The members of newly formed musical groups often choose quirky and unusual names for their aggregations — usually something that’s sort of cool-sounding, but at the same will be remembered by ever-fickle fans. Maybe that’s why I find it so fascinating that in at least one case, a group chose a name that was unusual in its very commonality; so much so that they even addressed the paradox by naming their debut album A Group Called Smith.
The reasoning behind the group’s unusual name is a little fuzzy, and they shouldn’t be confused with a later British group called the Smiths (although that bunch’s choice of the name is also unclear), but for a short while in the late 1960s Smith did gain some national attention. The group was formed around lead singer Gayle McCormick, a gifted blue-eyed soul vocalist who could hold her own with just about anybody. Guitarist Rich Cliburn and bassist Jerry Carter added to the singing, and additional backing was offered by drummer Bob Evans and organist Larry Moss.
Discovered in a Southern California club by rock star Del Shannon, the group soon hit the recording studio and cut a record of Shannon’s arrangement of a Bacharach/David song, one that had already been a hit by the Shirelles and the Beatles. But Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You” offered a new take on the piece, and McCormick’s strong vocal performance helped drive it into the Top Ten on the charts.
Their debut album, A Group Called Smith, did pretty well too. The follow-up, Minus Plus, also yielded some good-selling singles, including “Take a Look Around” and Carole King’s “What Am I Gonna Do.” (Those singles, along with Smith’s version of “The Weight” from the Easy Rider soundtrack, were later added to the CD reissue of the group’s first album.)
Unfortunately, Smith’s popularity was short-lived, and the group soon broke up and went on to other things. Lead singer McCormick generated three solo albums-in the 1970s, but the only recent reminder of the group occurred when their big hit showed up on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse: Death Proof.