One day I found myself looking for obscure "glam rock" compilations on Amazon UK and the "customers who bought this" recommendation led me to an album called "Breathlessly Brett" an LP originally recorded in the mid-1970s -- but not released until 2003 -- by a then teenage performer named Brett Smiley. It seldom left my CD player for the next month.
I'd never heard of Brett Smiley before, but when I did a search on him, an interesting story emerged. Smiley was just 16 years old when he was discovered by Rolling Stones manager Andew Loog Oldham. At 18, he was given a $200,000 recording deal and recorded an album, produced by Oldham and with Steve Marriott from the Small Faces on guitar. An amazingly raucous single "Va Va Va Voom" was released and heavily hyped with Smiley's face appearing in ads all over London and in an extremely over the top performance and interview on the popular Russell Harty Plus TV program.
The single bombed, the album was shelved and other than a few brief film cameos (like "American Gigolo") Smiley wasn't heard from again until 2003 when RPM records acquired the master tapes. The sad truth was the Smiley wallowed in serious, skid row drug addiction for years. His legend proved strongly intriguing for glam rock fans and Johnny Thunders biographer, Nina Antonina, wrote a book, The Prettiest Star: What Ever Happened to Brett Smiley about how Smiley's brief pop supernova moment influenced her teenaged years.
Now recovered from the drug excesses of his past, Smiley continues to record and perform, mostly around New York City.
The Russell Harty clip features Smiley performing his Ziggy-influenced "Space Ace" (the "Va Va Va Voom" B-side) and it's pretty incredible if you like this sort of thing. (Turn the sound up really loud as the audio sounds weaker than the CD version) "Space Ace" performance
(Richard Metzger is guest blogger.)