Singer-songwriter Mike Smith’s career didn’t end when the Dave Clark Five disbanded in 1970. It only flourished.
The classically trained vocalist formed a short-lived duo, Smith & D’Abo, with ex-Manfred Mann singer Mike D’Abo. He provided vocals for the original “Evita” soundtrack recording. He produced other artists, and he became a very successful commercial jingles performer and producer. His voice can be heard on ads for everything from American Airlines to Wrigley’s Chewing Gum and currently on a nationwide campaign for Applebee’s Restaurants.
Now, with his group Rock Engine, he’s preparing to tour the United States for the first time in more than 30 years. They’re playing 12 Northeast cities in March.
From his home in Costa del Sol in southern Spain, the 59-year-old Smith recounts his days with the DC5 and touches on a variety of other subjects in an e-mail interview with Pause & Play.
Pause & Play – What personal post-DC5 accomplishment are you most proud of?
Smith – “I think I have to say being asked to produce an album for Shirley Bassey. She has been singing for many years, and she still has one of the best and most distinctive voices I have ever heard. She is also extremely professional and although I was told she would be difficult to work with, I found her to be the absolute opposite. She expects no more from anybody that works with her than what she expects from herself … a 100 percent commitment to the project and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Making her album was a great experience, and she was a dream to work with.
“I must add one other thing to this. Like any other musician, the biggest accolade you can personally receive is to be asked to play at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. I have just been told that I have been asked to play there on the 30th of March. This is a personal ambition and dream come true, and I would like to thank all the people that have helped make it possible.”
P&P – Tell us about Rock Engine, the band you have assembled.
Smith – “The band is made up of the following musicians: Doug Lean (guitar), Curt Sandell (bass), Paul Skelton (drums) and Frank Mead (sax). They are a great bunch of talented guys and, like me, love playing rock ‘n’ roll. We are all very excited about coming to the USA for our March tour.”
P&P – When was the last time you toured the States?
Smith – “I think it was 1967 or 1968. I’m not sure exactly, but the DC5 didn’t finish playing as a group until around 1969, 1970.”
P&P – What are your expectations for this tour? How will you gauge its success?
Smith – “I don’t expect anything. What I hope for is that people will come to my shows – so I’m told from Germany, England and Canada – and afterwards say, ‘The old boy can still rock.’ If they ask, ‘When is he coming back?,’ then I know we got it right and will look forward to planning the next tour.”
P&P – Pause & Play has included the Dave Clark Five in its annual feature, The Should-Be’s, artists who should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but aren’t. What’s your take on why the DC5 have been denied all these years?
Smith – “I really don’t have an answer to that question. I’m just thrilled that I have personally been asked to play at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Who knows where this may lead to in the future?”
P&P – What do you remember about Aug. 13, 1965? That’s the day you broke two ribs when you were pulled off stage by fans at a show in Chicago.
Smith – “Actually, I was not pulled off the stage by our fans. What happened was as I was walking up the stairs at the side of the stage, all the lights were turned off and I fell into the orchestra pit which was around 12 feet deep. The first thing I can remember was looking up from the bottom of the pit and seeing hundreds of fans looking down at me from the top of the pit. Luckily, some of our security people jumped in and got me out before anyone else could get to me. I was rushed to the hospital, where I was diagnosed as having two broken ribs. It was a painful experience, but we did get a week’s vacation at Lake Geneva, Wis., to (recuperate).”
P&P – Why are the DC5 so poorly represented on CD in the States?
Smith – “If you are referring to recordings, then the answer to this question is with Dave Clark. He owns all the rights to the DC5 recordings and at this moment in time doesn’t choose to release them. Rhino Records and Hollywood Records did release a CD, but I don’t know if it’s still available.”
P&P – Totally left-field question: What do you think of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support of President Bush’s stance on Iraq?
Smith – “Firstly, I don’t like to get involved in politics, as everyone has a different point of view. War is a terrible thing (my country, England, has been involved in many). However, I do feel that America has every right to defend itself against anyone or any country that threatens the safety and freedom of its people. Someone has to take a stance against terrorism and I strongly agree with the courage of the leaders of the countries that are currently trying to put an end to it and secure the safety of our future generations.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “The first record I bought was ‘Griegs Piano Concerto,’ together with Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye.’ Date, around 1956-1957.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “In the early ’60s, Cathy McGowan (at that time star of the hit TV show ‘Ready Steady Go’ in London) asked me to accompany her to a concert to hear a young guy that she had heard was pretty good. The concert was held at the Roundhouse in London and the guy playing was a young unknown musician. I thought he was an exceptional talent and asked her what his name was. ‘Elton John,’ she replied.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “When I was about 12 years old, I worked in an off-license store in London (in America, you call them a liquor store). It wasn’t very much fun lifting crates and barrels of beer, but at least it did put some dosh in my pockets. I also had to help serve the customers and I always got a good giggle out of the little old ladies that would come in and ask for a half-pint of Guinness for ‘medicinal purposes only.’ “
BWF (before we forget): Upcoming Mike Smith’s Rock Engine tour dates – March 12, Farmingdale, N.Y., The Downtown; March 13, Arlington, Mass., The Regent Theater; March 14, Uncasville, Conn., Mohegan Sun Casino; March 15, Schenectady, N.Y., The Van Dyck; March 16, New York, B.B. King’s Blues Club; March 18, Piermont, N.Y., Turning Point; March 19, Rochester, N.Y., Water Street Music Hall; March 21-22, Orilla, Ontario, Casino Rama; March 25, Hicksville, Ohio, Huber Opera House; March 27, Dubuque, Iowa, Grand Theatre; March 28, Merrillville, Ind., Star Plaza; March 30, Cleveland, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
COVID-19 prompts many spring and summer albums releases to be moved to several months ahead