a party tail? He denies that the image was Jack Good's idea.

"No... I pretended I was a fag on stage. Nik Cohn got it right when he said that I minced my way across the stage looking coy and demure like a ribboned girl or a burlesque queen, pouting at the audience and sticking my tongue out at them. But that's because I know everything about little girls."


ON THIS SUBJECT, THINGS BECAME MURKY INDEED, with Proby expressing a complex of attitudes which most people would find utterly repulsive. "What little girls want," he states "is the feminine glove in one hand, the boxing glove in the other." He brought this kind of thinking into his stage show to a level that was crass, cruel and manipulative, beyond words.

"The minute they'd start screaming at the prancing and pouting I'd turn and say 'Yeah but I can still ram this motherfucker (clenched fist copulation gesture) right up your backside'. That's rock'n'roll."

"Madonna," Proby claims somewhat gratuitously "is doing exactly what I did then, 20 years too early for British audiences! The difference is that she throws her knickers at them; my fans threw theirs at me! And they threw themselves and bowled over huge bouncers rushing the stage. My show was geared totally towards the 12—14 year olds."

Proby admits that he was quite willing to accomodate and exploit those fans who did force their way past the bouncers. But how much truth is there in that famous Guy Peelaert painting of Proby surrounded by weeping, naked nymphs?

"Well yes, I had my PJ Proby Nymphette Club of Great Britain," he smiles. "These were my servants. They had jobs, like cleaning and hoovering my house. I didn't allow them to drink or to fuck, unless they pulled one of the guys who worked for me. But if they did they were never allowed to even shake my hand again. But mostly my guys went for the older ones, the over 12s, the Matrons..."

Just how sordid did this exploitation become? Readers of a sensitive disposition should tune out here, as Proby recalls with ill-disguised glee one of the grizliest sagas rock'n'roll could ever invent. Truth? Fantasy? Or the perverted ramblings of a clapped-out has-been with nothing better to do than to look for the sick notoriety this kind of bragging might bring? This is what it comes to...

Proby shows me a cutting from the News Of The World circa 1965. In it he is pictured with a group of girls, none of whom are more than ten years old. "I also had my nymph-petits," he boasts, "they were mine. My 'special brew'." But surely he wasn't doing anything to these innocents?

"I wasn't doing a damn thing! But you'd be surprised what they were doing. I'd go to bed at night on my own, then one by one they'd pitter patter up till there was four on each side of me and I'd have to put a pillow over my head to keep from laughing. They'd be playing, saying 'Go on touch his thing. I dare you.' Then you'd hear 'Look it stretches!' I was a human experiment for them...These were 6—8 year olds."

Proby claims that young girls stayed overnight with their parents' consent. He elaborates on triangles involving mothers and daughters. He says the woman he was living with at the time liked little girls too. He's unrepentant about this grotesque exploitation, playing up the image further still with the sleeve of his most recent single on which he's photographed with a girl he describes as his 'baby-wife'.

His last 'real' marriage was to a girl of 'roughly' sixteen. It ended recently but Proby refuses to accept that this might have anything to do with his retarded attitude to sex. He laughs at the suggestion that he's a pervert in the real meaning of the word.

"Well where did I pick it up from?" he guffaws, "seeing as though I am part Irish on my mother's side? My great, great grandaddy was thrown out of Ireland for fucking sheep! And I hear that's still popular over there! So maybe it's all part of being Irish."


ROCK'N'ROLL LEGEND HAS IT THAT PROBY'S CAREER collapsed because he split his trousers once too often on a British stage. It's a story that's hard to stomach, in the context of his appalling sexual insensitivity. He indulges himself, nonetheless, claiming it was 'political'.

"What happened had to do with monopoly," he says. "The Grades and The Delfonts and their ilk had the pop business sewn up. They ran everything from the Rank Cinemas, to ABC, to television stations. Even the little guys were in on it, cramming 1,000 people into a hall that should hold only 600, paying me for 600 and pocketing the rest. So, like an idiot, I blew it all open in the newspapers...

"The monopoly people got together and said: 'We've got to silence Proby, but how? He's the biggest solo act in the country. What can we do which won't upset the public, then bounce back on us?' And someone said, 'Wait—he's an eccentric Texan. He'll do something that will upset the public and we'll step in as their guardians.' That's what happened."

The pants-splitting episode was, says Proby, all they needed.

"They had MP's wives saying I was disgusting. They had headlines ready, 'Proby obscene. Deport him'. And they banned me from all major theatres and from TV, thinking that would drive me out of the country. But I just took a step down and began playing small clubs again."

Proby is obviously bitter about it all. "But mostly I feel bitter against myself, for falling into their trap. If I was so damn clever about the monopoly thing, why couldn't I see what these people could do to me?"

After the fall, Proby returned to his roots. The albums grew less ballad-bound and in 1967 he had his biggest solo US hit with a superb cajun blues number: Niki Hoeky. He also recorded album tracks with Led Zeppelin and later with Focus. But it was, ironically enough, Elvis' death and the reappearance of Jack Good which led to a short-lived comeback in 1977, when he was chosen to play Elvis in the West End.

He wasn't heard from again until recently, when news seeped out about a strange series of hit singles he'd cut for the Savoy label in Manchester. Bowie's Heroes, T S Eliot's The Waste Land, Anarchy In The UK ? So who's choosing his material nowadays?

"Mostly Dave Britton," he confesses. "I'm not allowed to pick any of it. Dave chose Anarchy and all the Irish rebel songs for the next EP—Kevin Barry, The Old Fenian Gun. It's not commercial stuff we're cutting. . . "

So is Anarchy In The UK what Proby wants?

"Shit no! I want to be Prime Minister! In fact under Thatcher's new ruling I gotta go down to the dole office and tell them exactly what I do. So, if I say I'm a pop singer they must get me a job at that! They've offered me jobs in warehouses but I've got the kind of asthma that kills though, so certain work I can't do."

Proby is not being entirely humorous when he talks about being Prime Minister. He certainly wants to get his warped political point of view across.

"I think like Enoch Powell," he says. "I want to transfer those thoughts into the Thatcher Organisation. Enoch warned England in 1964 about the nigger problem. I don't mean negroes or blacks—those that stick to and respect their own culture. I mean niggers who come over here and think they can live off us. They don't want equality, they want supremacy. Look at the States. All the dope lords, the Mafia, sportsmen and niggers. They even run the music business. That's what education and freedom has led to..."

Proby recently recorded a track entitled Elvis Was Not The First White Nigger, I Was. He claims he was raised among blacks. "This ol' mammy'd sing to us and take us to gospel church and I fell in love with that thigh-slapping music right then. I loved it much more than my own sleepy, low-Protestant derived stuff, those niggers taught me to sing."

And he repays that debt with racism?

"I repay them like they repaid me," he says, "John Wesley Harding would have been a Methodist Minister if it hadn't been for Abraham Lincoln, the worst fucking President we ever had. He freed those cocksuckers from their bondage to us. So one night these guys rode into our farm and said, 'John Wesley, Lincoln has turned the niggers into Sheriffs and they're in town burning up the place and fucking our white women.' So he rode into town and blew the shit out of them. That's what made him an outlaw. He didn't want to become one."

It seems like PJ Proby is locked somewhere in a long long past? Would he ride into town in the same way John Wesley did?

"You're damn right. I'd crawl into town with a Russian job under my arm. I could knock off twenty people in five seconds with one of those. I'd take every scalp I could."

By this stage the beers are getting the better of Proby. He's speaking like a man possessed. He talks about writing an album about The Hungerford Killer. What about those who would regard this as the most crass and insensitive form of exploitation?

"Tough shit. Those people should not have been on the street when a man wanted to kill, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They didn't know some idiot was going to jump out of the bushes. But at the same time I sympathise with the fact that he must have been deeply wounded and hurt, having that festering in him all those years."

What about the victims?

"I can't really feel anything for them because they had no fear. They didn't know their time had come. All they knew was that they'd shunned this quiet boy all his life, called him a wimp, even fucked him out of the army. And you can only push a man so far and when he stops loving himself, then I can tell you for sure, he stops loving everyone else. I know that's what happened to him."

Who does he blame?

"Him first for being a wimp and a mother's boy and not telling everyone to go fuck themselves instead of leaning so much on what they thought of him and then taking their rejection of him so personally that it ate him up so much he decided, 'I'm ready to go and I don't care who goes with me—-I'm not going alone—even my womb is coming with me—spelled m-o-t-h-e-r.' No use blaming your parents. If they let you down you bring yourself up."

Has Proby any intention of taking an early leave of life?

"No. But other things (he nods towards the beer can) might have something like that in mind for me. But it's not happening like certain people want. But they don't know that the things I do to my body, which kills most people, I keep a check on. There are damaged parts to my body but if I see an enlarged heart of anything—I'll know what to do. Though yes 1 do have the reverse of what Elvis had: he had a twisted colon, I got a cirrhosised colon, which usually leads to cancer."

Does Proby really believe certain people want him to drink himself to death?

"Not the public. But book publishers and record people, yes. They want another Elvis. Elvis killed himself. I don't care what Charlie Hodge or Red West says, Elvis told me on his 26th birthday, 'I'm going to kill myself when I get to the age my momma died.' He missed his wish by a few years and it was a heart attack that got him, but he sure helped it along with those mother's little helpers."

Isn't Proby doing the same thing with alcohol? Isn't it probable that he too will finally be found face down in a bathroom?

"No. Anyway, they won't find me. I know where I'm going to be. I found that spot when I was 25. Few people saw me being born but nobody will see my leave this world. The only person who would have dared to follow me up to that place is now dead: Richard Burton. But I haven't finished my work yet. Elvis finished his, but even when I do, I'll still have a great life in my tomb."

Will he take himself out?

"Well nobody else is going to do it. I'll tell you that for sure..."

What about all those people who are queueing up to scrape cash off Proby's corpse?

"I've already put it in my will who my family should go after. My step-sister is a lawyer so everyone who ever shit on me, she'll get. I know my family. They're legal now but we all come from outlaw blood. So they'll do it the legal way, whereas I'd do it with a .44. But they'll get it done so that will give me peace of mind. I'll win in the end."

And if someone wants to erect a tombstone on the spot from which Proby will be leaving, what would he want as his epitaph?

"Rather be here than with you, cocksucker."

(Since this interview PJ Proby dried out. He gave up the juice several years ago, and is no longer alcoholic. But his inventiveness is undiminished. And what a great epitaph!)

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