Pop Archives

The Id, Featuring Jeff St John - Big Time Operator (1966)

(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
Australia Australia
#6 Sydney #11 Melbourne #8 Brisbane #33 Adelaide #2 Perth

Single on Spin, December 1966. Commonly known as Jeff St John & The Id, the Spin record label has the main artist name as The Id, featuring Jeff St John.

Soul-styled rock singer Jeff St John (Jeffrey Newton, 1946-2018) fronted a number of first class bands during the 60s and 70s, including The Id and Copperwine. His performances were memorable not only for his strong, soulful vocals but for the wheelstands and spins he would execute with his wheelchair. More at Milesago’s Jeff St John page, including band personnel and discography.

On record, Jeff and The Id are probably best remembered for their scorching, brass-laden smash single, “Big Time Operator”, which featured Aussie sax legend Bob Birtles heading the horn section.

Paul Culnane at Milesago

See also Jeff St John & Copperwine and In The Midnight Hour.

Further reading: 1. Jeff St John obituary by Glenn A. Baker. 2. Milesago’s Jeff St John page, including band personnel and discography.

Thanks to co-writer Tony Colton for giving me some insight into the genesis of the song.

Tommy James & The Shondells - Big Time Operator (1966)

(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)

From the 1966 Roulette album It’s Only Love December 1966.

Frank Alamo - De la science à la fiction (1966)

(Claude Righi - Georges Aber - Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
France France

French rewrite of Big Time Operator (“From Science to Fiction”).

Track on Riviera EP Ce n’est pas difficile by Paris-born 60s singer Frank Alamo (1941-2012, b. Jean-François Grandin). Also released on Riviera single in Canada.

Georges Aber (an associate of Petula Clark) wrote many French versions of English songs: see, for example, his Vendredi m’obsède under Friday On My Mind. The other French writer credit is to singer-songwriter-producer Claude Righi who also recorded for Riviera in the 60s.

Merci à Phil de me signaler la version française.

Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band - Big Time Operator (1966)

(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
Original version
#25 UK

Single on Columbia July 1966, producer John Harris, by R&B club band with loads of showmanship led by George ‘Zoot’ Money (b.1942).

Zoot Money was a singer and keyboardist who had first formed the Big Roll Band in Bournemouth in 1961, before spending some time with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in London. After that, the Big Roll Band regrouped in London and became a popular live band.  

Money, with guitarist Andy Somers and drummer Colin Allen, both from the Big Roll Band, later formed Dantalian’s Chariot (they were on Nuggets II with Madman Running Through The Fields).

Zoot Money went on to the New Animals, later joined by Andy Somers who would find fame with Police, changing the spelling of his name to Summers along the way.

The writers, Tony Colton and Ray Smith, were frequent collaborators, especially in the R&B big band genre. Colton and Smith wrote Big Time Operator after they were asked to provide material for Zoot Money.

They shared management with Money through the Gunnell Agency, and they all performed at Rik Gunnell’s Flamingo Club. The Flamingo was a key venue in London’s jazz and R&B scene, where midnight-dawn allnighters featured many leading lights of British soul-R&B, including Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, Geno Washington and Cliff Bennett.

Zoot Money recorded or performed some other Colton-Smith songs: Let’s Run For Cover, The Star of the Show, Nick Nack (produced by Colton & Smith) and Train Train.

Tony Colton recorded under his own name and with Tony Colton & The Big Boss Band.

I Stand Accused, written by Colton & Smith, is best known in versions by The Merseybeats (1965), and by Elvis Costello (on Get Happy!! 1980). It was first recorded by Tony Colton & The Big Boss Band (1965) YouTube.

Colton’s songwriting partner Ray Smith started out as a jazz guitarist and played in skiffle groups before moving on to rock and pop, playing in the bands of several notable British artists before establishing himself as a songwriter and composer. His name is often seen in writer credits with Tony Colton, also with Albert Lee: the three of them wrote Country Boy, the 1985 #1 country hit for Ricky Skaggs.

In the late 60s-early 70s Colton and Smith were in Poet And The One Man Band and then Heads Hands & Feet, with Albert Lee and Chas Hodges (later of Chas & Dave).

References, further reading: 1. Correspondence with Tony Colton (via email). 2. Zoot Money (and the Big Roll Band) at 45-rpm.org.uk. 3. Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band from British Beat Boom [archived]. 4. ZootMoney.org [archived]. 5. Dantalion’s Chariot post at Dr. Schluss’ Garage Of Psychedelic Obscurities 6. TonyColton.net [archived] 7. Mod R&B Super Group? (Shotgun Express who recorded Colton & Smith’s “I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round”), post at Anorak Thing. 8. Discographies for Zoot MoneyTony Colton and Tony Colton & The Big Boss Band at 45Cat (some label shots included). 9. Rik Gunnell obituary, The Guardian, 18 June 2007.

Thanks to Kees van der Hoeven for clarification.

Ray Merrill* (and The Shakin’ Brass) - Big Time Operator (1967)

(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
Germany Germany
Later version

Single on Vogue, DV 14 582. The tracks are the same as those on Zoot Money’s original single: Big Time Operator/Zoot’s Sermon.

The sleeve shows Ray Merrill but the label shows Tony Stevens. Is this British pop-C&W singer Ray Merrell? A studio band with a sloppily chosen alias? Whatever the explanation, somebody screwed up.

Links: Vogue discography (shows 1967); sleeve shot (shows 1966). See also this page which acknowledges the Ray Merrill-Tony Stevens labeling.

Thanks to Peter Holluch for the version alert and the mystery.

Los Impala - El banquero

(credited here to Edgar - Rudy [orig. Colton - Smith])
Venezuela Venezuela
Later version

1967 or 1968

Spanish-language version of Big Time Operator by pioneering Venezualan rock band first together 1958/1959-1961, re-formed 1963. They worked in Spain and other parts of Europe from 1969, recorded an album in Chicago, and broke up in the early 70s.

El banquero [The Banker] appeared on their 1968 album Los Impala En Europa although I’ve seen the song dated as 1967.

The writer credits to “Edgar – Rudy” are probably to band members Edgar Alexander and Rudy Márquez (no mention of Colton – Smith).

Charlie Rich - Big Time Operator

(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
Later version

1966-67, released 1994

Recording for the Hi label, apparently unreleased until the 90s. Charlie Rich (1932-1995) started out playing jazz and blues, played rock’n’roll with Sun Records in the 50s, and by the 70s was a major country star. On his remarkable final album Pictures And Paintings (1992) he turned again to jazz and produced a masterpiece.

Further reading: Charlie Rich Sings the Songs of Hank Williams Plus The R&B Sessions (1994) at charlierich.com; and review of The Complete Charlie Rich on Hi Records (2000) at All Music.

Keith Hampshire - Big Time Operator (1973)

(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
Canada Canada
Later version
#11 Canada

Single on A&M (Canada) by British-born singer and disc jockey whose family migrated to Calgary, Alberta when he was a child. 

Listen at YouTube

Keith Hampshire (b.1945) worked in bands, TV and radio in Canada before joining British pirate station Caroline (as ‘Keefers’) 1966-67. He returned to Canada after the pirate era ended, and continued his career as a disc jockey, TV presenter, actor and singer. 

His biggest hit was with the Cat Stevens song The First Cut Is The Deepest (1973, #1 Canada).

Further reading: 1. Keith Hampshire at Pirate Radio Hall of Fame. 2. KeithHampshire.com 3. Wikipedia entry on Keith Hampshire. 4. Keith Hampshire filmography at IMDb.

Thanks to Darryl Tannock for version alert.

Leroi Brothers - Big Time Operator (1994)

(Houser - Miller)
Red herring


On 1994 album Check This Action.

Also recorded by Dead Milkmen.