The Classics IV: ‘Spooky,’ ‘Stormy’ & ‘Traces’ @50

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The Classics IV

They’re one of those bands that will never, ever get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but we bet you fondly recall their three Top 10 hits—all logged within a period of less than a year and a half—and wouldn’t turn them off if they came on the radio right now. They were called The Classics IV, and those soft-rock hits with the single-word titles—“Spooky,” “Stormy” and “Traces”—were, well, true classics of the late ’60s AM radio scene.

But who were the Classics IV, and what became of them?

Their best known member was the Detroit-born singer Dennis Yost. At age 7, Yost moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where he first played drums in a mid-’60s band called the Echoes, followed by a stint with Leroy and the Moments. Yost’s drumset was manufactured by Classic and the group, which played cover songs, changed its name first to the Classics before settling on Classics IV (another band had already trademarked the Classics).

Yost quickly established that his greater talent was not drumming but singing, and after being discovered by talent agent Paul Cochran, who co-managed the group with Buddy Buie (who would also produce their records), the band—which also included guitarists J. R. Cobb and Walter Eaton and keyboardist Joe Wilson—relocated to Atlanta and signed a recording deal with Capitol Records. Their first single release, “Pollyanna” (written by Joe South), just missed the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1966, despite a promotional appearance on Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is! TV program and, for the better part of the next year, the Classics IV languished.

Watch the Classics IV perform “Spooky” on the Upbeat show

But by late 1967, newly signed to Imperial Records, things began to look up. The Classics IV cut “Spooky,” originally a jazzy, saxophone-based instrumental written by Mike Shapiro (who had a #57 hit with it in 1967 under the name Mike Sharpe) and Harry Middlebrooks Jr. Cobb and Buie added the lyrics (beginning with the memorable if awkward line “In the cool of the evening when everything is getting kind of groovy, I call you up and ask you if you want to go and meet and see a movie”) to the bare bones of the tune.

The midtempo number featured an eerie whistling sound that gave it some distinction and, with Yost’s gutsy vocal and its coolly swaying beat the record catapulted to #3 in February 1968. With Yost now firmly established as the band’s frontman, the group added drummer Kim Venable on drums, while also replacing Wilson with keyboardist Dean Daughtry, formerly of Roy Orbison’s backing band the Candymen.

A followup single called “Soul Train” basically bombed but in the fall of 1968, now calling themselves Classics IV featuring Dennis Yost, they cut “Stormy,” written by Yost, Cobb and Buie, and returned to the top 10, settling at #5. Similar in style and tempo to “Spooky,” this song too had a bit of a melancholy feel to it and has found favor over the years with several other artists, including Santana, whose own cover in 1978 reached #32.

There would be just one more major hit for the Classics IV, “Traces,” even moodier than the first two Top 10s—and even more successful. Credited to Buie, Cobb and Emory Gordy Jr., the recording, which made use of a string section and oboe, went all the way to #2 in early 1969, and was later covered by the vocal group the Lettermen, jazz great Harry James and soul singer Billy Paul, proving its adaptability to various formats.

Related: What were the other big radio hits of 1968?

Those three songs are, quite likely, the only ones you know by the Classics IV. But they were far from finished. There was another top 20 hit in the spring of ’69, “Everyday With You Girl,” followed by no fewer than eight further chart singles all the way into 1975, on Imperial, Liberty and MGM South Records (all of those latter sides as Dennis Yost and the Classics IV although there were several personnel changes along the way).

Watch the band perform “Traces”

The Classics IV also placed four albums on the charts: Spooky (1968), Mamas and Papas/Soul Train (1969), Traces (1969) and Dennis Yost & the Classics IV/Golden Greats-Volume 1 (1969-70).

But as they say in the commercials, wait, there’s more! After the split, Yost launched a solo career. He didn’t fare well as a recording artist but continued to draw crowds for years, singing the old hits. Meanwhile, a couple of his old bandmates hit paydirt with a completely different sound: In 1971, Daughtry and Cobb split off from the group and joined with Rodney Justo (singer), Barry Bailey (guitar), Paul Goddard (bass) and Robert Nix (drums) to form the Atlanta Rhythm Section. (Justo and Nix, like Daughtry, had backed Roy Orbison.) Managing and producing ARS: Buddy Buie, the same fellow who had helped bring the Classics IV to the top of the charts.

It took several years, but finally, in 1977, ARS scored their first top 10 single with the #7 “So In To You,” followed by the #7 “Imaginary Lover” the next year. No fewer than 11 albums by the Atlanta Rhythm Section charted, including the platinum-selling Champagne Jam in 1978, although the lineup underwent several changes over the years (Daughtry remains involved today).

Although there is also still a working lineup of the Classics IV, tragedy arrived in 2006 when Yost fell down a flight of stairs and suffered brain trauma. A benefit concert was held the following year to raise money for his medical expenses, featuring hitmakers from the Moody Blues, the Turtles, Three Dog Night and other bands. However, on Dec. 7, 2008, Dennis Yost passed away at the age of 65, due to respiratory failure. The date marked exactly 40 years since the ascension of “Stormy” into the top 10.

Watch the Classics IV perform “Stormy”

Bonus video: Listen to the original instrumental version of “Spooky” by Mike Sharpe

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Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been a prolific music journalist for more than four decades. He is formerly the editor of Goldmine, CMJ andRelix magazines, has written for dozens of other publications and has authored liner notes for more than 80 CDs. Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. His first book was 'Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.' He is also the co-author of 'Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.,' with Howard Kaylan.
Jeff Tamarkin
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  1. Dan
    #1 Dan 4 January, 2018, 15:14

    Always curious to read about two or three hit wonders and where are they now. The Classics IV seem to have been successful at making a living making music after the top forty hits stopped coming. Aside from Mr. Yost’s untimely passing, a great story.

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