Keith and His Biggest 1960s Hit “98.6”



Keith is an American pop vocalist. He started his recording career with Columbia Records, where he issued “Caravan of Lonely Men.” He moved to Mercury Records thereafter, where he released his first charting single, “Ain’t Gonna Lie” in 1966. Later that same year, the follow-up “98.6” became a Top 10 hit. When his subsequent singles (and two more albums) failed to reach the level of his prior success, he quit making music. But in 1986 Keith attempted to stage a (failed) comeback under his real name. Since the 90s he’s been workinig in the TV industry. He continues to play at gigs once in a while.

Keith’s early life

American pop and rock vocalist Keith was born James Barry Keefer in Philadelphia, Pennsyslvania on May 17, 1949. The family then moved to Atlantic City in New Jersey, and then back in Philadelphia where he found his passion for music and knack for performing. During his high school days Keefer hosted and acted on several high school plays.

Keith’s recording career

According to a popular legend, Keith obtained his first recording contract with Columbia Records after he camped out on the doorstep of the office of Jerry Ross. Ross, an A&R executive, took Keith in and when the former moved to Mercury Records he took Keith with him. In 1966 Keith achieved his first charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, the top 40 hit “Ain’t Gonna Lie” (released on Mercury and written by T. Powers and G. Fischoff) b/w “It Started All Over Again.”

In 1967 Keith’s second single on Mercury, “Tell Me to My Face” (written by A. Clarke, T. Hicks, and G. Nash) was another Top 40 Billboard pop hit, peaking there at #37. The follow-up single “Daylight Savin’ Time,” (written by M. Shuman and J. Ross) was only a minor pop hit (at #79).

Biggest hit single with “98.6”

Another single followed, “98.6” gave Keith his biggest hit record. It was released on Mercury and written by Tony Powers (lyrics) and George Fischoff (music). It reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 adn #24 on the UK singles chart in 1967. The song was produced by Ross and Joe Renzetti. It sold over one million copies and was awarded with a gold disc. Later, the album was also released on the album 98.6/Ain’t Gonna Lie, which reached its peak position at #124 on the Billboard 200 album chart that same year.

Later life and career

Unfortunately, it was also Keith’s last charting hit. His second LP Out of Crank failed to make a dent on the charts. Keith signed with Frank Zappa’s Discreet label and released the single “In and Out of Love.” In 1969 he issued his last album The Adventures of Keith.

In 1986 he attempted to stage a comeback under his real life, but that failed. Virtually retiring from the limelight, he set up his own label A.I.R. Records in 1986 which launched acts such as Chuck Hill, and Shawn Smith (Keith’s drummer). He continues to make live appearances occasionally.

Interesting Facts about Keith

1. He changed his birth name

Keith was born on May 14, 1949, as James Barry Keefer. He then legally changed his name to Bazza Keefer in memory of his mother in 1988, but he’s known as “Keith.”

2. 98.6, his biggest hit, reached the Billboard Top 10.

Keith had a couple of minor top 40 hits during the mid-60s: “Ain’t Gonna Lie” at #37 and “Tell Me to My Face” at #39. But his biggest hit, 98.6, made it to #7 on the Billboard Top 100. The song was released in November 1966. It remained in the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 14 weeks and sold over a million copies worldwide.

Later on, he would release a few singles and LPs, but nothing came close to the Top 10 status of “98.6.”

3. He got The Tokens as his backup vocals

If you have not heard of The Tokens, you have probably heard of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” They sang that song, and they were also the uncredited backup vocals for the song “98.6.”

4. He claims he was back-slapped by a Beatle at a urinal

At the height of his career, Keith was making $15,000 a week. During that time, he claimed that John Lennon congratulated him on having recorded such a great song. He told Rolling Stone magazine that Lennon slapped his back while he was standing next to him at a urinal in London.

5. The US Army arrested him during his concert tour

Keith was concert touring when US Army officials interrupted his show and arrested him for draft evasion. He was inducted and got stationed in New Jersey, where he claimed he made coffee for the generals.

6. Keith joined Frank Zappa’s touring band

When Keith got out of prison, he did some independent recording and joined Frank Zappa’s touring band in 1973. He tried to inject some Philly soul into their tunes. He thought he was brought into the band to commercialize Frank, but that didn’t happen.

7. He stopped recording in the ‘60s

While he enjoyed his short-lived fame in the 60s, Keith tried to make music but never enjoyed success as big as “98.6.” For RCA records, he recorded his last album in 1969, titled The Adventures of Keith. It was a flop, so he left the music industry. In 1986, he attempted a comeback under his real name, but it was proved unsuccessful.

8. He became a music producer

In 1986, he set up AIR Records in Redondo Beach, California. He produced albums for some local musicians, including Keith’s drummer Shawn Smith and singer-songwriter Chuck Hill – both were from Denver, Colorado.

His Redondo Beach house was equipped with a 16-track studio, and he has put out some records there, alternately under the names Keith and Barry Keefer, depending on which name didn’t work the last time.

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