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Jerry Smith

During the early 1960s, Harry Nilsson made a brief public singing performance with his friend Jerry Smith. Harry describes it in the article One Last Touch of Nilsson:
We did one [performance]. Well, we did half of one. There was an oldies but goodies type show, a road show with all rock 'n' rollers: the Safaris, the Elegants, Don and Dewey. This promoter, Hal Ziger, needed an act to fill in for the Safaris. We said, 'Okay. What do we sing?' He said, 'Whatever the heck you want! It pays 15 dollars. Do you want it?' So, came the night, we had to be at (a bar at) 35th and Weston, which is a tough area, South Central L.A. We got there at 11 in the morning for some reason. They were still cleaning out the bar. It stunk of whiskey. It was a black bar, in a black neighborhood. Pretty soon the musicians all started showing up, carrying their guitars and cases and everything, and we were scared to death. We didn't know what the hell we had gotten into. Then they said, 'Okay, bus time!' So we get on the bus and the first thing the driver does, he looks back at everybody, then he looks toward us and says, 'Back of the bus!' We were the only white guys there! And everybody cracked up, saying, 'Hey, that's all right, man, you're all right. You can sit here if you want. He's just being friendly, you know.' It was hysterical. We drove to a place right outside of San Diego called National City, to this big auditorium there. It seated about a couple thousand people, and the audience was all black.

When it was our turn to go on, we went, 'Holy Jesus what have we gotten ourselves into now?' We had bought some blue corduroys and blue sweaters like the Kingston Trio. Alpaca sweaters! And the gig was paying, don't forget, 15 dollars. So we went our onstage, believe it or not, and we walked out and there were howls of laughter. I mean, that place went nuts! We were scared; we'd never done anything like this before anyway, and this was really scary. And I looked at Jerry and he looked at me and we both looked at each other in fear. We didn't look at the audience, just at each other!

We sang, 'If I Had A Hammer.'

Now, if they had had hammers, they would have killed us! They started laughing, and at the end of it they roared approval. They were screaming and clapping, all in fun. And I said, 'That's it,' and he said, 'That's it. We're outta here.'

So we got the first bus back to L.A., where we found our Volkswagen trashed. So the whole thing cost me a car, the Alpaca sweater, and then, on top of that, I gave a check to Hal Ziger. I said, Here's 10 dollars back. We only did one song. Since I gave him his money back, my amateur status was still intact.

Visitor Comments:

 Wendy Swain Olson (January 25, 2012)
Not sure the Jerry Smith is the same one I knew and dated in the late 1960's....Jerry and Harry were best friends - Harry would sit and sing for us at Jerry's house up on Franklin Ave. in Hollywood. I would love to be in touch with Jerry again! Jerry was a playground suprvisor in Hollywood and Harry & I would play basketball together! Before he was "discovered". I was really saddened to hear about Harry's passing......but I would like to get in touch with Jerry again, if indeed this is the same Jerry Smith that Harry was friends with in the late 60's!
 Wendy (April 1, 2013)
Great story/article below. Made me smile - thinking of Jerry & Harry and the Volkswagen!! I have such great memories of Jerry and of Harry! I dated Jerry for a while back in 1966ish. Jerry worked on a playground in Hollywood and my friend Rosemary and I would go to the playground - one night I played basketball with Harry! Great fun! Spent evenings sitting on the floor in Jerry's apartment listening to Harry sing his songs - long before he became famous. I won't ever forget all those times. No idea where you are now Jerry; but I just wanted to share some of my memories and thoughts.....Wendy (Swain) Olson.
 Warren "Doug" Mundy (June 21, 2016)
Wendy, I don't remember you but that is not important. Harry, Jerry and I were close friends way back when. You have the right sport basket ball. Jerry and I went to high school together and he played basket ball for Belmont High, he graduated in S'59. The three of us played basket ball a lot back then. The three of us would meet at the Pantages downtown. Harry was the night manager, Jerry worked there and I worked at the Wiltern theatre on Wilshire and Western. Harry and Jerry sang great and I helped with the lyrics. We would leave the theatre and go to Coopers donuts and watch the city wake up at dawn. Jerry took his own life and is buried in Forest Lawn Burbank and Harry is buried in Pierce Brothers in Thousand Oaks. Last time some hoops at his home in BelAir .
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