Smokey is wild 70s leather rock cult hero John Condon.
In 1973, two wide-eyed young music fans made their way to Los Angeles and were introduced by a notoriously touchy-feely road manager for the Doors. They fell into a relationship that would produce five of the most criminally neglected singles of the decade, as well as a treasure trove of unreleased recordings.
John “Smokey” Condon was a bewitchingly beautiful Baltimore transplant, himself no angel after spending his teenage years partying with the John Waters crowd. EJ Emmons was a budding record producer from New Jersey, already starting to work in small studios around Hollywood.
Condon had marched in New York the night after the Stonewall Riots in 1969, and so by the time he and EJ created Smokey, they weren’t about to hold back. Released in 1974, first single Leather b/w Miss Ray wasn’t just openly gay, it was exultantly, unapologetically gay, examining front-on the newly-liberated leather and drag scenes thriving in America’s urban centres.
The single was shopped around to labels using Emmons’ industry contacts, but doors were regularly slammed on the duo. “We can’t put this out, it’s a fucking gay record, what’s the matter with you,” said one record exec, while adding “it’s really good though.”
So Smokey formed S&M Records, with a logo featuring a muscular arm encased in studded cuffs, and “S&M” tattooed on the bulging bicep. They went on to self- release five singles that span pre-punk, stoner jams, disco, synth-punk and more, all stamped with Smokey’s fearless candour.
1976 single and compilation title track How Far Will You Go...? features guitar from EJ’s studio buddy James Williamson, fresh from his adventures recording Raw Power with Iggy & the Stooges in London with David Bowie. Smokey even remem- bers a few mid-70s jams with Williamson, with a vague view towards replacing the rehab-bound Iggy as Stooges frontman!
The live band played almost weekly at Rodney Bingenheimer‘s English Disco, with a band featuring 14 year old future Quiet Riot-ers Randy Rhoads and Kelly Garni.