Revised February, 2015Carl Baron (Colin Smith) lead vocal (left in 1963)
This West Midlands group were one of the five to be signed up by Columbia Records producer Norrie Paramor at the famous Moathouse Club auditions in 1963. They were previously known as The Eko's, a group originally put together in Longbridge by the brothers Nigel and Rodney Wright.
The Eko's had formed in 1961 with the line-up also including bass guitarist Roy Austin who later left to join the soon-to-be-famous Brum group The Rockin' Berries over in Germany. After lead vocalist Bobby Ash also left the Eko's in 1963, the remaining group members enlisted singer Carl Baron from Jimmy Powell's old group The Detours to be the group's new front-man.
Carl Baron (real name Colin Smith) was previously the singer for 'The Dominettes' (later re-named The Uglys) and his place in that group was taken by a young Steve Gibbons. Bobby Ash meanwhile, joined Denny Laine and The Diplomats for a short time before being offered the job of singer for the Plazents, a group that would later be signed to a record deal by the Decca Records label and change their name to the Brumbeats.
As well as getting their new singer, the Eko's decided that a new image for the group was required to make them stand out from all the other groups so they hit on the idea to have stage outfits made from a leopard-print material. This new appearance on stage certainly got them noticed and soon after, a name change was decided upon to go along with the new visual image. In this way they became 'Carl Baron and The Cheetahs'.
It wasn't long before Carl Baron and The Cheetahs were finding bookings all over Birmingham. Their popularity grew to a point that they were able to make an appearance on the popular BBC television show For Teenagers Only. The groups' big chance for fame came in June of 1963 when they were auditioned and signed by Cliff Richard and The Shadows producer Norrie Paramor to a Columbia Records recording contract.
The first Carl Baron and The Cheetahs record release was a single in January 1964 with the A-side comprising a heavily orchestrated Bob Baratt composition entitled 'Only The Beginning'. Apparently, Carl Baron was the only group member appearing on this recording to supply his lead vocal. The Cheetahs did however get to play on the B-side titled 'Beg Borrow Or Steal' attributed to 'Carl and The Cheetahs' (this single is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Carl Wayne of the Vikings).
Despite the recording contract, the Cheetahs front-man Carl Baron unexpectedly left the country to live in South Africa, soon after the release of the single. With their future now in doubt The Cheetahs were unceremoniously dropped from their EMI/Columbia contract but undaunted, the Cheetahs decided to carry on with Ray Bridger recruited as the group's new vocalist. The suitably abbreviated Cheetahs - still sporting their leopard print outfits then managed to attract the attention of the Phillips Records label who fortunately saw the potential of the group and signed them to a contract in 1964. Note: Carl Baron (Colin Smith) died in Johannesburg years later at the age of only 48.
The first record release from the new line-up of the Cheetahs was a Gene Pitney cover entitled 'Mecca' that managed to gain a No. 36 chart placing in October of 1964. The next single release 'Soldier Boy', also managed a chart placing, but subsequent records including 'Whole Lotta Love' (which was an original composition by the group), were to have little impact on the charts. Bookings over in Germany at the famous 'Star Club' and other venues were to keep the band busy for the next few years but the Cheetahs had retired their act along with the leopard-print suits for good before the end of the 1960's.
Nigel Wright went on to play guitar in the well-known Brum cabaret band Sight and Sound. Cheetahs drummer Euan Rose remained involved in the music business and has recently collaborated with well known Brummie personality and Brum Rocked! author Laurie Hornsby in writing the music for and staging the theatrical production Wallop Mrs. Cox which has been performed successfully in Birmingham.
(highest UK chart position in brackets)