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the Black Watch

Cincinnati, 1966-9

The Black Watch was a hot band in Cincinnati for two to three years. The band was originally a four piece, including John Gilsinger (bass), Doug Hawley (guitar), Rich McCauley (keyboards), and Jay Sheridan (drums). All members sang. Most of the band members had been in other bands before the Black Watch, and were 18-20 years old. Johnny Schott - "I joined as lead singer because Doug had left for school and Jay Sheridan, who was the bandleader, felt he needed to have 4 people on stage to fulfill his contracts and he felt that, because of my regular MCing of teen dances, I would bring some extra people to the gigs. The next summer, after it became clear that Hawley would not be available again, I agreed to go on tour with the Heywoods in part to cement a relationship with guitarist and vocalist Jimmy “Mac” McClellan and bring him back to The Black Watch. He was just what they needed. That occurred shortly after the tour." The band played primarily in the local college bars such as the Black Dome and the Roundtable.

After gaining a strong local reputation, the band traveled to New York to try to record some demos. They had a friend in Ralph Moss, an engineer for Juggy Murray Sound Studio in NYC. Ralph had met Johnny when he played “Tony” at a Cincy school production of "West Side Story", after which Ralph had moved to New York to enter the RCA Technical Institute and been trained in studio engineering. (He later when on to engineer and produce at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, and produced groups like King Curtis, Blood Sweat & Tears, and many, many others.)

The band recorded 7 songs at Juggy's 69th St. studio, for free, with the understanding that Juggy would have first right of refusal for the songs. Juggy was interested and offered a deal, which the band asked for 48 hours to consider. After determining that Juggy's operation was not the most solid, they passed. Johnny stayed in NYC to push the band, while the rest of the group returned home. He met with Jay and the American's production company who made them an offer. The band decided to turn that down. Johnny Schott - "Later, I met with Tony Orlando, who wanted to sign me but insisted I leave the band. I refused. At that time he was a vice-president of April-Blackwood, Columbia Records’ publishing arm. He set up a performance for us at the Peppermint Lounge so that he could hear the band. He again refused to take them. When I still refused to leave the group, he invited them to his office. He took the time to tell them what he had offered me and that I had refused, just to let them know. He was a good man."

The Black Watch had other opportunities at a record deal. Bob Epsteen, a friend of Johnny’s, suggested they go to New York to contact Paul Marshall, who was one of top attorneys in the music business. Marshall's clients included the Beatles' North American enterprises. It happened that Bob’s sister Lynn Epsteen was good friends with Marshall’s wife. Johnny performed solo at a private party hosted by Lynn Epsteen to which Mrs. Marshall had been invited. The meeting with Mr. Marshall had been set for the next morning.

Johnny was ushered into Marshall’s massive office on 57th St. and took a seat across the desk from him. The two men looked each other in the eye for several minutes without speaking. Then, as Johnny recollected, the conversation went something like this:
PM: Why are you here?
JS: I heard you're one of the most powerful people in the music business and, given the opportunity to meet you, I thought I ought to take it.
PM: Good answer. How's the band?
JS: They’re very good
PM: PM: Are they just messing around or are they serious?
JS: They’re very good.
PM: How good are you?
JS: You'd have to go some
PM: I’ll take the band.
JS: You don’t need to hear the group?
PM: You come highly recommended. My wife heard you at Lynn Epsteen’s party last night.
Marshall then picks up the phone and has his secretary call Ahmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic Records. Ertegun is out, but Marshall leaves a message saying that "I have someone in my office it would be in your best interest to meet." Within five minutes, Mr. Ertegun has returned the call and set an appointment for 10AM the next day. Johnny Schott visits with Ertegun, plays the record and is asked to leave the acetate overnight for further consideration. However, having only one copy and other appointments (including one with Ellie Greenwich, also arranged by Paul Marshall), Johnny says, “I’m sorry, sir, I have other appointments.”

The Black Watch had three deals with major labels under consideration, but John Gilsinger, the primary writer of the band, decided he had enough, and the Black Watch disbanded. Johnny decided not to pursue the option of a solo career in New York at that time, in spite of the repeated requests. Shortly after, Johnny returned to NYC and met again with Tony Orlando. Orlando invited him to see a vocal track cut, which Tony sang in total darkness, with only Johnny and the engineer present. At the time, Orlando had recorded an LP of music under the pseudonym of Wind and had released a 45 called "Make Believe" that was starting to break. Since Orlando was uncomfortable performing publicly and had obligations as VP of April-Blackwood, he and Johnny discussed a deal where the Black Watch would re-form and go out on the road to act as Wind. They even went as far as shooting a cover showing a picture including Johnny against an outdoor, 'windy' background, and having the LP cover listing the Black Watch members by name. In the end, the record was not successful enough to justify a tour.

The Black Watch members attempted to regroup as Ark, without Johnny, but that was short lived. Jay Sheridan, who was the 'heart' of the band and whose father had provided much of the initial money to get the band going, became a carpenter before moving West to pursue a career in electronics and software. “Mac” McClellan played in several other good local bands over a number of years, as did John Gilsinger, to somewhat more limited success. Rich McCauley ended up on the west coast. Johnny Schott started hosting open mic nights at the New Dillys Pub in early 1970, a gig that started 30 years of hosting open mike nights. Johnny Schott - "I was at New Dilly's for only a year, but I continued to host open mics for over 30 years. In addition, I performed with a number of other bands in the area (Tony & The Bandits, Thrust, Archetype, Body English, The Johnny Schott Band, and the acoustic vocal group Mama's Boys). I also sang jazz vocals with the John Keene Trio and standards with the Pete Wagner Orchestra on occasion, in addition to doing acoustic solo work. Since the mid 90s, I have been a full-time event producer and my company, Johnny Schott Talent & Events, Inc., has a client list that includes Cincinnati Parks, The Cincinnati Reds, The Cincinnati Museum Center, The Belterra Casino, The Argosy Casino, The MainStrasse Village (Covington), The Beach Waterpark, Sycamore Township, Springfield Township, Miami Township, Spring Grove Cemetery, Deer Park, Madeira, Amelia, Wyoming, Williamsburg, The Deerfield Towne Center, and many more. I have produced more free-to-the-public musical events than any other person or company in the history of the area, by a considerable margin. The total number is now substantially over a thousand." For more information, check out his web site at www.johnnyschott.com