The “Golden Hits Of The 60s” 

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Johnny Cymbal



Kapp 503

No. 16   April 13, 1963




Johnny Cymbal is best known for his 1963 doo-wop tribute hit “Mr. Bass Man.” Few fans know that after

numerous recordings-many under assumed names­ Cymbal would return to the Top 40 listings in the late

’60s with his recording of the million-selling “Cinnamon (Let Me In);’ under the name of”Derek:’


Two-time One-Hit Wonder Cymbal eventually turned his attentions elsewhere. He became the music

director for the “Partridge Family” and the cartoon show “Catnooga Cats:’ He produced Gene Pitney and

Mae West recordings, wrote tunes for Bette Midler, Reba Mcintire, Terri Gibbs, and Elvis Presley. It was

Presley who made a major hit out of Cymbal’s”Mary in the Morning.”


During his brief life-stay not much was written on Johnny Cymbal. “It’s been said that I led a band at the

age of seven. Now, that’s a nice story,”said Cymbal, who was born in Ochitree, Scodand, on February 3,

1945.”It didn’t happen that way, but it’s a nice story. . .. I mean, my life didn’t start until I was about 13 or

so when I saw this band in our town square [in Goderich, Ontario]. Only then did I get the idea of singing;

And the next week, I was up there with them, ah, singing ‘My Buck­ et’s Got a Hole in It.” That was my first

song. After that I learned how to play the guitar some by watching this country show on TV:


In the late ’50s, John almost got placed with Cameo­ Parkway, but the label found out he lived in Canada

and thought it would be too much of a hassle getting him around.


“The next year my folks moved to Cleveland, and I met this fellow through one of those song-poem things-

you know, that you’d see in the backs of teen mags-that read ‘We’ll put your song to music.Send us your

poems: There was really something to it, and this guy liked me and brought me to this big DJ [atWWIN] in

Baltimore, Jack Gale; who later became my manager. He had me sing at a hop that very night …The kids

just went crazy. I just played guitar and it was the wildest thing I had ever seen. There happened to be a

promo­ tion man there and the next thing I knew I was signed to MGM and sent to Nashville to record.”


“The Water Is Red” was his second release for MGM. “Yeah, yeah, it was tacky, wasn’t it?”said Cymbal

between choked laughter. In this 2 1/2-minute tale the girl of all of our dreams is eaten by a hungry shark.

The record stirred some scattered radio action and some stomachs, too. “Jim Vinneau, my producer, had

just done [Mark Dinning’s] ‘Teen Angel; and he was con­vinced that death songs were the new thing. It didn’t

sell well enough so that was my last record for MGM. I thought, I was a has-been at 17.”


.Singles later, Cymbal again almost had a hit on Kedlen with the Bobby Vee-ish “Bachelor Man.” “That was

only a demo I made out in California;’ said Cym­bal. “It wasn’t suppose to be sold. I learned somebody also

gave it to VeeJay, and they issued it, too. Now, I never saw any money on that one.”


A switch to Kapp Records and John finally had his big moment with his first release, the self-penned “Mr.

Bass Man:’The tune with the throw-back sound was an up-tempo praise for that dwindling breed, the doo­

wop bass man. “I had wrote this tribute song before I was with the Kapp;’ he said. “I took it to New York.

Columbia Records was interested, but it took them too long to decide, or something. The bass part on that

record is done by Ronnie Bright. He’d been in the Valentines and the Cadillacs and was the bass guy you

hear on Barry Mann’s ‘Who Put the Bomp?”‘


For his follow-up, Johnny got himself into another tear-tumbler. “Teenage Heaven” (#58, Billboard’s Hot

100) told of all those eventual dead rock’n’rollers­ Elvis, Ricky …-condemned to live out eternity locked in

the bodies and minds of lusting teenagers. What a vision! Some radio stations rode this number like it had a

satin saddle, others tossed it in the can. And again some sensitive stomachs were turned. “Ah, yeah, it was

another dead and dyin’ one,” Cymbal said. “Course lis­tening to it now it’s, ah, all too real. Anyway, it failed

to do it. So, again I was a has-been:’


Kapp Records ran out of patience, and Johnny moved to Don Costa’s DCP label, then switched to Columbia

and Musicor (“I don’t even remember that;’ said Cymbal. “I recorded for them, huh?”), and eventu­ally he

moved to the Amaret label. Nothing more chart­ed. Cymbal’s attention shifted to producing, writing, and

occasionally appearing as a studio-only act-John­ ny recorded some tracks as Milk for the bubblegum

Buddah label. Milk soured, but not so for some sides Cymbal had issued as by “Derek” for Bang Records.

John’s co-written “Cinnamon (Let Me In)” returned him nearly to the Top 10 in 1968.


“I had just wrote ‘Mary in the Morning,’ probably the most successful song I’ve written;’ he said. “And I had

the deal to produce Gene Pitney and some other acts. I did the vocals on ‘Cinnamon; but I thought, ‘I can’t

go out on the road and produce these things as well:So my brother Derek, who was a part of my band, at the

time, went out as me…. At the time, there was three different Crystals and two different Drifters, so it

seemed okay to have two different Dereks.”


Other than the follow-up, “Back Door Man;’ which charted at #59 on Billboard, future Derek disks sold like

duds. “The name had run its course,” he said. “And my brother had gone out as me, as Derek, and hated it

all. So, we were stuck without an act. By then, I was pro­ducing Mae West and the Partridge Family, so I just

shelved the whole Derek idea:’


Late in 1969, Johnny pulled some more name changes when he recorded as Taurus for Tower Records and

then Brother John for A & M and … Months later, he struck up a relationship with Peggy Clinger, of the

Clinger Sis­ters, a four sibling act that had appeared as regulars on the “Smothers Brothers Show.”  “They

were to the “Smothers Show” what the Osmonds were to the “Andy Williams Show;’ Cymbal explained.

“Peggy and I got together and wrote ‘Rock Me Baby’ for David Cassidy:’For a few years, records were issued

by Cymbal & Clinger.


Over the years, Johnny Cymbal continued to make public appearances, to be involved in production work,

and every now and then reappeared with a new single. ”I’ve lived in Nashville for the last decade, producing

some things, but mainly I’ve been writing,” Cymbal said. “I’ve had about 20 chart records on the country

listings; things like ”I’m Drinkin’ Canada Dry” (the Burrito Brothers) and “Fire in the Sky” (the Wright

Brothers). “I’ve been fortunate;’ he said. “People still remember my name. It’s primarily due to ‘Mr. Bass

Man;’ I know. And yes, Johnny Cymbal is my real God­ given name.”


Johnny Cymbal died of an apparent heart attack, on March 16, 1993 in Nashville. He was 48.