The O’Kaysions, Girl Watcher, 1968

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4 years ago

 

The Story Behind: The O’Kaysions, “Girl Watcher”

Each month in “The Story Behind,” I’ll look at the history of a well-known Top 40 hit based on interviews I’ve conducted with individuals who performed some of the most familiar pop hits of the 1960s and ’70s.

The O’Kaysions started in Wilson, North Carolina, in the ’60s as the Kays, though by 1968 Donnie Weaver, Wayne Pittman, Ron Turner, Jim Spiedel, Jimmy Hinnant, and Bruce Joyner had changed their name to the O’Kaysions because “in order to play in the clubs up north, you had to become a union member,” Pittman said. “You had to register your band’s name, and there was a DJ in New York named Murray the K, and we were told we couldn’t register our name because it was too similar to his. So we coined the name O’Kaysions so we could keep it close to that Kays identity we were known by in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia where we played, so people would still know who we were.”

Their first recording under the new name was “Girl Watcher,” the Pittman-penned tune they would record for the tiny NorthState label in 1968. According to Pittman, “We used to play down at Atlantic Beach a lot, and when we got back home people would say, ‘Did you meet any girls this weekend?’ I’d say, ‘I didn’t meet any, but I sure do like to watch them.’”

After his comment about liking to watch girls, one of the band members said, “‘Wayne, you’re the writer, why don’t you write a song called “I’m a Girl Watcher”?’” says Pittman. “What was funny was that about a month before I had written a tune and I hadn’t even thought about putting any words to it yet. But when he made that comment, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I said, ‘Okay, I will, I’ll go back and write it, and I’ll be back next week,’ and that’s exactly what I did.”

Pittman said he had the comment about girl watching to build on and the tune he had written, but the final piece of the puzzle was “this great-looking girl that ran by my house every afternoon after work, and I’d be at home, and she’d go by when I was writing.” With that inspiration, “I wrote the song in two nights that week.”

 

The catchy tune, which seemed to precisely mirror the thoughts and pastimes of many a young man, was played regionally almost nonstop, and it sold very well. Soon, the song came to the attention of ABC Records, which decided to pick up distribution. They decided to release it exactly as it had been recorded on NorthState, which led to a legendary story that someone at NorthState had lost the master tapes, so the ABC single had to be dubbed from the original 45.

Pittman says it isn’t true, and that “the ABC people flew down from New York, met the owners of NorthState, and took the tapes back. They had and still have the master tapes.” The song did well, going to #5 on the charts, and eventually, it reached gold-record status with one million sales by December 1968. An album followed, and the group seemed to be on their way.

The album actually had some good cuts on it, but unfortunately, it was uneven because “ABC wanted something quick and something fast, and we had to do the whole album in two days. It just wasn’t a good product.” Though “Love Machine” did chart at #76, nothing else the group recorded registered, and Pittman believes this may have been partly due to Atlanta promoter Bill Lowery.

“The NorthState people thought they had the right to sign us to any booking agency they wanted to,” he explains. “They signed us with Lowery without our knowledge, and he was supposed to book us, and this was even before ‘Girl Watcher’ charted. But Lowery just wasn’t booking us enough, and we canceled our agreement with him. We then signed with Associated Booking in New York City. Well, Lowery had a lot of power and contacts in the industry, and the word we got was that he put the kiss of death on us. So we promoted the record and made it a hit, but ABC wouldn’t put a lot of money behind us after that.”

Consequently, after a couple of little-heard singles on ABC and then a couple on Cotillion, by the early 1970s the group was done. Eventually, Pittman decided it was time to get out of the music business. “That period was the beginning of the psychedelic and acid rock scene, and ‘Girl Watcher’ had been an anomaly. Everywhere we played, the acid-rock groups would go on, with all the noise and distortion, and there were the drugs all around, and I just didn’t want to go in that direction. I knew I’d burn myself out if I stayed in it, so I just stopped performing.”

“I knew ‘Girl Watcher’ would be big on a long-term basis,” Pittman says, “because of the nature of the song. It was a happy song.” Indeed it is, and the timeless “Girl Watcher” is a song known to millions and always a crowd pleaser, even all these years later.

 


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