Author’s note

I’m serializing the first 10% of Smokin’ & Cryin’ here on my blog. It’s the story of a young American rock band set in the early 1970s. Please feel free to share this with your friends.

Overture is the first installment.


On October 4, 1972, Cobalt Records, Inc. released Smokin’ & Cryin’, the second studio effort by Smoky Topaz. The double album needed no promotion from the label. It saturated radio airwaves and flew off record store shelves across the USA, Canada, and Europe throughout the remainder of 1972 and all of 1973. It would cling to the Billboard 200 album chart for two decades.

The band, a phenomenal live act that sold out shows at increas­ingly larger venues throughout their brief career, never toured in support of the album.

Snatches of tense conversations fell between the tracks of this superb collection of unforgettable rock riffs and bluesy ballads. Cap­tured by microphones hidden in the antebellum mansion where Smoky Topaz recorded the album, the candid snippets hinted at the group’s complex interpersonal relationships and frustrations with the label.

Under normal circumstances, this may have piqued some curios­ity. But six weeks before the album’s release, lead vocalist Robin Chelsea had gone missing in the Atlantic Ocean. Ten days after the release, authorities declared him legally dead.

The circumstances surrounding his death remained shrouded in mystery. His body was never recovered. He was four months shy of his 18th birthday. The Chelsea family buried his beloved 1961 Les Paul Custom at Elm Lawn Cemetery in their hometown of Bay City, Michigan.

More than four decades later, the real story behind the mysterious Smokin’ & Cryin’ can finally be told. This is possible thanks to the Holtzapple family, Perry and Jesse Stoddard, Daniel Waverly, Leonard K. Janes, The Odette Foundation, Davy Veers, and the 18th Judicial Circuit Court. Several media outlets allowed the use of their articles, interviews, reviews, and transcripts to round out the story.

This tale would not exist without the generous spirit of Kimberly Dill-Skinner, who shared Robin’s handwritten memoirs, as well as recollections of her own. Her involvement was vital to producing an accurate recounting of the stunning rise and fall of Smoky Topaz.

Most importantly, she encouraged bold poetic license in crafting the narrative from Robin’s point of view.


Read the second installment of Smokin’ & Cryin’!

Want it all now?

Smokin’ & Cryin’ is available in print through (where your purchase supports local bookstores), and Barnes & Noble.

Kindle or eBook editions can be downloaded at these fine purveyors of books.


Spotify playlist for Smokin’ & Cryin’


Featured photo by Gabriel Barletta on Unsplash