By Jack Garrett
In the mid-sixties, Frank Koger started Raven Records, a small, independent label based in Danville, VA, that released a large catalog of mostly Southern gospel, bluegrass and country and western 45s. All were recorded locally, or at larger studios in North Carolina. About a half-dozen of these have gone on to become garage and soul classics among collectors.
Koger was born May 10, 1931 in the Henry County town of Bassett and spent most of his life in Southside Virginia. He managed the appliance/electronics department at Kmart on Riverside Drive in Danville and opened a small studio (The House of Sound) on the Piney Forest Road, after receiving requests from local musicians who were looking for an engineer to record and release their songs.
None of the 45s and albums recorded for Raven Records or its subsidiaries (Hoss, Hippie, Piedmont and Colony 13 Records) were pressed locally. Master tapes were sent to Tennessee and custom pressed by Nashville Record Productions, Inc.
Gene and the Team Beats
Gene and the Team Beats were one of the first rock acts to record for Koger in early 1966. The Team Beats (AKA Teenbeats) formed in Martinsville in 1959 and had many personnel changes during their ten-year lifespan. The one constant was leader and sax player Gene Rumley.
The band started recording relatively late in their career, cutting their first 45 (“I’ll Carry On” b/w “Apple Fuzz”, Leatherwood RI 2096) in the basement of a Rocky Mount home after a gig. Their second single (“I Want’A Be Your Baby” b/w “Sorry ‘bout That”, Raven HOS 45-2006) was released on Raven Records but was actually recorded at Copeland Studios in Greensboro, although Koger accompanied the band to the sessions and can be heard speaking the title at the end of the instrumental B-side. Rumley believes Copeland was chosen because Koger was just getting started and the Greensboro studio had better equipment. In addition to Rumley, who plays sax and contributes backup vocals, the songs feature lead vocalist Charles Hairston; Lonnie Woodall on lead guitar and backup vocals; drummer Rickie Fox; and Carl Barrow on bass.
The band would return to Raven in 1967 to record their third, and final single: “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me” b/w “Here I Stand” on Raven HOS 42-2011. This time, the sessions were recorded in Danville.
Drummer Eddie Scott plays on the record and recalls that the studio was small and Koger did very little overdubbing. As he remembers, “it was more or less cubicles and everything was recorded together… pretty much live to tape.” Rumley, Woodall and Barrow were still with the band, although Scott had replaced Fox on drums, and Jimmy Mitchell was now their lead vocalist. The backing tracks to a fourth single were recorded, but the project was abandoned after vocalist Alfonzo Martin was drafted.
Like the Team Beats, Bluefield’s Lost Soul recorded two singles at House of Sound, (“A Secret of Mine” b/w “Minds Expressway” Raven HOS-45-2016 and “I’m Gonna Hurt You” b/w “For You” Raven HOS-45-2032) both in 1967.
Lost Soul started in 1965 as the Prussians, a five-piece band fronted by vocalist Jimmy Johnson, with Charlie Bassett on keyboards. Bassett and Johnson soon exited the band, before the group entered the recording studio in early 1967.
Steve Calfee composed all four songs (Conley co-wrote “A Secret of Mine”) recorded by Lost Soul and is the lead vocalist. He also plays keyboards on the recordings, which feature Randy Conley (guitar); Steve Cook (bass); and Donnie Fields on drums.
Guitarist Emerson Randall “Randy” Conley (who continues to record today as Emerson Conley) says Lost Soul came together when he was still in junior high school and rehearsed at bassist Steve Cook’s house, which was on the Virginia side of Bluefield. Conley was the only West Virginian in the band and recalls that his dad worked with drummer Donnie Field’s father at N&W Railroad, “and that is how I was introduced to the situation.” Cook’s father, John, managed the band and learned of Raven Records through his work as a sales representative for farm machinery. He credits the elder Cook with making contacts and “booking us everywhere,” including a live appearance on WHIS TV in Bluefield, where the group performed both sides of their first single.
Conley remembers that while traveling to Danville to record, the band passed a huge Klan rally in downtown Lynchburg. It was cold and snowy when the group arrived. And he says “A Secret of Mine” was recorded in “a big room (that) didn’t even look like a studio.” “There were no cubicles or anything like that, and just a few mics; there were no gobos… and everything was right there just real close together. There was no separation between anything that I can remember,” he adds. The building looked like a makeshift studio in “a big warehouse with high ceilings and a large room” for recording.
Conley played guitar on all four sides recorded for Raven and explains that mixing the blue-eyed soul sound of “A Secret of Mine” with the psychedelic ramblings of “Minds Expressway” was a conscious effort “to blend in with the pop scene,” while appealing to “the psychedelic influences from (their) older musician friends at Bluefield State College.” While the band “never received a dime of compensation for anything,” Conley recalls that their first record was big in the Bluefield area. He said the label did little to distribute their first 45, with the band hand delivering copies to dee jays and radio stations.
That summer, Lost Soul accompanied Steve Cook’s family to North Myrtle Beach, with Conley and another band member following them down by bus. They ended up ten miles from their destination and were lugging a heavy suitcase in the median of the bypass when Cook’s family spotted them. During the week, Cook’s dad got Lost Soul a job at the famed Pavilion. They also talked their way onto the stage at the Bowery and the Rathskeller.
While the band would split in 1968, Conley insists there was no acrimony. Several were finishing high school and he left within 5 days to enroll in an auto diesel school in Nashville. That was short-lived, and four months later Conley was back in the band business full-time. He moved back to Bluefield, then to Roanoke, Arizona, South Carolina and finally back to West Virginia, performing and recording all the while. He played in a number of bands, including Razzmatazz, Rat Salad, Friends, and most notably, Sweet Toothe, a band that recorded one album and opened for Iron Butterfly before their performance at the Bluefield Armory.
Recorded at Bradley’s Barn and produced by Benny Quinn and Patrick Glossop, “Sweet Toothe Testing” features Conley’s tasteful fuzz guitar. Released in 1975 on a small, Nashville-based label (Dominion Records TN 37214), the melodic heavy metal album was limited to a pressing of about 900 copies.
A promotional 45 from the LP (“Karen” b/w “Music’s Gotta Stay”, Dominion NR 7224) was a song about Karen Ann Quinlan and the debate over disconnecting the brain-dead patient from life-support. It was hampered by poor distribution, with only 200 copies pressed. The album has been bootlegged and was later reissued (with a different cover and on colored vinyl) on the Void label. Conley insists none of the band members received any compensation from the original release, referring to “a fake royalty check” with Dominion of “about 15 cents or something, to get us to sign away that album.” The band was one of only two artists to record for Dominion, the other a female country singer from Indiana.
An even rarer 45 followed. Lead vocalist Michael Hopkins left the band, but Conley, bassist P.D. (Pierce) Bratton, and drummer Michael Chilco reformed with two new members as Pyramid, releasing two self-penned numbers (“Buffalo Creek” b/w “Elusive Things”) on Studio One Records (SR-075) in Tazewell, VA. The songs were engineered by Nashville’s Joe Deaton on a 16-track recorder.
Conley and Calfee’s paths would cross again in the mid-80s, when both were living in Myrtle Beach and Emerson played with the Beachcombers. The group was the house band at the Sands Ocean Club for six years and Calfee lived just a few miles up the road. He would sit in for the guitarist when Conley needed a break from the six-days-a-week gig.
Conley has operated a home studio since the eighties. He recorded his first CD (The Power of Love, LGM 2222) as Emerson in 1992. More recently, he has released discs as Little Ronny and the Blues Bots (as Randall Conley) and Flying Saucer Heads (“Inner Limits,” LGM 2223), both released through his publishing company, Los Gatos Music. He continues to live in West Virginia.
In a 2012 interview, lead vocalist, keyboardist and song writer Steve Calfee recalled the studio sessions in detail.
Your band was from Bluefield, VA, so how did you learn about Raven Records in Danville?
We did a lot of promotions… there was a radio station in Bluefield, West Virginia, WKOY, there was a DJ there by the name of Charlie Duff. I think that was his air name. But he had done radio promo dances with several different groups and one of the groups he did a promo with was Gene and the Team Beats. And I think they were from the Danville, VA vicinity, but they recorded for Raven. And he at one of the dances talked to the guy that was our manager at the time, who was John Cook, who was our bass player Steve Cook’s father. And at some point I think John Cook worked for the Caterpillar Corporation and he traveled a lot selling generators and heavy duty equipment, things like that. At some point he actually went to Danville and I think met with Frank Koger and talked about this and that and that’s when he decided we should do this and what were we gonna need to do to raise the money and that kinda thing. So, that’s how we made the connection with him. It was through the radio station and then through Gene and the Team Beats, and then finally to Frank Koger at Raven Records himself.
Were both 45s recorded in 1967?
I know we did the first one in ’67. I think we did. Yea, I think we did them both in ’67. They were probably stretched about six or seven months apart. I think one was done, the first one was done in early ’67 and the second one was done later on, like about the end of the summer in ’67.
Ernie Dickens, the Soulmasters bassist, is listed as arranger/conductor on your second single. What role did he play?
He acted kind of like our cheerleader. Get us through the sessions, tell us what to expect, what was gonna go wrong, kind of just keep us going out there because back when we did those nobody had multiple tracks in that general vicinity, so everything was like direct to two-track. I know we did multiple takes of every cut and we were doing, I think it was the flip side of the first one there was actually a mistake on there where the drummer — if you listen to the uh, it might be Minds Expressway, I’m pretty sure it is — there’s a “pa-ping” sound on the cymbal. And we’d gotten just to the very end of a take and it was an accident that he did and as soon as we ended the take I think Ernie and Frank actually came out of the booth and said “What was that?” And he took the drum stick and did a ping off the bell of the cymbal, from the bell of the cymbal to the body of the cymbal itself to do the “pa-ping” sound and Frank said, “Well that’s fantastic; it actually makes the record.” He said, “Do you think you can do that every time?” So, we spent probably the next two hours doing take after take after take of him trying to do that pa-ping sound through the entire cut ’til we finally got it. It was almost like working with a child or a dog in a movie where it doesn’t matter what you do as long as the dog hits its mark. So as soon as we got a take where he had done that on every single cut, that was the take that they pressed for the flip side.
What do you recall about House of Sound Studios or Frank Koger?
I think where it was, it had originally been an ice house where they did ice I guess for restaurants, grocery stores and things like that because it had a loading dock in front. It was a white building on the right side of the road on the outskirts. And I think it had just a little tiny entranceway room (and) then there was the room that was the main recording room that was probably not more than 10×12, if that. And the control room was probably, maybe a 6×6 room with a glass window. I know they had to turn the air conditioning off every time we got ready to record because the air conditioner was just a window unit. They cut a hole in the wall and put an air conditioner in there, so for the length of time you were in there, every time between takes you almost prayed for a mistake sometimes because that’s the only time the air conditioner would get turned back on. It was not a really big building but I think they told us it had been an ice house.
What did you play on the records?
I think on both of the records, I played keyboards. It was an interesting situation. We had a keyboard player, actually a fifth member and about a month or six weeks before we knew we were going into the studio our keyboard player got married and left the band. So me and the other guitar player, we were two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, but when the keyboard player left we just kind of split up the duties. And the other guitar player was named Randy Conley. And he learned half the songs so that we could get it done quickly and I learned half the songs, so that we would switch off when we played jobs. He would play guitar on some songs and I would play keyboards; and then he would play keyboards and I would play guitar. And then probably over about a six month period I think for the duration of the band I just switched over to the keyboards. That’s how we did it at the time. I think I played keyboards on all four cuts that were released. I’m pretty sure I did. I don’t remember playing guitar on any of them.
Is the personnel the same on both records?
Yes, the group members are the same on both.
Tell us about the second single, I’m Gonna Hurt You/For You.
I think the band was a lot tighter when we did those. Actually, those we didn’t need to do near as much press. I think we were actually playing more jobs on the road, but actually the radio stations that played the first single really picked up on that one without us having to do as much work to back it up. It was almost like that one was too easy. We were more focused on playing the jobs than we were really on doing promotion on the singles. And a lot radio stations — I think in Roanoke and Charlotte — and a lot of other markets would take that song, back then it was one of those things where they did the thing on American Bandstand where they would rate a record. And there were a lot of rate-a-record shows on, where they would have kids that would come into the studio and they would play 8 or 10 records and rate them. And that record got taken to a lot of those promo-type things, so the band didn’t do it; the radio station kind of did it. It really got a lot more airplay that the first one did.
Did you sell these at live performances? Who handled the distribution?
What Frank would do, he gave uh, everybody I think got two boxes of records and I think there were probably fifty 45s in each box, so those were the records that we would sell or give away at jobs and things like that. Think we probably gave away a lot more than we sold because it was one of those situations where somebody would come up and they really, really liked the band and you’d meet somebody after a show or something like that and it was just much easier to give ’em a record that to try to say, “Give me a dollar.” So I think we probably gave away four or five-thousand like that. Especially the second one, because that was the one that had the larger pressing.
But I know the company that Frank had that pressed that one was called P.M. Distributors in Pittsburgh, Pa. I’m not sure when they went out of business. But that was the one where the manager had run some kind of a trace on and found out that they had received somewhere between ten, fifteen, twenty thousand copies that they had distributed. And by then, he tried to go back and get an accounting and it was just sort of, “Well, we’ll get around to it.” And of course nobody ever got around to it and by the time the band broke up at that point everybody lost interest. But, I don’t think they did the first one, P.M. Distributors. I think that was probably done pretty much like Frank did most things. He sent out copies to radio stations, that kind of thing and we took copies around to radio stations as well. But the yellow one, the one that was “I’m Gonna Hurt You” and “For You,” that’s the one that P.M. Distributors put out to rack jobbers and radio stations. They even sent it to the radio stations direct, or they had a promotion person that did that.
The band recorded a demo tape with Koger. Did you keep a copy?
We didn’t keep a copy. We did some demos. We had done kind of a soul version of, this is interesting because we never figured out exactly how this happened, but we had done a more soulful, Memphis-type feel to “Day Tripper” by the Beatles. That was just one of the demos that we did. We never even thought anything else about it, what happened to it or where it went. But about somewhere a year or so later there was a version that was almost, very close to what we thought we had done that came out by, I think it was by the Foundations. And we always wondered if they got hold of that demo, or you know somebody said, “Oh, you guys can do this.” But I don’t think we kept any of those demos. We did some stuff between takes that Frank recorded just to get loose in the studio. And that version of “Day Tripper” was one of the songs that we did, and I think we probably played some Sam and Dave stuff and a couple of other things like that. I know they got recorded, but what happened to them I have no idea. I know the guy that was our manager that we shared with Archie Bell got a copy somehow, some way and he was putting that with the two 45s and taking it to different companies. But once again, we never heard it. He kind of imploded at one point, the manager did, and we never heard from him again. That was another interesting story.
Do you have the master tapes for any of the band’s recordings?
No, we don’t have master recordings of anything, and of course as long ago as it’s been I know the statute of ownership has run out and I doubt seriously if anybody redid the copyrights. I know they’re not on my list. I’m a BMI writer. None of the things that we did are anywhere on the list of, I’ve only got maybe a dozen songs listed with BMI, but none of those four are anywhere on that list. So, probably they could be edited, they could be redone and I could file a new copyright on them. I just never have thought about doing it.
While he was told at the time that “I’m Gonna Hurt You” b/w “For You” (Raven HOS 45-2032) had cracked Billboard’s Hot 100, Calfee has since learned that wasn’t the case. While researching his songs, Calfee discovered that BMI had never heard of Choptank Music (Raven’s publishing company) or Frank Koger. All four songs were signed over to Frank and Choptank and never listed with BMI. Calfee says “that’s why when ‘I’m Gonna Hurt You’ was supposed to enter the Billboard Hot 100, it never happened. It seems that at that time, when a song was being promoted and pushed, at the point it was getting sufficient airplay enough to be added, Billboard would double-check the copyright license and the copyright owner. When they found none for ‘I’m Gonna Hurt You,’ they let it drop.”
After searching BMI’s records, Calfee discovered that the songs were not listed or actually published with BMI. “That’s also the reason we never received any royalties for airplay or sales,” says Calfee. He has since listed all four songs with the agency.
Gene Rumley had a similar experience. A letter from Broadcast Music, Inc. to Rumley dated May 10, 1966 lists the A-sides of the first two Team Beats’ singles and “I’m Sorry About That,” urging Rumley to notify the publisher (Old Standby Music Co.) and have the songs registered with BMI as soon as possible.
Apparently the situation wasn’t unique. Ronnie Couch played drums with another Raven act, The Individuals. The Halifax/South Boston band recorded one 45 (“I Want Love” b/w “I Really Do”, Hos-45-2018) at Koger’s studio. Bassist Tommy Redd penned both and paid Koger $6 to have both sides registered with BMI. That never happened and the garage classic has since been bootlegged in England.
The Individuals were truly a garage band and started out practicing in the basement of Couch’s home in 1964. Besides the drummer, the original group included vocalist Glenn Meadows; bassist Tommy Redd; and lead guitarist Ben Vaughan. Then known as the Rhythm-Makers, the four-piece group played their first gig at the American Legion Hall in South Boston on March 25, 1965. The band soon changed names and musical directions and Meadows left over creative differences. Redd and Vaughan took over as lead vocalists. Sammy Moser was added on organ and stayed with the group through 1967, when Mike Oakes joined on keyboards.
The Individuals paid Koger $250 to record, press and distribute 500 records. The Individuals sold 200 copies locally and Koger agreed to distribute the remainder to radio stations across the country. When they entered House of Sound Studios, the band consisted of Ronnie Couch on drums; Tommy Redd, who played bass and sang lead on both sides; Ronnie Vaughan and Ben Vaughan on rhythm and lead guitars, respectively; and Sammy Moser on organ.
The band recorded both songs in a marathon session in the summer of 1967. Couch and Redd remember scaling a long flight of steps to reach the small recording room. Couch’s drums were set up “behind some kind of plastic shield and there was another man on the board with Frank.” The band “toted our equipment up the steps to the studio. We got there around 5 or 6 pm and left around 11 pm.” According to Couch, the band “played our two songs seemed like a thousand times apiece” before Koger got acceptable takes. Raven HOS-45-2018 was released in August of 1967 and charted on WHLF radio in South Boston. “I Want Love” also made the playlist of a radio station in Brookneal, VA, while WYPR in Danville picked up the record and even had the band in the studios to promote the song. The group remained a popular regional attraction, sharing the bill with the Soulmasters and opening for popular recording artists like Sam and Dave.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uxpSssUs2Y]Interestingly, the vinyl version of “I Really Do” was not the intended release, but an outtake. When the master tapes were sent to Nashville for pressing, Koger mistakenly sent an alternate version of the song, not the one the group intended for release.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvMpQBx8olo]The initial run sold out and Couch still has the $108 invoice for a second pressing of the 45. The band wrote a follow-up (“The Fire Is Out”) and hoped to return to Danville for a second recording session; however, the group broke up and the plans were shelved. Home recordings show a radical shift in the band’s sound just before the split, with the Individuals adding extended solos, fuzz guitars and feedback to their performances.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Kuv1444hdA][youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACa54oSA-7E]
The VI Pak (aka The IV Pak)
About the same time, the VI Pak of Ruffin, N.C. entered the studio after winning a battle of the bands competition and a free session at Raven. Frank Carter played organ in the band and remembers Koger’s studio was located in the same building where guitarist Mike Carter’s uncle (E.C. Gerringer) operated a piano and appliance store, which adjoined Merchants Delivery, a moving and storage company also owned by Gerringer.
Carter remembers lugging their equipment up a flight of stairs to a small studio located above the business. He describes it as a “pretty neat little studio (with) multi-tracking and cubicles so “that each one of us had our own little box to play in. It wasn’t like playing in one big room, everything was sort of sectioned off for the drummer and for the guitarist and the horns and myself.” He remembers one large room and another “engineering room where Koger had the multi-track recorder.” According to Carter, the bigger room “wasn’t really that large — I’d say maybe 14×14 or so. It was enough room for four or five small cubicles and a mike for each.”
William “Pete” Walker has a different recollection. He played bass on many of the country and western sessions at House of Sound and is certain the studios were located in the building across from Merchants Delivery. Walker notes that the long staircase leading up to the studio has been replaced and some cosmetic changes have been made, but otherwise the building is much the same 50 years later. He remembers Koger had the second floor, while an auto repair shop was located in the basement. The building now houses a Muslim church. The VI Pak sessions produced a garage-psyche classic – “Whatzit?” – along with an interesting cover of Booker T’s “Boot-Leg,” released on the one-off Hippie Label as HOS–45–2019. Carter recalls that the band was given the option of choosing their own label after balking at Koger’s request for an extra $10 to release the 45 on Raven. Besides the Carter cousins, the VI Pak included Brandon Cardwell on drums; Anthony Hodges on bass (lead vocals on Whatzit?); Lonnie Bowes on sax; and Sidney Vernon, trumpet.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URx6Y9cM0cY]There was again a problem at the pressing plant, this time with labeling. Someone in Nashville couldn’t read Roman numerals and the six-member VI Pak was listed on the label as the IV Pak. The band made the best of 500 mislabeled 45s, which sold few copies at the time but has gone on to grace several garage compilations. VI Pak members were also given a 12” acetate containing both sides of their single on one side and the Individuals’ songs on the other. Ronnie Couch (Individuals) was unaware of the record’s existence until shown a copy recently.
Danville’s Sensational Soulmasters also recorded at Raven in ’67. The Soulmasters started out in Eden, N.C. in 1965 as a nine-piece rhythm and blues band. Black vocalists John Irby and Jerry Wilson were added as the group merged with Danville’s Majors to create the 10-to-12-piece aggregation that would record at Raven and tour Virginia and the Carolinas extensively through 1970.
Rickie Fox was the first drummer in the Danville incarnation of the Soulmasters. Another former Team Beat, Brian Thomason, was the original bassist. The first band only performed for 5-to-6 months and included “the original band from Eden and a few more people who were leaving the Majors, like (guitarist) Steve Scearce,” says Fox. Larry Davis was Fox’s best friend and was recruited on drums when Rickie left the Soulmasters to join his brother Butch in the Majors.
Bassist Ernie Dickens recalls that “George Parrish was lead singer and fronted the Majors, (while) Vance Yarborough and Junie Walton also sang a few. Back in those days we also performed a lot of instrumentals.” The group also featured black vocalist Joe Johnson, who earlier sang for the Imperials. The Majors “kinda fell apart in late ’64 after a few members were drafted or left for other reasons,” says Dickens. He says the remaining members “reformed with new drummer Larry Davis. Wayne (Womble) and Doug (Hyler) were already trying to form the Soulmasters around John and Jerry, so we basically merged the two groups.” Junie Walton moved from organ to sax and Dennis Shepherd was added on trumpet.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cfRUnXGHVE]Dickens also worked as Koger’s assistant, later producing the second single recorded by Lost Soul of Bluefield, VA. He recalled the Soulmasters’ two-day recording session in a 2015 interview.
Frank in the early days wanted to create a recording capability that rivaled the big studios. Problem was he had to try to do it on a Danville-sized budget. When we recorded our 45, Frank had acquired a 4-track reel-to-reel system that allowed control of each of the 4 input tracks, but had no capability to overdub.
This meant songs had to be rehearsed over and over again until the balance was right. Once this was accomplished, we then had to record the entire song start to finish in a single take. I remember rehearsing and balancing the sound for “I’ll Be Waiting Here” pretty much all day on the Saturday. We then recorded the version that was released the next day, Sunday. The B-side (“You Took Away the Sunshine”) moved along faster since we did not need to readjust the balance and only took several hours that Sunday. We probably spent 20 hours in all over the two days to complete the project.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frPXnNhrciU]The studio was very rudimentary in those days (and had) little in the way of acoustic absorption or isolation between the instruments. The horns were recorded on 1 track; the bass, organ and guitar on the second; drums on the third track; and vocals on the fourth.
We were used to playing in halls for large crowds at pretty high volume levels. We found it very difficult to adjust to playing with only a fraction of the volume we were used to. Hence the somewhat distorted sound that we ended up with.
Frank was pretty obsessed with trying to make it work, as were we. We must have played each of the songs 50 or more times over those two days. By the time the record was released, we were all pretty sick of both songs and could hardly stand to perform them.
After this Frank continued to make improvements and learned much from the early experiments. Each time he recorded another group the sound improved and the process became more refined.
Wayne Womble was the band’s keyboard player and said the studio was sparse, with a single, two-track recorder. Bill Dudley was a disc jockey at the local Top 40 station (WYPR) and fronted the $200 to finance the sessions. The band spent two days recording Raven HOS 45 2020, “I’ll Be Waiting Here” b/w “You Took Away the Sunshine.” Dickens says the 45 had an initial run of 500 copies but believes the band “gave away more than we sold.” Both songs were pressed at the wrong speed and the 45 is slightly faster than the original recordings.
Sax player Doug Hyler wrote the B-side in his bedroom and recalls the sessions as “lengthy, tedious and fun,” describing trumpeter Dennis Shepherd’s idea to pause near the end of the “You Took Away the Sunshine” as awesome and innovative. In addition to Hyler and Juni Walton on saxophone, the record features hot guitar licks from Steve Scearce; Larry Davis on drums; Ernie Dickens on bass; Dennis Shepherd and Jimmy Matthews on trumpet; Wayne Womble on organ; and vocalists John Irby and Jerry Wilson.
While not in the group at the time, keyboardist Bill Adams was friends with several of the members and attended the sessions. He recalls that “Wayne used a Farfisa organ on “I’ll Be Waiting Here” and an old upright piano on “You Took Away the Sunshine,” adding that “everything was recorded on a two track machine as the group played live.” According to Adams, the intro to “You Took Away the Sunshine” was put together that night with “a little alcohol involved in that one.” Dickens had written out chord charts for the arrangements and Adams was given the task of turning the pages while Wayne played the organ. Womble would soon leave the Soulmasters and Adams would take his place, but Bill said he had no inkling at this point that he would soon be playing with the group.
Both sides charted on AM stations in Danville and South Boston and the single became a regional hit for the band, while reaching the Top 10 on WLAC in Nashville. The band re-recorded both songs at a better studio in Raleigh, but the master tapes were given by Wilson to soul singer Eddie Floyd, in hopes of landing the group a major recording contract. No copies are known to exist.
Vocalist Jerry Wilson looked back at those sessions during a 2013 interview.
People in Southside still remember your record, which was a big regional hit.
Yea, in Tennessee it reached 7 or number 4 (on WLAC) in Nashville. And that’s one thing I add: If it was anything to regret it was that we didn’t go back in the studio and cut any more. Because Ernie Dickens asked me, “Jerry, you and John wanna cut some more?” And we looked at him and said “no,” because it wasn’t what you’d call a great looking studio. But the sound wasn’t bad. And it was for free. But after ten years you say, “Man, we should’ve done a bunch of songs.” And if we had, I know one side hit real good so I know what would’ve happened if we had followed up. But we were young.
What do you remember about those sessions?Man, we had fun. It was just fun. We went in and you know back then you didn’t have all this digital equipment. You made one mistake and you had to do the song over again. I think we did it about four times until everybody became relaxed, laughing and carrying on. And then after that I think it took us two days to record it, both sides. And then when we did our song, “I’ll Be Waiting Here” that Dennis Shepherd wrote and “You Took Away the Sunshine” that Doug Hyler wrote, it was great! You know, we were signing (autographs) and I think we only had about 500 copies made.
Who had the idea for the stop and start on “You Took Away the Sunshine?”
Dennis Shepherd, the trumpet player who wrote the song. Dennis was a diminutive type in stature, but he had a big heart. He was one of my favorites, man.
The Stones Unturned
Another Danville band – the Stones Unturned — entered House of Sound Studios in 1967, although none of their recordings were ever released. The Stones, as they preferred to call themselves, were a cover band and borrowed much of their early catalog from the British band of the same name. The Stones were: Pete Hilliard, bass and vocals; Jim Ray, lead vocalist; Truxton Fulton, organ; Curtis “Inky” Vaughan, drums; Doug Starnes, lead guitar.
Starnes dated and soon married vocalist Florence “Flo” Penn, who would later front the band when they performed as the Purple Haze Publication and Light Show. The couple recorded a number of demos in Koger’s studio. Starnes discussed the Raven sessions shortly before his death in October 2013.
How did the Stones come to record “Tobacco Road” and “Sunny” at Frank Koger’s studio?
How we got that (recording) time was that we were backing up (vocalist) Flo Penn Starnes, your cousin, on some songs that she wanted to record. She was fixing to go up to New York City that coming summer and she already had an agent up in New York. And he’d lined up, well she didn’t have a band she (always) used the house band wherever she had to play. I went up there (New York) with Flo and her mother, Anne Penn. And Flo, maybe she had to pay (Frank) extra, I don’t remember. But anyway, we had that time that she had set up for us with Frank. And we rehearsed a lot, not in the studio but here at home. We always rehearsed at my parents’ house here at South Woodberry in Danville. And it was a lot of fun because everything was a new experience for us back then. We didn’t know how it would sound. And fortunately it sounded good enough on tape to be worthwhile. And that was probably one of the biggest turning points for the Stones Unturned.
I have your master tape of about six original songs with the band backing Flo. There are multiple takes and false starts with dialog between songs. However, a smaller reel of just the Stones appears to be a dub. It’s only recorded in one channel and there are finished takes of only two songs: “Tobacco Road” and “Sunny.”
We had done more songs than that. There is a tape… it may be the one that you have listened to. I thought we had between 4 and 6 songs on that one. She (Flo) had done her songs in order that we could have a tape to take with us when we went up to New York City. I didn’t know how that tape (the reel with just the two songs) came about but I do remember there being more than just two songs on it. There’s another tape that may be around here or not. Over the years, the tapes have been loaned out and some of make it back and some don’t. And then there are a lot of them that the boxes aren’t even labeled and I don’t have a reel-to-reel recorder.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jh2n3w2pHHE][youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkBohb6C1-k](Note: Stones Unturned vocalist Jim Ray believes there were two sessions at Raven and that the first in ’67 was to record the band. He thinks the group returned some time later to back Flo Starnes. Bassist Pete Hilliard sings lead on both and thinks the Stones’ songs were hastily recorded at the end of Flo’s session because they still had studio time remaining.)
The Fabulous Fingermen
Local Bluegrass legend Julian Lilliard started out playing in the mid-sixties in an instrumental guitar band known as the Fabulous Fingermen. The group played frequently at local sock hops and fraternal lodges in the Danville area and also recorded some unreleased songs at House of Sound. Lilliard says the band committed “3 or 4 cuts on a reel-to-reel” and he kept the master. He died in 2014 before locating the tape.
Piedmont Records was another House of Sound offshoot that produced at least two records of note for collectors. The Mustangers recorded “What Do I Have to Pay,” listed on the label as a “rhythm and blues vocal.”
Nothing is known about the record (Piedmont CSP 45-2556) or the group, which featured a spirited soul singer and a good rhythm and horn section. The flip side (“That’s My Way”) is an odd instrumental that was also penned by the group and sounds as though it was recorded in a single take.
Moon Mullins and the Night Raiders
Moon Mullins and the Night Raiders also recorded their fifth single for Piedmont Records (“Baby, I Got You” b/w “Ain’t Gonna Cry”, Piedmont Records 45-2044) around 1968. At the time, Mullins’ band was performing throughout Virginia and North Carolina and he also owned a club in Madison, N.C., “Moon’s Danceland.”
“Baby I Got You” features a duet with vocalists Mickey Hawks and Gwynn Kallam. Hawks takes the lead on the flip side, “Ain’t Gonna Cry.” A picture of Mickey Hawks, Dallas “Moon” Mullins and Gwynn Kallam Montgomery appears on the sleeve, which was a rarity for Raven. While she sang with the band for several years, this was the only time Montgomery entered a recording booth. She recalls that Koger had the walls of the studio lined with egg cartons and that Stoney Bowman was their guitarist.
The sound was also a departure for the Night Raiders, who’d been recording rockabilly ravers since the fifties. The band is best remembered for their first recording, “Bip Bop Boom,” which was released on Profile Records in 1959 and did well in Chicago and the Midwest.
The single on Piedmont was the first release by the Night Raiders in seven years. The group had last been heard in a 1961 instrumental (“Gonna Dance Tonight, Part 1 & 2”) on country singer Jim Eanes’ label (Lance Records 005) out of Richmond, VA. While this would be Moon Mullins last commercial release, Mickey Hawks continued performing and recorded an album shortly before his death in 1989. Mullins also continued playing and was a fixture at the Eden Flea Market until shortly before his death in 2014.
Soulmasters’ bassist Ernie Dickens assisted Koger on many of the sessions at this point and recalls that “before Frank left for Nashville he was recording anyone that could show up with $200, whether they were up to the task or not.”
The Greater Experience
Some of the last recordings Koger made in Danville were by an eight-man Lynchburg horn band, the Greater Experience, and their lone 45 has gone on to become one of the most coveted records among Northern Soul fans. “Don’t Forget to Remember” was seldom heard outside Southwest Virginia until it was rediscovered by collectors across the pond, but Lynchburg’s Greater Experience had quite a local following in the early seventies.
Chip Wood played alto sax on the 45 and says a chance encounter with vocalist Jerry Mitchell on a summer afternoon “around 1968” got the ball rolling. Wood was visiting friend Milton “Winkie” Blanks at his home on Trents Ferry Road and Mitchell was seeing Blank’s older sister, Brenda. While waiting for his date, the conversation turned to music and Mitchell remarked that he was trying to start a band. Wood mentioned that he played sax and said he also knew a good drummer, Chuck Wall. Wood was playing in a soul band at the time. This was Mitchell’s first band and he enlisted trumpeter Ricky Height and guitarist John Williams. Neither stayed long and both were soon replaced by Ed Burnette and Roger Scruggs. Johnny Dodson joined on organ, with Robert Tunkel on tenor sax, and Russ Hovda on bass.
A name was needed and leader Jerry Mitchell came up with Greater Experience. Burnette says he never knew the significance, adding: “It was just one of those sixties things.” Drummer Chuck Wall was just 16 when he joined the band and believes the name was agreed upon while the band was holding its first rehearsal in Wood’s basement. “I think we were just kind of kicking around, trying to come up with (a name) and I’m not sure if it was Jerry Mitchell or Robert Tunkel, or just kind of a collective effort,” he says. While he had played in a couple of other neighborhood groups, Wall says the Greater Experience was his first serious foray into music, and the first band capable of playing an entire set.
Burnette, Scruggs and Wood all played together in the E.C. Glass Stage Band and Wood and Burnette were also in the high school’s marching band. Wood recalls that “many a time on a Friday night we played for the marching band and then at half-time Ed and I would sneak out to go to a gig with the Greater Experience.”
The band was a favorite in the Lynchburg-Danville area and soon set their sights at recording an original song composed by Mitchell and Tunkel. Scruggs plays lead guitar on the single and says he was 18 when “Don’t Forget to Remember” was released in the fall of 1970 on Colony 13 (CSP 45-2572) Records. He remembers little about the sessions and says they may have been in Danville, but he is “not 100% sure of that.” He remembers a “pretty good sized studio,” with partitions and headphones. While he doesn’t remember the particular studio, Chuck Wall says the sessions were “definitely in Greensboro” and that the band was in and out in four hours.
While the sessions were most likely done at Copeland Sound Studios in Greensboro, the recordings could have been made in Danville at Frank Koger’s House of Sound Studios. The band performed frequently at Happy’s, a pizza restaurant and nightspot located directly across from his studio on Piney Forest Road. Scruggs doesn’t remember whether Koger produced the sessions, but he often used Copeland to record bands, especially when the projects were beyond the capability of his small studio in Danville. The 45 was apparently his last hurrah in Southside Virginia, as Koger moved to Nashville around 1971. While he used the Colony 13 label in Danville, most of the studio’s earlier output was on Raven Records. Koger used the Colony 13 logo exclusively in Tennessee, but again only for country and western artists. While his involvement with “Don’t Forget to Remember” may have been limited to pressing the record, it does appear on Koger’s label and bears the notation “Nationally Dist. by Colony Sound Prod., Danville, VA.” A later release on Colony 13 Records by Jamie Reeves (A Mother’s Salute to Lt. Calley b/w I’ll Wait, CSP 45-2580) lists a Nashville address for Colony Sound Productions. The labels are identical and, like the Greater Experience 45, Kitten Britches Music – BMI is listed as the music publisher. Koger’s wife, Jean, was nicknamed Kitten. Frank James is listed as both writer and producer on Reeves’ 45. From this point on, Koger referred to himself as Frank James in production credits.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m57Wg-r4jI]Trumpeter Ed Burnette agrees that the recordings were made in Greensboro and recalls that the band purchased a designated amount of time for the recordings, with the studio “charging $1 a minute” for any time they ran over, “so we tried to get it done as quickly as we could.” He remembers the group “spent an inordinate amount of time getting the rhythm part down: the guitar, the bass, the drums, and the organ.” He recalls that “it just seemed to take an eternity to get that down and we actually did the brass part in one take, and then we added the vocals on top of that.” Burnette says he is “confident” the sessions were in Greensboro, “because when I saw the actual record label for the first time and it showed ‘Colony 13’ in Danville, VA. I questioned why we went to a studio in Greensboro to record it.” He believes the pressing was limited to 500 copies.
Scruggs says both sides of the single were recorded “in an afternoon” and that the 45 received extensive airplay in on WLLL in Lynchburg, placing 99th on the station’s top 100 songs for the year. He remembers the band miming the song on a television show “around Christmas, 1970.” Wood says the band’s only TV appearance was for the Labor Day Telethon. The Greater Experience performed on the local segment of the telethon, which was broadcast from the WLVA (now WSET) studios, where Mitchell worked. Wood remembers that the band had to pantomime “Don’t Forget to Remember,” which he says “was harder than actually playing the song live.” Scruggs and alto saxophonist and rhythm guitarist Chip Wood had just finished school and two of the other members – Burnette and Wall – were both 17 and still at E.C. Glass High School when the 45 was released. Lead singer Jerry Mitchell wrote the lyrics, while sax man Bob Tunkel composed the music. John Dodson played Hammond organ on the record, with Russ Hovda on bass and Roger Scruggs on lead guitar.
While not listed as a co-writer, Scruggs believes keyboard player Johnny Dodson contributed to “Don’t Forget to Remember.” He points out that the song’s progressions contain “mostly major and minor 7th chords, not your average chords (and ones) only a keyboardist or guitarist would have played.” He believes Dodson “probably helped Jerry write the basic chord structure and Tunkel wrote out the music to be copywritten.” He points out that Tunkel had a music degree and did compose the music to the flip side, “Carol’s Carol,” which features a flute solo and is dedicated to his wife. Tunkel majored in music composition at Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to tenor sax, Tunkel also played flute and trumpet.
Chip Wood plays alto sax on the 45 and is uncertain whether the sessions were in Greensboro or Danville. He does recall that as they were leaving Lynchburg for the recordings, WLLL disc jockey Stan Jayson (who was also managing the group) played Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and dedicated the song to the band. “Being 18 and just out of high school, that was really cool,” says Wood. Before the band recorded “Don’t Forget to Remember,” Wood says they played an afternoon job at Lynchburg College. Chicago played at LC that night “and we all had front row seats for the concert.” Wood concurs with Burnette about recording the rhythm section, saying it took “forever to get their part down.” And while the horns got just one shot, Wood says: “I guess we got lucky, although listening to the record now I think the horns were just a little bit out of tune.”
In addition to original material, the Greater Experience was known for their covers of songs by Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Cold Blood, Sly and the Family Stone and the Ides of March. The band gained a reputation as one of the best live acts in the area and opened for the Ides of March, the Classics IV, Percy Sledge and the Spiral Staircase in Lynchburg. A recently discovered live tape (made at Happy’s in Danville in 1970) captured the Greater Experience at its peak and includes the unreleased original song, “Mail Day Lament,” which Wood describes as “in the vein of the Ides of March.”
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRG756pNF-Y]The band booked through Virginia Talent Association (VTA), a Lynchburg-based agency owned and operated by Phil Vassar, Sr., who was the singer and front man for the Lancers, a rock and roll group that recorded the 45, My Little Girl/Alone (Panther Records SP-1051) in 1964. He was also the father of country singer/songwriter Phil Vassar, Jr.
It’s said that timing is everything, and such was the case with the Greater Experience. A demo tape was given to WLLL and the song was already receiving heavy airplay on Lynchburg radio. Band manager Stan Jason was also a popular DJ at the local radio station and had earlier gotten the group’s photo in a national publication, TV Radio Mirror Magazine, in an article profiling Jason. He was also able to get the song in heavy rotation at WLLL. The problem, says Burnette, was that the records hadn’t arrived from the pressing plant and none were available in stores. And by the time the single was in stock, interest in the song had already started to fade. Wall said Jason could get the group air time on the radio, “so we thought maybe we could make a little money out of this and it wouldn’t be a total bust if we could get the airplay and get local ears on it, and maybe enough money that if people would go out and buy it that we could at least pay for it, or the recording itself.” Wall believes that the delay kept the record from being a much bigger regional hit, noting “there was an issue with the pressing of the record, so the idea was Stan was going to give it a week or two in advance to start putting it on the radio to get it out over the airwaves and peak a little interest, and hopefully by then people would go out and want to buy it.” It took a little longer for the records to arrive and they weren’t available when fans requested the 45. Wall recalls that it was a month to six weeks before the song was in stores, “so anybody at the time that was out there who was looking for the record to buy, it just wasn’t available. They just weren’t there at that point in time when the demand was probably at the peak.”
Burnette still has a memo Mitchell distributed after the sales had completed. He recalls band members “all got some records back because we made the mistake of releasing the song to radio stations before we actually had the 45s.” It was a case of the group “having our 15 minutes of fame; it went up the charts locally and then down the charts and by the time we got the records actually in hand, our moment in the sun had come and gone and we were basically stuck with a bunch of records.” Wall believes that Jerry Mitchell ended up with most of the surplus. Mitchell wanted to release another 45 or album with the band, but plans to return to the studio were scrapped after his departure. Wood explains that “Jerry was the contact guy (and) really the manager of the band,” taking care of all the finances and contracts while “the younger guys like myself, Chuck, Ed and Roger… just kind of did as we were told and went on from there.” Money from several gigs was set aside to finance their 45, which the band sold at live performances, small shops like L. Oppleman Pawn Shop and at the G.C. Murphy Department Store in Lynchburg.
The group hoped to record “Mail Day Lament” in a controlled setting, but Mitchell left and the band never made it back to the studio. Soundman Steve Dunaway made a crude live recording of the song, but Scruggs says the quality isn’t suitable for release. The line-up featured on the 45 only performed together for about 18 months and the band underwent numerous personnel changes before calling it quits in 1975. Wall says while the band hoped to record an album, only three original songs were written during their eight-year existence. The Greater Experience went through numerous personnel changes, but Wall says “the nature of the band pretty much remained a copy band,” leaning heavily toward brass numbers, while remaining flexible enough to cover “pretty much whatever was popular at the time on the radio.” While members preferred more progressive music, Wall says the reality was that “because the fraternities and clubs we played were basically just dance halls,” the music had to be danceable. The idea, says Wall, was to “blend what was a challenge to play,” with what was on the radio, adding: “You just couldn’t go to a club and play the music that you wanted to play and have people sit there at their chairs and just kind of twiddle their thumbs. So, it needed to have a good solid beat and at the same time be popular.” The key to the band’s success was its amazing rhythm section.
Mitchell left on November 21, 1971, after a final performance for a Circle K fraternity party at the Holiday Inn in Lynchburg. He became the lead vocalist for a Roanoke band, the Divots. Wood believes Mitchell saw the move as “a step up” and felt Roanoke offered more opportunities than Lynchburg. Rocky Robertson was recruited as his replacement and was joined by female vocalist Jenny Greene. Jay McKee was added on trombone in ’71 and stayed with the group until the end. He was already familiar to the group and played in the E.C. Glass Concert and Marching Bands with Wood and Burnette. Scruggs recalls that Russell Hovda “just quit” and was replaced by bassist Robin Tolley. Kenny Arthur succeeded Tolley on Rickenbacker bass, but left to attend college in Alabama, where he still lives. Billy Bragg was their fourth, and final bass player. Dodson departed and was replaced by Billy DeZonia on keyboards, while Burnette left in the fall of ’71 to attend William and Mary College. He is now a General District Court judge in Lynchburg. David Cooper replaced him on trumpet. Wood remained with the band on sax until the breakup but then stopped performing and installed commercial entertainment systems until his retirement. Wood and Wall were the only two founding members who remained with the band until the end. The two were good friends and Chuck dated Chip’s sister during the band’s formative years. Tunkel, Wall, Williams and Hovda still live in the Lynchburg area and Williams and Hovda continued doing trio work until just recently. Sound and light man Steve Dunaway stayed in the business and went on to run sound for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Mother’s Finest and Ted Nugent.
Scruggs remained with the Greater Experience until 1973 and was succeeded by guitarist Dale Ollweiler, who attended Lynchburg College with drummer Chuck Wall. Wall decided to stay in Lynchburg so he could continue performing with the band on weekends, which he did until the split in 1975. By that time, he says the group had “had kind of just run its course.” He had finished college and was growing weary of the long road trips, adding that “every time you pulled in new people it was just kind of a hassle to have to get back to square one.” He regrets that he no longer plays, adding: “You get married and you get a job and all of a sudden the reality is there.” Scruggs says he left a couple of years earlier because most of the original members were gone and the popularity of horn bands had started to wane. He remains active in music to this day, while Dodson, DeZonia, Bragg and front man and lead vocalist Jimmy Mitchell have since died. Mitchell died of cancer on March 16, 2011 in Roanoke, Virginia. He was 62. While Wall, Wood, Scruggs, Burnette and McKee occasionally get together to reminisce or to watch a concert on Chip’s entertainment system, they doubt there will be a Greater Experience reunion. While he admits it would be nice, Wood points out that their front man is gone and he no longer plays the sax. “I guess we’re too old for that,” says Wood. Wall says he always admired the progressive, British bands of the early seventies and finds it ironic that their music now has a following in the UK. Burnette admits that all the attention from across the pond has been nice, adding that the surviving members are “all basking in the glory of that delayed gratification now.” His only regret is that vocalist Jerry Mitchell “who wrote the music and was kind of the leader of the band did not live to experience this wonderful delayed popularity of our record.”
Move to Nashville
Around 1971, Koger decided to move to Tennessee. Danville guitarist Butch James knew Koger and his wife and helped the couple pack when they made their move to Music City. James was 17 at the time and recalls that Koger had connections with the music industry and wanted to be closer to Nashville. He remembers that Frank’s wife was also a talented seamstress and made dresses for Dolly Parton.
Francis Ingram was a gospel artist who recorded for Raven. She remembers posing for pictures with Dolly as Jean Koger, who was nicknamed Kitten or Kitty, pinned a dress for the singer. She says Parton was talking about ending her long-standing partnership with Porter Wagoner, a move she would ultimately make in February 1974. She wanted Ingram to accompany her on the road, but Ingram said she declined because she had three small children at home. Ingram, who’s now 84, was a lifelong friend who attended school with Koger. She recorded two gospel albums (My God Is Real, Raven Hos-33-2022; Singing His Praises Vol. 2, Raven LPM – 2041) for Raven Records. Ingram borrowed $800 from Schoolfield Bank to record and press 600 copies of her second album in 1968. She returned to Nashville with Koger and his wife around 1970 to record a 45: “Nobody Knows (Where No One’s At)” b/w “Love and Memories”, for Plowboy Records PAL-0001. Interestingly, Koger does not receive producer credit on the labels.
Ingram accompanied the Kogers several times to Nashville and remembers the walls of his studio being lined with albums. She remained in contact with the couple and heard from Koger just before he died of cancer in 1980, at the age of 48. According to Ingram, he became a minister in his later years and was buried in the Old Primitive Baptist Church cemetery in Sanville, VA, not far from his birthplace. His widow told Ingram in 2010 that Koger kept the masters from her albums, but got rid of all of the other tapes made during his days in Danville.
Peggy Wiggins (Harville) worked with Koger at Kmart, assisting him with newspaper ads the store ran in the Danville Register and Bee. She said he kept his day job as manager of Kmart’s appliance department until the couple left for Tennessee. “Frank and his wife Kitty would go to Nashville and stay with Wagoner and Parton,” she says, and “Frank had Porter and Dolly autograph their picture in a Grand Old Opry magazine,” which he gave to Wiggins. She also remembers that Kitty designed and made many of Dolly’s stage outfits.
Truxton Fulton played keyboards in the Stones Unturned and recorded with the band at House of Sound. He recalls that Koger was a huge country music fan, years before it became mainstream. He remembers Koger as “someone who could take a little and stretch it a long way.” Frank’s job at Kmart “gave him access to recording equipment at a discount but it was just home stereo stuff, nothing professional or even top of the line Sony,” says Fulton. Given those budget constraints, Fulton believes the studio was still able to produce an “amazing” sound, pointing to the Soulmasters’ single as Koger’s crowning achievement.
Pete Walker was probably Frank Koger’s best friend when he lived in Danville, and describes him as likable and friendly, adding: “He would give you the shirt off his back.” Walker credits Frank with getting him started in the business. The two met one night at Kmart and struck up a conversation about music. Walker told Koger he was “just playing a little flattop” on the side. But Koger needed a bass player, so “he started me playing bass and we formed a little group.” Bass players were hard to find and “when I told him I didn’t have a bass, he gave me one from Kmart and that’s what started me in music.” He went on to play on many Raven sessions (backing Susan Lea, Jack Transou, Homer “T” and Paul Parker) and recalls driving with Frank to Copeland Studios in Greensboro to back a black female vocalist on a recording of “Harper Valley PTA” (Millicent Williams, Harper Valley PTA/Ode to Billy Joe, Piedmont 45-2050). Koger also played flattop guitar and even recorded a 45 at one point, although Walker can’t recall the title or label.
“All of the local musicians knew Frank,” recalls Walker, “and the T-Birds did their practicing at the studio before playing their first job at T-Bird Country,” a popular honky tonk on the outskirts of Danville owned by popular W.D.V.A. disc jockey Homer “T” Thomasson, who also recorded a recitation 45 for Raven, Thru A Soldier’s Eyes/It’s Santa Claus (HOS-45-2008).
Walker helped the Kogers make the move around 1970-71, renting a truck and hauling their furniture from Danville to Nashville. Frank continued moonlighting in the studio in Nashville, while working a day job selling television sets. While he no longer played on any of the sessions, Walker remained close friends with Frank until his death, and the couple would visit him whenever they returned to Southside Virginia.
Jean Koger was also a songwriter and Frank bragged that she could compose a song about anything. Walker was visiting the couple one night and was sitting in the recreation room when Frank remarked that “Kit could write a song in 10 minutes.” He pulled a nickel and two pennies from his pocket, the two walked upstairs and Koger handed his wife the change and asked her to “put a song together.” It wasn’t long before she did just that, much to Walker’s amazement. Walker says the couple became good friends with Dolly and Porter, and Jean designed custom gowns for Parton and other Nashville singers. While Frank had a knack for finding and recording undiscovered talent, it was his wife who had a fixation with fame.
In the late seventies, Koger had a serious wreck that left him in severe pain. Walker said while x-raying his back, doctors discovered he had spinal cancer. They began treatment and the cancer was in remission. But Walker says “it came back and he died not long after that” on February 24, 1980. Walker attended his funeral in Henry County but soon lost touch with Frank’s widow, who remained in Franklin, Tennessee. Walker believes Koger would be pleased that his music lived on after his death, but says he never achieved his biggest ambition, which was “to own a town where everybody was equal.”
More information can be found at these articles by Jack Garrett:
For more on the Individuals see Chris Bishop’s post on this site.
Discography of Raven / House of Sound and related labels
It’s nearly impossible to compile a complete discography of Raven-related releases, since as few as 50 copies of some of the 45s were pressed.
Since Raven Records of Danville, Virginia was connected to the House of Sound Studio, other House of Sound Productions are included in this discography, including occasional releases on the Hoss, Hippie, Piedmont and Colony labels. Singles have the 45- prefix, LPs the 33- prefix. This discography was compiled by Dennis Minter and Jack Garrett.
Any help with this discography would be appreciated
Raven HOS-45-2006 – Gene & The Teambeats – I Want’a Be Your Baby / Sorry ‘Bout That
Raven HOS-45-2007 – Earl Wilkes – Too Many Nancys / Keep This Song
Raven HOS-45-2008 – Homer “T” – Thru A Soldier’s Eyes / It’s Santa Claus
Hoss HOS-45-2009 – Kathy Bledsoe – My Baby’s Gone / Shattered Dreams
Raven HOS-45-2011 – Gene & The Teambeats – I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me / Here I Stand
Raven HoS-45-2013 – Hender Saul – You Really Put a Hurtin’ on Me / What I Need Most
Raven HOS-45-2014 – The Ambassador’s Quartet – I’m Free Again / Lord I Need You
Raven HOS-45-2015 – The Bowes Brothers – Ain’t Got Time To Think / Bottom of The Glass
Raven HOS-45-2016 – The Lost Soul – A Secret of Mine / Mind’s Expressway
Raven HOS-45-2018 – The Individuals – I Want Love / I Really Do
Hippie HOS-45-2019 – The IV Pack – Whatzit? / Bootleg
Raven HOS-45-2020 – The Soulmasters – I’ll Be Waiting Here / You Took Away The Sunshine
Raven HOS-33-2022 – Frances Ingram – My God Is Real
Raven HOS-45-2024 – Susan Lea – Home Loving Girl / I’m Going To The Back Room
Raven HOS-33-2027 – Dan River High School Band
Raven HOS-45-2028 – Katie Lee – It Takes Two / Mommie What Would Daddy Say
Raven HOS-45-2029 – The Wilsons – Rabbit In The Log / White House Blues
Raven HOS-45-2030 – Hughes Memorial School – We Sing
Raven HOS-45-2031 – Jack Transou – Wait Until The Weekend / When You’re Thru Hurting Me
Raven HOS-45-2032 – The Lost Soul – I’m A Gonna Hurt You / For You
Raven HOS-45-2033 – Paul Parker – Don’t You Sometimes Get Lonely / I Just Want You
Raven HOS-45-2034 – Susan Lea – If This Dam Ever Breaks / Teenager’s Dream
Raven HOS-33-2038 – Old Country Church Quartet – The Old Country Church
Raven HOS-33-2041 – Frances Ingram – Singing His Praises Vol. II
Raven HOS-45-2042 – Charlie Chandler – The Drunken Driver / I’m Fine
Raven HOS-45-2043 – Charlie Massey – I’m My Daddy’s Man / The Kingdom of God
Piedmont HOS-45-2044 – Moon Mullins & Night Raiders – Baby I Got You / Ain’t Gonna Cry
Raven HOS-33-2046 – The True Gospel Singers – The Man On The Middle Cross
Raven HOS-45-2047 – Cathy Bledsoe – Leave Well Enough Alone / Cold And Lonely Grave
Raven HOS-45-2048 – Ralph Viar – When The Money Runs Out / The Stains of Time
Raven HOS-45-2049 – Susan Lea – Hillbilly Willie / Lonely Too Long
Piedmont HOS-45-2050 – Millicent Williams – Harper Valley PTA / Ode To Billy Joe
Colony 13 – CSP-45-2554 – Bill (Mr. “G”) Glover – Weeping Willow/Liberty Dance
Piedmont CSP-45-2556 – The Mustangers – What Do I Have to Pay / That’s My Way
Colony 13 CSP-45-2572 – The Greater Experience – Don’t Forget To Remember / Carol’s Carol
Piedmont HOS-33-2585 – Old Country Church Quartet – Singing Time
Raven 7-701 The True Gospel Singers – The True Gospel Singers
Raven 7-702 The Savage Family – The Savage Family Sings
Included is the Greater Experience 45 on Colony 13. Most on this label were out of Nashville after Frank Koger moved, but this one (“Don’t Forget to Remember”) was distributed locally.