Clarence Pinckney

The Man and His Music

By Will James

Updated: April 20, 2008 

     In case you've just tuned in, it's time to set the record straight in the arena of retro-to-contemporary music artists.  There has been a major sighting on the missing musicians map, and it has been determined that a blast from the past is actually a powerhouse in the present; and miss him we have.  His name is Clarence Pinckney, and just 'Pinky' to his friends and fans.  Pinky is the man.the man who puts great stock in the old adage, 'variety is the spice of life'.  With this in mind, Pinky is one of the spiciest musicians on the planet. 

     Pinky originated the soul/funk/R&B/jazz band Tickled Pink; a dynamic dance/show group that thrilled audiences during the 1970's in the United States and Canada.  It should be noted that Pinky has not returned to the music scene.  He hasn't returned because he never left.  His remarkable and epic music and entertainment career has spanned more than 45 years and is still running hot, straight, and always on target. 

     Born in Glensville, Georgia, Pinky's introduction to music originated at the United House of Prayer for All People Church where he played in his church marching band, The Grace Silver Leaf Band, and for the shout band, The Seven Blowing Angels.  Pinky attended early high school in Savannah, Georgia before moving to New York City.  At age 18, Pinky was booked into his first engagement as a professional musician in 1960 at legendary Madison Square Garden, as lead trumpet player for The Ross Elliott Quartet, which opened for The Count Basie Band

     Pinky continued to develop and refine his musical skills throughout the early 1960's and enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1962.  Pinky's honorable discharge in 1968 from the USAF concluded an exemplary service career.  During this six-year stint in military service, Pinky served at Carswell Air Force Base in Forth Worth, Texas, then assigned TDY in Guam, before completing his service tour at McCord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington.  He received numerous awards and commendations for his excellence as a Crew Chief, servicing and maintaining the first Boeing B-52 heavy bombers used during the Viet Nam war.  Retiring from military service allowed Pinky the freedom to pursue his primary passion . . . creating and composing music.

     In 1969 Pinky formed the group The Mint Juleps, teaming with drummer and promotional whiz Gil Ray, and sensational vocalist/organist Marge Gregory in the Tacoma/Seattle area.  The group drew regional notoriety when its newly-recorded single, 'Interstate 5 Blues', received substantial radio air play while the group was performing at the Medford Hotel in Oregon.  Pinky, Gil, and Marge continued to delight audiences in the Pacific Northwest into 1970. 

     That same year Pinky originated Pinky and the Topics.  As drummer and horn specialist, Pinky's captivating presence was complemented by organist Kenny Trebillcock, guitarist Mike Smith, and vocalist Vicki Teller.  Soon afterward, Merlin Bell replaced Trebillcock on keyboard.     

Pinky Was Driving Force behind 'Tickled Pink' 

     By 1971 The Topics had moved in different directions and Pinky assembled a sharp and talented trio comprised of organist Billy Haddon from Cleveland, Ohio, drummer Mark Breeze from Spokane, Washington, and Pinky on alto and trumpet.  This trio became the inaugural version of Tickled Pink; a name that has left a lasting legacy with several American music formats. 

     A year later, Pinky wrote and arranged the single, 'Reach Out', and recorded the song at Phil York's studio in Dallas, Texas.  Little did he know at the time, Pinky had struck gold in 'Reach Out,' when the red hot single became a standard highlight on radio station play lists across the country.  'Reach Out' also became a Golden Oldies retro hit that has been widely marketed by more than a dozen commercial music distributors for the past fifteen years.  After recording 'Reach Out', Pinky took his band outside the Continental U.S. to the 50th state in the union.  Steady first-class bookings punctuated Tickled Pink's 1972 Alaska tour, which reached a crescendo of success after captivating audiences for weeks in the prestigious Top of the World Club at the Anchorage Westward Hotel

     In 1973 Pinky recruited a brilliant guitarist, Larry Marshall, from Coatesville, Pennsylvania, while Fred Taylor from Seattle, Washington took over on drums. To further enhance the attraction, diversity, and marketability of Tickled Pink, Pinky began his search early in 1974 for an elite female vocalist for the group.  With help from the hand of fate, Pinky was in the right place at the right time when he re-discovered fellow native New Yorker and former Morris High School classmate Joyce Diamond. Whether is was sheer luck, or actual fate, or somehow just meant to be, Pinky spotted Diamond while she was performing at the Evergreen Inn in Olympia, Washington as the featured vocalist for the Las Vegas style show band, Firelight

     Pinky pulled off the recruiting coup of that era when he signed the lovely and enchanting Diamond, a former member of the 1960's all-female vocal groups, The Chantels and The Chiffons, and sharing the front stage to create an explosive and spellbinding front line for the band.  Shortly afterward, Pinky's brother Jerome joined the band as percussionist, and Audie Wong replaced Taylor as the group's lead drummer.  Regardless of the change of drummers in the band, Pinky continued to take his regular turns on the drummer's stool.  During this period, Pinky wrote, arranged, and produced another hot single for Tickled Pink, 'Do What Ya Wanna'. 

     With this exciting lineup, Tickled Pink embarked on a Canadian tour that thrilled audiences at some of the top nightclubs in Vancouver, British Columbia, including the famous Baceda's, and the Kego Club in Gastown.  When the tour resumed, the band played before capacity crowds in the Sky Room at the CPR Hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and in the Expressway Lounge at the Landmark Hotel in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  

     When Tickled Pink returned stateside, it christened the lavish new Keystone Inn Ski Resort in Dillon, Colorado, with a rousing inaugural engagement.  Immediately following the conclusion of that electrifying four-week debut at the Retreat Lounge, the Keystone management - in the finest tradition of 'Held Over by Popular Demand' - offered Tickled Pink a new contract making a return engagement unnecessary.  Pinky officially signed the agreement to secure an extended engagement at the resort.  Following the deep snow and frozen fields of Colorado, Tickled Pink then played a return engagement at the elegant Spokane House in Washington to complete a highly celebrated sojourn, and eventful musical odyssey across the Pacific Northwest and Northern Canada.       

     In 1976 Tickled Pink shifted personnel again.  With Pinky spending more time on drums and still blowing alto and trumpet, he and Joyce Diamond were now backed up by keyboard specialist Allan Monroe and veteran bassist Bob Noreen.  This dynamite quartet electrified audiences in top clubs from Kansas City, Missouri to Seattle, Washington where they compiled another masterful live recording in the Tradewinds Resort at Ocean Shores in 1977.  

Go East, Young Man

     After Tickled Pink disbanded in 1979, Pinky took a one-year hiatus from the road before packing up his instruments and taking his act to the high seas.  In 1981 Pinky provided headline music and entertainment aboard the S.S. Rotterdam of the Holland America Cruise Lines departing from Vancouver, British Columbia.  Pinky's seaboard entertainment circuit covered the regular Alaska loop, and included the prestigious 22-day/15-port Trans Canal Cruise

     From Vancouver B.C., the S.S. Rotterdam's destinations featured several ports in Alaska before cruising down to San Francisco for a short layover in the City by the Bay.  From there, the cruise traversed through six Latin American ports, then a stop in Miami, Florida before concluding the cruise at its final port of call in New York.  One of Pinky's major highlights on the Trans Canal Cruise was having the opportunity to work with elite vocalist Buddy Greco ('Around the World') and his fabulous show band. 

     Pinky then headed to the Orient, and for the better part of the 1980's and the early '90's Pinky delighted international audiences in the Far East. Pinky's Asian tour began at the Seaside Inn in Imabari, Japan, where he played sellout engagements with Cinnamon Roll, comprised of bassist Nick Bradshaw, guitarist/pianist Adam Rohrlic, drummer Donnie Baugh, and vocalist Wendy Wiggins.  Pinky's next stop was Matsiyama, Japan before playing the top clubs in Tokyo and Osaka, including the Crest Club and Kento Club, along with a special guest appearance in Kobe. 

     During the 1980's, Pinky continued to incorporate more diversity into his entertainment credits with special and significant achievements.  Pinky received his radio broadcast license from the FCC in 1980, and helped set another entertainment standard in June of 1981 when he produced the first live recording in the Red Barrel Lounge at the Hotel Vancouver with CJAZ; Canada's only jazz radio station at that time. 

     Pinky was a finalist in the national impressionist competition for the Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong Award in 1986 at the Debbie Reynolds Studio in Hollywood.  In 1988 Pinky was honored as a guest entertainer for Jesse Jackson at the Democratic National Presidential Convention at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia.  For that occasion, Pinky wrote, arranged, and produced a special recording for Mr. Jackson -- 'The Peaceful Way', a.k.a. ('The Ballad of the Rev. Jesse Jackson').

     In 1990, Pinky headlined a special music film production at California State University in Fresno, California, and provided the theme song for the regular weekly television series, The Mary Parker Show.  Later that same year, Pinky provided another sound track, this time for the feature film, 'Long Goodbyes', filmed on Vancouver Island.  In 1991 Pinky recorded his first CD album, 'Yokohama Mama'.  The following year he received solid acting reviews for his superb character portrayal of a New York City cab driver in the feature film, 'Hotel Woman'.

     Pinky took time out from his Asian entertainment network in 1996 and returned to the high seas aboard The Fun Ship, Celebration, for Carnival Cruise Lines out of Tampa, Florida and New Orleans, Louisiana.  As a result of his soaring popularity while entertaining guests aboard ship on the popular Concert Dance Cruises, Pinky met fellow musician and band leader Buddy Verde who invited Pinky to join him for extensive airtime on his popular jazz radio show in Lakeland, Florida.

     Now, more than 25 years after Tickled Pink disbanded, Pinky still delights audiences, playing club gigs in New York on a regular basis.  Just as he did while leader of Tickled Pink, Pinky continues to demonstrate his signature style and customary trademarks of high energy and smooth repertoire in his live club performances.  These attributes are nothing new to those who knew and followed Pinky's early music career.  His fans from back-in-the-day however, may not be aware that Pinky has a beefed up presentation that includes a new music dimension and special flavor that has been drawing raves from his audiences for the past fifteen years. 

     Unknown to most Tickled Pink fans from earlier decades, Pinky has added his own extraordinary keyboard presence to complement his aficionado alto and trumpet work.  As a result of this added capability, Pinky's repertoire now includes songs from virtually every music classification.  This versatility has allowed Pinky to showcase his diverse musical and entertainment talents as a one-man band and entertainer extraordinaire in his club engagements.  Pinky's current show-stopping act includes a new array of original music, bridged by songs from the earlier Tickled Pink material.  His keyboard mastery has enabled Pinky to become a proficient studio engineer and to produce his own CD albums. 

New Millennium, New Music

     Pinky's 21st century music revue just happens to coincide with the recent emergence of a strong attraction to, and demand for his early song, 'Reach Out', which has been a hot single for more than 15 years.  Originally recorded in 1972 - this hit single has attracted a strong old-school following that has pushed the Tickled Pink notoriety to the forefront.  More than 20 websites that feature 'Reach Out' are either directly connected to soul/funk/R&B music suppliers, linked to radio stations that feature 'Reach Out' on their play lists, or to commercial companies that sell 'Reach Out' on CD compilation albums of old school artists and oldies type hit songs from the 1970's. 

     During his storied career, Pinky has worked with, and shared the stage with a platoon of famous music superstars covering the status spectrum ranging from famous to legendary.  Alphabetically speaking, some of these heavyweight names should strike a chord of recognition beginning with Cannonball Adderley, and continuing with Count Basie, Chubby Checker, and Billy Eckstein.  The list continues with The Ross Elliott Quartet, Leslie Gore, the Ink Spots, Rex Middleton's Sound Solution, The Miracles, The Platters, and the Ike and Tina Turner Review

     During his engagements in hot spots across the country, Pinky played on the same bill with several headline celebrity comedy entertainers including Marty Allen, Morey Amsterdam, Pete Barbutti, Phyllis Diller, George Gobel, J.P. Morgan, and Vincent Price.  Yes, Pinky has indeed been among a fair share of big-time celebrity headliners.

     It would be a gross understatement to say that Pinky was well into the music mix in those days.  He was the mix!  These days, it is accurate to say that Pinky, though he no longer travels the globe, is presently active in the current music mix, both with studio recording sessions of his latest material, and with live club appearances on the East Coast. 

     Early in 2007 Pinky produced a fresh CD album.  It features his incredibly smooth alto work in some hot new instrumentals, blended with some of his older material that had not been previously recorded.  As a result, Pinky and his music remain in high demand. 

     This is evident in a recent report from Senior Executive Eothen Alapatt of Stones Throw Records.  Alapatt says the 1971 hit, 'Reach Out' that Pinky recorded with Tickled Pink in Dallas, Texas, is now considered a retro classic that is in high demand.  The most recent raves in this regard have come from nationally-recognized Jazzman Records, which purchased one of the limited remaining copies of 'Reach Out' to re-release on its Texas Funk distribution label. 

     While maintaining his club gigs in New York, Pinky has extended his geographical reach.  Since January 2008, he's been a popular fixture in the Tap Room of the elegant Somerset Hills Hotel in New Jersey.  To the constant delight of large audiences, Pinky is regularly serving a menu of his new wave numbers and old school tunes. 

     Pinky will soon commence production of a unique new theatrical comedy/drama stage routine that he intends to present later this year.  Pinky has also begun outlining the basis of his autobiography.  Its content will account for a remarkable story, which will contain the strength and power of a dynamite best seller.  

     There's lots more to come in Pinky's amazing saga, so stay tuned for updates and related developments in Pinky's entertainment schedule and for new music creations here on his website, mrtickledpink.com.  As Pinky says, "It's been a great ride, and the journey is not yet over".  In a certain sense, Pinky's journey has just begun.  So, I suggest that you secure your passport to paradise and climb aboard Pinky's Entertainment Express.  It is guaranteed to be a unique and unforgettable experience.  Enjoy the ride.