Big Time Operator
(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
Australia 1967
#6 Sydney #11 Melbourne #8 Brisbane #33 Adelaide #2 Perth

Known by some as "Jeff St John & The Id", the correct artist name is as above.

Soul-styled rock singer Jeff St John (born Jeffrey Newton in Sydney, 1946) 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.

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

Further reading: Jeff St John's current website.

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

Big Time Operator
(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
Germany 1967

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.

Big Time Operator
(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
USA 1966

From the 1966 album It's Only Love on Roulette label.

Big Time Operator
(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)

Recording on the Hi label. Possibly unreleased at the time, later on CD. 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.

Further reading: Charlie Rich biography at All Music Guide.

Big Time Operator
(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
UK 1966
Original version
#25 UK

Single on Columbia label, 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), Train Train

Tony Colton recorded under his own name and with Tony Colton & The Big Boss Band, the band that recorded the original of I Stand Accused (1965) [YouTube], a Colton-Smith composition covered by The Merseybeats (1965), and later recorded by Elvis Costello on Get Happy!! (1980).

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 3. Zoot Money's Big Roll Band at British Beat Boom. 4. [archived]. 5. Dantalion's Chariot post at Dr. Schluss' Garage Of Psychedelic Obscurities 6. [archived] 7. Mod R&B Super Group? (Shotgun Express), 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.

Later versions:

Big Time Operator
(Tony Colton - Ray Smith)
Canada 1973
Later version
#11 Canada

Single by British-born singer and disc jockey whose family migrated to Calgary, Alberta when he was a child. 

Keith Hampshire 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. 3. Wikipedia entry on Keith Hampshire. 4. Keith Hampshire filmography at IMDb.

Thanks to Darryl Tannock for version alert.

Big Time Operator
(Houser - Miller)
USA 1994
Red herring


On 1994 album Check This Action.

Also recorded by Dead Milkmen.

Corrections or comments? Contact the writer.