James Barry Keefer was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (He legally changed his name to Bazza Keefer in 1988, in memory of his mother.)
Keefer earned his first recording contract with Columbia Records,. His first single, 1966's "Caravan of Lonely Men," was credited to Keith and the Admirations. At one point, he also sang with The Wild Kingdom band.
Keith is best remembered for this song and another hit "98.6,” on the Mercury Records, which reached #24 in the UK Singles Chart in 1967. The single reached #7, and remained for 14 weeks in the bestsellers in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It sold over one million copies worldwide, earning a gold disc. His debut album, 98.6/Ain't Gonna Lie, was also issued on the Mercury label.
Here's how the popular records song came about, according to Keith:
"My acapella group Barry and the Bel-Airs was performing at a weekly Friday night Catholic school dance hosted by, at that time, radio DJ Kal Rudman. He liked our sound and hooked us up with a local successful record producer, Jerry Ross. We did a few songs on Capitol records that didn't do that well, at which time he suggested going solo and doing a song called "Ain't Gonna Lie". It was a Top 20 song and led to the follow-up single "98.6""
At the height of his career, Keefer was making $15,000 a week. A high point he had of his life was when he had his back slapped by a Beatle, who told him what a great record his "98.6" was. "John Lennon was standing next to me in a urinal in London," he said.
His elation didn't last long. His 1968 second Mercury LP, Out of Crank, failed to generate any interest.
The low point in Keefer's life came when United States Army officials arrested him for draft evasion in the middle of a concert tour. He was inducted and stationed for a year in New Jersey. "I was making coffee for generals," said Keefer.
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-----When he was discharged, Keith did some independent recording and joined Frank Zappa's 1974 touring band, trying to inject some Philadelphia soul into "toilet-joke" tunes like "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow.” "I think they brought me in to commercialize Frank," Keefer said. Soon after he recorded three singles for Zappa's DiscReet Records label.
Keefer recorded one last album, The Adventures of Keith for RCA Records, with no luck, and then left the music industry until 1986, when an attempted comeback under his real name proved unsuccessful.
He set up A.I.R. Records in 1986 in Redondo Beach, California, and produced albums for several local musicians.
These included the singer-songwriter Chuck Hill, and Keith's drummer Shawn Smith.
|The Wild Kingdom band in 2003 (Keith is 2nd from left)|
In the 1990s, the singer moved to the television industry, although he continues to play live dates and the oldies circuit and at times has reunited with this earlier musician friends.