James Shott wrote to me about a group he was in during the late ’60s, Adrian’s Sensations, or Sinsations. James wrote:
I played in a band called either Adrian’s SInsations, or Adrian and the SINsations (it was called both by audiences) in the Hampton/Newport News/Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. People knew me as “Smokey.”
The SINsations was a very good band, and played a good bit at the Peppermint Beach Club, filling in for Bill Deal and the Rhondells when they were gone.
Adrian Brandt played keyboards, Wayne Beckner played guitar, Joe Smith played drums, Jean Lynch sang, Jim Williamson and I played trumpet, Mike Minguez and Tom Gallucci played tenor sax, Dickie Dawes and David Champagne played trombone (at different times), Curly (can’t remember last name) played bass for a while and then another bass player, too.
The band was quite good. We played soul, but also the top tunes of the day. Somewhat like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago and Tower of Power, the Sinsations employed elements of jazz into the arrangements.
We spent a good bit of time in Virginia Beach at the Peppermint Beach Club, and played in clubs in Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News and Norfolk, and also played military bases. The horn players were music majors in college, and the rhythm section was mostly self taught, but quite good. Jean Lynch was a very thin girl with a big voice; sounded like Aretha Franklin.
I was in the band from either late 67 or early 68 until I was separated from the USAF (Jim Williamson, David Champagne also in AF, Mike Minguez in Army). I believe the group continued to work for a while after that, but lost contact with the guys.
I’d like to get some feedback from other members and anyone who heard/saw the group.
D’Arcy Studios was started by Warren Miller, who had cut “Everybody’s Got a Baby But Me” / “Say You’ll Be True” for United Artists in 1958. In 1964 Miller had a label called D’Arcy with two country releases, one each by Charlie Wiggs and Jesse Travers.
In 1966 Miller started D’Arcy Sound Studios in Norfolk, and Sounds International seems to have been the house label for the studio.
About half the label’s releases were soul, of which the Sheepherders is most in demand. The Nite Liters and Del-Notes are good blue eyed soul.
The Rude Awakening is garage, the Outcasts single is heavy organ-based rock. The Common Wealth has been described as folky rock. The Holmes Brothers singles are country.
In 1968 Miller started using a new label, Nottingham Disc Co., which continued the last two digits of the numbering system (for example, changing from Sounds International 640, 641, 642 to 849, 850, 851 for Nottingham Disc Co). Nottingham 853 and 854 read “D’Arcy Studio Center” on the labels instead of “D’Arcy Sound Studios”.
The Journey Back’s single on Nottingham Disc is much sought after, and New Directions “Springtime Lady” is also very good. I haven’t heard the Russ Spooner or Mark III singles yet.
Around 1970 Miller changed the name of the studio to simply Studio Center and began a new five-digit numbering system beginning with “50”. He revived the Sounds International label for at least two releases in a 70s rural rock style.
Twenty Grand Music BMI published all original songs on Sounds International and Nottingham Disc Co.
Sounds International and Nottingham Disc Co. discography: Any help with this discography would be appreciated.
Sounds International 631 – Nite Liters – “Set Me Free” / “Harlem Shuffle” Sounds International 633 – Gentle-Men – “Only Love” (Wilson) / “Old McDonald” Sounds International 634 – Rude Awakening – “Certain Girl” / “Fortune Teller” Sounds International 635 – ? Sounds International SI-636 – The Del-Notes – “I Love You” b/w “I Wish I Was Home” Sounds International SI-637 – ? Sounds International SI-638 – The Sheepherders with Bubba Bailey – “If You Ever Need Me” (Jones, Lowder, O’Sullivan) / “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” Sounds International SI-639 – The Outcasts – “While I’m Here” / “Spell” (J.G. Heisler, Twenty Grand Music BMI) Sounds International SI 640 – Elsie Strong “This is the Last Time” (Gene Casey) / “Ask the Lonely” (William Stevenson, Jobete BMI) Sounds International SI 641 – Holmes Brothers – “September Love” / “Splendor of Love” Sounds International SI 642 – Pop Tops featuring Roy Hines – “I Want to Make It With You” (Hines, Weaver, Leibman, Esenberg, Barthlow) / “I Can Live” Sounds International SI 643 – ? Sounds International SI 644 – Holmes Brothers – “Searching Eyes” / “It’s a Big Big World”
Nottingham Disc Co. 848 – Russ Spooner with the Sheep Herders – “We Got That” (Bobby Moore) / “The Truth” Nottingham Disc Co. 849 – The Journey Back – “Synthetic People” / “Run Away Baby” (L. Burnell, B. Sutton publ. Twenty Grand Music BMI) Nottingham Disc Co. 850 – New Directions – “Springtime Lady” (L.H. Jones, publ. Twenty Grand Music BMI) / “Swlabr” (arranged by Chip Golden III) Nottingham Disc Co. 851 – The Machine – “Hey Grandma” / “Roll With It” (S. Miller) Nottingham Disc Co. 852 – George and Judy – “That’s No Way to Ask You” / “Looking For Me” (1969) Nottingham Disc Co. 853 – Mark III “Gigolo” / “39-21-46” (Norman Johnson) Nottingham Disc Co. 854 – Plague – “Brighter Side” (T. Charauros, J. Burcham) / “Cherry Road” Nottingham Disc Co. 855 – George and Judy – “Pocketful of Promises” / “Love Is the Key”
The following releases have a different numbering system and credit “A Product of Sound Center, Norfolk, Va.” on the labels:
Nottingham Disc Co. 50104 – New Directions – “Lalena” / “Them Changes” (1970, Capitol custom matrix #s ZB-737/8) Sounds International 50120 – Franklin Freight Train – “Full on the Hill” / “Loving What You Can” (Seale-Leighton-Mahl-Seale) Sounds International 50166 – Common Wealth – “Circles” (Carl Brody) / “It’s Over” (Phil Liebman)
Thank you to Matt Beck for his videos of the Plague 45 on Youtube, and to Max Waller for his contributions to the discography.
The Del Notes came from Newport News, Virginia. Danny O’Brien attended Newport News High School and formed the group at school.
Early members included:
Danny O’Brien – vocals and keyboards Tom Clark – guitar Earl Howard – guitar and vocals Ronny Methany (also written as Ronnie Matheny) – bass guitar Dickey Moore – drums
The Del Notes recorded their singles at D’Arcy Studios across the James River in Norfolk, VA.
The first included two original songs, “Don’t Leave Me Girl” by Danny O’Brien b/w “I Been Thinking Lately” by Earl Howard, released on Top Cat 968 in April of 1968.
For their second single on the Sounds International label, Danny O’Brien wrote a great blue-eyed soul song “I Love You” b/w another Earl Howard ballad “I Wish I Was Home” which a commentator said was written for Ronnie Matheny who had been sent to Vietnam.
Twenty Grand Music BMI published their original songs.
Danny O’Brien periodically revived the Del-Notes over the next few decades. Later members included bassist Garland Reese, guitarist Fred Ordonio and drummer Randy Jackson.
Earl Howard was killed in an auto accident on May 16, 1991. Dan O’Brien passed away on December 4, 2003.
The photos seen here Tom Hudgins submitted to the Peninsula Garage yahoo group some years back.
I don’t know of any other releases on this Top Cat label, but D’Arcy Sound Studios and Twenty Grande Music publishing show up on many releases on the Sounds International label.
An early photo shows Earl Howard and Ronny Methany jamming with members of the Nite Liters, including Steve Keith on rhythm guitar, Harrell Baker on lead guitar and sax and Donny Falk on bass guitar. The Nite Liters had their own single on Sounds International, “Set Me Free” / “Harlem Shuffle”.
In the mid-sixties, Frank Koger started Raven Records, a small, independent label based in Danville, VA, that released a large catalog of mostly Southern gospel, bluegrass and country and western 45s. All were recorded locally, or at larger studios in North Carolina. About a half-dozen of these have gone on to become garage and soul classics among collectors.
Koger was born May 10, 1931 in the Henry County town of Bassett and spent most of his life in Southside Virginia. He managed the appliance/electronics department at Kmart on Riverside Drive in Danville and opened a small studio (The House of Sound) on the Piney Forest Road, after receiving requests from local musicians who were looking for an engineer to record and release their songs.
None of the 45s and albums recorded for Raven Records or its subsidiaries (Hoss, Hippie, Piedmont and Colony 13 Records) were pressed locally. Master tapes were sent to Tennessee and custom pressed by Nashville Record Productions, Inc.
Gene and the Team Beats
Gene and the Team Beats were one of the first rock acts to record for Koger in early 1966. The Team Beats (AKA Teenbeats) formed in Martinsville in 1959 and had many personnel changes during their ten-year lifespan. The one constant was leader and sax player Gene Rumley.
The band started recording relatively late in their career, cutting their first 45 (“I’ll Carry On” b/w “Apple Fuzz”, Leatherwood RI 2096) in the basement of a Rocky Mount home after a gig. Their second single (“I Want’A Be Your Baby” b/w “Sorry ‘bout That”, Raven HOS 45-2006) was released on Raven Records but was actually recorded at Copeland Studios in Greensboro, although Koger accompanied the band to the sessions and can be heard speaking the title at the end of the instrumental B-side. Rumley believes Copeland was chosen because Koger was just getting started and the Greensboro studio had better equipment. In addition to Rumley, who plays sax and contributes backup vocals, the songs feature lead vocalist Charles Hairston; Lonnie Woodall on lead guitar and backup vocals; drummer Rickie Fox; and Carl Barrow on bass.
The band would return to Raven in 1967 to record their third, and final single: “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me” b/w “Here I Stand” on Raven HOS 42-2011. This time, the sessions were recorded in Danville.
Drummer Eddie Scott plays on the record and recalls that the studio was small and Koger did very little overdubbing. As he remembers, “it was more or less cubicles and everything was recorded together… pretty much live to tape.” Rumley, Woodall and Barrow were still with the band, although Scott had replaced Fox on drums, and Jimmy Mitchell was now their lead vocalist. The backing tracks to a fourth single were recorded, but the project was abandoned after vocalist Alfonzo Martin was drafted.
Like the Team Beats, Bluefield’s Lost Soul recorded two singles at House of Sound, (“A Secret of Mine” b/w “Minds Expressway” Raven HOS-45-2016 and “I’m Gonna Hurt You” b/w “For You” Raven HOS-45-2032) both in 1967.
Lost Soul started in 1965 as the Prussians, a five-piece band fronted by vocalist Jimmy Johnson, with Charlie Bassett on keyboards. Bassett and Johnson soon exited the band, before the group entered the recording studio in early 1967.
Steve Calfee composed all four songs (Conley co-wrote “A Secret of Mine”) recorded by Lost Soul and is the lead vocalist. He also plays keyboards on the recordings, which feature Randy Conley (guitar); Steve Cook (bass); and Donnie Fields on drums.
Guitarist Emerson Randall “Randy” Conley (who continues to record today as Emerson Conley) says Lost Soul came together when he was still in junior high school and rehearsed at bassist Steve Cook’s house, which was on the Virginia side of Bluefield. Conley was the only West Virginian in the band and recalls that his dad worked with drummer Donnie Field’s father at N&W Railroad, “and that is how I was introduced to the situation.” Cook’s father, John, managed the band and learned of Raven Records through his work as a sales representative for farm machinery. He credits the elder Cook with making contacts and “booking us everywhere,” including a live appearance on WHIS TV in Bluefield, where the group performed both sides of their first single.
Conley remembers that while traveling to Danville to record, the band passed a huge Klan rally in downtown Lynchburg. It was cold and snowy when the group arrived. And he says “A Secret of Mine” was recorded in “a big room (that) didn’t even look like a studio.” “There were no cubicles or anything like that, and just a few mics; there were no gobos… and everything was right there just real close together. There was no separation between anything that I can remember,” he adds. The building looked like a makeshift studio in “a big warehouse with high ceilings and a large room” for recording.
Conley played guitar on all four sides recorded for Raven and explains that mixing the blue-eyed soul sound of “A Secret of Mine” with the psychedelic ramblings of “Minds Expressway” was a conscious effort “to blend in with the pop scene,” while appealing to “the psychedelic influences from (their) older musician friends at Bluefield State College.” While the band “never received a dime of compensation for anything,” Conley recalls that their first record was big in the Bluefield area. He said the label did little to distribute their first 45, with the band hand delivering copies to dee jays and radio stations.
That summer, Lost Soul accompanied Steve Cook’s family to North Myrtle Beach, with Conley and another band member following them down by bus. They ended up ten miles from their destination and were lugging a heavy suitcase in the median of the bypass when Cook’s family spotted them. During the week, Cook’s dad got Lost Soul a job at the famed Pavilion. They also talked their way onto the stage at the Bowery and the Rathskeller.
While the band would split in 1968, Conley insists there was no acrimony. Several were finishing high school and he left within 5 days to enroll in an auto diesel school in Nashville. That was short-lived, and four months later Conley was back in the band business full-time. He moved back to Bluefield, then to Roanoke, Arizona, South Carolina and finally back to West Virginia, performing and recording all the while. He played in a number of bands, including Razzmatazz, Rat Salad, Friends, and most notably, Sweet Toothe, a band that recorded one album and opened for Iron Butterfly before their performance at the Bluefield Armory.
Recorded at Bradley’s Barn and produced by Benny Quinn and Patrick Glossop, “Sweet Toothe Testing” features Conley’s tasteful fuzz guitar. Released in 1975 on a small, Nashville-based label (Dominion Records TN 37214), the melodic heavy metal album was limited to a pressing of about 900 copies.
A promotional 45 from the LP (“Karen” b/w “Music’s Gotta Stay”, Dominion NR 7224) was a song about Karen Ann Quinlan and the debate over disconnecting the brain-dead patient from life-support. It was hampered by poor distribution, with only 200 copies pressed. The album has been bootlegged and was later reissued (with a different cover and on colored vinyl) on the Void label. Conley insists none of the band members received any compensation from the original release, referring to “a fake royalty check” with Dominion of “about 15 cents or something, to get us to sign away that album.” The band was one of only two artists to record for Dominion, the other a female country singer from Indiana.
An even rarer 45 followed. Lead vocalist Michael Hopkins left the band, but Conley, bassist P.D. (Pierce) Bratton, and drummer Michael Chilco reformed with two new members as Pyramid, releasing two self-penned numbers (“Buffalo Creek” b/w “Elusive Things”) on Studio One Records (SR-075) in Tazewell, VA. The songs were engineered by Nashville’s Joe Deaton on a 16-track recorder.
Conley and Calfee’s paths would cross again in the mid-80s, when both were living in Myrtle Beach and Emerson played with the Beachcombers. The group was the house band at the Sands Ocean Club for six years and Calfee lived just a few miles up the road. He would sit in for the guitarist when Conley needed a break from the six-days-a-week gig.
Conley has operated a home studio since the eighties. He recorded his first CD (The Power of Love, LGM 2222) as Emerson in 1992. More recently, he has released discs as Little Ronny and the Blues Bots (as Randall Conley) and Flying Saucer Heads (“Inner Limits,” LGM 2223), both released through his publishing company, Los Gatos Music. He continues to live in West Virginia.
In a 2012 interview, lead vocalist, keyboardist and song writer Steve Calfee recalled the studio sessions in detail.
Your band was from Bluefield, VA, so how did you learn about Raven Records in Danville?
We did a lot of promotions… there was a radio station in Bluefield, West Virginia, WKOY, there was a DJ there by the name of Charlie Duff. I think that was his air name. But he had done radio promo dances with several different groups and one of the groups he did a promo with was Gene and the Team Beats. And I think they were from the Danville, VA vicinity, but they recorded for Raven. And he at one of the dances talked to the guy that was our manager at the time, who was John Cook, who was our bass player Steve Cook’s father. And at some point I think John Cook worked for the Caterpillar Corporation and he traveled a lot selling generators and heavy duty equipment, things like that. At some point he actually went to Danville and I think met with Frank Koger and talked about this and that and that’s when he decided we should do this and what were we gonna need to do to raise the money and that kinda thing. So, that’s how we made the connection with him. It was through the radio station and then through Gene and the Team Beats, and then finally to Frank Koger at Raven Records himself.
Were both 45s recorded in 1967?
I know we did the first one in ’67. I think we did. Yea, I think we did them both in ’67. They were probably stretched about six or seven months apart. I think one was done, the first one was done in early ’67 and the second one was done later on, like about the end of the summer in ’67.
Ernie Dickens, the Soulmasters bassist, is listed as arranger/conductor on your second single. What role did he play?
He acted kind of like our cheerleader. Get us through the sessions, tell us what to expect, what was gonna go wrong, kind of just keep us going out there because back when we did those nobody had multiple tracks in that general vicinity, so everything was like direct to two-track. I know we did multiple takes of every cut and we were doing, I think it was the flip side of the first one there was actually a mistake on there where the drummer — if you listen to the uh, it might be Minds Expressway, I’m pretty sure it is — there’s a “pa-ping” sound on the cymbal. And we’d gotten just to the very end of a take and it was an accident that he did and as soon as we ended the take I think Ernie and Frank actually came out of the booth and said “What was that?” And he took the drum stick and did a ping off the bell of the cymbal, from the bell of the cymbal to the body of the cymbal itself to do the “pa-ping” sound and Frank said, “Well that’s fantastic; it actually makes the record.” He said, “Do you think you can do that every time?” So, we spent probably the next two hours doing take after take after take of him trying to do that pa-ping sound through the entire cut ’til we finally got it. It was almost like working with a child or a dog in a movie where it doesn’t matter what you do as long as the dog hits its mark. So as soon as we got a take where he had done that on every single cut, that was the take that they pressed for the flip side.
What do you recall about House of Sound Studios or Frank Koger?
I think where it was, it had originally been an ice house where they did ice I guess for restaurants, grocery stores and things like that because it had a loading dock in front. It was a white building on the right side of the road on the outskirts. And I think it had just a little tiny entranceway room (and) then there was the room that was the main recording room that was probably not more than 10×12, if that. And the control room was probably, maybe a 6×6 room with a glass window. I know they had to turn the air conditioning off every time we got ready to record because the air conditioner was just a window unit. They cut a hole in the wall and put an air conditioner in there, so for the length of time you were in there, every time between takes you almost prayed for a mistake sometimes because that’s the only time the air conditioner would get turned back on. It was not a really big building but I think they told us it had been an ice house.
What did you play on the records?
I think on both of the records, I played keyboards. It was an interesting situation. We had a keyboard player, actually a fifth member and about a month or six weeks before we knew we were going into the studio our keyboard player got married and left the band. So me and the other guitar player, we were two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, but when the keyboard player left we just kind of split up the duties. And the other guitar player was named Randy Conley. And he learned half the songs so that we could get it done quickly and I learned half the songs, so that we would switch off when we played jobs. He would play guitar on some songs and I would play keyboards; and then he would play keyboards and I would play guitar. And then probably over about a six month period I think for the duration of the band I just switched over to the keyboards. That’s how we did it at the time. I think I played keyboards on all four cuts that were released. I’m pretty sure I did. I don’t remember playing guitar on any of them.
Is the personnel the same on both records?
Yes, the group members are the same on both.
Tell us about the second single, I’m Gonna Hurt You/For You.
I think the band was a lot tighter when we did those. Actually, those we didn’t need to do near as much press. I think we were actually playing more jobs on the road, but actually the radio stations that played the first single really picked up on that one without us having to do as much work to back it up. It was almost like that one was too easy. We were more focused on playing the jobs than we were really on doing promotion on the singles. And a lot radio stations — I think in Roanoke and Charlotte — and a lot of other markets would take that song, back then it was one of those things where they did the thing on American Bandstand where they would rate a record. And there were a lot of rate-a-record shows on, where they would have kids that would come into the studio and they would play 8 or 10 records and rate them. And that record got taken to a lot of those promo-type things, so the band didn’t do it; the radio station kind of did it. It really got a lot more airplay that the first one did.
Did you sell these at live performances? Who handled the distribution?
What Frank would do, he gave uh, everybody I think got two boxes of records and I think there were probably fifty 45s in each box, so those were the records that we would sell or give away at jobs and things like that. Think we probably gave away a lot more than we sold because it was one of those situations where somebody would come up and they really, really liked the band and you’d meet somebody after a show or something like that and it was just much easier to give ’em a record that to try to say, “Give me a dollar.” So I think we probably gave away four or five-thousand like that. Especially the second one, because that was the one that had the larger pressing.
But I know the company that Frank had that pressed that one was called P.M. Distributors in Pittsburgh, Pa. I’m not sure when they went out of business. But that was the one where the manager had run some kind of a trace on and found out that they had received somewhere between ten, fifteen, twenty thousand copies that they had distributed. And by then, he tried to go back and get an accounting and it was just sort of, “Well, we’ll get around to it.” And of course nobody ever got around to it and by the time the band broke up at that point everybody lost interest. But, I don’t think they did the first one, P.M. Distributors. I think that was probably done pretty much like Frank did most things. He sent out copies to radio stations, that kind of thing and we took copies around to radio stations as well. But the yellow one, the one that was “I’m Gonna Hurt You” and “For You,” that’s the one that P.M. Distributors put out to rack jobbers and radio stations. They even sent it to the radio stations direct, or they had a promotion person that did that.
The band recorded a demo tape with Koger. Did you keep a copy?
We didn’t keep a copy. We did some demos. We had done kind of a soul version of, this is interesting because we never figured out exactly how this happened, but we had done a more soulful, Memphis-type feel to “Day Tripper” by the Beatles. That was just one of the demos that we did. We never even thought anything else about it, what happened to it or where it went. But about somewhere a year or so later there was a version that was almost, very close to what we thought we had done that came out by, I think it was by the Foundations. And we always wondered if they got hold of that demo, or you know somebody said, “Oh, you guys can do this.” But I don’t think we kept any of those demos. We did some stuff between takes that Frank recorded just to get loose in the studio. And that version of “Day Tripper” was one of the songs that we did, and I think we probably played some Sam and Dave stuff and a couple of other things like that. I know they got recorded, but what happened to them I have no idea. I know the guy that was our manager that we shared with Archie Bell got a copy somehow, some way and he was putting that with the two 45s and taking it to different companies. But once again, we never heard it. He kind of imploded at one point, the manager did, and we never heard from him again. That was another interesting story.
Do you have the master tapes for any of the band’s recordings?
No, we don’t have master recordings of anything, and of course as long ago as it’s been I know the statute of ownership has run out and I doubt seriously if anybody redid the copyrights. I know they’re not on my list. I’m a BMI writer. None of the things that we did are anywhere on the list of, I’ve only got maybe a dozen songs listed with BMI, but none of those four are anywhere on that list. So, probably they could be edited, they could be redone and I could file a new copyright on them. I just never have thought about doing it.
While he was told at the time that “I’m Gonna Hurt You” b/w “For You” (Raven HOS 45-2032) had cracked Billboard’s Hot 100, Calfee has since learned that wasn’t the case. While researching his songs, Calfee discovered that BMI had never heard of Choptank Music (Raven’s publishing company) or Frank Koger. All four songs were signed over to Frank and Choptank and never listed with BMI. Calfee says “that’s why when ‘I’m Gonna Hurt You’ was supposed to enter the Billboard Hot 100, it never happened. It seems that at that time, when a song was being promoted and pushed, at the point it was getting sufficient airplay enough to be added, Billboard would double-check the copyright license and the copyright owner. When they found none for ‘I’m Gonna Hurt You,’ they let it drop.”
After searching BMI’s records, Calfee discovered that the songs were not listed or actually published with BMI. “That’s also the reason we never received any royalties for airplay or sales,” says Calfee. He has since listed all four songs with the agency.
Gene Rumley had a similar experience. A letter from Broadcast Music, Inc. to Rumley dated May 10, 1966 lists the A-sides of the first two Team Beats’ singles and “I’m Sorry About That,” urging Rumley to notify the publisher (Old Standby Music Co.) and have the songs registered with BMI as soon as possible.
Apparently the situation wasn’t unique. Ronnie Couch played drums with another Raven act, The Individuals. The Halifax/South Boston band recorded one 45 (“I Want Love” b/w “I Really Do”, Hos-45-2018) at Koger’s studio. Bassist Tommy Redd penned both and paid Koger $6 to have both sides registered with BMI. That never happened and the garage classic has since been bootlegged in England.
The Individuals were truly a garage band and started out practicing in the basement of Couch’s home in 1964. Besides the drummer, the original group included vocalist Glenn Meadows; bassist Tommy Redd; and lead guitarist Ben Vaughan. Then known as the Rhythm-Makers, the four-piece group played their first gig at the American Legion Hall in South Boston on March 25, 1965. The band soon changed names and musical directions and Meadows left over creative differences. Redd and Vaughan took over as lead vocalists. Sammy Moser was added on organ and stayed with the group through 1967, when Mike Oakes joined on keyboards.
The Individuals paid Koger $250 to record, press and distribute 500 records. The Individuals sold 200 copies locally and Koger agreed to distribute the remainder to radio stations across the country. When they entered House of Sound Studios, the band consisted of Ronnie Couch on drums; Tommy Redd, who played bass and sang lead on both sides; Ronnie Vaughan and Ben Vaughan on rhythm and lead guitars, respectively; and Sammy Moser on organ.
The band recorded both songs in a marathon session in the summer of 1967. Couch and Redd remember scaling a long flight of steps to reach the small recording room. Couch’s drums were set up “behind some kind of plastic shield and there was another man on the board with Frank.” The band “toted our equipment up the steps to the studio. We got there around 5 or 6 pm and left around 11 pm.” According to Couch, the band “played our two songs seemed like a thousand times apiece” before Koger got acceptable takes. Raven HOS-45-2018 was released in August of 1967 and charted on WHLF radio in South Boston. “I Want Love” also made the playlist of a radio station in Brookneal, VA, while WYPR in Danville picked up the record and even had the band in the studios to promote the song. The group remained a popular regional attraction, sharing the bill with the Soulmasters and opening for popular recording artists like Sam and Dave.
Interestingly, the vinyl version of “I Really Do” was not the intended release, but an outtake. When the master tapes were sent to Nashville for pressing, Koger mistakenly sent an alternate version of the song, not the one the group intended for release.
The initial run sold out and Couch still has the $108 invoice for a second pressing of the 45. The band wrote a follow-up (“The Fire Is Out”) and hoped to return to Danville for a second recording session; however, the group broke up and the plans were shelved. Home recordings show a radical shift in the band’s sound just before the split, with the Individuals adding extended solos, fuzz guitars and feedback to their performances.
The VI Pak (aka The IV Pak)
About the same time, the VI Pak of Ruffin, N.C. entered the studio after winning a battle of the bands competition and a free session at Raven. Frank Carter played organ in the band and remembers Koger’s studio was located in the same building where guitarist Mike Carter’s uncle (E.C. Gerringer) operated a piano and appliance store, which adjoined Merchants Delivery, a moving and storage company also owned by Gerringer.
Carter remembers lugging their equipment up a flight of stairs to a small studio located above the business. He describes it as a “pretty neat little studio (with) multi-tracking and cubicles so “that each one of us had our own little box to play in. It wasn’t like playing in one big room, everything was sort of sectioned off for the drummer and for the guitarist and the horns and myself.” He remembers one large room and another “engineering room where Koger had the multi-track recorder.” According to Carter, the bigger room “wasn’t really that large — I’d say maybe 14×14 or so. It was enough room for four or five small cubicles and a mike for each.”
William “Pete” Walker has a different recollection. He played bass on many of the country and western sessions at House of Sound and is certain the studios were located in the building across from Merchants Delivery. Walker notes that the long staircase leading up to the studio has been replaced and some cosmetic changes have been made, but otherwise the building is much the same 50 years later. He remembers Koger had the second floor, while an auto repair shop was located in the basement. The building now houses a Muslim church. The VI Pak sessions produced a garage-psyche classic – “Whatzit?” – along with an interesting cover of Booker T’s “Boot-Leg,” released on the one-off Hippie Label as HOS–45–2019. Carter recalls that the band was given the option of choosing their own label after balking at Koger’s request for an extra $10 to release the 45 on Raven. Besides the Carter cousins, the VI Pak included Brandon Cardwell on drums; Anthony Hodges on bass (lead vocals on Whatzit?); Lonnie Bowes on sax; and Sidney Vernon, trumpet.
There was again a problem at the pressing plant, this time with labeling. Someone in Nashville couldn’t read Roman numerals and the six-member VI Pak was listed on the label as the IV Pak. The band made the best of 500 mislabeled 45s, which sold few copies at the time but has gone on to grace several garage compilations. VI Pak members were also given a 12” acetate containing both sides of their single on one side and the Individuals’ songs on the other. Ronnie Couch (Individuals) was unaware of the record’s existence until shown a copy recently.
Danville’s Sensational Soulmasters also recorded at Raven in ’67. The Soulmasters started out in Eden, N.C. in 1965 as a nine-piece rhythm and blues band. Black vocalists John Irby and Jerry Wilson were added as the group merged with Danville’s Majors to create the 10-to-12-piece aggregation that would record at Raven and tour Virginia and the Carolinas extensively through 1970.
Rickie Fox was the first drummer in the Danville incarnation of the Soulmasters. Another former Team Beat, Brian Thomason, was the original bassist. The first band only performed for 5-to-6 months and included “the original band from Eden and a few more people who were leaving the Majors, like (guitarist) Steve Scearce,” says Fox. Larry Davis was Fox’s best friend and was recruited on drums when Rickie left the Soulmasters to join his brother Butch in the Majors.
Bassist Ernie Dickens recalls that “George Parrish was lead singer and fronted the Majors, (while) Vance Yarborough and Junie Walton also sang a few. Back in those days we also performed a lot of instrumentals.” The group also featured black vocalist Joe Johnson, who earlier sang for the Imperials. The Majors “kinda fell apart in late ’64 after a few members were drafted or left for other reasons,” says Dickens. He says the remaining members “reformed with new drummer Larry Davis. Wayne (Womble) and Doug (Hyler) were already trying to form the Soulmasters around John and Jerry, so we basically merged the two groups.” Junie Walton moved from organ to sax and Dennis Shepherd was added on trumpet.
Dickens also worked as Koger’s assistant, later producing the second single recorded by Lost Soul of Bluefield, VA. He recalled the Soulmasters’ two-day recording session in a 2015 interview.
Frank in the early days wanted to create a recording capability that rivaled the big studios. Problem was he had to try to do it on a Danville-sized budget. When we recorded our 45, Frank had acquired a 4-track reel-to-reel system that allowed control of each of the 4 input tracks, but had no capability to overdub.
This meant songs had to be rehearsed over and over again until the balance was right. Once this was accomplished, we then had to record the entire song start to finish in a single take. I remember rehearsing and balancing the sound for “I’ll Be Waiting Here” pretty much all day on the Saturday. We then recorded the version that was released the next day, Sunday. The B-side (“You Took Away the Sunshine”) moved along faster since we did not need to readjust the balance and only took several hours that Sunday. We probably spent 20 hours in all over the two days to complete the project.
The studio was very rudimentary in those days (and had) little in the way of acoustic absorption or isolation between the instruments. The horns were recorded on 1 track; the bass, organ and guitar on the second; drums on the third track; and vocals on the fourth.
We were used to playing in halls for large crowds at pretty high volume levels. We found it very difficult to adjust to playing with only a fraction of the volume we were used to. Hence the somewhat distorted sound that we ended up with.
Frank was pretty obsessed with trying to make it work, as were we. We must have played each of the songs 50 or more times over those two days. By the time the record was released, we were all pretty sick of both songs and could hardly stand to perform them.
After this Frank continued to make improvements and learned much from the early experiments. Each time he recorded another group the sound improved and the process became more refined.
Wayne Womble was the band’s keyboard player and said the studio was sparse, with a single, two-track recorder. Bill Dudley was a disc jockey at the local Top 40 station (WYPR) and fronted the $200 to finance the sessions. The band spent two days recording Raven HOS 45 2020, “I’ll Be Waiting Here” b/w “You Took Away the Sunshine.” Dickens says the 45 had an initial run of 500 copies but believes the band “gave away more than we sold.” Both songs were pressed at the wrong speed and the 45 is slightly faster than the original recordings.
Sax player Doug Hyler wrote the B-side in his bedroom and recalls the sessions as “lengthy, tedious and fun,” describing trumpeter Dennis Shepherd’s idea to pause near the end of the “You Took Away the Sunshine” as awesome and innovative. In addition to Hyler and Juni Walton on saxophone, the record features hot guitar licks from Steve Scearce; Larry Davis on drums; Ernie Dickens on bass; Dennis Shepherd and Jimmy Matthews on trumpet; Wayne Womble on organ; and vocalists John Irby and Jerry Wilson.
While not in the group at the time, keyboardist Bill Adams was friends with several of the members and attended the sessions. He recalls that “Wayne used a Farfisa organ on “I’ll Be Waiting Here” and an old upright piano on “You Took Away the Sunshine,” adding that “everything was recorded on a two track machine as the group played live.” According to Adams, the intro to “You Took Away the Sunshine” was put together that night with “a little alcohol involved in that one.” Dickens had written out chord charts for the arrangements and Adams was given the task of turning the pages while Wayne played the organ. Womble would soon leave the Soulmasters and Adams would take his place, but Bill said he had no inkling at this point that he would soon be playing with the group.
Both sides charted on AM stations in Danville and South Boston and the single became a regional hit for the band, while reaching the Top 10 on WLAC in Nashville. The band re-recorded both songs at a better studio in Raleigh, but the master tapes were given by Wilson to soul singer Eddie Floyd, in hopes of landing the group a major recording contract. No copies are known to exist.
Vocalist Jerry Wilson looked back at those sessions during a 2013 interview.
People in Southside still remember your record, which was a big regional hit.
Yea, in Tennessee it reached 7 or number 4 (on WLAC) in Nashville. And that’s one thing I add: If it was anything to regret it was that we didn’t go back in the studio and cut any more. Because Ernie Dickens asked me, “Jerry, you and John wanna cut some more?” And we looked at him and said “no,” because it wasn’t what you’d call a great looking studio. But the sound wasn’t bad. And it was for free. But after ten years you say, “Man, we should’ve done a bunch of songs.” And if we had, I know one side hit real good so I know what would’ve happened if we had followed up. But we were young.
What do you remember about those sessions?Man, we had fun. It was just fun. We went in and you know back then you didn’t have all this digital equipment. You made one mistake and you had to do the song over again. I think we did it about four times until everybody became relaxed, laughing and carrying on. And then after that I think it took us two days to record it, both sides. And then when we did our song, “I’ll Be Waiting Here” that Dennis Shepherd wrote and “You Took Away the Sunshine” that Doug Hyler wrote, it was great! You know, we were signing (autographs) and I think we only had about 500 copies made.
Who had the idea for the stop and start on “You Took Away the Sunshine?”
Dennis Shepherd, the trumpet player who wrote the song. Dennis was a diminutive type in stature, but he had a big heart. He was one of my favorites, man.
The Stones Unturned
Another Danville band – the Stones Unturned — entered House of Sound Studios in 1967, although none of their recordings were ever released. The Stones, as they preferred to call themselves, were a cover band and borrowed much of their early catalog from the British band of the same name. The Stones were: Pete Hilliard, bass and vocals; Jim Ray, lead vocalist; Truxton Fulton, organ; Curtis “Inky” Vaughan, drums; Doug Starnes, lead guitar.
Starnes dated and soon married vocalist Florence “Flo” Penn, who would later front the band when they performed as the Purple Haze Publication and Light Show. The couple recorded a number of demos in Koger’s studio. Starnes discussed the Raven sessions shortly before his death in October 2013.
How did the Stones come to record “Tobacco Road” and “Sunny” at Frank Koger’s studio?
How we got that (recording) time was that we were backing up (vocalist) Flo Penn Starnes, your cousin, on some songs that she wanted to record. She was fixing to go up to New York City that coming summer and she already had an agent up in New York. And he’d lined up, well she didn’t have a band she (always) used the house band wherever she had to play. I went up there (New York) with Flo and her mother, Anne Penn. And Flo, maybe she had to pay (Frank) extra, I don’t remember. But anyway, we had that time that she had set up for us with Frank. And we rehearsed a lot, not in the studio but here at home. We always rehearsed at my parents’ house here at South Woodberry in Danville. And it was a lot of fun because everything was a new experience for us back then. We didn’t know how it would sound. And fortunately it sounded good enough on tape to be worthwhile. And that was probably one of the biggest turning points for the Stones Unturned.
I have your master tape of about six original songs with the band backing Flo. There are multiple takes and false starts with dialog between songs. However, a smaller reel of just the Stones appears to be a dub. It’s only recorded in one channel and there are finished takes of only two songs: “Tobacco Road” and “Sunny.”
We had done more songs than that. There is a tape… it may be the one that you have listened to. I thought we had between 4 and 6 songs on that one. She (Flo) had done her songs in order that we could have a tape to take with us when we went up to New York City. I didn’t know how that tape (the reel with just the two songs) came about but I do remember there being more than just two songs on it. There’s another tape that may be around here or not. Over the years, the tapes have been loaned out and some of make it back and some don’t. And then there are a lot of them that the boxes aren’t even labeled and I don’t have a reel-to-reel recorder.
(Note: Stones Unturned vocalist Jim Ray believes there were two sessions at Raven and that the first in ’67 was to record the band. He thinks the group returned some time later to back Flo Starnes. Bassist Pete Hilliard sings lead on both and thinks the Stones’ songs were hastily recorded at the end of Flo’s session because they still had studio time remaining.)
The Fabulous Fingermen
Local Bluegrass legend Julian Lilliard started out playing in the mid-sixties in an instrumental guitar band known as the Fabulous Fingermen. The group played frequently at local sock hops and fraternal lodges in the Danville area and also recorded some unreleased songs at House of Sound. Lilliard says the band committed “3 or 4 cuts on a reel-to-reel” and he kept the master. He died in 2014 before locating the tape.
Piedmont Records was another House of Sound offshoot that produced at least two records of note for collectors. The Mustangers recorded “What Do I Have to Pay,” listed on the label as a “rhythm and blues vocal.”
Nothing is known about the record (Piedmont CSP 45-2556) or the group, which featured a spirited soul singer and a good rhythm and horn section. The flip side (“That’s My Way”) is an odd instrumental that was also penned by the group and sounds as though it was recorded in a single take.
Moon Mullins and the Night Raiders
Moon Mullins and the Night Raiders also recorded their fifth single for Piedmont Records (“Baby, I Got You” b/w “Ain’t Gonna Cry”, Piedmont Records 45-2044) around 1968. At the time, Mullins’ band was performing throughout Virginia and North Carolina and he also owned a club in Madison, N.C., “Moon’s Danceland.”
“Baby I Got You” features a duet with vocalists Mickey Hawks and Gwynn Kallam. Hawks takes the lead on the flip side, “Ain’t Gonna Cry.” A picture of Mickey Hawks, Dallas “Moon” Mullins and Gwynn Kallam Montgomery appears on the sleeve, which was a rarity for Raven. While she sang with the band for several years, this was the only time Montgomery entered a recording booth. She recalls that Koger had the walls of the studio lined with egg cartons and that Stoney Bowman was their guitarist.
The sound was also a departure for the Night Raiders, who’d been recording rockabilly ravers since the fifties. The band is best remembered for their first recording, “Bip Bop Boom,” which was released on Profile Records in 1959 and did well in Chicago and the Midwest.
The single on Piedmont was the first release by the Night Raiders in seven years. The group had last been heard in a 1961 instrumental (“Gonna Dance Tonight, Part 1 & 2”) on country singer Jim Eanes’ label (Lance Records 005) out of Richmond, VA. While this would be Moon Mullins last commercial release, Mickey Hawks continued performing and recorded an album shortly before his death in 1989. Mullins also continued playing and was a fixture at the Eden Flea Market until shortly before his death in 2014.
Soulmasters’ bassist Ernie Dickens assisted Koger on many of the sessions at this point and recalls that “before Frank left for Nashville he was recording anyone that could show up with $200, whether they were up to the task or not.”
The Greater Experience
Some of the last recordings Koger made in Danville were by an eight-man Lynchburg horn band, the Greater Experience, and their lone 45 has gone on to become one of the most coveted records among Northern Soul fans. “Don’t Forget to Remember” was seldom heard outside Southwest Virginia until it was rediscovered by collectors across the pond, but Lynchburg’s Greater Experience had quite a local following in the early seventies.
Chip Wood played alto sax on the 45 and says a chance encounter with vocalist Jerry Mitchell on a summer afternoon “around 1968” got the ball rolling. Wood was visiting friend Milton “Winkie” Blanks at his home on Trents Ferry Road and Mitchell was seeing Blank’s older sister, Brenda. While waiting for his date, the conversation turned to music and Mitchell remarked that he was trying to start a band. Wood mentioned that he played sax and said he also knew a good drummer, Chuck Wall. Wood was playing in a soul band at the time. This was Mitchell’s first band and he enlisted trumpeter Ricky Height and guitarist John Williams. Neither stayed long and both were soon replaced by Ed Burnette and Roger Scruggs. Johnny Dodson joined on organ, with Robert Tunkel on tenor sax, and Russ Hovda on bass.
A name was needed and leader Jerry Mitchell came up with Greater Experience. Burnette says he never knew the significance, adding: “It was just one of those sixties things.” Drummer Chuck Wall was just 16 when he joined the band and believes the name was agreed upon while the band was holding its first rehearsal in Wood’s basement. “I think we were just kind of kicking around, trying to come up with (a name) and I’m not sure if it was Jerry Mitchell or Robert Tunkel, or just kind of a collective effort,” he says. While he had played in a couple of other neighborhood groups, Wall says the Greater Experience was his first serious foray into music, and the first band capable of playing an entire set.
Burnette, Scruggs and Wood all played together in the E.C. Glass Stage Band and Wood and Burnette were also in the high school’s marching band. Wood recalls that “many a time on a Friday night we played for the marching band and then at half-time Ed and I would sneak out to go to a gig with the Greater Experience.”
The band was a favorite in the Lynchburg-Danville area and soon set their sights at recording an original song composed by Mitchell and Tunkel. Scruggs plays lead guitar on the single and says he was 18 when “Don’t Forget to Remember” was released in the fall of 1970 on Colony 13 (CSP 45-2572) Records. He remembers little about the sessions and says they may have been in Danville, but he is “not 100% sure of that.” He remembers a “pretty good sized studio,” with partitions and headphones. While he doesn’t remember the particular studio, Chuck Wall says the sessions were “definitely in Greensboro” and that the band was in and out in four hours.
While the sessions were most likely done at Copeland Sound Studios in Greensboro, the recordings could have been made in Danville at Frank Koger’s House of Sound Studios. The band performed frequently at Happy’s, a pizza restaurant and nightspot located directly across from his studio on Piney Forest Road. Scruggs doesn’t remember whether Koger produced the sessions, but he often used Copeland to record bands, especially when the projects were beyond the capability of his small studio in Danville. The 45 was apparently his last hurrah in Southside Virginia, as Koger moved to Nashville around 1971. While he used the Colony 13 label in Danville, most of the studio’s earlier output was on Raven Records. Koger used the Colony 13 logo exclusively in Tennessee, but again only for country and western artists. While his involvement with “Don’t Forget to Remember” may have been limited to pressing the record, it does appear on Koger’s label and bears the notation “Nationally Dist. by Colony Sound Prod., Danville, VA.” A later release on Colony 13 Records by Jamie Reeves (A Mother’s Salute to Lt. Calley b/w I’ll Wait, CSP 45-2580) lists a Nashville address for Colony Sound Productions. The labels are identical and, like the Greater Experience 45, Kitten Britches Music – BMI is listed as the music publisher. Koger’s wife, Jean, was nicknamed Kitten. Frank James is listed as both writer and producer on Reeves’ 45. From this point on, Koger referred to himself as Frank James in production credits.
Trumpeter Ed Burnette agrees that the recordings were made in Greensboro and recalls that the band purchased a designated amount of time for the recordings, with the studio “charging $1 a minute” for any time they ran over, “so we tried to get it done as quickly as we could.” He remembers the group “spent an inordinate amount of time getting the rhythm part down: the guitar, the bass, the drums, and the organ.” He recalls that “it just seemed to take an eternity to get that down and we actually did the brass part in one take, and then we added the vocals on top of that.” Burnette says he is “confident” the sessions were in Greensboro, “because when I saw the actual record label for the first time and it showed ‘Colony 13’ in Danville, VA. I questioned why we went to a studio in Greensboro to record it.” He believes the pressing was limited to 500 copies.
Scruggs says both sides of the single were recorded “in an afternoon” and that the 45 received extensive airplay in on WLLL in Lynchburg, placing 99th on the station’s top 100 songs for the year. He remembers the band miming the song on a television show “around Christmas, 1970.” Wood says the band’s only TV appearance was for the Labor Day Telethon. The Greater Experience performed on the local segment of the telethon, which was broadcast from the WLVA (now WSET) studios, where Mitchell worked. Wood remembers that the band had to pantomime “Don’t Forget to Remember,” which he says “was harder than actually playing the song live.” Scruggs and alto saxophonist and rhythm guitarist Chip Wood had just finished school and two of the other members – Burnette and Wall – were both 17 and still at E.C. Glass High School when the 45 was released. Lead singer Jerry Mitchell wrote the lyrics, while sax man Bob Tunkel composed the music. John Dodson played Hammond organ on the record, with Russ Hovda on bass and Roger Scruggs on lead guitar.
While not listed as a co-writer, Scruggs believes keyboard player Johnny Dodson contributed to “Don’t Forget to Remember.” He points out that the song’s progressions contain “mostly major and minor 7th chords, not your average chords (and ones) only a keyboardist or guitarist would have played.” He believes Dodson “probably helped Jerry write the basic chord structure and Tunkel wrote out the music to be copywritten.” He points out that Tunkel had a music degree and did compose the music to the flip side, “Carol’s Carol,” which features a flute solo and is dedicated to his wife. Tunkel majored in music composition at Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to tenor sax, Tunkel also played flute and trumpet.
Chip Wood plays alto sax on the 45 and is uncertain whether the sessions were in Greensboro or Danville. He does recall that as they were leaving Lynchburg for the recordings, WLLL disc jockey Stan Jayson (who was also managing the group) played Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and dedicated the song to the band. “Being 18 and just out of high school, that was really cool,” says Wood. Before the band recorded “Don’t Forget to Remember,” Wood says they played an afternoon job at Lynchburg College. Chicago played at LC that night “and we all had front row seats for the concert.” Wood concurs with Burnette about recording the rhythm section, saying it took “forever to get their part down.” And while the horns got just one shot, Wood says: “I guess we got lucky, although listening to the record now I think the horns were just a little bit out of tune.”
In addition to original material, the Greater Experience was known for their covers of songs by Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Cold Blood, Sly and the Family Stone and the Ides of March. The band gained a reputation as one of the best live acts in the area and opened for the Ides of March, the Classics IV, Percy Sledge and the Spiral Staircase in Lynchburg. A recently discovered live tape (made at Happy’s in Danville in 1970) captured the Greater Experience at its peak and includes the unreleased original song, “Mail Day Lament,” which Wood describes as “in the vein of the Ides of March.”
The band booked through Virginia Talent Association (VTA), a Lynchburg-based agency owned and operated by Phil Vassar, Sr., who was the singer and front man for the Lancers, a rock and roll group that recorded the 45, My Little Girl/Alone (Panther Records SP-1051) in 1964. He was also the father of country singer/songwriter Phil Vassar, Jr.
It’s said that timing is everything, and such was the case with the Greater Experience. A demo tape was given to WLLL and the song was already receiving heavy airplay on Lynchburg radio. Band manager Stan Jason was also a popular DJ at the local radio station and had earlier gotten the group’s photo in a national publication, TV Radio Mirror Magazine, in an article profiling Jason. He was also able to get the song in heavy rotation at WLLL. The problem, says Burnette, was that the records hadn’t arrived from the pressing plant and none were available in stores. And by the time the single was in stock, interest in the song had already started to fade. Wall said Jason could get the group air time on the radio, “so we thought maybe we could make a little money out of this and it wouldn’t be a total bust if we could get the airplay and get local ears on it, and maybe enough money that if people would go out and buy it that we could at least pay for it, or the recording itself.” Wall believes that the delay kept the record from being a much bigger regional hit, noting “there was an issue with the pressing of the record, so the idea was Stan was going to give it a week or two in advance to start putting it on the radio to get it out over the airwaves and peak a little interest, and hopefully by then people would go out and want to buy it.” It took a little longer for the records to arrive and they weren’t available when fans requested the 45. Wall recalls that it was a month to six weeks before the song was in stores, “so anybody at the time that was out there who was looking for the record to buy, it just wasn’t available. They just weren’t there at that point in time when the demand was probably at the peak.”
Burnette still has a memo Mitchell distributed after the sales had completed. He recalls band members “all got some records back because we made the mistake of releasing the song to radio stations before we actually had the 45s.” It was a case of the group “having our 15 minutes of fame; it went up the charts locally and then down the charts and by the time we got the records actually in hand, our moment in the sun had come and gone and we were basically stuck with a bunch of records.” Wall believes that Jerry Mitchell ended up with most of the surplus. Mitchell wanted to release another 45 or album with the band, but plans to return to the studio were scrapped after his departure. Wood explains that “Jerry was the contact guy (and) really the manager of the band,” taking care of all the finances and contracts while “the younger guys like myself, Chuck, Ed and Roger… just kind of did as we were told and went on from there.” Money from several gigs was set aside to finance their 45, which the band sold at live performances, small shops like L. Oppleman Pawn Shop and at the G.C. Murphy Department Store in Lynchburg.
The group hoped to record “Mail Day Lament” in a controlled setting, but Mitchell left and the band never made it back to the studio. Soundman Steve Dunaway made a crude live recording of the song, but Scruggs says the quality isn’t suitable for release. The line-up featured on the 45 only performed together for about 18 months and the band underwent numerous personnel changes before calling it quits in 1975. Wall says while the band hoped to record an album, only three original songs were written during their eight-year existence. The Greater Experience went through numerous personnel changes, but Wall says “the nature of the band pretty much remained a copy band,” leaning heavily toward brass numbers, while remaining flexible enough to cover “pretty much whatever was popular at the time on the radio.” While members preferred more progressive music, Wall says the reality was that “because the fraternities and clubs we played were basically just dance halls,” the music had to be danceable. The idea, says Wall, was to “blend what was a challenge to play,” with what was on the radio, adding: “You just couldn’t go to a club and play the music that you wanted to play and have people sit there at their chairs and just kind of twiddle their thumbs. So, it needed to have a good solid beat and at the same time be popular.” The key to the band’s success was its amazing rhythm section.
Mitchell left on November 21, 1971, after a final performance for a Circle K fraternity party at the Holiday Inn in Lynchburg. He became the lead vocalist for a Roanoke band, the Divots. Wood believes Mitchell saw the move as “a step up” and felt Roanoke offered more opportunities than Lynchburg. Rocky Robertson was recruited as his replacement and was joined by female vocalist Jenny Greene. Jay McKee was added on trombone in ’71 and stayed with the group until the end. He was already familiar to the group and played in the E.C. Glass Concert and Marching Bands with Wood and Burnette. Scruggs recalls that Russell Hovda “just quit” and was replaced by bassist Robin Tolley. Kenny Arthur succeeded Tolley on Rickenbacker bass, but left to attend college in Alabama, where he still lives. Billy Bragg was their fourth, and final bass player. Dodson departed and was replaced by Billy DeZonia on keyboards, while Burnette left in the fall of ’71 to attend William and Mary College. He is now a General District Court judge in Lynchburg. David Cooper replaced him on trumpet. Wood remained with the band on sax until the breakup but then stopped performing and installed commercial entertainment systems until his retirement. Wood and Wall were the only two founding members who remained with the band until the end. The two were good friends and Chuck dated Chip’s sister during the band’s formative years. Tunkel, Wall, Williams and Hovda still live in the Lynchburg area and Williams and Hovda continued doing trio work until just recently. Sound and light man Steve Dunaway stayed in the business and went on to run sound for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Mother’s Finest and Ted Nugent.
Scruggs remained with the Greater Experience until 1973 and was succeeded by guitarist Dale Ollweiler, who attended Lynchburg College with drummer Chuck Wall. Wall decided to stay in Lynchburg so he could continue performing with the band on weekends, which he did until the split in 1975. By that time, he says the group had “had kind of just run its course.” He had finished college and was growing weary of the long road trips, adding that “every time you pulled in new people it was just kind of a hassle to have to get back to square one.” He regrets that he no longer plays, adding: “You get married and you get a job and all of a sudden the reality is there.” Scruggs says he left a couple of years earlier because most of the original members were gone and the popularity of horn bands had started to wane. He remains active in music to this day, while Dodson, DeZonia, Bragg and front man and lead vocalist Jimmy Mitchell have since died. Mitchell died of cancer on March 16, 2011 in Roanoke, Virginia. He was 62. While Wall, Wood, Scruggs, Burnette and McKee occasionally get together to reminisce or to watch a concert on Chip’s entertainment system, they doubt there will be a Greater Experience reunion. While he admits it would be nice, Wood points out that their front man is gone and he no longer plays the sax. “I guess we’re too old for that,” says Wood. Wall says he always admired the progressive, British bands of the early seventies and finds it ironic that their music now has a following in the UK. Burnette admits that all the attention from across the pond has been nice, adding that the surviving members are “all basking in the glory of that delayed gratification now.” His only regret is that vocalist Jerry Mitchell “who wrote the music and was kind of the leader of the band did not live to experience this wonderful delayed popularity of our record.”
Move to Nashville
Around 1971, Koger decided to move to Tennessee. Danville guitarist Butch James knew Koger and his wife and helped the couple pack when they made their move to Music City. James was 17 at the time and recalls that Koger had connections with the music industry and wanted to be closer to Nashville. He remembers that Frank’s wife was also a talented seamstress and made dresses for Dolly Parton.
Francis Ingram was a gospel artist who recorded for Raven. She remembers posing for pictures with Dolly as Jean Koger, who was nicknamed Kitten or Kitty, pinned a dress for the singer. She says Parton was talking about ending her long-standing partnership with Porter Wagoner, a move she would ultimately make in February 1974. She wanted Ingram to accompany her on the road, but Ingram said she declined because she had three small children at home. Ingram, who’s now 84, was a lifelong friend who attended school with Koger. She recorded two gospel albums (My God Is Real, Raven Hos-33-2022; Singing His Praises Vol. 2, Raven LPM – 2041) for Raven Records. Ingram borrowed $800 from Schoolfield Bank to record and press 600 copies of her second album in 1968. She returned to Nashville with Koger and his wife around 1970 to record a 45: “Nobody Knows (Where No One’s At)” b/w “Love and Memories”, for Plowboy Records PAL-0001. Interestingly, Koger does not receive producer credit on the labels.
Koger set-up shop in Tennessee and began producing country artists like Russ Lindley, Wayne Snow and Prince Guitar for Colony 13 Records, now listing himself as “Frank James” on all label credits.
Ingram accompanied the Kogers several times to Nashville and remembers the walls of his studio being lined with albums. She remained in contact with the couple and heard from Koger just before he died of cancer in 1980, at the age of 48. According to Ingram, he became a minister in his later years and was buried in the Old Primitive Baptist Church cemetery in Sanville, VA, not far from his birthplace. His widow told Ingram in 2010 that Koger kept the masters from her albums, but got rid of all of the other tapes made during his days in Danville.
Peggy Wiggins (Harville) worked with Koger at Kmart, assisting him with newspaper ads the store ran in the Danville Register and Bee. She said he kept his day job as manager of Kmart’s appliance department until the couple left for Tennessee. “Frank and his wife Kitty would go to Nashville and stay with Wagoner and Parton,” she says, and “Frank had Porter and Dolly autograph their picture in a Grand Old Opry magazine,” which he gave to Wiggins. She also remembers that Kitty designed and made many of Dolly’s stage outfits.
Truxton Fulton played keyboards in the Stones Unturned and recorded with the band at House of Sound. He recalls that Koger was a huge country music fan, years before it became mainstream. He remembers Koger as “someone who could take a little and stretch it a long way.” Frank’s job at Kmart “gave him access to recording equipment at a discount but it was just home stereo stuff, nothing professional or even top of the line Sony,” says Fulton. Given those budget constraints, Fulton believes the studio was still able to produce an “amazing” sound, pointing to the Soulmasters’ single as Koger’s crowning achievement.
Pete Walker was probably Frank Koger’s best friend when he lived in Danville, and describes him as likable and friendly, adding: “He would give you the shirt off his back.” Walker credits Frank with getting him started in the business. The two met one night at Kmart and struck up a conversation about music. Walker told Koger he was “just playing a little flattop” on the side. But Koger needed a bass player, so “he started me playing bass and we formed a little group.” Bass players were hard to find and “when I told him I didn’t have a bass, he gave me one from Kmart and that’s what started me in music.” He went on to play on many Raven sessions (backing Susan Lea, Jack Transou, Homer “T” and Paul Parker) and recalls driving with Frank to Copeland Studios in Greensboro to back a black female vocalist on a recording of “Harper Valley PTA” (Millicent Williams, Harper Valley PTA/Ode to Billy Joe, Piedmont 45-2050). Koger also played flattop guitar and even recorded a 45 at one point, although Walker can’t recall the title or label.
“All of the local musicians knew Frank,” recalls Walker, “and the T-Birds did their practicing at the studio before playing their first job at T-Bird Country,” a popular honky tonk on the outskirts of Danville owned by popular W.D.V.A. disc jockey Homer “T” Thomasson, who also recorded a recitation 45 for Raven, Thru A Soldier’s Eyes/It’s Santa Claus (HOS-45-2008).
Walker helped the Kogers make the move around 1970-71, renting a truck and hauling their furniture from Danville to Nashville. Frank continued moonlighting in the studio in Nashville, while working a day job selling television sets. While he no longer played on any of the sessions, Walker remained close friends with Frank until his death, and the couple would visit him whenever they returned to Southside Virginia.
Jean Koger was also a songwriter and Frank bragged that she could compose a song about anything. Walker was visiting the couple one night and was sitting in the recreation room when Frank remarked that “Kit could write a song in 10 minutes.” He pulled a nickel and two pennies from his pocket, the two walked upstairs and Koger handed his wife the change and asked her to “put a song together.” It wasn’t long before she did just that, much to Walker’s amazement. Walker says the couple became good friends with Dolly and Porter, and Jean designed custom gowns for Parton and other Nashville singers. While Frank had a knack for finding and recording undiscovered talent, it was his wife who had a fixation with fame.
In the late seventies, Koger had a serious wreck that left him in severe pain. Walker said while x-raying his back, doctors discovered he had spinal cancer. They began treatment and the cancer was in remission. But Walker says “it came back and he died not long after that” on February 24, 1980. Walker attended his funeral in Henry County but soon lost touch with Frank’s widow, who remained in Franklin, Tennessee. Walker believes Koger would be pleased that his music lived on after his death, but says he never achieved his biggest ambition, which was “to own a town where everybody was equal.”
More information can be found at these articles by Jack Garrett:
Discography of Raven / House of Sound and related labels
It’s nearly impossible to compile a complete discography of Raven-related releases, since as few as 50 copies of some of the 45s were pressed.
Since Raven Records of Danville, Virginia was connected to the House of Sound Studio, other House of Sound Productions are included in this discography, including occasional releases on the Hoss, Hippie, Piedmont and Colony labels. Singles have the 45- prefix, LPs the 33- prefix. This discography was compiled by Dennis Minter and Jack Garrett.
Any help with this discography would be appreciated
Raven HOS-45-2006 – Gene & The Teambeats – I Want’a Be Your Baby / Sorry ‘Bout That Raven HOS-45-2007 – Earl Wilkes – Too Many Nancys / Keep This Song Raven HOS-45-2008 – Homer “T” – Thru A Soldier’s Eyes / It’s Santa Claus Hoss HOS-45-2009 – Kathy Bledsoe – My Baby’s Gone / Shattered Dreams Raven HOS-45-2011 – Gene & The Teambeats – I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me / Here I Stand Raven HoS-45-2013 – Hender Saul – You Really Put a Hurtin’ on Me / What I Need Most Raven HOS-45-2014 – The Ambassador’s Quartet – I’m Free Again / Lord I Need You Raven HOS-45-2015 – The Bowes Brothers – Ain’t Got Time To Think / Bottom of The Glass Raven HOS-45-2016 – The Lost Soul – A Secret of Mine / Mind’s Expressway Raven HOS-45-2018 – The Individuals – I Want Love / I Really Do Hippie HOS-45-2019 – The IV Pack – Whatzit? / Bootleg Raven HOS-45-2020 – The Soulmasters – I’ll Be Waiting Here / You Took Away The Sunshine Raven HOS-33-2022 – Frances Ingram – My God Is Real Raven HOS-45-2024 – Susan Lea – Home Loving Girl / I’m Going To The Back Room Raven HOS-33-2027 – Dan River High School Band Raven HOS-45-2028 – Katie Lee – It Takes Two / Mommie What Would Daddy Say Raven HOS-45-2029 – The Wilsons – Rabbit In The Log / White House Blues Raven HOS-45-2030 – Hughes Memorial School – We Sing Raven HOS-45-2031 – Jack Transou – Wait Until The Weekend / When You’re Thru Hurting Me Raven HOS-45-2032 – The Lost Soul – I’m A Gonna Hurt You / For You Raven HOS-45-2033 – Paul Parker – Don’t You Sometimes Get Lonely / I Just Want You Raven HOS-45-2034 – Susan Lea – If This Dam Ever Breaks / Teenager’s Dream Raven HOS-33-2038 – Old Country Church Quartet – The Old Country Church Raven HOS-33-2041 – Frances Ingram – Singing His Praises Vol. II Raven HOS-45-2042 – Charlie Chandler – The Drunken Driver / I’m Fine Raven HOS-45-2043 – Charlie Massey – I’m My Daddy’s Man / The Kingdom of God Piedmont HOS-45-2044 – Moon Mullins & Night Raiders – Baby I Got You / Ain’t Gonna Cry Raven HOS-33-2046 – The True Gospel Singers – The Man On The Middle Cross Raven HOS-45-2047 – Cathy Bledsoe – Leave Well Enough Alone / Cold And Lonely Grave Raven HOS-45-2048 – Ralph Viar – When The Money Runs Out / The Stains of Time Raven HOS-45-2049 – Susan Lea – Hillbilly Willie / Lonely Too Long Piedmont HOS-45-2050 – Millicent Williams – Harper Valley PTA / Ode To Billy Joe Colony 13 – CSP-45-2554 – Bill (Mr. “G”) Glover – Weeping Willow/Liberty Dance Piedmont CSP-45-2556 – The Mustangers – What Do I Have to Pay / That’s My Way Colony 13 CSP-45-2572 – The Greater Experience – Don’t Forget To Remember / Carol’s Carol Piedmont HOS-33-2585 – Old Country Church Quartet – Singing Time
Raven 7-701 The True Gospel Singers – The True Gospel Singers Raven 7-702 The Savage Family – The Savage Family Sings
Included is the Greater Experience 45 on Colony 13. Most on this label were out of Nashville after Frank Koger moved, but this one (“Don’t Forget to Remember”) was distributed locally.
The American Band was an original music group formed in 1968. It had a short and sweet life with only one memorable gig and one demo album. This was the first original material by Truxton Fulton, the composer/musician who currently works under the pseudonym Karl Mahlmann. The focus of this article is the composer’s juvenilia, the band and the music they created while in high school almost 50 years ago.
In 1969, three teenagers who attended school together in Danville, Virginia came together to create an unusual album of original material that isn’t easy to categorize. It isn’t hard rock and is not quite psychedelic, but it was certainly different from anything playing on the radio that summer.
But The American Band’s story begins earlier, with two friends teaming up in 1968 to perform and produce original music. The band was an informal regrouping of friends who had played together on and off in different bands. The group started as a duo with Fulton on keyboards and vocals and Larry Abbott on drums. After a while they coalesced into a band with the addition of Walter Dalton on guitar. Before it was over, the American Band had become a quartet with the addition of vocalist Jeff Fiske.
The George Washington High School variety show was a yearly tradition and helped launch several groups, including the as yet unnamed American Band, which first performed at the 1968-69 assembly. Fulton and Abbott played three original songs: “The Milkman’s Wife,” “Beware of Falling Dreams” and “Look for Your Utopia in Your Backyard.” The first two would be recorded the following summer in Greensboro, after the band added a guitarist and decided upon a name.
Bassist Alan Rowe says the show was in March of 1969. He remembers the date distinctly because his band had been scheduled to perform but had to withdraw at the last minute after several members were involved in a serious car accident. Rowe recalls that the event was held in the school’s gymnasium and was a “true variety show,” including comedy routines, skits and an assortment of musical styles including a jazz set with saxophonist Allen Rippe; a soul band fronted by Rickie Fox; Pete Viccellio on piano; a drum solo performed by Lynn Finch; and a power rock trio that included guitarist Mark Aldridge, Rick Crane on bass, and future American Band guitarist Walter Dalton on drums.
But Rowe says he was most impressed by Fulton and Abbott. Not only did they play original material, but Rowe says the music and performance were exceptional and “really good.” Rowe recalls that “their music was so different from anything else that was being done. They were very accomplished and had a built-in uniqueness… just two people and they were doing their own thing and doing it well.”
The band, as a duo, also played a talent show sponsored by the Danville Rotary Club. Fulton recalls that “We had a fun time backstage while everyone was prepping. Larry and I pretended we were doing a dance routine and we just couldn’t get our steps right. We didn’t win. I think we went over the time limit. On the other hand, we may have just weirded everyone out; we were very counterculture.”
Fulton was already a veteran of the local band scene in Southside Virginia, having played in several groups, including the Stones Unturned, Radio Super Ice Cream Parlor and the Satisfactions Band and Show, a Farmville-based horn group that performed extensively and recorded two 45s for the Stag label in Greensboro, N.C. By his senior year in High School, Fulton was ready to concentrate on his own material. He explains that “from the beginning it was a little different in that it was a band for original music. We were never a cover band.” While the group performed “a couple of cover songs” live, Fulton says their purpose was to record his songs.
After graduating in 1969, Fulton took a summer job at wallboard maker U.S. Gypsum, saving $500 to finance a session in Greensboro. The group — now a trio with the addition of guitarist Walter Dalton — began rehearsing original material that would be recorded during a marathon session in mid-July.
Two years earlier, Dalton had worked with Fulton and Abbott in Radio Super Ice Cream Parlor, a cover band that featured a light show and included guitarist Bob Tamson and bassist Rick Crane. The short-lived group performed in the GW High School cafeteria, either for graduation or a homecoming dance. And while the band specialized in lesser known numbers like “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” Tamson and Dalton both concede that this may not have been a wise choice for the football crowd.
Dalton remained a fan of Fulton’s “amazing” talent on the organ, and says “he could really whip it out on a (Hammond) B3.” So, “when Trucky asked me if I’d be interested in working with him (on) this original material he wanted to record… I was more than willing to do it.” The band rehearsed over the summer “to the point where it went pretty smoothly” by the time the three traveled to Greensboro.
Fulton, Abbott and Dalton made the trek to Crescent City Sound Studios on July 15, 1969. Crescent City was founded by Walt Copeland, who managed the studio and doubled as chief engineer. Fulton says it seemed like a logical choice. He was familiar with the studio, having recorded there earlier with the Satisfactions.
The sessions were done in a single afternoon. The original master tapes are lost, but Dalton kept his copy of the mono acetate, which includes eight original songs written and sung by Fulton. The album is an eclectic mix of styles, incorporating rock, jazz, soul and classical music, with heavy fuzz guitar and Fulton’s Hammond organ.
The threesome provided the instrumental backing, save for a session violinist who contributed to one track. While the band provided sheet music, Fulton remembers that the violinist “never did get his part right.” At one point, Dalton stood in front of him, waving his arm on each beat. In retrospect, Fulton wishes he had erased the part because the violinist was playing out of tune.
Most of the songs were performed live-to-tape in a single take, with very little overdubbing. Fulton did overdub piano parts and his vocals. In addition to organ, he also played a Fender Rhodes bass piano, ala the Doors. The band had rehearsed the arrangements and Dalton remembers that “there were some songs that Trucky planned to do some overdubs for vocals as well as maybe other parts; I think there was one that he played a recorder on.” Dalton was excited because it was his “first and only real experience in a full fledged recording studio.” He recalls that the sessions were “pretty much straight in” and that he was only required to do overdubs on a couple of songs “and then it reached the point where we were done, meaning me and Larry, and we just left. I remember we left Trucky down there with the recording engineer.”
His only hesitation came when Fulton brought a Vox wah-wah pedal to the studio and asked that Dalton use it on some of the songs, most notably on the coda of “Beware of Falling Dreams.” While the band may have rehearsed with it once or twice, Dalton admits it was “kind of a new toy, so I had to fool around with it a little bit, but it went pretty well.”
There were no studio jitters. The band was well rehearsed and Dalton says he was comfortable with the arrangements. He knew what he “needed to do (and) just tried to go in and concentrate and do it.” And with the studio charging “a fairly hefty rate per hour,” there was an incentive to do it right the first time.
While the album holds up well, Fulton insists the sessions were “ill-conceived, in the sense that we tried to do too much in too short a time.” While the recordings are raw and include mistakes, he remembers the sessions as fun and “a good learning experience.” The three entered the studio with a plan to use the recordings to promote the band, “either to record companies or to get some good gigs, which we did with the Steel Mill job up in Richmond.”
The trip to Greensboro was highlighted in a story — “Band to Make Album” — that appeared in the Commercial Appeal, a weekly Danville newspaper known for its liberal stance on politics.
Describing their music at the time, Fulton said their style was unique, adding: “It’s partly classical rock, but mostly rock. Kids won’t be able to dance to some of it. But I don’t think that means it isn’t good. I mean you couldn’t dance to Beethoven, and he was good.”
For the newspaper photo shoot, the band posed in Truxton’s bedroom in front of a borrowed American flag. Fulton asked the photographer whether he thought his beard would show up in the picture. Not missing a beat, the photog replied: “Oh, in about two years.” Fulton also remembers that his father was none too pleased when the band picture appeared and his son had a cigarette dangling from his lips.
A few seconds of video of the band was also filmed around this time by Gary Gaddy, a friend from high school. The silent film is in color and was shot on a Super 8 camera. It provides a glimpse of the band rehearsing “Beware of Falling Dreams” in Fulton’s home. The camera pans from Fulton’s hands at the keyboards to a shot of a sweaty Abbott pounding the drums. There are a few frames of Dalton in sunglasses playing his Rickenbacker guitar before the film runs out.
The American Band only performed once, but it was a memorable gig. Fulton was a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall of 1969 when he approached concert organizers about playing at the Free U, which Fulton describes as “a short-lived hippie thing,” offering classes with no tuition. The venue was later known as the String Factory. The American Band opened for Bruce Springsteen and his group Steel Mill, which had just changed its name from Child so as not to be confused with another group by the same name that recorded for Roulette Records.
Fulton secured the band a supporting spot on the bill, largely on the strength of the acetate. He played their demo for the manager of the Free U, Russ Clem, who listened to several songs without saying a word. After taking it all in, he looked up and remarked: “It’s so refreshing to hear some really good original music”. Clem agreed to add the American Band to the show. While Fulton had never heard of Steel Mill or Springsteen, the group played regularly in Richmond and Fulton says they “were regional stars and had a good following there.”
The Richmond psyche group Morning Disaster may have also performed that day, but Fulton says the American Band was a last-minute addition and did not make the concert poster. The bands performed in an upstairs room and the attendees sat on the floor.
Jeff Fiske, whose family lived behind the Fultons on Confederate Avenue, had joined the American Band by this point and handled some of the lead vocals. Fiske was older than the other band members and fronted several local groups, including the Kondors, Manchesters and City Council when lead singer Charles Hairston was unavailable.
Fiske was drafted right out of high school and served in Vietnam in 1967-68, so he was anxious to get back into the band business. He said he was impressed by the musicianship of the American Band, noting the trio was “amazingly tight considering they hadn’t played together very long.”
His audition involved singing “A Whiter Shade of Pale” to Fulton’s accompaniment on organ. Fiske doesn’t recall how it came about and says he could have heard the band jamming or he may have been recommended by Mrs. Poindexter, another neighbor who was a big fan of the Kondors.
The band’s one-off performance at the Free U caught Dalton by surprise. He was still in high school and recalls finding out “with fairly short notice that Trucky had gotten us this gig in Richmond where he was going to school.”
Dalton, Abbott and Fiske drove up to Richmond and were unloading their equipment for the sound check when Dalton was informed that he didn’t need to bring his amp, just his guitar. “So I show up with just my guitar wondering what kind of amp am I going to be playing through, but there was this nice guy who was telling me, ‘Here’s my amp, you can use it,’ and showing me a couple of tips on how we set up and everything. I only found out recently that the guy was Bruce Springsteen, which is really a big surprise for me because nobody ever gave me a clue that’s who we were playing with.”
The band opened the Richmond concert with “Beware of Falling Dreams.” Before the next number, Fulton turned to the audience and asked them to be kind because it was the group’s first performance. To his surprise, the comment was greeted with a round of applause. According to Fulton, their set was “very well received in spite of the fact that Steel Mill was much more of a mature act than we were.”
Fiske recalls that the place “was packed with all the audience sitting on the floor.” The crowd was “laid back, but appreciative of the band’s music.” The stage had a short walkway that extended into the audience and Fiske’s mike stand was placed on the extension. He said it “was very cool (to be) surrounded by those folks singing for them, and I thought the band sounded great that night.” While most of the attendees were waiting for the main attraction, he recalls that the American Band still “received a great response from most of them.” Fiske was wearing his Vietnam boonie on stage that night, in the midst of demonstrations against the war. At some point he realized his apparent faux pas, but if anyone objected there were no complaints.
Fulton played Steel Mill’s Hammond B3 at the concert and was impressed with the keyboard player and Springsteen, who watched the American Band in the wings and cheered them on. Steel Mill already had quite a following in the Richmond area and Fulton remembers them performing “The War is Over” and “Sweet Melinda,” along with a cover of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
While Steel Mill played September 19 and 20, 1969 in The Center at Richmond’s Free University, Fulton says the American Band only performed one night. Photographs were made of the concert but have been lost to time.
This was to be the American Band’s first — and last — performance. The group parted ways shortly thereafter. Fulton insists there was no animosity about the break-up and says the logistics of keeping a Danville-based group together were just too difficult with the leader a full-time student at VCU and the other members attending high school three hours away. Dalton concurs and says the distance separating the band made it impossible to continue, adding that “we just kind of understood that this probably was gonna be it.”
1969-70 was a year of musical growth for Fulton, who became well-integrated with the Richmond music scene. His band Matrix opened for Jethro Tull that November, playing a set of Fulton’s compositions, including the 20-minute suite, “Miscarriage.” Reviewers described Matrix as “a strangely original group” whose music was as good “as any band heard on record or off.” Some of Fulton’s cohorts from that year are still involved in projects with him today under the band name Play Innocent.
As for the other American Band members, Walter Dalton moved to the Norfolk area, where he lives today. Larry Abbott remained in Danville. Sadly, he died in 2010. Jeff Fiske continues to live and work in Danville.
Larry Hutcherson – vocals Mike Johnstone – lead guitar Paris Aiken – drums Norm Lawrence – bass guitar Rick Farrar – rhythm guitar
Brad Tinglehoff was the roadie for the group.
According to the Tidewater Virginia Hippies site, other members of the Mustangs included Steve Swenson and Ronnie Hall. I don’t believe this group released any records, and if there were any unreleased recordings, I haven’t heard them.
Mike Johnstone went on to play with Headstone Circus, whose recordings circa 1968 were eventually released by Shadoks. Paris Aiken joined Dennis & the Times, and later played drums with Billy Joe Royal on his recording of “Down in the Boondocks”.
James Mrdutt sent in the photos seen here and reported that Paris passed away on December 24, 2009.
Thank you to Mike Johnstone for correcting the mistakes I made in transcribing the IDs for the photo.
It has been nearly a half-century since five musicians from Martinsville and Danville banded together to form a group that would record just six sides over their decade together, but the music they created continues to gain fans and now reaches a far greater audience than was possible when they honed their skills in rural Virginia in the 1960s.
Gene and the Team Beats started their career as the Corvettes, an instrumental group led by Gene Rumley of Martinsville, who also played sax and booked the band throughout Virginia and the Carolinas. Carl Clarke (also from Martinsville) was the group’s original rhythm guitarist and joined the band near its inception in 1959. He remembers that the band originally performed as the Teen Beats, borrowing their name from a popular instrumental recorded by drummer Sandy Nelson. But when several of the members turned 20, Gene and the Team Beats were born.
The Team Beats performed mostly in Virginia, North and South Carolina and the DC area between 1959 and 1968. The band started recording late in their career, with all three 45s released between 1965 and ’67.
The Team Beats were especially popular in the Danville area and early performances saw the group backing recording artists Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, Brenda Lee and Jimmy Clanton at the local Coke plant. Clark recalls that the crowds were huge and even the local musicians were treated like rock stars. Butch Fox doubled on guitar and bass, while Dennis Porter played drums in the 1961 Team Beats’ configuration. Both commuted from Danville.
An article appearing in the Martinsville Bulletin in September 1961 recounts the band’s return from a summer tour which took them across eight states. They began playing in Myrtle Beach, S.C. at the Ocean Forest Marine Patio and Pavilion. Other appearances included the Top Hat, the Tropicana, and the Star Terrace Room in Virginia Beach.
Besides Rumley, bassist Carl Barrow had the longest history with the band, starting with the original line-up and continuing through countless personnel changes. Barrow’s bass can be heard on all three recording sessions. He first met Rumley when the future bandleader was “16 or 17 and he was working a night job as a curb hop at Sugar’s Drive-In, a small diner located in Martinsville on River Hill.” He remembers Gene had a strong work ethic and didn’t seem to mind holding down a full-time job, booking the band and driving the Team Beats to and from jobs in Virginia and the Carolinas.
But there were equipment problems early in their career, with Barrow blowing speakers at performances. He went to work with Clark and the pair designed their own cabinet. They mounted two 15 inch JBL speakers in a huge cabinet powered by a Fender amp. Other bands heard about the innovation and were coming to hear this “loud and very deep bass amplifier.” The huge tower was years ahead of the Marshall stacks of the sixties and even had a practical application, providing the band a safe hiding place when fights and gunfire cleared the dance floor.
Clark and Barrow’s paths first crossed when they attended separate high schools in Martinsville. Barrow remembers being blown away at an assembly at Drewry Mason High School when Clark took the stage playing guitar. This was before the Team Beats, but “Carl got them reelin’ and rockin’ with a Chuck Berry song; he could really play.”
In the summer of 1961, the Team Beats were playing a night club in Norfolk — the Star Terrace Lounge — and living in a motel near Virginia Beach. With all of clubs booked at the beach, the band had to make do with the steady job in Norfolk. Clark recalls that “after a month or two some shyster talked us into going to Chicago, explaining that he had worked up a job for us there and we would be famous.”
All five members crammed into Rumley’s vintage Oldsmobile, pulling a wooden trailer covered with a tarp to the Windy City. On arrival, they discovered that the club manager had never heard of the band and had no interest in booking an unknown group from Virginia. Clark explains that “you had to be 21 to walk into the place, much less work there. We had been had by a manager who wanted us to leave (Norfolk) so his group could move in.”
The group piled back into Gene’s Olds and were trying to find their way out of Chicago when they “found this nice quiet road with no traffic.” With no place to stay and a long drive home, the band found a secluded spot by the water and went to sleep. The next morning they were preparing to leave but couldn’t understand why so many people were walking in the “road” and looking at them like they were from another planet. The band stopped the car and got out, only to be greeted by sirens and police cruisers coming through the woods in their direction. Gene and his compatriots were soon surrounded by the law. With guns drawn, they ordered the band to spread eagle and were promptly searched. Unbeknownst to the Team Beats, they had been driving on the sidewalks of Lake Shore Park.
The group was ordered to remove everything from the band trailer and all of their instrument cases were searched. With no machine guns in tow, Chicago’s finest finally realized that they weren’t dealing with criminals but “five dumb, redneck hillbillies from Virginia trying to become rock and roll stars.” They repacked their equipment and were escorted from the city by one of the officers. When they arrived at the outskirts of town, the cruiser stopped and the cop told them to “head that Oldsmobile south and don’t look back.”
Clark married in 1963 and “found a shift job,” which didn’t jive with the night life and long hours required for road gigs on weekends. He left the band and music shortly thereafter but still plays, although he has switched to bass and Bluegrass music.
Lewis “Lew” Woodall of Bassett was the band’s original lead guitarist, and still performs with his own jazz quartet. He recalls the early years, when the band formed in 1959-60 as Gene and the Teen Beats. He says the band played about every weekend around Martinsville, Danville and Roanoke, frequently crossing the state border to play jobs for college fraternities. Woodall says in addition to the extended engagement at Norfolk’s Star Terrace, the Team Beats also played Virginia Beach’s Top Hat Club in the summer of 1961.
Woodall’s instrumental prowess was already legendary in Southside Virginia and Barrow says he had no rivals, calling him “the best guitarist anywhere around” and “way ahead of his time.” Barrow recalls that “Lew was getting sounds out of just his straight guitar without the fuzz box and pedals that came along years later.”
While the band was small in number, they were able to get a full sound because each member was an accomplished musician. They were primarily a soul and rhythm and blues band and Rumley points out that “Lewis (Woodall) and some of the guys hated playing rock and roll.”
Gene and the Team Beats were the house band at the Peppermint Beach Club in Virginia Beach for the summer in 1962. The club was the sister of the renowned Peppermint Lounge in New York City and home of Joey Dee and the Starlighters of “Peppermint Twist” fame. The Team Beats played to a packed house during their two-month stint at the club. Between frat house engagements found by Rumley (aided by Bill Buckner) and the jobs secured by the group’s three booking agencies, there was seldom a weekend when the group wasn’t on the road.
One such weekend found the Team Beats in Greensboro in the dead of winter. Rumley drove the group’s blue Econovan, pulling a band trailer with the guys crammed inside the van. Barrow admits “it wasn’t highfalutin; we were lucky to get there at times.” The band finished their job about 1 a.m., loaded the trailer and Gene got behind the wheel. He was also working a day job for Gerber Foods at the time, so Rumley was tired. Barrow recalls that it was bitterly cold outside “and Gene was so sleepy that he would roll the window down and stick his head outside until he nearly froze. That would wake him up for a few minutes and when he was about to doze off, he’d do it again.” Barrow suggested that “maybe one of us should drive,” but Rumley would have none of it. They made it home safely but Barrow marvels that “we weren’t all hurt or worse.”
Wayne Motley was the band’s vocalist during this period. Rumley describes Motley as “an amazing showman and singer,” but with a troubled life that made him “hard to manage at times.” Motley, who also played guitar, keyboards and “just about anything but a horn,” was in and out of the band. Rumley explains that he “had to let him go a couple times (but) took Wayne back out of desperation.” He finally left the band for good after a minor scrape with the law.
Motley was fronting the group when the Team Beats won second place in a statewide battle of the bands competition in Richmond. Dressed in matching outfits and belting out a Jackie Wilson tune, the band took home $250 and new suits for each member.
Motley was already a veteran of the band scene by this time, starting at age 14 as a founding member of the Royal Kings, which played the club and college circuit in the Virginia Beach/Ocean View area. He would return to the Royal Teens after his ouster from the Team Beats. Barrow recalls seeing the band in Roanoke then and not recognizing Motley immediately because he was wearing a blonde wig.
In later years, Motley recorded and performed with his wife, Katherine, in the Newport News area as Wayne “King” Motley. His three-hour show was interspersed with vintage rock and roll, country classics and an Elvis tribute. He continued entertaining at assisted living and retirement communities until just before his death at age 67. Barrow, Buckner and Lew Woodall visited Motley at his home a month before he died on August 18, 2012. Barrow says he was in good spirits and glad to see all of them after so many years. Bill Buckner, who was instrumental in promoting the band, died months later on April 2, 2014. He was 76.
Lew Woodall remembers that in 1963, the band played a couple of months at the Twist Lounge at Nags Head. Nights found the band sleeping in a hot dog stand on the beach, with all five members crammed into a small cinderblock room and sharing a single sheet. Rumley recalls that “one night the guys left the sheet for me, but they’d wrapped it around a dead shark.” While the stand had “gone broke and closed,” the awning was still up and band members would be awakened by beachcombers who wanted a snack in the middle of the night.
Woodall left the Team Beats at the end of that summer when he transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. After graduating in 1965, Woodall was drafted and his brother, Lonnie, began playing with Rumley while Lew was in Vietnam.
The younger Woodall and Barrow shared an affinity for the same music and he recalls “Lonnie and I used to do a little soulful singing to each other.” The two were like brothers and Lonnie was already a regular on the bandstand, tagging along when Lewis was playing with the group. Lonnie picked up the guitar and “after a while we could see he was going to be a great guitarist. He joined the band and Lonnie took over where Lew left off.”
With Motley’s forced exodus from the band, Rumley was in need of a soulful vocalist. He found Charles Hairston by sheer tenacity, explaining that he went up Fayette Street in Martinsville saying: “Hey, we’re looking for a black singer to really represent our group with soul music… who’s a good singer?” Someone recommended Charles, who passed the audition and became the voice of the Team Beats. Gene says his contribution cannot be overlooked, and believes “Charles really made our band at that time.”
The addition brought some problems in the segregated South, where the band was refused service at a restaurant while returning from a fraternity gig at the University of Virginia. But having Hairston on vocals also allowed the Team Beats to play in some black clubs that were generally off limits to white bands.
There were some close calls, though. On one occasion the band was playing in the basement of an all black club in Martinsville when a woman accused her boyfriend of cheating and pulled a Saturday night special from her purse. She pointed the gun at the boyfriend and shouted: “I’m gonna blow your head off!” He ran into the women’s bathroom as the band scurried for cover, ducking behind the piano and amplifiers. With a staircase on each side of the bandstand, the patrons ran up the steps to the right as the irate female continued to wave her pistol in the other stairwell. The band had nowhere to go and remained in hiding until the standoff could be diffused.
Rumley recalls another incident at a long since forgotten club “somewhere back in the sticks” of North Carolina. After agreeing to take the job, Rumley was contacted by Bill Buckner, who wanted to book the band for the same date. When Buckner learned where the Team Beats were scheduled to perform, he warned the bandleader that they were risking life and limb by playing there. But the gig paid about $300 and the band needed the money, so Rumley instructed Buckner to keep quiet about his reservations.
Rumley didn’t tell the band about the club’s reputation for violence, but instructed the guys to pull the old, upright piano away from the wall, in case they had to duck for cover. With just one door on the opposite end of the dance hall, he also made certain the window behind the bandstand was open, in case they had to stage a speedy exit.
The band was rocking about 1 a.m. when two gunshots rang out. That brought things to a standstill, but the partying resumed once the patrons realized the shots had come from the parking lot.
As the band was packing up for the night, Rumley inquired about the gunshots and learned that a woman had fatally shot her boyfriend.
The band was instructed to pick up their pay at another location. Rumley was returning to the van with the night’s receipts when he spotted a drunk standing by the van, talking to the musicians about the shooting that had happened a couple of hours earlier. Turns out he was also the local undertaker and, upon determining that the shooting victim had died, simply placed him on the back seat of his car and returned to the festivities. When the band declined his offer to view the body, the mortician drove on to the morgue. It would be the first — and last — time the Team Beats booked a job there.
Musician and composer Rickie Fox was also an early member of the band and says one of his first performances as a Team Beat was at the Rathskeller, a downtown Danville nightclub located off Main Street, behind the Elk’s Lodge. Fox explains that his brother, Butch, got him into the group after one of the members (he’s not sure which) was drafted into the Army. Butch Fox switched to lead guitar and 12-year-old Rickie picked up the bass. Fox ended up playing with the group for about two-and-a-half years, first on bass, later on guitar and finally on drums. His drumming can be heard on the band’s first two records.
Butch was asked to leave the band after missing several rehearsals. Rickie was not yet old enough to drive and had no way to get to Martinsville “so Gene hired Brian Thomason to play bass” and bring the younger brother to rehearsals. Fox switched to guitar; Lew Woodall was drafted and Rumley hired his brother, Lonnie, to play guitar with Fox. Charles Hairston was the vocalist, Mickey Walker played drums and Rumley was on sax.
Fox shifted to drums when Walker was drafted and recalls driving to Sam Ash Music in New York, “where I bought a set of drums just like Ringo’s: black pearl Ludwig’s.”
Fox says his most vivid memory is playing with Otis Redding in Martinsville on Friday, June 4, 1965. Fox recalls that Redding, then billed as “Mr. Pitiful,” was playing at the June German Ball, which was being held on Fayette Street in Martinsville. The “School’s Out Celebration Show and Dance” was billed as a five-hour show featuring Redding, with Little Royal and the Swingmasters of Washington, D.C. and Gene and the Team Beats as support acts. Fox says that Rumley and friend Bill Buckner had arranged for Redding to play for about an hour, with all of the bands using the Team Beats’ equipment “because they just kind of came in and then they went out.” According to Fox, the Team Beats were playing a club on 220 at the time and both he and Lonnie Woodall worshiped Little Royal’s guitar player, Robert Parker, stealing “every guitar lick we possibly could from him.” Little Royal was also quite a showman and emulated James Brown.
The Otis Redding show was at Baldwin’s Gymtorium on Fayette Street and attracted 3,000 fans. Rumley says the aging, two-story building had a balcony that circled the interior, with a high stage and a large dance floor. The Team Beats got the crowd warmed up and by the time they left the stage, “that place was jumping and the old wooden building was literally shaking.” He says when Otis Redding performed, the sound was “absolutely unbelievable.” Rumley recalls that the horn section from James Brown’s band had just defected to the “up and coming” Redding and says “they basically tore the roof off the place. That was one of the best jobs that we’d ever played.”
Fox was also with the band when the Team Beats opened for the Shangri Las at the Danville City Auditorium. The all-girl group was backed by a stellar English instrumental band, Sounds Inc. The group had recently performed with the Beatles and — like the Liverpudlians — honed their skills at the famed Star Club in Germany.
The agent for the show arranged for the Team Beats to travel to Washington, D.C. to play for other booking agencies. Fox remembers that they played a club with Little Willie and the Hand Jives. And while nothing ever came of the audition, Fox says they had a great time there.
The Team Beats performed with Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge and the Showmen. They also provided instrumental backing for Joe Simon, Inez Foxx, William Bell, the Kelly Brothers and Freddy Cannon.
Eddie Scott, who played drums after Fox left the group, says the show with Sam and Dave was especially memorable, since the Team Beats had the chance to join the duo’s huge band on stage. Scott remembers that the Team Beats “were the opening act (but) as the night wound down, we were able to play together, all of us. Sam and Dave and their group (were) on stage and then Gene and the Team Beats along with them… we were able to deliver a high powered performance.”
The Team Beat’s first single, “I’ll Carry On” b/w “Apple Fuzz” was released on Leatherwood (RI 2096) in 1965. Rickie Fox played drums on the session and says the band recorded the 45 not long after he joined.
“I’ll Carry On” is credited to Rumley, while bothers Lewis and Lonnie Woodall are listed as composers of the instrumental, “Apple Fuzz,” which features nice jazz phrasing on guitar.
Rumley explains that for the first release, the band saved some money “from a couple of gigs, rented a studio near Rocky Mount somewhere and cut our first record, which we self-promoted.” Rumley describes the recording quality as “bad,” noting “there wasn’t much separation at all… probably one, two tracks because we were playing like we were playing in a nightclub and had the volume cranked up. When the sound came out, we were not too happy with it.” The single is distorted and poorly mixed and received little airplay.
Fox insists it wasn’t recorded in a studio at all, but rather in the basement of a home in Rocky Mount. He was 12 at the time but remembers the night vividly. Fox says the band had played a job in Roanoke at the Sportsmen Club and “Gene had hooked up with some guy that had a quote-unquote ‘studio’ in his basement.” That night after the gig, the band went to his home and recorded “I’ll Carry On” and the flip side in a marathon session. Fox says the band was “literally there pretty much through the night.” While he knew little about recording studios at the time, Fox remembers “it was kind of primitive (and) I don’t think we did a lot of overdubbing or anything like that. It seemed like it was just a situation to record right onto a big reel-to-reel.”
He says the setting looked nothing like a studio. Fox had just started playing the drums and when he listens to the 45 today, “I cringe because everything I like in a drummer now I didn’t do then; I was playing everything on the off beat… a lot of off beat snare drum hits and the ride cymbal was real heavy.” But he feels justified in that the record was “hastily done in somebody’s basement and there’s no telling what type of equipment he had.”
“I Wanta Be Your Baby,” and “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me” were the group’s second and third 45 releases, respectively. Both were pressed in Tennessee by Nashville Record Productions, Inc. for Raven Records in Danville, although “I Wanta Be Your Baby” was actually recorded at Copeland Studios in Greensboro, N.C. Rumley doesn’t recall why they opted to record the single there, but believes it was because Copeland had better equipment than the fledgling House of Sound Studios on Old Piney Forest Road in Danville.
“I Wanta Be Your Baby” b/w “Sorry ‘bout That” was released in 1966 and was the first rock record in the Raven Records (Raven 45-2006) catalog and was among the label’s first releases. Writing credits for both sides are given to Gino Lamonte, although the Italian never existed. Rumley explains that he penned both sides; however, the band decided to create a composer pseudonym because they thought a European name would look more impressive on the label.
This was to be Fox’s swansong with the band and he recalls that Frank Koger, who ran the House of Sound and Raven Records, accompanied the band to Greensboro, along with Koger’s close friend Bill Buckner, who was managing the Leeds Music Store in Collinsville at that time. Fox remembers “it was the first time I’d ever gone to a real studio and the guy came running out and oiled my (squeaking) bass drum pedal and I was like: ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ I didn’t quite get it.”
The band was well prepared to lay down the plug side, but Fox recalls that the B-side was another matter, adding that the band would always make up something for the second side. “We would go to the studio with one song, which looking back on it is not very smart, and then we would just kind of make up something to go on the other side right there in the studio,” said Fox. The flip side was usually an instrumental, because the group didn’t have time to write lyrics. “And that’s how we made up that “Sorry ‘bout That,” which he says was created on the spot in the studio. Buckner laughs on the track and Koger can be heard saying “Sorry ‘bout That” at the end. Fox was in seventh grade at the time but still remembers the excitement of recording in an actual studio setting.
The personnel on “I Wanta Be Your Baby” is: Gene Rumley (sax and backup vocals); Charles Hairston (lead vocal); Lonnie Woodall (guitar and backup vocals); Rickie Fox (drums); Carl Barrow (bass).
In addition to Rumley and Buckner, the Team Beats had three agencies booking the band: Hit Attractions out of Charlotte, N.C.; Cavalier Attractions in Charlottesville, VA; and Southeastern Artists and Promotions of Florence, AL.
As he was too young to drive, Fox recalls that “when my ride (Brian Thomason) left the band, I had to leave, too.” He went on to form the Soulmasters with musicians from Danville and Eden, N.C. He played drums in the early Soulmasters, with Thomason on bass. Fox also played in the Majors, City Council, the Manchesters and Fox and Company. He continues to record, produce and perform today, both as a solo artist and with various bands.
To “promote” the record Rumley and the band’s drummer got in Gene’s car “and drove for two days from Danville to Richmond, up to a guy playing all kind of rhythm and blues out in Delaware. Just anybody who would listen to us we go into a studio and try and tell them who we were and what we were doing.” Apparently it worked, as “I Wanta Be Your Baby” was a regional hit and the group’s best selling 45. Bassist Alan Rowe remembers buying his copy at Leeds Music Center in Danville from Soulmaster Doug Hyler, who worked at the store when not on the road with his band.
A letter from Broadcast Music, Inc. to Rumley dated May 10, 1966 lists the A-sides of both singles and “I’m Sorry About That,” urging Rumley to notify the publisher (Old Standby Music Co.) and have the songs registered with BMI as soon as possible. His experience was not unique. Two other Raven bands, Lost Soul and the Individuals, thought their songs had been registered, only to learn years later that the music licensing firm had no record of their recordings. Individuals’ bassist Tommy Redd kept the paperwork showing he paid Koger $6 to register two of his songs with BMI.
Interestingly, Koger recycled the single’s flip side without telling the band. “Sorry ‘bout That” can be heard as the instrumental backing to an otherwise forgettable B-side recitation (“I’m Fine”) recorded by Charlie Chandler (Raven HOS-45-2042 “The Drunken Driver” b/w “I’m Fine”) and released on Raven’s C&W subsidiary.
Most regard the Hairston line-up as the band’s best. Hairston would remain with the Team Beats until his conscription to military service. He would later be reunited with Fox in City Council, a horn band that toured extensively, performing original material and covers of popular songs that were given the band’s unique stamp through creative arrangements.
Hairston moved to North Carolina in the mid-70s. He remained a fixture on the Charlotte music scene until his death from prostate cancer in 2009 at the age of 61. As vocalist, he fronted the All Stars and is best remembered for being “the soul and energy” of the band’s Monday night performances at the Double Door Inn.
Hairston put on a memorable show for the Inn’s 35th anniversary in December 2008, just two months before his death. Fans say he was his usual self, sweating, singing and moving all around the stage. He last performed publicly at the Double Door in January 2009. By then the cancer he’d battled all year had taken its toll and he sang while sitting on a stool. Hairston’s mother and family visited from Maryland about a week before his death and he sang for them and the hospice staff. He was in good spirits and one in attendance described it as “a wonderful moment… and then he passed peacefully.” The Charles Hairston Memorial Foundation was established the following year.
Guitarist Lonnie Woodall also died too soon, suffering a fatal heart attack on May 20, 2002. He was 54 and had recently attended a bands reunion in Danville that included many veterans of the Team Beats. He played with numerous local and national groups, including City Council, the Rogues, Fox and Company, Percy Sledge and the Blues Defenders. He was the owner of Woodall’s Music and was also instrumental in establishing Harrison Scales Young Musicians Foundation and worked closely with the Bassett High School Jazz Band.
Woodall is still remembered as a great guitarist and a soulful blues singer, but also as a friend to all. Barrow calls him his “brother” and Rumley said he was “always dependable, up-beat and loved music.” Gene says there were many times when he considered quitting, but “I could always depend on Lonnie being there when we had to start over with new people in the group: singers, bass players or drummers. I don’t know of anyone who did not like Lonnie; he was always learning, always caring and kind to everyone he met.”
The band’s third and final release, “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me” b/w “Here I Stand” (Raven HOS 42-2011) came out in 1967 and features a cover of an obscure song by the Wallace Brothers as its A-side. Early pressings featured a photo card insert of the band with a brief bio and booking information.
Since they were no longer writing their own material, Rumley explains that the members would “sit down and listen to old records,” then decide which tunes would be suitable for the group.” This time the group delivered what is arguably their best effort. And, unlike their previous releases, the B-side was no throwaway. “Here I Stand” stands on its own and is preferred by many to the single’s infectious plug side.
Hairston had been drafted and Rumley hastily recruited Martinsville’s Jimmy Mitchell as vocalist for the recording session, which also features Eddie Scott on drums. While Scott only appears on their last 45, he replaced Fox in 1966 and was with the Team Beats until the band called it a day two years later. He recalls passing an audition and recording at House of Sound Studios. Scott says the studio was small and there was very little overdubbing. As he remembers, “it was more or less cubicles and everything was recorded together… pretty much live to tape.” Mitchell sang lead, Rumley played sax, Lonnie Woodall was on guitar and Carl Barrow handled bass on the sessions.
Mitchell was needed because “when Charles left we were missing that soul that only some people can bring to our style of music.” Rumley discovered Mitchell after again asking friends to recommend a good, soulful singer. He says Jimmy’s vocal styling fit the band perfectly. It didn’t hurt that he was a consummate “showman and front man.” By this point the band was moving in step on many of their numbers and Mitchell was a natural for the choreography, adding his own gyrations. Scott was also quite a dancer and Barrow recalls Eddie would hit the dance floor during breaks, “doing his best James Brown impression.”
Mitchell’s tenure with the band was brief. The singer married and left because it was too difficult to balance his day job with the band’s busy travel schedule. At some point he left Martinsville and Scott recalls that Mitchell later sang in clubs in New York City.
Barrow also left the band shortly before the break-up in 1968. Carl had been with the group on-and-off since he beginning but explains that he “went into commercial artwork” and the pressure of holding down a job and playing every weekend became too much.
A fourth single release was planned and the backing track was recorded. The project was shelved after the group’s new lead singer, Alfonzo Martin of Martinsville, was also inducted into the military. Rumley regrets that the band was unable to add Martin’s vocals to their final recording session, describing his range as “unbelievable.” Martin served in the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of staff sergeant. He was killed by hostile fire in Vietnam.
The group disbanded shortly thereafter. Rumley points out that the band had been together nearly a decade and he had grown weary of replacing members who moved on to other bands, full-time jobs or were drafted and shipped out to Southeast Asia.
Scott moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1996 and drove a truck until his retirement. He played in several bands over the years, including Martinsville’s Renegade Demolition Band in the eighties.
With the break-up, Rumley left touring behind and concentrated on a career. He spent more than 30 years in the business world, serving as president and vice president of multi-national corporations while leading training seminars throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America. He was named “Business Man of the Year” by Alibaba.com, the world’s largest B2B search engine. While his home is in Florida, Rumley continues to travel extensively as a John Maxwell certified coach and teacher. But he is most passionate about his work with children in India, where he founded Mission for Orphans, a non-profit organization that helps feed, clothe and educate street children and orphans.
But rarely a day goes that he isn’t contacted by a follower of the music his band created nearly fifty years ago. The songs have stood the test of time, and Gene and the Team Beats live on through the dedication of Beach Music fans on the East Coast and lovers of Northern Soul in the United Kingdom.
In the days before tribute bands, a group of high school friends from Danville, Va. formed a group that borrowed everything — including their name — from their idols, the Rolling Stones. And while the local band would continue to emulate the English rockers, they quickly developed a style that incorporated the best of British blues, funky Southern soul and West Coast psychedelia.
The nucleus of the Stones Unturned — Jim Ray (vocals); Pete Hilliard (bass); and guitarist Doug Starnes — formed in 1965 to play for a Junior Variety Show at George Washington High School in Danville.
The band needed a drummer and Rick Blair was recruited, along with rhythm guitarist John Douglas. Douglas was a junior at GW and was the lead guitarist for the recently disbanded Kondors, so he was anxious to play again.
The group learned three Rolling Stones songs and Douglas recalls they “blew the roof off the place and the people just went nuts.” J. Ray, all 115 pounds of him, was a consummate showman and had the audience in his pocket. Douglas and Starnes alternated playing lead as they ripped through “Not Fade Away,” “The Last Time” and “Satisfaction.”
Ray had spray painted a parade drum from the GW marching band, mounted it on a stand and joined the drummer on “Not Fade Away.” After the show, Ray was mobbed by classmates who told him the group was great, adding: “You guys can mouth those records super.” After convincing them that the band was actually playing, they were immediately hired to play 3 parties. The only problem was that the group only knew 3 songs. They went to work and quickly learned about 25 tunes off the Top 40 charts.
Blair’s mother wouldn’t let him play in a rock band and Douglas was more interested in soul music and his girlfriend, so Curtis Vaughan was brought in on drums and Truxton Fulton was added on organ.
Ray explains that the band played everything in their repertoire during the first set of those early gigs and repeated the same songs after intermission. He handled vocals on the rockers, while Hilliard sang lead on the ballads and soul numbers.
Rehearsals were held at the Starnes’ home on South Woodberry. Sheet music for anything but standards was non-existent, so the group bought 45s and Starnes “would sit down and figure out the chords and Pete and Jimmy Ray would figure out the words.” None of the members had any formal musical training but Starnes “could sit down and pick out a song in less than 5 minutes,” so he was placed in charge teaching the band the arrangements. He says the idea was to “imitate (the 45) as closely as we could.”
The Stones played sorority dances, night clubs, hotels and fraternal organizations in Virginia and North Carolina, eventually venturing as far south as Asheville and the Carolina coast. Unable to find a regular venue to showcase their talents, the band became adept at self promotion, renting space at the Hotel Danville for performances. Friends were recruited to collect the small admission fee at the door. Just by word of mouth and a few homemade flyers, they were able to pack the auditorium.
An early demo tape was recorded in 1966 at the WBTM studios in Danville, where Hilliard worked weekends as a disc jockey. The group delivers note-for-note covers of several Rolling Stones songs, along with “96 Tears” and a raucous rendition of “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” that borrows heavily from Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, an R&B party band that frequented the frat house scene in the South. Hilliard produced the sessions, which were recorded with one mic on a single-track, Ampex reel-to-reel.
Fulton, who was an intern at WBTM at the time, recalls that the recording session was in lieu of payment for a commercial the band had recorded for Jet Wash, a new car wash that had opened in nearby Martinsville. Owner Joe Stendig wanted a jingle sung to the tune of the Batman television theme, with the group singing “Jet Wash” instead of “Batman.”
Since Hilliard worked at the station, the Stones “had all of the time we needed” to get the songs right.” Given the fact that all of the performances were laced with profanity and sexual innuendo, it is hard to believe that an unedited version of the tape was ever distributed outside the group’s inner circle.
Al Newman had recently opened a high-end clothing store and his son loved the band. Before a performance at the Danville Coke Plant, the group was approached by the haberdasher’s son, Mark, who had talked his father into outfitting the Stones for free, provided they put up a sign advertising his store and boasting that “The Stones Unturned are outfitted by A. Newman Ltd.” The guys agreed and showed up unannounced, bypassing the three-piece suits in favor of houndstooth jackets and corduroy pants. Nothing matched and the horrified shopkeeper never repeated the offer.
Fulton recalls getting a last-minute call from Starnes during the height of a snowstorm. The Danville Golf Club had booked a “professional” band out of Greensboro but the group canceled due to the weather. The Stones had the gig, provided they could get there. Fulton hailed a taxi while other members got there in a four-wheel drive. They arrived to find Vaughan waiting on the dance floor with a date. After a hasty explanation, he joined his mates on the bandstand.
The Stones played the Sand Fiddler Club in Yaupon Beach for a week in the summer. Vaughan recalls consuming “lots of beer” and wearing lampshades during the beach trip, describing the experience as “a kind of institutionalized delinquency.”
Vaughan and Fulton showed up at the Sand Fiddler for one of the performances and waited anxiously for the arrival of the other three. Fulton explains that “the time came and went for us to play and no Pete, or Jimmy or Doug and we were getting concerned and just a little miffed.” They showed up late, explaining that Hilliard’s car had gotten stuck on the beach as the tide was coming in and was nearly swept away.
Hilliard had convinced his dad to loan him his new ’66 Dodge Coronet to haul their gear to the beach. He said the three decided one afternoon to ride along the beach, explaining that “I guess we thought we were at Daytona and I took the Coronet onto the beach and immediately got stuck.” They were there about a half-hour when they flagged down a Jeep and asked the driver for a tow. He refused, explaining that the vehicle was new and he didn’t want to scratch the paint. With the tide lapping at the doors of the Dodge, the band members reluctantly called a tow truck, which wiped out any profit from the week’s engagement, since they were playing for a portion of the gate. The following night they spotted the new Jeep outside an oceanfront house shortly after stopping at a fireworks stand in Myrtle Beach. The band placed two M-80s on a cigarette fuse, chucked them into the tailpipe and left for the club.
A show at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol almost didn’t happen. Administrators should have known they were in for trouble when Ray opened the band trailer and empty beer cans fell to the pavement. The shoeless singer made a grand entrance to the formal ball, walking across tables to the stage. Vaughan wore his “Strawberry Alarm Clock shirt,” with Neru collar and reflective flowers that would blind the audience during the light show. At the break, one undergraduate in a suit approached Vaughan and remarked: “Wow, you guys are crazy!”
Another road trip took the band to the Albermarle Beach Casino in Plymouth, N.C. The building was on stilts above the Albermarle Sound and band members went up the back steps to reach the stage, only to find it surrounded by chicken wire. Ray says the clientele expected a country band and the Stones were pelted with beer bottles until they broke into “Rawhide” and “Big Boss Man.”
In the summer of 1967, the band morphed into the Purple Haze Publication and Light Show. The name was chosen over the objections of Fulton, who wanted to rename the band Radio Super Ice Cream Parlor. Members built light columns and a huge purple strobe light that was pointed toward the audience. Ray, who would go on to become an electrical engineer, wired it all to a foot pedal he could control from the stage. The band covered Hendrix, Cream and the Vanilla Fudge.
The group was excited about the chance to play with one of their idols, Jerry Lee Lewis, even though the venue was the Skylark Club, a beer joint on Rt. 86 that was notorious for rowdy drunks, shootings and stabbings. While the group had no problems, Ray recalls that Lewis arrived late and “drunk as hell, so we played a little longer than expected.”
Starnes was dating vocalist Flo Penn and it wasn’t long before she was added to the line-up, allowing the band to cover the Jefferson Airplane. Penn was already a veteran of the music scene and had recorded (as Little Lambie Penn) for two labels, including Atco where label mate Bobby Darin wrote and produced a novelty song (“I Wanna Spend Christmas with Elvis”) for his young protégé in 1956.
During this period, the band entered the House of Sound Studios on Piney Forest Road in Danville and recorded covers of the Nashville Teens’ hit “Tobacco Road,” and Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny.” Hillard sings lead on both and “Tobacco Road” features a blistering instrumental break that rivals the original in intensity. The Stones seemed equally at ease covering the MOR ballad, which at the time was a dance band standard.
A session tape survives, complete with the band’s banter between tracks. The recordings are some of the best to come out of the studio, but for some reason were never committed to vinyl. Ray says both songs were later submitted to CBS Records, along with the band’s slower version of the Temptations “Get Ready.”
Hilliard insists the band recorded several others songs that day and says nothing came of the tapes because “we looked at them as cover material” and “we didn’t have money to take them any further.” Everything was recorded in a single take with no overdubs. He attributes a bad note on “Sunny” to the fact that he “was singing and playing at the same time.”
Starnes says the band recorded as many as a half-dozen songs that day and recalls that the studio was booked so the Stones could back Flo on a demo tape for her agent in New York City, where she performed that summer. The group made quick work of her vocal numbers and — with studio time remaining — convinced producer Frank Koger to keep the tape rolling and record the band. The results were impressive and Starnes calls the recordings “one of the biggest turning points for the Stones Unturned.”
Both songs recorded at the House of Sound Studios and four tracks from the W.B.T.M. sessions are included in a Virginia garage band compilation slated for release later this year on Garden of Delights Records, a Greek label that specializes in vinyl offerings for the collector’s market.
Flo was never an official member of the group. Starnes notes that she sang with the Artie Tompkins Dance Band, and “if they weren’t playing on weekends and we were, she would come and sing with us. She would do a lot of the Jefferson Airplane and other groups that and it gave us a real full, more professional sound.”
The group opened for Joe Tex at the WDVA Barn Dance at the Danville Fairgrounds on Thanksgiving Day. Ray remembers the day well because the family was seated for the annual feast when he grabbed a turkey leg, informed his mom that the group was playing and ran from the house. This was an important performance and the band planned to go all out with their stage show, with an 8mm projector showing “Varan the Unbelievable” on a screen at the rear of the stage. Ray also rigged an overhead projector with a clear glass beaker containing oil and water, with food coloring dropped in as the stage floor vibrated, creating a montage of colors over the giant Japanese monster.
When the emcee announced the group, the curtains parted and the band launched into “Purple Haze” before realizing they were playing to an all black audience. Once they made it through the first number, Ray turned to Hilliard and told him to forget the song list and play “Funky Broadway.” When they got to the middle break, the pair brought the house down when Ray called Hilliard to center stage to teach the audience the new dance. The crowd rushed forward and dozens joined Hilliard on stage.
Hilliard decided to leave the group shortly thereafter, but not before a final show at the Danville City Armory in support of the Soulmasters and Minit recording artists the Showmen. Hilliard had already informed the band that as they were performing their last song, he planned to smash his guitar. He borrowed a Fender bass from the Soulmasters’ Ernie Dickens for their set, but switched to his cheaper knock-off when the band hit the first chords of “Tobacco Road.” When they reached the instrumental break, Hilliard walked to the center of the stage, jumped high into the air and landed on his knees. He fell backwards and continued playing. Starnes saw the crowd response and slammed into his amp, ending on the floor atop his equipment. Ray got so carried away that he jammed his mic into the P.A. column, piercing the grill cloth and a speaker cone. Vaughan kicked his cymbals onto the stage as Hilliard raised his bass above his head and smashed it into three pieces on the stage. The band quit playing and the curtains closed as a cacophony of noise and feedback filled the auditorium and the crowd erupted in cheers.
The audience kept calling for an encore and the curtains parted with Hilliard holding shards of his guitar. He threw the remnants into the audience and exited stage right as the crowd fought over the pieces. Backstage, the Showmen were watching in the wings in stunned silence and were reluctant to follow an unknown act that had just brought the house down. One of singers approached Hilliard and said, “man ya’ll were really smoking tonight.” When Pete thanked him for the complement, he replied: “No, I mean your amplifier is on fire.” Unbeknownst to Hilliard, the bass amp had shorted out during the melee and was ablaze. While he had trashed the equipment, Starnes said “it sure did make a good closing.”
After the show, fans made their way to the dressing room, bypassed the headliners and went straight to Hilliard and Ray.
With Hilliard’s departure, the group brought in rhythm guitarist/vocalist Joe Mitchell and bassist Jay Barker. The two lived in an apartment above an old movie theater that had no lighting, save for some neon beer signs the pair had won in drinking contests at the Skylark Club. The two left town — and the band — in a matter of months.
Another beach trip included an audition at the famed Pavilion in Myrtle Beach, S.C. By that time the group was playing strictly psychedelic music and the club’s owner explained that his soul audience had no interest in fuzz guitar and feedback. Carolyn Garrett accompanied her cousin Flo to take care of Penn’s young daughter and remembers that the Pavilion’s owner “loved the singer but hated the band,” offering Flo the chance to sing without the group.
One of Purple Haze’s last gigs was for a boy’s prep school is Asheville, N.C. The students were dressed for the occasion and had their dates with them. Starnes remembers that the band played their usual set of Cream and Hendrix covers and was well received. “They kinda got into that music; they liked Flo a whole lot. Oh course everybody liked Flo because she had such a good voice. She could sing just about anything. That was about a far away as we ever went… and we knew we were getting close to the end.”
The band had signed with Bowmar Productions in Wilson, N.C., a booking agency that also handled Danville’s Soulmasters. CBS expressed an interest and a test pressing of the band’s version of “Get Ready” was made.
Plans for additional recordings were shelved when PHP&LS split in the summer of 1969. The break-up was amicable as most were leaving to attend college.
Fulton was the first to leave the Stones and went on to play with a Farmville soul group, Sammy Hawks and the Satisfactions, who recorded two 45s, including a cover of “Day Tripper.” During his senior year at GW, Truxton formed the American Band and performed his own compositions, with the assistance of drummer Larry Abbott and guitarist Walter Dalton. The trio recorded an acetate album of original material at Crescent City Sound Studios in Greensboro on July 15, 1969. Fulton handled the vocals and played organ, piano, and bass piano, while a session violinist was used on one track. Shortly thereafter, Fulton moved to Richmond to attend Virginia Commonwealth University. The recordings got the group a gig with Bruce Springsteen’s band, Steel Mill. Larry Powers and John Coppinger saw that show and recruited Fulton into their newly formed group, Play Innocent, followed by a stint with a “working band” called Matrix.
Fulton abandoned the idea of music as a career in the 70s and moved to Alabama, where he worked for years as an engineer with Boeing, specializing in missile defense. Since retiring, he has reconnected with some of his former bandmates from Play Innocent and the band recorded a music video (“Monster Movie”) in Florida. Fulton also records original material as Karl Mahlmann.
Hilliard studied electrical engineering at Virginia Tech before moving to D.C., where he worked in radio before joining the Army. He spent three years with the American Forces Radio Network in Germany, interviewing many of his idols, including Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Steve Miller, Ian Anderson, Edwin Starr and Godley and Crème. After the service, he moved to Florida and “starved, worked in sunshine” before receiving an offer to return to Germany to work in television with the AFN. Today he lives in Connecticut and is the owner of Hilliard Creative Group, a digital media production company. He returned to the guitar in 1998 and married a music teacher and keyboardist in 2004. He currently performs for friends and in church.
Ray left the band just before the split, went to Blacksburg and majored in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech. He went into business for himself and continues to work as a consulting engineer, specializing in automation systems. He still lives in Danville but has not performed since 1969.
Vaughan was a year younger than the rest and remained with the group until the end. He was so committed to the band that he skipped his high school graduation to play a road gig. After finishing college, Vaughan was drafted and spent two years in the Army. He moved to California, earned a doctorate in Psychology at Berkeley and taught in Tokyo before returning to the West Coast, where he taught briefly before working for 30 years in the Bay area as an Applied Psychologist in Adolescent Child Development. He continues with his day job and also travels with his wife, who is a performer of Japanese classical music.
Starnes attended Virginia Tech, married Penn and the couple moved to Greensboro, N.C. Starnes left the music business and worked as a traveling salesman for a company that sold sportswear and lingerie. Flo continued to perform, singing in Las Vegas and on countless of radio jingles. She also released a growling version of Timi Yuro’s “What’s A Matter Baby” that went nowhere. The couple eventually moved to Salisbury, N.C. before splitting. She remarried and performs Christian music. Starnes lived in Danville in the same house where the Stones spent hours practicing until just prior to his death in 2013. He gave up playing but said he always regretted selling his five guitars.
While it’s been more than 40 years since the band played its last note, Vaughan says they built a bond that continues, because “we were able to communicate totally through our music.” Ray says the members concluded “there was a lot more to be had by going to school than playing rock and roll,” but has always wondered what might have happened had the band stayed together. Fulton has no regrets about leaving the business but has enjoyed returning to music now that he doesn’t have to depend on it “as a source of income.” Hilliard says their “brief moment of fame” was fun but insists the band never seriously entertained the idea of trying to make a living at it. Starnes sums it up by saying he “wouldn’t trade a single day or do anything any different,” adding: “We made a little money off of it… and that was all we were interested in, making some money and turning the girls’ heads.”