Category Archives: Virginia

The Stones Unturned: Institutionalized Delinquency

Jim Ray (on drums) and Pete Hilliard with a pick-up band performing in Danville’s Ballou Park.
Performing in the George Washington High School cafeteria after a football game.
L-R: Jim Ray, Pete Hilliard.

By Jack Garrett

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.

An early shot of the band on London Bridge Drive in Danville, Va., ca. 1966.
L-R: Jim Ray, Pete Hilliard, Curtis “Inky” Vaughan, Doug Starnes, Truxton Fulton.
Stones Unturned Business Card
Stones Unturned Business Card

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.”

RollingStonesTicketNov12_1965GreensboroColiseumRay 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.

Pete Hilliard and Doug Starnes

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.

Pete Hilliard rehearses

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.”

Rehearsing in Truxton Fulton’s basement.
L-R: Truxton Fulton, Doug Starnes.
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.

Pete Hilliard rehearses.
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.

L-R: Curtis Vaughan, Pete Hilliard, Truxton Fulton, Jim Ray, Martha Viccilio, unknown female fan.
Taking a break at the beach house during their road trip to Yaupon Beach in 1967.
Jim Ray at Yaupon Beach in front of the Sand Fiddler Club.

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.”

Stones Unturned, Doug Starnes
Doug Starnes

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.

Doug Starnes and Carolyn Garrett

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 flier for their self-promoted show at the Mid-Towner Motor Inn in downtown Danville for the BFB’s… Barefoot Babes sorority at GW High School.

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!”

On the road.
Katherine Hunter and Pete Hilliard.

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.”

Vicki Lester, Flo Penn Starnes, Doug Starnes, unknown male.

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.

Doug Starnes, Carolyn Garrett

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.

Clowning around at the abandoned Luna Lake property in Danville.
L-R: Jim Ray, Truxton Fulton, Curtis Vaughan, Doug Starnes, Pete Hilliard (standing).

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 Showmen, detail from poster

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.

Carolyn Garrett and Susan Withers, ca. late 1966 or ’67.

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.

The American Band, ca. 1969.
L-R: Larry Abbott, Truxton Fulton, Walter Dalton.

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.

Doug Starnes and Mustangs’ guitarist Danny Carlton clowning around.

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.”

Crammed into a phone booth in front of Producer’s Warehouse on Industrial Ave. in Danville.
Bottom: Doug Starnes
Center: Truxton Fulton
Standing L-R: Pete Hilliard, Curtis Vaughan, Jim Ray.

The Fabulous Generals

The Fabulous Generals, 1966
The Fabulous Generals, 1966, back row: David Daniel, Bobby Henderson, Joe Merriman, Lee Moore; middle row: Mack Davidson, Ronnie Ashworth (holding Bobby’s bass); in front: Fairy Ashworth

The economic landscape in Martinsville and Henry County is far different today than was the case a half-century ago. In the sixties, the area was the manufacturing hub of Southside Virginia and was home to textile giants DuPont and Tultex, and furniture makers including American of Martinsville, Hooker and Stanley. The boom era provided teens with disposable income and the British Invasion gave rise to a number of excellent bands, including Gene and the Team Beats, the Rogues and the Generals, also known as the Fabulous Generals.

The Generals were based in Martinsville and nearby Collinsville and came together in the spring of 1964 during a school election of senior class officers at Drewry Mason High School in Ridgeway, VA. Guitarist Ronnie Ashworth was an eighth grader and had been playing music with pianist Joe Merriman. The two rehearsed in the cafeteria after school during football practice and knew they had something going when other students stopped by to listen. Drummer Frankie Divers was one of those who heard the duo and asked if he could sit in with them. He soon convinced Joe and Ronnie to play on behalf of one of the election parties.

The Generals' first drummer Frankie Divers yearbook photo
The Generals’ first drummer Frankie Divers

The rival political factions in the school election were dubbed the “Generals” and the “Beatles” parties, in homage to the Beatles recent appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Ashworth recalls that “We were representing the Generals party and so we took that name for the trio.” He says the band didn’t have a name and the “Generals” moniker stuck. He doesn’t recall which party won the election but says the Generals “made a hit as a band.”

The trio played the Surfaris’ instrumental “Wipe Out” for the class election, with Ashworth on a Kay electric guitar and a small, Silvertone amp; Merriman on the school’s stand-up piano; and Divers pounding out the rim shots on a white snare drum.

Divers played with the Generals briefly, but left the group to join the football team. Ashworth’s uncle, Bobby Henderson, was asked to play bass in the spring of 1964 and Lee Moore joined shortly thereafter as drummer, along with Mack Davidson on rhythm guitar.

Generals 1964 Photo
Ted Hatcher watches as the yet-unnamed Generals practice in the Drewry Mason HS cafeteria in early 1964.
Left to right: Ronnie Ashworth, Frankie Divers, and Joe Merriman.

Henderson recalls that Ashworth and his sister, Fairy, both attended Drewry Mason High School in Ridgeway, along with Merriman and Davidson. Ronnie and Fairy would share the lead vocal chores.

The Ashworth family has always been musically inclined. Ronnie admits “most of the musical talent is from my mom’s side.” When his mother was growing up, she sang bluegrass and gospel in a small group in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, around Saltville and Marion. She taught Ronnie a few chords on his first guitar and he took it from there, learning from records. Ronnie and his sister sang together as young children. He took up the guitar and Fairy was soon to be part of the group. Their younger brother, Dennis, sang and became an accomplished drummer, joining his older siblings on stage in the late seventies in the group Eastwinds.

Ronnie’s introduction to the stage came in 1962 when the pre-teen played at a talent contest at the Fieldale Community Center. He “was about 12 years old” and was just learning to play the guitar. He performed Ricky Nelson’s “They’ll Never Be Anyone Else But You” and the Cascades’ song, “Rhythm of the Falling Rain.” He won the competition and used the $50 prize to purchase his first electric guitar.

Ronnie said he “always felt like we were supposed to play music” and forming a group seemed to be “the next phase: to get together with a few people and just play some.” The Ashworth siblings were budding songwriters and penned both sides of the group’s first single: “You Make Me Happy” b/w “Without You.”

Ronnie recalls that their first session was held at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, N.C. in 1966 and says “You Make Me Happy” was the first song they worked on, the consensus being that the number had the best shot at being played on the radio.

He doesn’t recall Smith participating in the session, but says “they had a really good studio engineer there who seemed to know his stuff.” The Generals did their first take of “You Make Me Happy” and “then he played it back through these big Altec Lansing speakers, and it was just amazing!” Ashworth explains that the band “never really heard ourselves play, but we could hear everything through those speakers. That’s what I remember, just how good it sounded.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the b-side, “Without You,” is its unusual bass line, which starts the number and runs throughout the song. Ronnie says the bass intro was his idea; he made it up on the guitar and showed it to Bobby. He recalls that it “seemed like an unusual way to start the song and it gave us a solid heads up as to when to start playing.”

Henderson believes Arthur Smith was present for the recordings, describing him as a hands-on producer who supervised the production, mastering and pressing of their initial offering, which was released on General Records. This was the first time that he had been in a recording studio and Henderson concedes he was “scared to death” and “surprised that actually we were able to play music and listen to it.”

The Generals Early PhotoThe line-up on the first sessions (and for the second single on Pyramid Records) featured Ronnie Ashworth on lead vocals and guitar; Fairy Ashworth on harmonies; Joe Merriman on organ; Bobby Henderson, bass; rhythm guitarist Mack Davidson; drummer Lee Moore; and David Daniel on saxophone. While barely noticeable on the first recordings, Daniel’s sax was featured prominently on the follow-up, “Life’s Not Worth It.” Ronnie says Daniel was from Collinsville and played with the band “for about a year.”

Generals New Years Eve PosterThe influence of the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five is apparent on both sides of the single, with its infectious harmonies and strong hooks.

According to Henderson, the recording session and the 45s were the grand prize for winning a battle of the bands in Danville, Va. The two-day marathon featured dozens of rock and soul bands performing on flatbed trucks in the parking lot of the then new Ballou Park Shopping Center.

Ronnie doesn’t recall the prize for the competition, but believes both singles were recorded prior to the band marathon in Danville, which was held in the summer of 1967. Fairy was with the band for both recordings but had left the band by that time, rejoining the Generals in 1968.

Fairy Ashworth, 1966
Fairy Ashworth, 1966, at Theta Chi Fraternity at UVA

Generals General 45 You Make Me HappyIn his detailed history of 1960s garage bands, Teenbeat Mayhem!, author Mike Markesich painstakingly traces the timeline for all recordings produced through Arthur Smith Studios, including both releases by the Generals. In an interview for this article, Markesich notes that all of the discs produced by the studio were made by Kaybank, and all “Kaybank pressings handled accounts in sequential order.” The matrix numbers indicate the first single on General Records (“You Make Me Happy”) was recorded in January of 1966, with the follow-up on Pyramid Records (“Life’s Not Worth It”) recorded in the same studio in September of that same year.

Markesich adds that Amos Heilcher put the pressing account number on the actual record from these custom client accounts and “there is no arguing to the contrary; neither Generals 45 was recorded or released in 1967. Given the absence of paperwork from the era, these pressing plant codes yield a firm time frame, almost down to a couple of weeks (and) within a month.” That substantiates this writer’s memory that the first 45 was offered for sale for $1 at the conclusion of the Danville performance in 1967.

The competition at the Ballou Park Battle of the Bands was stiff, with Ruffin’s VI Pak winning the preliminary round on Friday and the prize of a one-off recording (“Whatzit?” b/w “Boot-Leg” on Hippie Records) at the House of Sound Studios on the Piney Forest Road in Danville.

Generals Photo at Mirror
The Generals circa early 1968. In the mirror image is, from left, Bobby Henderson, Joe Merriman, Lee Moore, Ronnie Ashworth and Fairy Ashworth. Mack Davidson is not present for some reason.

Generals General 45 Without YouThe Generals captured the top prize and were the last band to take the stage Saturday afternoon. Dressed in matching suits, the band at this point was fronted by vocalist Debra Carol Crowder. Ronnie explains that his sister left the group in the fall of 1966 to be a cheerleader, although Fairy would rejoin the Generals several times over the six years the band was together. Another female vocalist was needed and the band decided on Debra, who was the daughter of band manager Troy Crowder. While she had not been a singer prior to that time, Ronnie says she had talent, “so we put her as the lead girl singer and that seemed to work out for a year or two.”

This writer was present for the Danville Battle of the Bands and crowd response was tremendous, especially when Crowder did her interpretation of the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” The band finished its set and autographed 8x10s for fans before WYPR emcee Glenn Scott announced that the Generals had won the competition.

Henderson admits he was “surprised because there was some good talent over the weekend.”

WHEE Radio 1370 AM, Martinsville
WHEE Radio 1370 AM, Martinsville

He remembers that their first 45 had an initial run of 500 copies, but believes the band ordered another 500 at some point.

The band sold their new single at concerts and to friends, but did little to promote the 45 outside Southside Virginia. Ronnie remembers taking a copy to Hank Hedgecock at WHEE Radio in Martinsville and said the deejay “just loved them” and he “played them quite a bit, actually.”

Ecstatic to have one his songs on the airwaves, Ronnie was deflated when he went back to school and no one said anything about it. He asked a group of friends if they ever listened to radio and one replied: “Yea, we heard it, just don’t let it go to your head.”

The song was also played “quite a bit” on another Martinsville station, WMVA, by DJ Paul Miller, host of the popular “Night Train” program.

Henderson has a slightly different recollection, saying the single “received minimal airplay” in the Martinsville area, but fared better in other regions of Virginia and North Carolina. The band sold “quite a few of them” and Ronnie believes they moved the initial run, although he admits the band never promoted the single “in a big way.”

The Fabulous Generals Promo Photo
The Fabulous Generals 1967 promo photo with vocalist Debra Carol Crowder‏

By this point, the Generals were playing extensively throughout Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and East Tennessee. Ronnie notes the band “was very popular,” playing country clubs and fraternities at UVA, Hampton-Sydney, Duke, Wake Forest, UNC Chapel Hill and the University of Tennessee.

Henderson remembers the band playing “whatever was available” and booking larger clubs in Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte, and even traveling as far south as Florida.

Hit Attractions in Charlotte booked the band exclusively and many of their engagements were for fraternity parties along the East Coast.

The Generals next to their Cadillac limo, 1968
The Generals next to their Cadillac limo, 1968, from left: Ronnie Ashworth, Bobby Henderson, Fairy Ashworth, Lee Moore, Joe Merriman, Mack Davidson

Weekends meant long road trips and little time for football games and other high school activities. To ease life on the road, the band purchased a huge Cadillac limousine, stowing their gear in a band trailer hauled to their gigs. With its huge fins and “The General Assembly” painted on the doors, the ride was quite a sight to behold. Ronnie recalls that “people always looked,” although most members were asleep on the return trips.

The Generals Business CardLocal engagements included the Martin Riding Stables, where the Generals “played maybe every Wednesday night for a couple of years.” Truxton Fulton (keyboard player with the Stones Unturned of Danville and Sammy Hawks and the Satisfactions of Farmville) recalls hearing the group there, describing it as “a strange venue, like a horse farm, but it was packed.” He says the Generals were “a really good group,” adding: “My whole band was there and they were real nice to let us sit in. I think he (Joe Merriman) had a (Farfisa) Combo-Compact (organ), a step up from what I had.”

Ronnie admits the riding stable was an unlikely night spot but says it “had an upper loft that made a great place for a dance (and) was packed out on many occasions.” He remembers performing the Lovin’ Spoonful’s, “Summer in the City” and “playing Wooly Bully to death” in 1965-66.

As requests for the band increased, Troy Crowder was brought on to manage the group after the Generals had been together for about a year. Ronnie explains that “we just felt we needed a manager, somebody who would go out and kinda talk up the group and help book us some jobs.” Crowder was a friend of Mack Davidson’s father, B.J., and they worked together at Continental Can Company. B.J. recommended Crowder, who was brought on board and immediately began finding work for the band. Ronnie says “we all went out booking jobs one day… and drove toward Danville (and) booked the group into a VFW Post.”

The Villagers
The Villagers

The band was heavily influenced by a South Carolina group, the Villagers. The Villagers were fronted by lead singer Dana Douglas and were regulars on the nationally syndicated television series “The Village Square,” which showcased regional and national talent and ran from 1964-1968. Ashworth says the Generals “basically idolized the group and copied them as much as possible,” and credits the Villagers with contributing to the band’s “style and sound.” The Generals traveled to South Carolina in 1965 and again in 1966 to hear the group perform at the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. Their paths would cross three years later when Ronnie was in college in Georgia.

The Generals Pyramid 45 Life's Not Worth ItWhile their second 45 was pressed on Charlotte’s Pyramid Records, both sides were recorded at Arthur Smith. For their return trip, Henderson says the band again decided to tap the songwriting talents of their lead vocalists. “Life’s Not Worth It” and “For What More Could I Ask” feature guitarist Ronnie Ashworth and his sister, Fairy, on lead vocals, respectively.

While credited to manager Troy Crowder, Ronnie says he wrote both sides. Ashworth said his parents weren’t with him to sign the studio paperwork, which included verification of songwriters. And since he was under 18, authorship was credited to an adult “to avoid copyright infringement issues.”

Henderson believes that soul great Otis Redding was also at Arthur Smith’s that day, which is possible, given the fact that James Brown also used the studio on occasion.

The Generals Pyramid 45 For What More Could I AskThe group financed this release and Henderson says members again made a conscious decision to record original material, pointing out that their band “wrote a lot of the music we did in our live shows (some of which was never recorded) and even the covers that we did took on a personal flavor.”

Ronnie concurs, pointing out that they “had some original songs and that just seemed to be the way to do it.” He notes the Beatles “were big and it was a new sound and everybody was getting on the bandwagon,” adding: “It was easy to write music back in those days, so why do somebody else’s stuff when you can write your own?”
According to Henderson, their second 45 fared much better. He says while “Life’s Not Worth It” was the “plug” side, both songs received considerable airplay.

The Rogues and the Generals at Martinique Au Go-Go, Church St.With the music scene changing, the band “tapped into the California/West Coast music scene” and psychedelia.

In 1968, the group landed a regular gig at the Park Mor Restaurant in Martinsville, attracting a loyal following for their Sunday night performances.

The Generals drove to Tennessee (Ronnie believes it was Johnson City) in late 1968 to provide backup for singer B. J. Thomas. The group set up, rehearsed “Hooked on a Feeling,” and went through a sound check before being informed that Thomas had been detained and would not be appearing.

A little known chapter in the Generals history followed in 1969, when Bobby, Fairy and Ronnie moved to Atlanta, where Ronnie attended school. The trio kept the Generals name alive for another year or so, playing jobs booked previously at colleges throughout Virginia and North Carolina.

Dana Douglas of the Villagers
Dana Douglas of the Villagers (no pictures of Dana with the Generals exist)

Dana Douglas (of the Villagers fame) was also living in Atlanta at the time and became the group’s lead singer. His friend, Wes Braxton, was a proficient sax and flute player and also joined the line-up. Blake Coverstone — originally with the Divots of Roanoke — was recruited on drums and the six created what Ashworth describes as an “intense” sound. This was late in the psychedelic era and Ashworth says the revamped Generals leaned heavily to the California sound. Douglas “could dance just like James Brown” and was also an accomplished musician, playing keyboards, guitar and other instruments.

At the time, Ronnie was attending a Bell and Howell electronics school with Coverstone. While the original Generals hadn’t broken up as such, the others “had gone off to college because we had graduated from high school and so everybody was kind of going their separate ways.” The core of the original group remained constant, as Fairy was also living in Atlanta and Henderson and his wife and young family had also relocated there. Ronnie explains that “Bobby knew that Dana Douglas lived there, so we had gone by and seen him” and asked Douglas about fronting the Generals.

Technically, the Generals had not broken up. According to Ronnie, they “still had jobs booked, but really the group wasn’t together in the sense that it had been before… the name was still there; the jobs were still there; and the three of us were still playing together. So we just added a few folks and just kept the name, just reorganized the band.”

The Rogues on Lake Lanier Bridge, Martinsville
The Rogues on Lake Lanier Bridge, Martinsville, circa 1970, just before changing their name to Truth and going on the road.
From left: Jim Stone, Mark Anthony, Ronnie Ashworth, Terry Chitwood, Art Kramer, Ronnie Stone and Mike Arnold.

The Villagers & the Rogues at Druid Lanes, Martinsville, October 14The group never entered the studio again, but continued performing through 1969, when the Generals disbanded and Ronnie Ashworth joined another Martinsville band, the Rogues, just as the group was expanding and adding horns.

Ashworth, Mark Anthony, Ron Stone, Jim Stone, Mike Arnold and Art Kramer joined forces with former Soulmasters Doug Hyler and George Parrish as the Rogues evolved into the band Truth, touring extensively and recording one single. The line-up featured four horn players: Hyler and Kramer on sax and Parrish and Ron Stone on trumpet. Arnold was the original drummer, later replaced by Paul Mitchell. Stone was the band’s bassist; Ashworth handled vocals and guitar; and Anthony was Truth’s keyboard player.

The Truth, Atlanta 1972
The Truth (Ronnie Ashworth on the left) doing an Everly Bros. medley in Atlanta, ca. 1972
In 1971, Truth opened for Blood Sweat and Tears and Bill Withers at the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, N.Y., and also played as the support act for James Brown in Rochester.


After leaving Truth and coming off the road in 1974, Ronnie played guitar in Dallas “Moon” Mullins’ house band at Moon’s Danceland in Madison, N.C. Moon Mullins and his band — the Night Raiders — are best remembered for their 1958 recording on Profile Records, “Bip Bop Boom,” which featured rockabilly vocalist Mickey Hawks. The 45 sold well in the Chicago area, but failed to catch on nationally. Ronnie played in Moon’s band for about three years, ending “probably in late 1977.”

East Winds Band
East Winds, circa 1978, from left: Jerry Davis- keyboard, Dennis Ashworth-Drums, Ronnie Ashworth-Guitar, Jim Stone-Bass, and Fairy Ashworth in front.

East Winds followed (with Fairy and Dennis) and the band played the Martinsville/Collinsville area in the late seventies, including regular performances at the local Holiday Inn. From a musical standpoint, Ronnie says East Winds “was probably the best (band) I was ever with” featuring “strong three- and four-part harmony, and really good musicianship.” Ronnie and Fairy were the band’s lead vocalists and guitarists (Fairy on acoustic); brother Dennis was the drummer; Jim Stone handled the bass; and Jerry Davis was their keyboard player. The group ran about two years, from mid-1977 until ‘79.

Over Easy
Over Easy. L-F: Fairy Ashworth Coleman, Bobby Henderson, Ronnie Ashworth

Ronnie Ashworth remains active in the music ministry at his church and still plays with band mates Fairy Ashworth Coleman and Bobby Henderson as Over Easy, a trio that specializes in classic rock by artists like James Taylor, CSN&Y and the Beatles.

After the Generals, Henderson played with various touring bands throughout the Midwest and Southwest. He later returned to Southside Virginia, where he now plays in several groups and operates his own sound production company.

Keyboardist Joe Merriman died recently, but all of the surviving band members remain friends and still see each other on occasion. David Daniel’s whereabouts are unknown.

As for their recordings, Henderson says he has no favorites and “enjoyed doing all of them” and is pleased that the band is still remembered more than 45 years after their last performance.

Looking back on his six years with the Generals, Ronnie says the band had a powerful impact on his life, allowing each member “to stand out in the crowd” and teaching him that he “could accomplish what (he) set out to do.”

Music was something they all took seriously, with endless rehearsals and long road trips that could start early on a Saturday and take 12 to 16 hours to complete, with packing, driving, set-up, performing and then breaking down the gear for the trip home. They had fun along the way but Ronnie admits “you had to love it or you wouldn’t do it.”

While there was anxiety over the war in Vietnam and social conflict in America, he says the band allowed them to all be part of “an exciting musical revolution” the likes of which the world has not seen since the sixties.

In Search of the Lost Soul

The Lost Soul, Vox Promotional Photo, Hillsville Armory 1967
The Lost Soul, Vox promotional photo at the Hillsville Armory, ca. 1967. (l to r) Randy Conley, Donny Fields, Steve Cook & Steve Calfee

Article by Jack Garrett

While the Lost Soul is all but forgotten in their home state of Virginia, legions of fans in the UK regard their records as classics. Little has been written about the band, whose members came together in 11th grade. All but one attended Graham High School in Bluefield, Va., performing for about 18 months as The Prussians before changing their name to Lost Soul.
 The group featured songwriters Steve Calfee and Randy Conley on guitar, organ and vocals; Steve Cook on bass and vocals; and drummer Donnie Fields.

The Prussians, 1965
Early shot of the Prussians, ca. late 1965. (l to r) Steve Calfee, Randy Conley, Donnie Fields, Jimmy Johnson & Steve Cook

Calfee explains that hard rock was just coming to the fore. And while Lost Soul was responsible for the psychedelic gem “Minds Expressway,” Calfee says they were more into Motown and the R&B Memphis-type sound. The band felt “some of the music that was coming out on the hard rock side of it as not having the soul that we liked… we were gonna try and put the lost soul back into the rock and roll. Whether we actually did that or not I don’t know, but we gave it a shot.”

The Prussians, circa 1966
The Prussians, ca. 1966. (l to r) Steve Calfee, Randy Conley, Donnie Fields & Steve Cook.

With the name change, the band began looking for studio to record some original compositions.

The group did a lot of promotional dances and during one DJ Charlie Duff put them together with Gene and the Team Beats of Martinsville. That group was already recording for Raven Records in Danville and suggested that manager John Cook (the bassist’s dad) talk to Frank Koger, who owned and operated the small recording studio on the Piney Forest Road. Cook met with Koger and the band traveled to Danville in 1967 to commit two songs to wax: “A Secret of Mine” b/w “Minds Expressway”.

By all accounts, John Cook was a savvy businessman. He was a salesman for Caterpillar and taught the boys how to publicize and promote their shows and dances, how to collect fees, and even how to dress, although the dark green checked suits he bought for a job at the Fincastle Country Club bombed with the band. It was John who secured their bookings and traveled with the group, and who ultimately brought them to Danville in early 1967. Vox was just making inroads into the U.S. and he arranged for the group to receive free amplifiers and a PA system.

Calfee and Conley were the group’s two guitarists but were forced to make some last minute adjustments just prior to the recording session. Three months before they cut their first record, lead vocalist Jimmy Johnson quit for no apparent reason. About the same time, keyboard player Charlie Bassett married and left the band to attend engineering school. Rather than add a new member, the guitarists simply split the keyboard duties, although Calfee bought Bassett’s Acetone organ and plays keys and sings lead on all four Raven sides.

The Lost Soul Raven 45 A Secret of MineCalfee remembers the House of Sound studios as a small converted ice house, complete with loading dock. The control room was no larger than 6×6 with a glass window and a hole cut for a window unit. This proved a problem on their second session in the summer. The air conditioner was so noisy that it could only be turned on between takes, leaving members praying for a flub so they could get some relief from the heat. The songs were recorded directly to a two-track recorder, requiring multiple takes before an acceptable master was delivered.

A mistake on the end of the flip side was caught on tape and was incorporated into the song. If you listen to Minds Expressway, there’s a “pa-ping” sound on the cymbal. Calfee says they’d gotten “to the very end of a take and it was an accident that he did and as soon as we ended the take (producers) Ernie (Dickens) and Frank actually came out of the booth and said, ‘What was that?”

Drummer Donnie Fields took the stick and did a ping off the bell of the cymbal and Koger said, “Well that’s fantastic; it actually makes the record.” He asked Fields if he could do that every time, so the band spent “the next two hours doing take after take of him trying to do that pa-ping sound through the entire cut ’til we finally got it.”

To promote the disc, their new manager landed the band a slot on Dick Bennick’s Dance Party, a popular Bandstand-based broadcast on WGHP 8 in High Point, NC. The band arrived to light snowfall around mid-day, set up their equipment and were prepared to play when they were told they would be lip-syncing the songs. That was a first and it took the group “forever to get it right.” Whenever the cameras would roll, the director would stop the band, telling Calfee his lips weren’t moving with the music and it looked “like a Japanese movie.” Compounding the problem was the drum intro on “A Secret of Mine”. Without a count leading in to the song, it was impossible to synchronize the video, so the cameraman did a crossfade from a vine-covered trellis on the set to Fields’ drums.

They finally finished about 1:00 a.m. and left the studios to find three-feet of snow on the ground. It took them eight hours to reach their next gig, forcing the band to miss their television debut.

Each member was given two boxes of 45s and Calfee says they gave away as many copies as they sold. Koger distributed discs to radio stations and the band followed up with promotional appearances. “A Secret of Mine” was the pick of Top 40 radio, while “Mind Expressway” was played by college stations in the FM market. Along the way, Lost Soul followed or shared bills with ? and the Mysterians, the Hombres and the Fantastic Johnny C.

The Lost Soul Fincastle Country Club, Bluefield, VA
The Lost Soul live in 1967 at the Fincastle Country Club in Bluefield, Va.
(l to r) Steve Calfee, Donnie Fields, Randy Conley, Steve Cook.

Some of the largest crowds Lost Soul played for were at the Coke plant in Danville. Workmen would use fork-lifts to clear out the warehouse and set up the stage. Local radio stations and the high school newspaper promoted the dances, which attracted thousands.

Their manager brought a Webcor reel-to-reel to record one college job. Calfee says the band decided to have a few drinks to loosen up and thought they “were just kickin’ butt and takin’ names” on the bandstand. The next day he “played the recording back for us and it was the worst crap you’ve ever heard in your life.” Calfee says it was so bad that “it literally sobered us up.” From that day forward, no one took a drink on a job.

The Lost Soul Raven 45 I'm Gonna Hurt YouSix months later, Lost Soul was back at Raven to record a second 45 and a demo tape for distribution to major labels. They now shared management with Archie Bell and the Drells and their new manager signed a deal with PM Distributors in Pittsburgh to press thousands of copies of “I’m Gonna Hurt You” b/w “For You”. Calfee says the company had a promotions man who got the 45 to rack jobbers and radio stations. The effort paid off, as Calfee was told the song made it to the lower reaches of Billboard’s Hot 100. (Perhaps it was the Cashbox chart, as Billboard’s Top Pop Singles 1955-1996 lists no entries by Lost Soul.) As many as 20,000 copies were pressed but the group never received any royalties and requests for an accounting were ignored. Once the record started to break nationally, Lost Soul moved from playing country clubs and frat houses to armories and auditoriums.

Several labels were interested in the band, but Calfee says they had an image problem. It seems the major labels couldn’t decide how to market a group that played both psychedelic rock and funky soul. “We didn’t know any better,” says Calfee, adding, “We didn’t know that you were not supposed to mix the genres.” Elektra liked the tapes, which included a soulful arrangement of “Day Tripper”. Their manager secured a $25,000 advance with an agreement to record two more 45s and the promise of an album, if the singles charted.

But it was not to be. About this time, the band started to implode. It was 1968 and the height of the Vietnam War. Cook was drafted, Calfee decided to go back to school, Conley left to attend trade school and Fields got married. The band went through a period of about six months with pick-up drummers and even a saxophone player before calling it a day.

The Lost Soul, Live 1968
Faded Polaroid of the Lost Soul performing live in 1968.
(l to r) Steve Cook, Randy Conley, Lance Yost, Joe Simoncini & Steve Calfee

The later band delved further into psychedelia. The group dropped their matching suits in favor of multi-colored shirts and sunglasses and would scatter the stage with streamers. Borrowing from the Mothers of Invention, a metal trash can was also incorporated into the stage act. Calfee explains that “if you dropped a live mic inside with lots of reverb and delay, then banged on the can it created quite a bizarre sound.” The Fool had just painted Cream’s guitars in psychedelic colors, so Conley and Calfee did the same with their guitar and organ.

While national success eluded them, Calfee believes that was probably a good thing, adding, “If we had signed, as young as we were at the time and as crazy as the business was, I doubt seriously if any of us would have survived.”

Calfee later returned to music. He still plays and books entertainment for a cruise line in Little River, SC. Conley also returned to the stage, performing as E.R. Conley. And while their paths crossed occasionally on the road, Calfee lost touch will his co-writer eight years ago. Cook died about a year ago, while Fields left music and went to work for the railroad in Roanoke.

The band was all but forgotten until some Northern Soul fans in the UK discovered “A Secret of Mine”. Calfee was unaware of the renewed interest until he received a letter from an English musician he had worked with in the 80s. He learned the song was a favorite on the club scene and that their first 45 was selling for huge sums in England.

Two of the group’s songs were recently reissued on compact disc (Aliens, Psychos & Wild Things, Vol. 3) and videos of the band draw thousands of views on Youtube. But Calfee has yet to capitalize on the new audience and has received no songwriting royalties. While Calfee is “amazed” by the band’s resurgence in popularity, Cook recognized their potential. Shortly before his death, he told Calfee: “We never realized how good we were and what a great opportunity we had.” And while he won’t rule out a reunion, Calfee says it hasn’t happened yet and believes things worked out for the best, adding, “We were just trying to make music and have a good time.”

The Lost Soul, 1968
The last line-up, ca. 1968. (l to r) Steve Cook, Randy Conley, Lance Yost, Joe Simoncini. Steve Calfee is out of the camera frame.

Virgil Caine: Roger, Larry, Mike and Eddie

Virgil Caine LP Cover Photoby Jack Garrett

The Virgil Caine album was ignored outside Southern Virginia on its initial release in 1971. But the low-tech masterpiece has finally gained an audience through the internet and the LP has become one of the most sought-after artifacts by collectors of private pressings.

Roger Mannon, 1968
Roger Mannon, 1968

I first heard the songs around the summer of 1971 at the Euphoria Music Emporium, a record/head shop in my hometown of Danville, Va. My best friend and I were regulars and owner Steve Wilson motioned for us to step to the turntable one afternoon, saying he wanted us to listen to the strangest album he had ever heard. He played us “Swamp Witch,” and the chorus stuck in my head for days.

The stark photo on the cover was black and white and none of these guys looked like any rock band I’d ever seen. The short man in the middle could pass for a banker or a college professor and was wearing Buddy Holly glasses. He was flanked by a scruffy looking dude dressed like a house painter and a tall teenager in an ill-fitting hat who looked strangely out of place.

Copies of the album sat in the store on consignment for several months, but there were few takers.

Paul Talley Senior Portrait, 1970
Paul Talley Senior Portrait, 1970

I had all but forgotten about it until I chanced upon a water-damaged copy at a yard sale 20 years later. But the jacket yielded few clues and my search for the band’s origins continued for another 20 years, when a blog posting led me to the group’s surviving songwriter and the man who recorded the album, both linked by a tiny town in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

While Floyd, Va. has become a regional destination for bluegrass music and a large counter-culture movement, the town of today bears little resemblance to the Floyd where the members of Virgil Caine — Roger Mannon, Larry Janney, Eddie Eanes and Paul Talley — grew up in the sixties. Jim Scott moved to Southwest Virginia from Connecticut in 1966. All attended Floyd County High — the only high school in the County, which today has a population of just 15,000 — in a community where Talley says “everybody knows everybody.”  Mannon, Eanes and Scott graduated in 1968, Janney and Talley two years later.

Paul Talley (right) with the Electric Theater
Paul Talley (right) with the Electric Theater

Paul knew Larry casually in elementary school, but the two became fast friends in 8th grade when Larry ended up with two tickets to a Beach Boys concert and asked Paul to tag along. At the time, Paul was learning the guitar and Larry was already playing. When Jim moved to Floyd, he joined the Crypt Kickers with Larry, who also played the drums. As Scott recalls, his involvement started when “one of the guys in the band brought his guitar on the bus one day and we started playing songs and he said: ‘Hey, you can play. Could you join us?’ And so we kind of played around and just a little garage band and did some local rock and roll at the time, the Beatles and that sort of thing that was popular for dances. And seems like we played a couple of sock hops up at the high school and we may have played either a senior dance or a prom up there as well. This would’ve been around 1966-’67.” Scott was in school with the other three and would later play bass on the album, but says he “barely knew them” then.

Talley, who engineered the album, played rhythm guitar in another Floyd band, “The Electric Theater,” a seven-piece group with horns.

Mannon played on the basketball team but is best remembered for the poetry he wrote for the school magazine.

Eddie Eanes, who died in 1995, co-wrote almost all of the songs on the album and is listed as the sole writer of one of the LP’s most memorable tracks, “Swamp Witch,” although Mannon says the group added the refrain without his knowledge. Roger says the two were best friends in high school and Eddie took up guitar when the Beatles hit. The pair collaborated on songs but Roger says that “about the time we were ready to do something, he finished school and moved away.”

Eddie Eanes, 1968
Eddie Eanes, 1968

After graduation, Eddie moved for a job to Maryland and later to New Orleans. Roger recalls that one of those early jobs was the inspiration for “Swamp Witch,”  which was about voodoo and his time “on an oil rig (where) he got in a lot of that Southern Louisiana kind of backdrop with the Bayous and the country down there and that was primarily inspired by his time being down there, right after he left Floyd.”

Paul remembers Eddie as a “real wild child.” Jim calls that a fair assessment, describing Eddie as “a child of the sixties before the rest of Floyd caught on to it. Floyd, when I moved there in the mid-60s seemed to be about ten years behind the New England towns that I grew up in. You know, mini skirts weren’t popular yet. Nobody was smoking dope yet; they were just back ten, fifteen years earlier. And Eddie seemed to be more on tune with the rest of civilization at that time.”

Eddie lived down the street from Larry, but Janney had no idea Eanes had co-written the songs on the album until he saw the finished product.

By 1970, Roger was a student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where he met Mike Campbell, an English professor at Tech who played lead guitar on the album. Roger remembers that Mike “was an avid musician and anytime you went to class and you asked something about a Beatles album or a Bob Dylan album, he’d spend the whole class time talking about music rather than English Literature. So, it was a fun class in that it essentially turned into a music appreciation rather than an English class.” When Roger started talking about recording an album, Mike mentioned that he played guitar and “would like to sit in.”

Larry Janney Senior Portrait
Larry Janney Senior Portrait

Larry and Paul graduated from high school in June 1970 and both enrolled at Danville Community College in the fall, Larry as a Computer Science major and Paul in Business.

It was during this period that sessions for the album began in Christiansburg (twenty miles north of Floyd) where Janney’s family had moved following his father’s death. Larry says all of the recordings were made in “a glassed-in back porch” that was big enough to accommodate all of the equipment. Jim Scott became involved and remembers “Larry’s brother, Teddy, had a bass guitar and we used to jam at that house almost every weekend. We’d bring in guest musicians and the back porch turned into a stage, actually drew quite a neighborhood crowd through a couple of summers.”

But Janney insists he had no idea that the music they were recording would ever see the light of day. He says “the idea was for us to do kind of a sound tape to send to recording studios, hoping that they would sponsor this and provide studio musicians and studio time and all the rest it takes to make a record. So, we were just using what we had, using the microphones and equipment and amplifiers that we had. The reel-to-reel player was a really poor quality. But at any rate, we did all the takes and ended up with a finished product.”

Paul was recruited to record the band because he “just happened to be the guy with the better of two tape recorders,” a then new Webcor Model 5100dr, which he still owns today.

Paul says the songs were written by the time he was brought on board and some had been taped on an older Sears and Roebuck recorder. At the time, Paul and Larry were roommates at DCC and Larry “asked me to help them out and do some recording. I think they were trying to get some studio time and couldn’t. I don’t know exactly what was going on there but I started going over to Larry’s house in Christiansburg and they played a little bit and I’d record it. Larry and I would spend the week sometimes messing around with the tapes.” He says much of his work involved transferring the tapes, then overdubbing and mixing the music. While some of the recording was done live to tape, Paul says “we recorded on two channels and you know did a little bit of playing around with the channels and sometimes something wouldn’t be exactly right and I would take those two channels and record ’em into one channel and then have somebody record on the other channel… kind of a sound-on-sound type of thing.”

Effects were “by accident” and Paul says the older machine is “probably the reason some of the songs sound the way they do.” He notes that “going from one recorder to another (and) the heads not exactly aligned tended to do some strange things to the music.” The band “wasn’t heavy on equipment,” working with two microphones, “always patching a wire with some tape or something, trying to get the thing to quit humming.”

Paul believes the sessions started in the fall or winter of 1970 and were conducted mostly on weekends when the band members would travel home from school. He recalls one night in particular when they had finished recording and he had to crawl under his car on “a sheet of ice” to repair a starter before he could make the return trip home.

Roger says the whole process took about three months and believes everything was recorded live, adding: “If we got an acceptable take we’d go with it and if not we’d just record it again.” He says the band got together a couple of times to practice original songs “until we got them the way that we wanted them and then recorded ’em.”

Recollections differ as to wo played what on the album. It’s agreed that Larry played drums and some rhythm guitar, Mike lead guitar and that Roger handled all of the lead vocals. But Larry says he may have added a bass line or two and possibly some background vocals. He says there are definitely songs where “Roger harmonized with himself,” adding that he (Larry) did sing at the time and that “there might be places where I may have done some back-up harmony.”

Jim Scott
Jim Scott

But he has no recollection of Jim Scott participating in any of the album sessions and says he was surprised to see him credited as a “guest artist, courtesy Bogus Records” on the album jacket. Jim concurs, noting that his contribution to “Swamp Witch” was “an afterthought,” if it occurred at all. He says his “40-something-year-old-memory” is “too foggy” to remember much but recalls visiting with Larry as the recordings were being made and “he was showing me how they were dubbing the tapes.” Jim points out that he “had a little bit of knowledge of dubbing because my dad had taught Gene Pitney how to play guitar and we had gone to some of his recording sessions.” Jim says the two “played around with it and I may have laid down the bass track for them that day, or they may have given me credit simply because I was the only one that was gonna go out and sell the album for them.”

Roger remembers that Jim happened to stop by the day the band recorded “Swamp Witch” and played the bass line.

Jim, who would soon leave for Vietnam, was then selling insurance and traveling through Southwest and Southside Virginia. As he traveled, he would carry boxes of the Virgil Caine album on his route, stopping at mom-and-pop music stores where they were sold on consignment. He even placed the LP in stores in the Richmond area and got a radio station in Rocky Mount to play some of the songs, but admits sales were flat and “we didn’t much more than break even on the cost of producing the album.”

While the sessions were progressing, Jim and Larry were also performing the college circuit as a duo, singing Simon and Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers, with Jim sharing an apartment with Larry and Paul when his insurance calls brought him through Danville. The two were offered regular work and could have quit their day jobs, but Jim says they decided against it because he was already traveling and had met too many musicians with “just as much or more talent” who “were lucky to make $10,000 a year.”

Roger says Virgil Caine never performed live and the members never aspired to be a touring band. With conflicting schedules and their scattered lifestyles “our idea was to kind of be like the Band… we just go to a farm house and make a record every once in a while, kinda be above the fray I guess, and we never did get into the playing in small clubs and trying to work at it that way. So, basically we were just a studio band for one recording.”

Larry says he has few memories of the sessions and never met Mike Campbell until he showed up at his house on Roger’s invitation. He describes Mike as “a very talented musician, much more so than comes out on the album.” Mike’s ad-libbed fretwork is featured prominently on “Biscuit High,” which Roger describes as “the instrumental highlight of the album.” He now wishes they had featured Mike’s guitar work on more of the songs.

Once the sessions were completed, Roger sent the master tapes to Capitol Records and agreed to pay $2,000 to have 1,000 copies of the album pressed. But Capitol engineers were unimpressed with the finished product and contacted Mannon, saying “the quality of the music needed to be bumped up” and offering to do “some studio work” on the tapes. When he enquired as to the total cost of the makeover, Roger was told there would be “a straight fee of $25 an hour,” with no guarantee of how long the sweetening might take. He declined and — in retrospect — believes he made the right decision, adding: “I’m not sure they could’ve done a whole lot to improve it.” Larry agrees, saying it would have “never come (out) quite right if it was just a little bit better quality.”

Roger cites “The Great Lunar Oil Strike, 1976” as his favorite recording, pointing out that it remains topical given the subsequent Valdez and Deepwater incidents. Jim likes “Swamp Witch” because it strikes him as being “almost mystical,” with references to cypress roots, armadillo meat and “where only dead men walk the swamps at night.” Larry prefers “Blackfoot Boojy,” a song about a barnyard cat, because of its shuffle rhythm and Mannon’s vaudevillian vocal.

With the recording finished, Roger began searching for a location for the album photos. He was looking for “an antiquarian setting” in keeping with the music. He found it on his grandfather’s farm off of Route 8, in Floyd. The three stood in front of an old clapboard building for the group shot. Larry remembers it was muddy that day and he wanted to look different, so he borrowed Paul’s hat. The back cover photo is a chicken house patched up with some windows from an old country store. The photographer was Bill Sumner, who was then editor of the Floyd Press.

Virgil Caine was selected as the name of the group and album. Virgil Caine was the fictional character of Robbie Robertson’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” from the Band’s second LP from 1969. The song describes the defeat of the South at the end of the Civil War. In the song, Caine rides “on the Danville train.” The Richmond and Danville Railroad was the main supply route into Petersburg where Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia held their defensive line to protect Richmond. The Danville supply train ran until General Stoneman’s Union cavalry troops tore up the tracks, as immortalized in the song.

The liner notes were sparse and listed only the members first initials and last names. Mannon says this was by intention and was designed to add to the “mystique” of the LP.

Euphoria Music Emporium August, 1971
Euphoria Music Emporium August, 1971

When the albums finally arrived, the group began distributing boxes to stores and selling copies to “aunts, uncles and in-laws.” Paul and Larry were in Danville at the community college and left a box at Euphoria Music. Months later, they retrieved the albums and were told that “none had been sold.”

Both made flyers promoting the album, which they posted around campus. Paul says they took typing paper and smeared one side with cooking oil, turned it over and used a hot iron to scorch it, which made the paper look like parchment. Then they added a picture of the album and a brief ad before burning the edges. This gave the effect of an Old West wanted poster.

Roger says the group considered recording a second album, but those plans were shelved because it took so long to break even on the first. He had written a “couple of songs” for the follow-up but they were never recorded by the band. He says when Virgil Caine “didn’t become rich and famous, we were just kind of satisfied with what we’d accomplished and moved on from there.”

While none of the members became professional musicians, all still play and four still live in Virginia.

Larry Janney still works with computers and is now the senior systems manager with a medical insurance company. He is bemused by the album’s sudden recognition and finds it hard to fathom. In fact, he deleted my initial telephone message, thinking it was a practical joke. He admits  “the songs were a little weird but everything was weird about the seventies, so the fact that it sounded a little funny — well — that was okay, I guess. And the songs were a little mysterious, that was okay, too. Like I say, it was the 70s.” In retrospect, he wishes they had spent more time on the album and is unimpressed with the quality of the recordings, adding, “I think the songs were worth a lot more attention than we gave it, frankly.” He doesn’t own a copy of the album, having tossed his box when they warped in his truck on a hot summer’s day.

After 28 moves in 40 years, Jim Scott has come full circle, returning to Southwest Virginia as a circuit-riding preacher. Ironically, the four Methodist churches he pastors are based in Cripple Creek. Jim and Larry are step-brothers and still get together for family jam sessions on holidays. He remains proud of the album, saying “what little small part I played was wonderful.”

Paul Talley managed a True Value Hardware store for much of the past decade and hasn’t seen any of the members in more than twenty years. While the recordings are primitive and he never made a dime for his efforts, Paul says “it was all done for fun and we enjoyed it.”

Mike Campbell moved from Blacksburg to Salem, Va., where he continued teaching at Roanoke College. All of the other band members have lost touch with him, although Larry says years ago he ran into Mike “somewhere,” although he doesn’t recall the time or place.  

Roger Mannon still lives in Floyd and works for the Floyd Press, a weekly newspaper owned by the Media General conglomerate. He points out that “you’re quick to see the genius in your own work,” but believes the album has finally found its rightful place. Roger was responsible for a limited reissue of the LP in 2011 and sees the recent acclaim as a “kind of a vindication of some of the songs, to learn that maybe it had reached the audience it was intended for, but I guess due to distribution and other issues it never really accomplished that at the outset. And you know, even if it’s decades later, I’m pleased that some people have heard it and appreciate it.”

Alear Discography

Below is anTeenie Chenault Alear 45 I'm So Alone incomplete discography of Jean Alford’s Alear Records label from Winchester, Virginia.

Most of the disks are country, except the Don Dupree is supposed to be doo wop backed by a girl group. Only the Smacks are garage rock as far as I know.

Publishing is usually either Alear Music or Pamper Music.

incomplete – any help would be appreciated

Alear no #: Don Dupree & Palisades “Phyllis” (Petty & Greer) / “Power of Love” (R4KM-2381, 665A-2381, early 1964)
Alear A-103: Teenie Chenault “I’m So Alone” (Chenault & Tipton) / “It’s a Big Old Heartache” (Chenault & Overman) (R4KM-8016/7, early ’64)
Alear A-105: Carroll Bridgeforth “Next Fool in Line” (Jean Alford) / “The Magician” (RK4M-7356, second half of 1964)
Alear A-106: Teenie Chenault “Make Me Laugh” / “Forgetting”
Alear A-108: Jean Alford “First Man on the Moon” (Harvey Price, Jean Alford) / “The Great Society) (SoN-24015)
Alear A-109: Smacks “I’ve Been Fooling Around” / “Say You’ll Be Mine” (SK4M-0953, Oct. 1965)
Alear A-111: Dean Greer “I Can’t Throw the Ashes Away” (Curley Putnam, Don Wayne) / “I’ve Got a Hold on You” (Jean Alford, Harvey Price) (T4KM-5063/4, March 1966)
Alear A-112: Teenie Chenault “She Tried Hard To Love Me” (Lee Emerson) / “Pushed In The Corner” (Jean Alford) (T4KM-5066, April 1966)
Alear A-113: Vicki Day “Another Hurt” / “Don’t Wake Me”
Alear A-114: J. D. Dawson – “I’ve Got A Hold On You” / “I’m Number One (With My Mary)”
Alear A-116: Smacks “Reckless Ways” / “There’ll Come a Day”
Alear A-117: Tommy Lake “Out of the Dark” / “(If You Want Some Lovin’) Get It From Me” (Jean Alford) (T4KM-2355/6, 655A-7355)
Alear 665A-117: Teenie Chenault “Where Happiness Ends and Heartbreak Begins (Fred Carter) / “(You’re No Inspiration Gracie for) A Hit Song” (Jean Alford) (U5KM-4601/2, first half of 1967)
Alear A-118: Tommy Lake “The Magician” / “Don’t Wake Me”
Alear AL-121: Lone Star “Assumed Love” / “I Write This Letter” (820748) (need confirmation of this one)
Alear A-202: Al Hogan “The Key That Fits Her Door” / “He Didn’t Become Famous For His Song”
Alear A-221: Frank Darlington “You’re My Girl” / “Have a Little Patience” (July, 1969)
Alear A-222: Jim Miller “If You Can Eat The Cake” / “The Other Lover”
Alear A-350: Dave Elliott “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” / “Other Lover”

Alear 665-??: Ned Davis “Organtar” / “Jungle Fog” (piano & pedal steel instrumentals)

Gloria Jean Megee Alear 45 This Woman
Alear AL-108 – Gloria Jean Megee – “This Woman” (Megee) / “Slightly Used” (1978, Alford/McCoy production credit)

Alear ERS-517: Teenie Chenault & the Country Rockers
Alear SLP 198: Leroy Eyler & the Carroll County Ramblers – Mr. Bluegrass Here’s to You
Alear SLP 200: Leroy Eyler & the Carroll County Ramblers – Sing Gospel

Gloria Jean Megee songbird photo
Gloria Jean Megee songbird photo, 1977

Gloria Megee wrote to me about her Alear single from 1978, “This Woman”, “Jim McCoy Studios, Buddy Charlton, steel; Roy Justis, fiddle; and John Kaparakis, guitar. It was well received on Big K [WKCW] when the old Tom Cat played it.”

Gloria Jean Megee live in Wheeling, 1978
Gloria Jean Megee live in Wheeling, 1978

Thanks to Max Waller, Graham, Dale from 45cat, Bob Perry, and Gloria Jean Megee for their help with the Alear discography.

The Smacks

The SmacksThe Smacks hSmacks Alear 45 Say You'll Be Minead two primary members, Lloyd Semler from Hagerstown, Maryland, and Bill McCauley from Winchester, Virginia. Both towns are along the I-81 corridor, about 45 minutes drive apart. Other members include John Glosser on bass and David Hall on drums.

They had two singles, “I’ve Been Fooling Around” / “Say You’ll Be Mine” on Alear 109 from October ’65, and “Reckless Ways” / “There’ll Come a Day”, released in May of ’66 on Alear 116. All songs written by Lloyd Semler and William McCauley, with publishing by Alear Music and Sand-Wayne Music BMI.

Smacks Promo Sheet

The first release is somewhat basic, but the second single really shines for both songwriting and production.

According to thSmacks Alear 45 Reckless Wayse liner notes to the excellent CD Aliens, Psychos & Wild Things, vol. 2, “Their first 45 was recorded at Accent Sound in Baltimore. The second was done in Harrisonburg at Weaver Sound in Spring ’66. The organist on ‘Nobody Else Is Gonna Do’ may be Front Royal’s soon-to-be-semi-famous, Roger Powell. The unreleased ‘There’ll Come a Day’ is the Smacks backing up two sisters from Winchester whose names are not recalled. Both Smacks discs came out on Alear, a Winchester label run by Jean Alford.” Front Royal is just south of Winchester.

Photo of the band from Aliens, Psychos & Wild Things, vol. 2. Sorry but I don’t remember where I found the promo sheet for their first single – please write to me if it was yours!

Smacks Alear 45 Nobody Else Is Gonna Do

The Earthquakes

The Earthquakes of Virginia Beach
The Earthquakes of Virginia Beach

Kevin Longendyke found this excellent band photo in Richmond, Virginia and was trying to determine who the band is. Chandler Edmunds wrote in with information about the group:

The band’s name is The Earthquakes from Virginia Beach. Drummer is Chuck Martak. Middle guitar player is Doug Christdon. Right guitar player named Ric (that’s all I have), and the other guitar player remains unnamed.

I understand these guys were in a bad car accident in 1966 and one may have died. Doug got seriously hurt in the accident but survived. I don’t think they were together long enough to get a record out.

Stamped on the back is “Clifton Guthrie”, who was a fine photojournalist in the South Norfolk, Virginia area (see this link for a few of his images).

Thanks to Chandler for finding out about the Earthquakes.

The Wild Ones

The Wild Ones of Richmond, Virginia put out one 45 in late ’65 featuring two original songs. The A-side is “Listen to the Drums”, an atmospheric chant led by Rennie Renfro’s drumming on the toms and bassist Rick Payne’s lead vocals. The flip “Baby I Love You” is wilder. Loosely structured after “Twist and Shout”, there are fine lead vocals by Jimmy Sandy and great piercing screams after the line “do you love me?” Both songs have excellent natural reverb and feature Jim Sandy’s sharp lead guitar playing.

Drummer Chuck “Rennie” Renfro and keyboardist Clyde Atkinson assembled this detailed history of the band:

Clyde Atkinson: I’ll let the fan club biography speak to the early history of the band, Rennie (I still have a hard time calling him Chuck after all of these years) can add some more to the early history.

This is the text from the Fan Club Bio that was in the club membership packet:

A few years back, Bill Sandy bought a straight guitar, took it home, picked at it awhile and put it away. Then he became interested in painting. Incidentally, you should see some of the artwork. Rick is an artist, too.

Jim, Bill‘s younger brother, got hold of the guitar and taught himself to play it. He listened to records and played along with them even though he didn‘t know the notes or chords by name. He also watched other groups and picked up different lead runs.

Then Bill, who plays some piano, too, taught Jim the notes and chords by name. Jim got together with Rennie who plays drums and another drummer and the two alternated with Jim playing guitar. In 1962 another guitarist who was pretty good on the guitar joined them and the four guys formed a band called THE TRAVELERS. The last addition to the band was discovered playing with another band so they said goodbye to him. Another guitarist came along and the group became the OFF-BEATS.

Listening to Jim —— Bill and Rick (Rick plays bass now) became more interested in their guitars and decided to put a lot of effort into learning more about playing.

Jim talked them into going to a practice session with him at Rennie’s home -·- Bill and Rick joined the group and they now had four guitarists and two drummers and were known as the TYCOS. The group then began playing engagements for about one year.

The original group then decided to become four members – consisting of three guitars and the drums. They still were not satisfied with the sound and one night while playing a gig with another band were very impressed with their organist. He was Clyde, who became a member of THE WILD ONES GROUP. They were ready at that time to cut and release their first record:


The group then and now consists of:

Bill Sandy – Leader; Rhythm Guitar
Rick Payne – Bass Guitar
Jim Sandy – Lead Guitar
Rennie Renfro – Drummer
Clyde Atkinson – Organ

All the guys sing both lead and background. They play most all of the pop, rock ‘n roll tunes as well as the slower ones, and write and play many of their own songs.

Clyde Atkinson: I started playing in bands at the early age of 13, the first band I was in practiced a lot but rarely played a gig, I think we played one office party and a pool party at the Community Center in Bon Air, VA.The next band I was in was called the Tempos (yeah, real original, but we were in our early teens), that band played a song mix more to my liking (no more Beach Boys like the first band), a lot of Beatles, Stones, etc., this band also practiced a lot and our main gig was at a couple of community centers for teen dances on Friday or Saturday nights where we got half of the door admission price of 25 cents. We’d get done playing, pack up our gear and head to the Ten Pin Coliseum to shoot pool and eat hamburgers and fries and pretty much blow our earnings. We finally got a decent gig booked at a local club called the Paper Tiger for their teen night, we would open for the Wild Ones! So we did the opening set, packed up our gear and stayed to hear them, their manager (Chuck Renfro, the drummer’s father) invited me over to their table while the Wild Ones were playing. We talked for a good while, he mentioned that they were going to be recording a record soon and asked me if I would be interested in joining their band, I told him I’d think about it and let him know. Out of loyalty to my band mates I initially turned down the Wild Ones offer, the following Monday I was talking to an older friend at school that also played in a bands (students at my school were in a lot of groups including the Panics and the Fugitives), he advised me that I should take advantage of the offer to better my career, loyalty aside he said I needed to look out for myself. So I called the Wild Ones manager and accepted their offer (a few months later two brothers that had been in the Tempos with me joined the Fugitives).

Rennie Renfro: I started playing drums when I was fourteen. I guess you could say it was earlier than that. I was 5 when my parents bought me a toy drum set. When I was six I sat down at some real drums at a dance hall at the river when the band was on break and played. Some drunk guy and his girl started dancing and he gave me a twenty dollar bill for the music. My parents made me give it back.

At fourteen I met Jimmy Sandy. He had a guitar and wanted to start a band. He asked if anyone could play the drum beat to the Ventures song “Walk Don’t Run”, he showed us the beat with his hands and each one us of tried. I tried and could not do it. I walked away and went back home and I sat on the sofa and tried to figure out why I couldn’t do it. Then it dawned on me that Jimmy was right handed and I was left handed. I tried it left handed and there it was. I actually ran back to the group of guys yelling I could do the beat. Jimmy said I could be the drummer. I got some cheap drums and we started practicing with Bill and another guy from the neighborhood. My dad got us into some restaurants that played country music. Well that did not go too well when we played rock and roll. They passed the hat around and we got 75 cents. We kept on playing to anyone that would listen. We got better at each place we played, then we added Ralph to the band and also started buying better equipment. Later on some promoters from New York came and asked if we would be the backup band to the singing group the Newbeats at a show in the area. They are the guys that made the song “I Like Bread and Butter” with a high pitch singer. We learned the music but at the last minute they canceled the show. That’s show biz.

Q. Was there a particular neighborhood or school in Richmond that the band came from?

Clyde: Rennie (Chuck) Renfro the drummer went to Midlothian High School, though he had previously lived in the “East End”, actually Henrico County and that’s where he met Jimmy Sandy and how the band first started. That is the same area that most of the Barracudas came from. I went to Huguenot High School, which had a lot of students in many different bands. Midlothian, Huguenot and Manchester High Schools were all in Chesterfield County outside of Richmond.

Q. You mention the Fugitives and the Panics. Both those bands had records on the Shoestring label. Do you have any recollections of either band, or other groups from the area at that time?

Clyde: Mickey Russell, lead guitarist of the Fugitives went to Huguenot for a while after transferring from Manchester. We ran across them often as they were quite popular, a very good band and played some of the same clubs that we did. And of course the rhythm and bass guitarists, Jimmy and Tommy Sickal had played with me in the Tempoes and later joined the Fugitives. Jimmy and Tommy went to Manchester, I think the Fugitives did at least a couple of 45s and an album. I last talked to Mickey Russell around ‘97/’98, he was living and working in VA Beach for a TV production company. Some members of the Panics went to school with me at Huguenot, Bill LaRue lead guitar, Jimmy Sherwood rhythm guitar and Bill Lyles bass. They were another good band with a large following. I last saw Bill LaRue and his wife doing a C&W gig at a club in the early ‘80s. The Barracudas as I said were from the East End, also a very good band and probably the one we considered as our biggest rival.

Richmond, VA had a pretty good music scene in the ‘60s, there must have been three dozen or more clubs that featured live bands with music. In fact the Richmond scene was good up into the ‘80s/’90s, may still be good to some extent (there are few clubs and restaurants with live bands these days). It was a tight, very competitive music scene back in the ‘60s and yet at the same time friendly with a spirit of co-operation between bands and individual musicians.

Not much later after I joined the Wild Ones (I think it was a couple of weeks) I got to take the day off from school to go to the recording studio with the band. And then, just like a little kid waiting for Christmas to come, it seemed like it took forever for the master tapes to finally become a record. And what a thrill it was to finally hear our record on the radio (WLEE 1480 AM was the first station in Richmond to play it). And we had a growing fan club that came to a lot of our gigs when we played in Richmond.

Rennie: Oh and the scream on “Baby I Love You” is me. Hey I was still a young kid and my voice hadn’t changed. I still get kidded about that.

Clyde: And scream you did!! I think the first take nearly blew the headphones off of the recording engineer’s head. I had become good friends with the members in the Wild Ones, Rennie and I being the same age and the two youngest members kind of formed a tighter bond between the two of us. Rennie and I tended to get a little wilder as were younger, and we often interacted with dance steps and stuff that sometimes got a little crazy.

Rennie: You and I were in the back of the band so we stuck together and tried to do different things to entertain the crowds. We became good friends and still are today.

Why was the record label called Tu-Lang, and was that session and the pressing something the band paid for themselves? Do you remember which studio you used?

Clyde: We did not own the record label. You’ll notice on the label it says an LM Production, that label belonged to a Mr. Meade (forget his first name), he and his son had a band called the Commanders in the Richmond area, more country pop oriented and played mostly for older crowds (real popular at Moose Lodges, etc.), but a decent band. They formed the production company to get records done for their own band and I have no idea why they selected the TuLang name, perhaps he served in the Pacific in WWII? A side note, he had a much younger daughter that sometimes would sing with their band, she eventually moved to Nashville to pursue a C&W career, Donna Meade who later married C&W star and sausage king Jimmy Dean and they eventually moved to Richmond.

The Wild Ones paid for the studio session at Capitol Transcription in Washington, DC, as well we paid for the pressing and most of the distribution. We actually spent several weekends riding around VA in our hearse visiting different radio stations and dropping of copies of the record, photos, and a promo pack.

Clyde: The band was booked quite a bit, we played clubs, sock hops after football games, proms, bar mitzvahs, we even played at a used car dealership as partial payment for the Cadillac hearse we bought to transport the band. We had the hearse painted sort of a purple/lilac color with the Wild Ones in dayglo pink script on the sides! When we played “Long Tall Texan” at gigs, we always added an extra verse that went something like “Well I’m a long tall Wild One, I drive a lilac Cadillac (he drove from Texas in his lilac Cadillac)”, well, you get the idea. We spent a lot of hours in that old hearse driving all over Central Virginia and points beyond to our gigs, you had to get pretty close emotionally after spending so much time together.

Rennie: You have hit a lot of points about the band. I remember driving in the hearse to the river, that most likely would have been one of the Coles Point tavern gigs or the Windmill Point Yacht Club gigs. Anyway, the hearse had come from a country funeral home that also used it as an ambulance, so it had red lights and a siren, they never took the siren out of the hearse. Bill Sandy hit the button that started the siren, and we pulled a car over. We kept going. Well, we had a gig to get to!!

Clyde: The Rock and Roll Show of 1965 that we played in 1965 at the Bellvue Theater in Richmond, VA was done a second time by the same promoter a couple of months later at the Beacon Theater in Hopewell, VA. Pictured on this site is an ad from the Entertainment section of the Richmond News Leader and one of the admission tickets from the actual show. Also pictured is another ad from the entertainment section where we played for the Grand Opening of the Patterson Drive In, it was a brand new drive in theater with a teen area.

The business cards pictured were two of the several designs we used, the plain blue one was an early version from when I first joined the band, the tan/color print version was later. We also had one that had colored sort of circle shapes (sort of like large ‘O’s or spiral shapes) that was done in a series of different colors, some cards were green, some red, some blue, etc., unfortunately I don’t have any examples of that series. The band pictures on this site are from three different times, one was the formal band portrait that we used in our promo packs and also handed out at times to fans (I think fan club members got one with their copy of the band biography). Then there was a photo from one of our gigs, I’m pretty sure that was taken at the Olde Mill in Farmville, VA. The last photo is a well worn copy of a night time photo taken at the end of the Tobacco Festival Parade in Richnmond, VA. You’d never know it from that photo, but at the beginning of that parade the float looked pretty good, that parade was a major event for the Richmond area back then and many of the company sponsored floats were close to the quality of major parades like the Rose Bowl Parade.

at the Tobacco Festival Parade, Richmond
Rennie: The Tobacco Festival Parade, I remember that we were toward the end of the staging area waiting to get in line with the rest of the floats. While we waited, we decided to tune up and play a very quick part to see if everything worked. Well we were surrounded by fans and could not move the float. The police had to come back and escort us into the parade line. We were holding up the floats behind us.Our float was being pulled by our band hearse with two of the WLEE on air personalities sharing the driving while we were playing for the entire time on the float. Teens along the route were actively plucking “decorations” the entire night, by the time we made the several mile journey through downtown Richmond, our float had been stripped clean down to the bare chicken wire structure before we even made the circle through Parker Field Stadium (now replaced by The Diamond). It was a pitiful site to behold as we passed the judging stand and the hundreds of spectators in the stadium. The picture here was taken after the stadium pass through and a couple of our fans, family and friends had hopped aboard for a ride to the stadium parking area.

Clyde: Favorite spots to play: the Olde Mill in Farmville, VA always had a good crowd and we played there fairly often, Coles Point Tavern on the Potomac River where you parked your car in the parking lot in VA and walked out on the pier where you were in Maryland and they had slot machines and liquor by the drink (which VA didn’t at that point in time), the high school Sock Hops were usually fun, frat parties at UVA were wild, lots of enjoyable gigs. Teensville Club was always going to be a huge crowd. The record was doing OK in our region, we were in the process of getting songs ready for a second record, we also had to practice a lot since we were mostly a top 40 cover band and you had to know the latest hits as they were always “requested” (if I EVER have to play “Wooly Bully” again it will be too soon!!), sometimes the sheer number of hours we played worked on you physically. Rennie and I sat down a couple of weeks ago talking about those old days and I asked him if he remembered one Saturday back then, and he did, it was a monster day and would be hard to forget.

Rennie: How could I forget a day like that one? Those kind of long nights made it hard to be excited by the time you got to the second set of the third gig that day.

Clyde: We played the Saturday afternoon jam session at Johnny’s or the Satellite on Jeff Davis highway, packed up and hopped in the hearse and played at the Chesterfield County fair from 6-10 PM, packed up there and drove all the way across town to play at the Mechanicsville Moose Lodge from 12-3 AM, what a day!

Somewhere in this time frame we participated in the Battle of the Bands in Richmond at the old Tantilla Ballroom on Broad Street. Some radio stations were promoting it and you had to send in an audition tape to see if you would be asked to participate, we recorded a reel to reel tape in Bill Sandy’s garage (which is where we practiced most often) and sent it in, after a few weeks we were informed that we were one of the bands selected. I think they started with 30 bands from all over VA (but mostly from Central VA), we survived the first couple of cuts and got to keep playing. We made it to the final round where they announced the top three that would play again to determine the results, after all three bands had played the judges came back and announced the third place band (which wasn’t us!) and then said that for first and second there was a tie between the Wild Ones and the Barracudas.

Rennie: So both bands played again and the judges left again, came back and announced that there was still a tie (not a good thing, having an even number of judges), we played yet again and they finally decided it with a coin toss with the Barracudas finishing first and we were second. So while we would have like to finished first, it was still quite an honor to have been one of the top three bands!

Clyde: At one point we went to VA Beach without having any bookings there, we checked into a cheap hotel and then went to find an inexpensive dinner, saw a little place called the Lion’s Den on Atlantic Avenue that had a steak special and would also have live music, so we went in for dinner. It appeared that the band they had booked for the week cancelled at the last minute, so no entertainment. We got to talking with the restaurant manager while eating dinner and told him we were a band and would be happy to play for our dinner, he said if you want to play then dinner is on the house and he’ll pay us if we can draw a crowd. So we brought in our gear and set up, by the time the first set was over they were turning people away at the door as we had packed the house (though it was a small club). He ended up booking us for the rest of the week and we picked up some other bookings in the area, the Ebb Tide, the Pirates Den, even a one shot deal at the Peppermint Lounge. We met a band that was booked at the Ocean View amusement park for the entire summer, a group called the Canaries from the Canary Islands.

Rennie: In Virginia Beach I remembered we walked into some club during the day. The Spinners were playing there. I thought I remembered jamming with a few members, but I am not sure. We were doing a lot of gigs at the beach and we met a lot of other bands. I also remember that the hotel we were staying at got a little out of control. The manager was going to kick a lot of people out. Someone told him it couldn’t be us because we were a band from England. He believed it and we got to stay.

Clyde: Things were looking up and the next record would probably be recorded soon (two more original songs), things went along smoothly for a while. Then there was a huge argument, basically Rick Payne the bass player against the rest of the band, he decided to quit the band, being co-author on the songs we were going to record put a serious crimp in developing the second record, eventually it just never happened. We needed somebody to fill in, I called a friend, Ronnie Bowers that had played with me in the Tempos, originally a sax player, he could also play guitar, bass, a little drums, he filled a lot of spots for us and having a sax player certainly helped with a lot of songs. We continued our gigs and didn’t look back and kept trying different things to evolve our style, we later added a second sax player, Buddy Diggs, who played with us for a few months. Tragically, Buddy was killed in a traffic accident and I felt it was quite a blow to my young mind (and I’m sure to some other band members).

Rennie: It certainly was a tragic event. A young, talented musician gone so suddenly, some of us were pallbearers at his funeral.

Clyde: I guess the final blow for the Wild Ones was when Uncle Sam decided to draft Jim Sandy, the lead guitarist. Jimmy was an awesome guitarist that was always on the cutting edge of equipment and techniques, he could learn anything if he heard it a couple of times. After he left, we tried to “replace” him, we auditioned several guitarists but nothing was working out, we wound down our gigs and the band pretty much fell apart. Bill Sandy (Jim’s older brother and rhythm guitar/vocals) decided he had had enough, and Rennie, Ronnie, and myself just could not put the pieces back together again. The end of the Wild Ones era was upon us, it all happened in just a few short years.

Are there any demo tapes or unreleased songs of the band?

Clyde: As far as I know, no demos, tapes or anything else still exists. The songs for the second 45 were never recorded in the studio. Rennie and I are pretty sure we recorded a reel to reel demo of them in Bill Sandy’s garage, but we don’t know if that tape still exists. The only thing we are sure still exists are the few copies of the original 45 that Rennie and I have.

I went on to play in an R&B group that practiced a lot but rarely was booked, that lasted a few months. They had a female drummer that I had first seen in the east end of Richmond with her then band of “Barbara and the Boys”. After the R&B group broke up, Barbara called me a few months later and asked if I was playing with a group, she was very excited and said that she was playing with a San Francisco type rock group that would soon be the house band for a new club opening up near VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University), the new club was owned by several VCU students. She asked me to come audition for this new band called the Lower Floor and I ended up with them and indeed we were the house band for that club while it lasted. We were putting on quite a show, breaking up equipment on stage, the club had a full light show with strobes and oil/water projectors.

After that band broke up, I was pretty much through with bands for a while and eventually sold all of my gear and quit playing entirely in the mid ‘70s. I got into construction as a carpenter’s helper and learned a trade, tried a few other things, sort of stayed in touch with both Jim and Bill Sandy, Rick Payne and every once in a while I’d give Rennie a phone call or a quick visit. Rick ended up doing shows for advanced techniques for some of the nationally known hair care products companies (like Redken and Fermodyl) and doing seminars all over the country. He and his wife ended up putting together a complete show package and I ended up doing lights and sound for them. They moved from Richmond to New York, NY after they became the National Style Directors for Lord and Taylor. Bill and Jim Sandy both were hair stylists and for a number of years had a shop together, I finally lost touch with all three of them in the early ‘80s. I knew Rennie had gotten into computers and worked for a large computer company, every once in a while I’d give him a phone call and we’d chat for a few minutes, I did have a couple of quick visits with him over the years.

In the mid ‘80s I decided that I wanted to start playing music again, I went out and looked at equipment and everything had changed, instead of a Hammond and a Wurli EP giving you a total of two basic sounds, now you had a 45lb keyboard with hundreds of onboard sounds and if you didn’t like those you load a couple of hundred new sounds. I got into synthesizers and started learning how to program them, I added gear as I could afford to and thought about playing in a band again. I went and sat in with a couple of bands and immediately I was like “(smack forehead) … how could I ever have forgotten how hard it is to get five people to agree on something”. So I decided to go the home studio route and play/write/record for my own pleasure, these days I devote some of my spare time answering questions on YamahaforumsUK as I’m a forum specialist/moderator there, a fancy title for volunteering information you may know and sharing it with others so they can learn about their synthesizers. A way for me to pay back a little to all the people that helped me and shared knowledge with me over the years, a small price to pay for all of the pleasure, good times (and a few bad ones) and the knowledge that those in the music world helped me accumulate over the years.

Rennie: After we broke up I got drafted. Overseas I joined two other guys that brought their guitars and had brought a set of bongos. We started singing and playing. We played at clubs on bases in Korea and also played on Korean radio in front on the Korean YWCA. They could not speak English but could sing the songs in English. Rock and Roll is truly universal.

After the service I tried a few bands, but nothing was working,. the magic was gone, it wasn’t the Wild Ones. I miss those days and the band. When I tell people about the things we did, I am sure that they think I am making some of it up. Currently I have a business dealing with business software and systems design/implementation, I’m not currently playing drums or music.

From both of us: We have just recently re-established contact with each other and plan on staying in touch, it was absolutely delightful when we had lunch together recently and talked over old times. I think both of us would like to find Rick, Bill, and Jim or find out what has happened to them. Hmmmmm, pictures of the hearse, we’d really like to find some of them too.

Chuck (Rennie) Renfro – drummer for the Wild Ones
Clyde Atkinson – organist for the Wild Ones

with the Fugitives, Jaguars and Challengers at the Bellevue Theatre, November 26, 1965

Chuck Renfro and Clyde Atkinson, 2011