Mr. Charlie Smalls
“Listen – C. Smalls & Co. – The Buzzard – MP3″
Today’s selection is another one of those happy examples of kismet that anyone knee-deep in the vinyl collector-cum-research game comes upon every once in a while.
I was out digging a while back (how many of my stories start like that?) and I pulled a 45 called ‘The Buzzard’ by C. Smalls & Co. out of a distressed cardboard box on a dealer’s table. This wasn’t one of those nice, white, Bags Unlimited 45 boxes in which a dealer keeps their good stuff, but rather a busted, wobbly carton that once contained 40 bottles of Russian dressing, which has now been assigned the thankless task of carrying around said dealers’ leftovers, i.e. 45s that for one reason or another are deemed unworthy of either a new paper sleeve, plastic outer sleeve or protection in a better box.
That said, I started running through this box and in short order pulled out a half dozen or so records that had been, how shall we say…misfiled. In other words, they belonged in the higher priced box.
However, I’ve never been one to walk up to a dealer and inform him that his stock is under-priced, so I put the records aside (along with a few mystery 45s, including ‘The Buzzard’) and gave them a spin on the old Numark portable.
Once I dropped the needle on ‘The Buzzard’, the first few seconds convinced me to throw it on the keeper pile.
Unfortunately, once I got it home and found my way onto the interwebs, I hit a dead end. The only listings I could find for the record were sale lists. So, I digimatized the 45 and put it in the “to be blogged” file, figuring that since it’s a groovy record, I’d post it whether I was able to dig up more info or not.
So…some time passed, and I was lining up selections for the next few weeks of blogging and I started digging anew. A slight flick of the Google-hand and presto, the facts started to reveal themselves.
What I found out (initially) was that ‘C. Smalls’ was in fact a cat named Charlie Smalls. From there, I found out that a man with the same name wrote the music for ‘The Wiz’, one of he biggest Broadway hits of the 70’s. A short time after that I confirmed that these two ‘Charlie Smalls’ were in fact the same guy, and then things got really interesting.
As it turns out, Charlie Smalls was a musical prodigy who started Julliard as a teenager (graduating when he was 21) and spent the early part of the 60’s as a session musician and songwriter as well as a touring pianist for the like of Hugh Masekela and Harry Belafonte.
The most interesting thing I discovered about Smalls is that in 1967, he appeared on an episode of ‘The Monkees’ (?!?) singing with Davy Jones. During the second season of ‘The Monkees’, the band had begun to exercise a certain amount of control over both the TV show and their recording career. One aspect of this was getting to feature their own favorite artists in performance segments at the end of an episode. As far as I can tell this only happened three times, with Tim Buckley, Frank Zappa and Charlie Smalls. Smalls’ segment, which can be seen on Youtube features him talking to and singing with Davy Jones, discussing their songwriting partnership. Whether anything came of this collaboration I do not know.
The following year, Smalls recorded ‘The Buzzard’ for A&M. It was released as a 45, and strangely enough the song appeared on the soundtrack to the pioneering gay-themed film ‘The Boys in the Band’.
By the mid-70’s ‘The Wiz’ premiered on Broadway, won two Tony awards and was eventually made into a movie.
Unfortunately Charlie Smalls died tragically young (43) during emergency surgery in 1987.
I hope you dig the tune and I’ll see you all on Monday.
Charlie Smalls and Davy Jones on the Monkees