Johnny Cymbal (1945-1993) was an American singer-songwriter and record producer. He used a lot of pseudonyms before settling on Johnny Cymbal. As Johnny Cymbal, he first tasted success when his single “Mr. Bass Man” (released on Kapp) climbed to #16 on the pop chart in 1963, while another Kapp single “Teenage Heaven” was a minor hit. As “Derek”, Cymbal outdid “Mr. Bass Man” with “Cinnamon” (released on Bang label) which became his most successful single, just missing the Top 10 in 1968. Although he had obvious talents as a singer, Cymbal’s greatest skill was songwriting from which he also became successful for. He and his close friend and professional partner Peggy Clinger sang together as a duet and also wrote songs, and would continue their close association until Clinger’s death from a drug overdose. Cymbal returned to Nashville where he lived most of his later life, as well as continued his songwriting until his death in 1993 at age 48.
Early life and career
Johnny Cymbal was a pop singer, songwriter and record producer.
He was born John Hendry Blair in Ochiltree, Ayrshire in Scotland, United Kingdom on February 3, 1945. He later moved to Cleveland, Ohio with his family. From his start when he was 15 up to his death in 1993, we can say that Cymbal devoted all his life in music and nothing else mattered to him but making and writing music.
Cymbal was a songwriter, first and foremost. He used to gather notes that contained all his ideas and words. Sure, he also got a wonderful singing voice and an excellent stage presence. But he was more than serious in songwriting, which Cymbal himself believed that it was his greatest talent indeed. This is proven by the over 200 songs that the prolific Cymbal had written during his lifetime.
At 17, he recorded a handful of singles on his first label MGM, but all of them flopped. Since then he had jumped from label to label as well as from one stage name to another. He had recorded for Kapp, Columbia, DCP, Musicor, Amaret, Scepter, Bang and Chelsea among others.
As a singer, Cymbal had used a lot of pseudonyms such as the name of his brother “Derek,” as well as “Brother John,” “The Eye-Full Tower,” “Dallas,” “The Non-Conformists,” among a lot of other names he could ever think of.
First hit with “Mr. Bass Man”
In 1963 Cymbal released what would be his biggest hit ever, “Mr. Bass Man” which he wrote himself. Released on Kapp, it reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #24 on the UK singles that same year. He also had minor hits including “Teenage Heaven” (#58 pop, #19 adult contemporary) adn “Dum Dum Dee Dum” (#77 pop).
Biggest hit with “Cinnamon”; later life and career
However, by 1966 Cymbal had married and started a family, so he no longer wished to be on the road and turned his focus more on songwriting. It brought him greater success than his singing career did. Among his most best-known songwriting credits was “Cinnamon” (a #11 pop hit for Derek — Cymbal, actually — in 1968) and “Rock Me Baby” (#38 pop hit for David Cassidy in 1972). He wrote and co-wrote material for other artists such as Elvis Presley, Gene Pitney, the Partridge Family, The Spencer Davis Group, Trini Lopez, Jan and Dean, and the legendary Mae West, among countless other singers.
Cymbal also teamed up with his soul-mate and fellow songwriter Peggy Clinger as Cymbal and Clinger, until Clinger’s death to drug overdose. Her demise devastated him.
Cymbal later moved to Nashville and waxed off occasional singles. Songwriting became his most successful pursuit during those times. He had a solid career in Nashville for ten years until he suddenly passed away there on March 16, 1993, aged 48.