Known for his 1962 pop hit “Close To Cathy,” American singer-songwriter Mike Clifford might well be included in the myriads of one-hit wonders, even though he had a couple few more singles that made the lower rungs of the Billboard Hot 100. The Los Angeles-born Clifford developed an aptitude and interest in music in his early years. By the time he hit his teens, he performed in school and community events; at 16 he began to perform at nightclubs, where he was discovered by Johnny Mathis’ manager Helen Noga. Noga helped him get signed to Columbia Records. But he didn’t meet the success he was hoping for, so he switched to United Artists Records in 1962. Under United Artists,
Clifford finally scored a Top 20 hit “Close to Cathy,” which was produced by the legendary songwriter team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. A couple more singles made a dent on the charts but didn’t perform as well as his first single: “What To Do with Laurie” and “One Boy Too Late.” Clifford continued to enjoy overseas success when his records became a hit in Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, Japan, Germany and Canada, among others. He also had regional hits in his homeland. Clifford still enjoys considerable success as a nightclub and concert performer.
Early life and career
Mike Clifford was born in Los Angeles, California on November 5, 1943, to a professional trumpeter father who inspired his son’s interest in music and performing. He honed his singing and performing abilities by taking formal voice lessons as well as performing in school functions. At the tender age of 15 or 16, he started to perform in local nightclubs.
It was at this point when he was discovered by Helen Noga, who, together with her husband, had managed Johnny Mathis. With Noga’s help, Clifford snagged a deal with Columbia Records.
Apart from his single “Bombay” by which he became a sensation in Venezuela, his stint at Columbia was not very successful. Clifford’s three-time appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show did little to attract the record-buying public’s attention.
Signature hit with “Close to Cathy”
Clifford then moved to United Artists Records. There, he recorded and released “Close to Cathy” which was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller; the legendary songwriting duo who also penned other songs for the young singer and recording artist. However, it was “Close to Cathy” that gave Clifford a breakthrough success, selling over a million copies worldwide. It peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It charted even higher on the adult contemporary/easy listening singles chart at #4.
A couple of more minor charting singles; other projects
Following singles such as “What to Do with Laurie” and “One Boy Too Late” were only minor hits, peaking at #68 and #96, respectively. Because of this, the inevitable tag of “one-hit wonder” befell on Clifford like many other artists.
He sang on a few more records and also performed songs for both the big and small screen. Singing credits include “Pretty Little Girl n the Yellow Dress” (in the 1961 filmThe Last Sunset), the title track of the 1961 movie Look in Any Window, and “Joanna” (in the TV series Peter Gunn). However, “Close to Cathy” remains Clifford’s signature tune.
Clifford’s film credits include Village of the Giants (1965), Lord of the Rings (not the recent film by Peter Jackson, but the 1978 production), and the Mae West-starred movie Sextette (1978). For his onscreen duet with West in one of Sextette‘s songs “Love Will Keep Us Together,” actor Timothy Dalton lip-synched the song which was actually sung by Clifford.
Clifford also performed in Grease‘s Broadway production in the 1970s.
Success in both the cabaret and international circuit
At this point Clifford’s career had changed direction where he turned his focus to performing outside the United States. He has toured in many countries including Canada, France, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Philippines, Argentina and Brazil where he his career has enjoyed much success.
He has continued to enjoy success in the nightclub and cabaret circuit. The year 2010 saw Clifford record and release his version of the pop standard “Mack the Knife.” It was issued on Hired Gun Records label in an MP3 format.