Category Archives: Copeland Sound Studios

The Tropics: Hey You Little Girl

Tropics Van Ken Adkins, Jimmy Robinson, Leonard Collins, Arnold Robinson
Ken Adkins, Arnold Robinson (kneeling), Leonard Collins (sitting in front) and Jimmy Robinson

While not exactly a tropical paradise, the city of Eden was the birthplace of one of the best Soul bands of the sixties. This was before the towns of Leaksville, Draper and Spray merged to form Eden, which today has a population of less than 16,000. All three are nestled in Rockingham County, which gave rise to the Tropics through the merger of two bands: one from Reidsville and another from Leaksville.

Tropics December 1962 or 1963
from let: Ken Atkins, Malcolm Allen, Red White (at bottom center), Billy Hutchinson and Charles Hutchinson. “The Hutchinson brothers had no direct connection with the Tropics but were starting a band and we three were at their house to jam in 1962” – Ken Adkins
Tropics Malcolm Allen Douglas High School Leaksville 1962
Malcolm Allen’s graduation photo, Douglas High School, Leaksville 1962

Guitarist Ken Adkins was visiting a girlfriend in Leaksville one night in 1960 when he cut through a black neighborhood to hitch the five-mile ride to his home in Draper. As he was passing by a church, Adkins was taken aback by a “terrifically great boogie woogie piano… Ray Charles-type stuff.” He crept up to the window and was peering inside when he was startled by the preacher, who came up from behind and asked if he’d like meet the pianist, a gifted black musician by the name of Malcolm Allen. The two bonded immediately and it wasn’t long before Adkins brought drummer Red White and bassist Ronnie Hooker into the fold.

Tropics Malcolm Allen's house
Malcolm Allen’s house for early rehearsals

Allen recalls that their first practices were held in his home because the family had a piano in the living room. The then unnamed group quickly gained a following in the neighborhood and Allen says the front porch and yard of their home was often filled with people listening to their music. It wasn’t long before they began receiving requests to play in public.

A name was needed and Allen thought of The Tropics after seeing a commercial showing Jamaican musicians jamming on the beach. He explains that the group was billed initially as The Interracial Tropics “(so) people would know what they were getting and kind of eliminate some of the surprise factor.”

Double Door Tea Room, Leaksville, NC
The Double Door Tea Room, Leaksville, NC

The four jammed and honed their skills at each other’s homes before landing their first gig at a black club, the Double Door Tea Room. Allen had cards printed for the occasion, advertising “The Interracial Tropics.” The Double Door was a small club in Leaksville that served Soul food on the ground level, with a small, open area on the second floor for live performances.

Allen explains that the “black community (was) more receptive and open to integration at that time” and “our guys were mostly into Soul and then Motown and blues, so the music kind of catered more to our people.” The crowd at the Double Door was on their feet cheering the soloists on, “hollering and raising sand, saying “go ahead, go ahead and play that thing!” Bolstered by the response, Allen says the band was encouraged “to branch out and go other places.”

Tropics Leaksville circa 1962
Leaksville, NC, circa 1962, from left: Jane Kirby, Susan Powell, Red White, Ken Adkins

Dances followed at the segregated Stoneville High School. And while most of their friends were receptive to the mixed race band, Adkins recalls that “all (of our jobs) were for black audiences because white places would not book us.”

Red White says the country clubs in Virginia and North Carolina wouldn’t touch the band, but “we were accepted without equivocation (at the Double Door) and whites came to see us there. So it was really the beginning of the end of segregation as I knew it in my hometown.”

Tropics drummer Red White
Red White practicing at his home on his first kit.

The band stuck close to home through 1961, when Adkins went away to school in Chapel Hill. They continued to play on weekends, when their paths crossed with another group of musicians from Reidsville who had a band. Mike Peters played bass in the Reidsville group, first known as the Bermudas (later as Rick and the Spirits) and remembers playing their first job at the Casville Volunteer Fire Department in Caswell County for $6 per man.

The decision was made to merge the two groups after Adkins moved to Reidsville. White drummed with the band for about two years before graduating high school in 1962 and joining the Air Force. The group recruited the drummer from the Reidsville band, Leonard Collins, who was equally adept on the skins.

Peters explains that the Spirits lost their guitar player, Rick Sealey, who left to attend college at East Carolina. Someone suggested Adkins and he agreed to come and play. Don Watkins played organ in the Reidsville band but quit when Adkins came on board. Ken brought Allen in to play keyboards and Peters replaced Hooker on bass. Joe Frank Myers played sax. Sealey attended college briefly before returning to the band, this time on keyboards.

Sealey’s return was short-lived. He was drafted in 1966 and replaced by Larry Wren on the Hammond B-3. Myers left and was replaced by Leo Caudle on sax. Caudle was a gifted saxophonist who “could play a tenor and alto sax at the same time out of both sides of his mouth.”

Allen played with the band for several years but came to a crossroads when he married and the couple had a young daughter. His job required that he work nights and that made it impossible to continue road trips on weekends. But before leaving, he introduced the band to Jimmy and Arnold Robinson. “I met Jimmy because right after high school I was in Greensboro attending A&T State University,” says Allen, and “when they came into the group, they gave us a new dimension because they were some heck-of-a singers and they enabled us to do a lot of Motown stuff.” While not related, the pair shared the same surname, so the band billed them as the Robinson Brothers.

Coachman & Four Club, Bennettsville, SC
Coachman & Four Club, Bennettsville, SC
Engagements increased after the band hooked up with Bill Kennedy, who was the first manager of the Castaways in Greensboro. Kennedy auditioned the Tropics and told the band to buy some better equipment. They followed Kennedy’s advice and soon found themselves playing at his nightclub. The group hooked up with Ted Hall, a booking agent with Hit Attractions in Charlotte, and found themselves playing every weekend. Kennedy sold the Castaways to Beach Music legend Bill Griffin, and Kennedy went to work for Jokers Three as a booking agent. Jokers Three also ran a popular nightclub by the same name, and it wasn’t long before the Tropics switched their allegiance, with the agency booking most of their jobs until the band split in 1969.

Kennedy booked the band throughout the East Coast. In addition to the Castaways clubs in Greensboro, Raleigh and Nags Head, the Tropics frequented the Embers Club at Nags Head; the Cellar in Charlotte; Coachman & 4 in Bennettsville; the Beach Club in Myrtle Beach; and the Pink Pussy Cat in Atlanta. They also played cotillion clubs, debutante balls and “just about every college in North Carolina.” The band performed “anywhere from Northern Virginia down to Atlanta, out west to Nashville.”

Tropics J's Bacardi, Durham 1965 Joe Frank Meyers, Leonard Collins Dee Clark
The Tropics at J’s Bacardi, Durham NC, March 12 or 13, 1965, from left: Joe Frank Meyers, Leonard Collins and Dee Clark

Their musical prowess became well known and the Tropics were soon in demand to back rhythm and blues recording artists. One of the first of those gigs was in support of Dee Clark, with the band later backing the Impressions, Martha and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Lee Dorsey, Major Lance, the Tams, Showmen and the Drifters.

Adkins says the band backed Dee Clark in late 1964 or early ’65 for two nights at J’s Bacardi in Durham. The Tropics already had two Clark songs in their repertoire, “Raindrops” and “Nobody But You,” and set about learning his other material, “so when he came to the show, we had his stuff down cold.” While they lacked the strings heard on Clark’s hits, Sealey was able to duplicate the arrangements note-for-note, recreating the background orchestration on the keyboards. Clark was impressed and would use the band again down the road.

The Tropics with Dee Clark at J's Bacardi, March 1965
The Tropics at J’s Bacardi, Durham, NC, March 12 or 13, 1965

Tropics J's Bacardi, Durham 1965 Ken Adkins, Joe Frank Meyers, Dee Clark, Mike Peters
The Tropics at J’s Bacardi, Durham NC, March 12 or 13, 1965 Ken Adkins, Joe Frank Meyers, Dee Clark, Mike Peters
The Tropics at J's Bacardi, March 1965 Dee Clark and Mike Peters
The Tropics at J’s Bacardi, Durham, March 12 or 13, 1965, from left: Dee Clark and Mike Peters

Rufus Thomas was a favorite of the Tropics and members would arrive hours before their shows and be entertained with non-stop jokes from the former Memphis DJ.

The Tropics shared the bill with the Temptations on the BDG Quad at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, playing to 12,000 on a Saturday afternoon. An outdoor concert in Chapel Hill in support of Sam and Dave drew an even larger crowd.

But touring the segregated South with two black vocalists was a challenge. One night after a job the band stopped to eat at a restaurant in Eastern North Carolina. The Robinsons walked in with Adkins and Peters while the rest of the band slept on the bus. The waitress took their orders and emerged from the kitchen carrying just two plates, “gave them to Jimmy and Arnold and then looked at me and Mike Peters and said: ‘The law says we have to serve them, but it doesn’t say we have to serve you.” The four left the food on the table and walked out.

Another incident happened at the Jokers Three in Nags Head, where the band was playing a two-week summer engagement. The night before they were scheduled to leave, the club owner learned that the Klan had threatened a protest. He paid them in full and the band left the Outer Banks a day early.

The Tropics promo photo
Jokers Three Booking Agency Promotional Photo circa 1965
From left, top row: Rick Sealey, Leonard Collins, Mike Peters, bottom row: Jimmy Robinson, Ken Adkins, Arnold Robinson

An engagement at a large venue in Farmville, Virginia almost didn’t happen. Malcolm Allen says the band had reached their destination and the guys were unloading their equipment when the club manager spotted him and grabbed Adkins, asking if Allen were the band’s chauffeur. When the manager was informed that Allen was their organist, he responded, “not tonight.” Adkins didn’t hesitate, telling him that “if he don’t play, we don’t play.” Allen says the band was preparing to pack up their gear for the long trip home when the crowd started getting rowdy. Adkins turned to the owner and said: “Look, if you don’t get a band in here soon, they’re gonna trash your place.” The manager relented and allowed the band to take the stage, but glared at Allen and said: “I’m gonna keep an eye on you.” The Tropics brought the house down, especially when Allen tore up the keyboards on Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” When they finished their set, Allen approached the club manager and asked him how he was doing. He told him to keep playing and “when we got through, he gave me a tip, so I felt like that we broke a racial barrier… because it was just a segregated time.”

But the most disturbing incident happened at UNC in Chapel Hill. The band was playing a fraternity party on April 4, 1968, the night that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Adkins recalls that the band was performing their first set when one of the fraternity brothers came up and asked to use a microphone. Adkins recalls that he told “his room full of partiers, frat boys and their dates that Martin Luther King had been shot.” The fraternity “erupted in cheering and applause, and it literally made me sick. It made Jimmy and Arnold sick and it made our whole band sick and it made me very sad for the students of the University of North Carolina.” The band stopped playing immediately, packed up their equipment and headed home.

Traveling with two black vocalists was not without its perks. Peters’ fondest memory is of the band’s two-week engagement in Myrtle Beach. The group decided to spend one week at the then black beach, Atlantic, and another at the white beach, Windy Hill. The first half of their stay found the Tropics sharing quarters with Norman Johnson and the Showmen, a scene Peters describes as a non-stop party. “You could get anything you wanted any time of the night,” he recalls, “and everybody stayed pretty much passed out the next day.” The week was “an adventure,” but the pace at Windy Hill was considerably quieter.

Tropics at Appalachian State University 1967
Appalachian State University Homecoming Dance, circa 1967, from left: Ken Adkins, Mike Peters, Leonard Collins

Shortly after backing Dee Clark in Durham, the Tropics traveled to Greensboro on March 15, 1965 to record a 45 at Copeland Studios. Adkins says it was an obvious choice since it was “there at our back door” and they knew owner Walt Copeland.

The group had rehearsed an Adkins’ original (“Hey You Little Girl”) in Peters’ basement and performed it live before the sessions, but were unprepared to record a flip side for the single. Their idea to simply repeat the backing track as an instrumental was quickly nixed by the engineer and Adkins proceeded to write “The Happy Hour” in 15 minutes. Peters recalls that the song was composed one night right after a rehearsal, adding: “(We) just did it to an old Curtis Mayfield run and put ‘The Happy Hour’ together.”

Original Tropics promo photo
Promotional photo, standing: Rick Sealey; middle row: Jimmy Robinson, Leonard Collins, Arnold Robinson; bottom row: Mike Peters, Ken Adkins
Before the group began work on the two tracks, they were asked to run through a set so the engineer could set levels. “We did 13 other songs that aren’t nearly as polished,” recalls Peters. All were recorded onto a reel, which Adkins kept, along with the master tapes for both sides of their single. All were cover versions of popular recordings, including the Impressions’ “People Get Ready,” Jerry Butler’s “He Will Break Your Heart,” and “Before Six,” an instrumental co-written by Curtis Mayfield and recorded by Larry Frazier that served as the Tropics’ theme song. The songs lack bottom and were performed at breakneck speed, but Adkins points out that they are the only surviving “live” recordings of the band.

A two-track recorder was used for “Hey You Little Girl.” While the studio would soon become a state-of-the-art facility, in ‘65 Copeland “was much more modest with just a two-track system.” That meant the band members “all had to play at the same time live and get it right.”

The unique finger snapping at the start of the song was Adkins’ idea. He explains that it was a way to get the band to start on cue without a counted introduction. Two guitar chords get the song into gear, followed by an unforgettable vocal interplay between Arnold and Jimmy. The song builds to a crescendo that Collins kicks to a close in just two-and-half minutes.

Sealey played piano; Collins was on drums; Peters and Adkins played bass and guitar, respectively; Arnold Robinson played the saxophone; and the Robinson Brothers shared lead vocal harmonies. The band provided background vocals. Peters was featured prominently, aided by a girl remembered only as Sandra. Jimmy sang the lead tenor part, while the baritone voice is Arnold’s. Jimmy also sings the lead on “The Happy Hour.”

While the label credits four band members, Adkins says he wrote and arranged the tune and insists “it was pretty much my song all the way.”

Adkins explains that he “wanted to write something that was musically different” than other songs on the radio, so he incorporated “a couple of things to make that happen.” The most effective is in the vocal walk-up where they sing: “I’ll never love you and leave you alone.” Adkins says the “alone” passage “goes back to the dominant chord, which is ‘F.’ None of the songs that I’d heard to that point, actually went back to their final climax and got back to the final dominant chord. So doing that gave a lot of strength to the harmonies.”

The Robinsons’ vocal harmony was perhaps the band’s greatest strength. Both were exceptional singers and shared lead vocal chores on stage. While Arnold went on to perform professionally in the Nylons, Adkins says Jimmy was also an outstanding singer and the combination of their voices gave the Tropics “a Righteous Brothers vibe.” The two had “distinctly different voices” that blended perfectly. And while Jimmy left music after the Tropics, Adkins insists that he was also “an incredible singer,” who “was even more charismatic on stage than Arnold and did the majority of the lead vocal work.”

Tropics Jokers Three Club Nags Head 1968
On stage at Jokers Three Club, Nags Head, NC summer 1968
Tropics Jokers Three Beach Club Nags Head 1968
from left: Arnold Robinson, Ken Adkins (at bottom), Mike Peters, Leonard Collins (at bottom), Jimmy Robinson

Tropics Jokers Three Beach Club Nags Head 1968
Arnold Robinson (left) at the Jokers Three Beach Club, Nags Head, 1968
Tropics Jokers Three Club Nags Head 1968
from left: Ken Adkins, Mike Peters, Jimmy Robinson, Arnold Robinson and Leonard Collins

The Robinson Brothers gave the Tropics a smooth, professional “show band” performance with custom-made uniforms, elaborate choreography and humorous back-and-forth banter with the audience. The show would start with the band playing, followed by a big introduction to bring Jimmy and Arnold onto the stage. Theirs was the first group in the region to feature the star stage show that would become the norm a few years later.

Adkins says the Greensboro sessions lasted about two hours. The band had rehearsed the songs before entering the studio and committed both sides to tape in no more than three or four takes. The band performed flawlessly, except for one bad note hit by Sealey, which can be heard on the record. Copeland charged an hourly rate of $45 in 1965 and the total tab for the studio time came to $95, including the master tapes.

While at Copeland, the band recorded a jingle for Holsum bread, with Jimmy, Arnold, Ken and Mike adding vocals and background claps to the television commercial.

Tropics Topic 45 Hey You Little GirlThe 45 was a one-off pressing on Topic Records, which Adkins describes as his label. The name was chosen because of its similarity to the group’s, and because “it rhymed with Tropics.” Peters believes the 45 had a total run of 2,500 copies; however, Adkins recalls several pressings, noting the band “would order 1,000 at a time and sell them at our shows,” paying for the records as they were produced. Betty Sue Trent owned Trent’s Records in Reidsville and paid for the initial pressing, in exchange for copies of the disc. Besides Trent’s, the record was placed at mom-and-pop stores throughout the Piedmont, while the band also “did a fair amount of promoting,” taking them to dee jays and program directors in the Carolinas. That resulted in “a fair amount of play,” and Adkins recalls the song being in heavy rotation in Burlington, Greensboro, Reidsville and Charlotte. Stations across Eastern North Carolina also picked up the tune and Adkins remembers selling the final 1,000 copies a year after the song was recorded.

While the song became a regional hit, the band never capitalized on its success. Peters believes they missed an opportunity by not recording a follow-up, but concedes they were so busy on the road that no one took the time to write a song or book the studio. Adkins admits the oversight was “incredibly stupid,” pointing out that he composed “a lot of songs thereafter (and) some of them were better” than the two chosen for their lone single. While there was talk of returning to Copeland, it never happened.

In addition to playing with the Tropics, Adkins soon found himself in the band booking business. Bill Griffin, owner of Castaways, also managed groups through Game Artists, and soon was recording his own bands. Griffin lived in Atlanta, leaving Adkins to manage the day-to-day operations in Greensboro. In 1968, an unknown group called the O’Kaysions made a crude recording in “a broom closet studio in Greenville, N.C.” WBAG in Burlington was playing the original 45 of “Girl Watcher” on North State Records and Adkins knew it was “a natural hit” the first time he heard it on the radio. Griffin had the idea to sign the band and enlisted Adkins and A&M Records promoter Manly May, who shopped the song to labels in New York. ABC Paramount picked it up and the record went on to reach #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Griffin had a management contract with the group and arranged a six-week tour, including an appearance on American Bandstand. But the band balked at life on the road, with one member telling Adkins he couldn’t leave his job at the hardware store, and another bowing out because his wife wouldn’t let him tour the country with a Soul band.

O'Kaysions Photo
The O’Kaysions

In the meantime, ABC had signed lead vocalist Donny Weaver to an individual contract, leaving Game Artists with a hit song and only a bass player to promote it. Undeterred, Adkins returned to Greensboro several months later and hand-picked some of the area’s finest musicians to tour as the O’Kaysions, including vocalist Donny Trexler, an ace guitarist who also sang with Bob Collins and the Fabulous 5. Trexler joined the band on guitar in December 1968 and became lead vocalist when Weaver left the following August. Dick Clark was none the wiser when he mimed the lead vocals to their hit record on Bandstand. In the interim, ABC had dropped the band and they signed with Atlantic, releasing one 45 (“Watch Out Girl”) on Cotillion Records. When it failed to chart, plans to release the O’Kaysions second album were shelved.

Tropics Ken Adkins Game Artists 1969
guitarist Ken Adkins taken at Game Artists in 1969, the year the Tropics split

The Tropics were still a hot commodity and Adkins spent weekends on the road with the band, arranging bookings and making certain the group was on the bus and ready for the next gig. A near disaster happened when he was working with Griffin at Jokers Three. A promoter in Rockingham, N.C. had booked the Coasters to perform in the National Guard Armory, with the Tropics as their back-up band. Posters were printed and tickets sold, when the headliners called four days before the show and cancelled. Lee Dorsey and Major Lance were contacted but both had prior engagements. With time running out and hundreds of tickets sold, Adkins contacted a friend in Greensboro, Big Barbara. True to her name, Barbara was “a big girl with a big personality” and a great voice. After some coaxing, Adkins convinced her that the show could go on, if she agreed to take the stage as Barbara Lewis. Adkins explains that the ruse was plausible, since Lewis had never performed in the area and albums rarely featured the photos of black artists, “so nobody knew what she looked like.”

Big Barbara learned Lewis’ hits and was ready to perform when she had an attack of stage fright. The band plied her with a fifth of whiskey, “she gets drunk as hell; she gains tremendous courage; she goes out on that stage, struts her stuff and does a fabulous job and does Barbara Lewis to a T.” The audience loved it and were unaware that they had seen an impersonator.

But managing and performing soon became too much for Adkins, who decided to leave the road and concentrate on booking the Tropics and other bands. Adkins told the group he would continue to manage them, but would no longer travel with the band. But that was short-lived. Once Adkins left “there was nobody there to (prod) everybody to get up out of the hotel room and get in the bus” for their next performance. The band became frustrated with the set-up, so once Adkins quit, “within a month they all did, too.”

But Peters is more stoic about the break-up, pointing out that the band had been together for nearly a decade and members were growing weary of life on the road. “We were playing every night and a couple of us were married and a couple of us were thinking about getting married,” recalls Peters. He believes the “time had come when we were not committed 100% to the group” and it was time to move on. Jimmy and Arnold tried to convince Peters to join them as the entertainment for a cruise, but he declined.
Drummer Leonard Collins went on to play with the O’Kaysions and the Impressions.

The Nylons with Arnold Robinson
The Nylons with Arnold Robinson

Arnold Robinson joined Sonny Turner’s Platters and later moved to Canada, where he was a founding member of the Nylons in 1979. The band achieved its greatest success in 1987, when their version of “Kiss Him Goodbye” reached #12 on the Billboard chart. Arnold recorded and toured with the internationally acclaimed a cappella group until his retirement in 2006. He died of complications from diabetes in 2013.

Leo Caudle went on to play with former members of the Swinging Medallions in Pieces of Eight, a band that had a minor hit in 1967 with “Lonely Drifter” on A&M Records. He also played tenor sax in Greenboro’s Kallabash Corporation. Larry Wren took his own life in the early seventies. Rick Sealey lives in High Point, but Parkinson’s disease has left him unable to play the guitar. Joe Frank Myers left for college after a few gigs and his whereabouts are unknown.

Malcolm Allen still lives in Leaksville and plays in his church. He headed the local NAACP chapter for more than a decade.

Tropics Clayton Red White at Jokers Three Club 1966
drummer Clayton Red White taken at the Jokers Three Club, Nags Head, on New Year’s Eve, 1966
Calvin Lindsey and the Hysterics including Red White
Calvin Lindsey and the Hysterics including Red White at bottom right

After leaving the Air Force, Red White returned to Rockingham County and drummed with the Tropics and the Impacts before joining another Jokers 3 band, Calvin Lindsay and the Hysterics. He moved to Beaufort, N.C. and now plays with the Outer Banks Philharmonic.

Mike Peters also lives at the beach but still plays his bass and joins Adkins for blues jams in Greensboro. Ken Adkins started his own business, Adkins and Associates, and has trained some of the top fashion headhunters in the country.

Jimmy Robinson left town and no one has heard from him since the band parted ways in 1969.

A revival of interest in the Tropics started in the early 80s, when Adkins began getting calls from Northern Soul fans in the UK who were looking for copies of the band’s record. Interest in the original 45 led to a reissue in 1987 by The Wax Museum, a Charlotte-based collector’s label.

Adkins admits the band’s cult status caught him by surprise and says he “had no inkling” the record would garner attention six months after its release, much less 50 years after the fact. “When you’re going through a certain period of your life,” he says, “you never in a million years would guess that anybody would give a hoot about something you did when you were young.”

White shares Adkins surprise, but believes the Tropics have benefited from the trends that followed. With “disco and various fads,” he says “people began to get nostalgic for the old music.”

But he believes the band has a far greater legacy than a chunk of vinyl. White is proud to have been a part of the first integrated band to perform in rural North Carolina. He believes that helped break down the color barrier by “setting a precedent” for generations that followed. “I was part of the original group that set that precedent for accepting a black musician and (going) on the road with a black musician,” White says.

While it’s been more than 50 years since the band first practiced in his father’s living room, Allen says he is still amazed at what they were able to accomplish. “We were just a small group of guys from the country, (but) were able to break down a lot of barriers because we all had a common goal and we all cared about each other, and we loved music.”

And while the Tropics may have gone their separate ways, there was no turning back and the landscape of Rockingham County was forever changed.

Gene and the Team Beats: Have Soul, Will Travel

Gene & the Team Beats 1965 Promotional Flyer
1965 flyer, L-R: Charles Hairston, Lonnie Woodall, Gene Rumley, Brian Thomason, Rickie Fox
Gene Rumley Promo Photo, 1965
Gene Rumley, 1965

It has been nearly a half-century since five musicians from Martinsville and Danville banded together to form a group that would record just six sides over their decade together, but the music they created continues to gain fans and now reaches a far greater audience than was possible when they honed their skills in rural Virginia in the 1960s.

Gene and the Team Beats started their career as the Corvettes, an instrumental group led by Gene Rumley of Martinsville, who also played sax and booked the band throughout Virginia and the Carolinas. Carl Clarke (also from Martinsville) was the group’s original rhythm guitarist and joined the band near its inception in 1959. He remembers that the band originally performed as the Teen Beats, borrowing their name from a popular instrumental recorded by drummer Sandy Nelson. But when several of the members turned 20, Gene and the Team Beats were born.

The Team Beats performed mostly in Virginia, North and South Carolina and the DC area between 1959 and 1968. The band started recording late in their career, with all three 45s released between 1965 and ’67.

Gene & the Teambeats Early Promo Photo
Gene & the Teambeats first promo short, circa 1961.
L-R: Butch Fox (bass); Dennis Porter (drums); Lewis Woodall Lead guitar); Carl Clark (rhythm guitar); Gene Rumley (sax)
Gene & the Team Beats, Martinsville Bulletin September 22, 1961
article in the Martinsville Bulletin September 22, 1961

The Team Beats were especially popular in the Danville area and early performances saw the group backing recording artists Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, Brenda Lee and Jimmy Clanton at the local Coke plant. Clark recalls that the crowds were huge and even the local musicians were treated like rock stars. Butch Fox doubled on guitar and bass, while Dennis Porter played drums in the 1961 Team Beats’ configuration. Both commuted from Danville.

An article appearing in the Martinsville Bulletin in September 1961 recounts the band’s return from a summer tour which took them across eight states. They began playing in Myrtle Beach, S.C. at the Ocean Forest Marine Patio and Pavilion. Other appearances included the Top Hat, the Tropicana, and the Star Terrace Room in Virginia Beach.

Besides Rumley, bassist Carl Barrow had the longest history with the band, starting with the original line-up and continuing through countless personnel changes. Barrow’s bass can be heard on all three recording sessions. He first met Rumley when the future bandleader was “16 or 17 and he was working a night job as a curb hop at Sugar’s Drive-In, a small diner located in Martinsville on River Hill.” He remembers Gene had a strong work ethic and didn’t seem to mind holding down a full-time job, booking the band and driving the Team Beats to and from jobs in Virginia and the Carolinas.

But there were equipment problems early in their career, with Barrow blowing speakers at performances. He went to work with Clark and the pair designed their own cabinet. They mounted two 15 inch JBL speakers in a huge cabinet powered by a Fender amp. Other bands heard about the innovation and were coming to hear this “loud and very deep bass amplifier.” The huge tower was years ahead of the Marshall stacks of the sixties and even had a practical application, providing the band a safe hiding place when fights and gunfire cleared the dance floor.

Clark and Barrow’s paths first crossed when they attended separate high schools in Martinsville. Barrow remembers being blown away at an assembly at Drewry Mason High School when Clark took the stage playing guitar. This was before the Team Beats, but “Carl got them reelin’ and rockin’ with a Chuck Berry song; he could really play.”

Gene & the Teenbeats at Fred's Skateland with the Fabulous Ones
Gene & the Teenbeats at Fred’s Skateland with the Fabulous Ones

In the summer of 1961, the Team Beats were playing a night club in Norfolk — the Star Terrace Lounge — and living in a motel near Virginia Beach. With all of clubs booked at the beach, the band had to make do with the steady job in Norfolk. Clark recalls that “after a month or two some shyster talked us into going to Chicago, explaining that he had worked up a job for us there and we would be famous.”

All five members crammed into Rumley’s vintage Oldsmobile, pulling a wooden trailer covered with a tarp to the Windy City. On arrival, they discovered that the club manager had never heard of the band and had no interest in booking an unknown group from Virginia. Clark explains that “you had to be 21 to walk into the place, much less work there. We had been had by a manager who wanted us to leave (Norfolk) so his group could move in.”

The group piled back into Gene’s Olds and were trying to find their way out of Chicago when they “found this nice quiet road with no traffic.” With no place to stay and a long drive home, the band found a secluded spot by the water and went to sleep. The next morning they were preparing to leave but couldn’t understand why so many people were walking in the “road” and looking at them like they were from another planet. The band stopped the car and got out, only to be greeted by sirens and police cruisers coming through the woods in their direction. Gene and his compatriots were soon surrounded by the law. With guns drawn, they ordered the band to spread eagle and were promptly searched. Unbeknownst to the Team Beats, they had been driving on the sidewalks of Lake Shore Park.

The group was ordered to remove everything from the band trailer and all of their instrument cases were searched. With no machine guns in tow, Chicago’s finest finally realized that they weren’t dealing with criminals but “five dumb, redneck hillbillies from Virginia trying to become rock and roll stars.” They repacked their equipment and were escorted from the city by one of the officers. When they arrived at the outskirts of town, the cruiser stopped and the cop told them to “head that Oldsmobile south and don’t look back.”

Gene & the Team Beats with Joey Dee & the Starlighters December 15, 1962
with Joey Dee & the Starlighters December 15, 1962

Clark married in 1963 and “found a shift job,” which didn’t jive with the night life and long hours required for road gigs on weekends. He left the band and music shortly thereafter but still plays, although he has switched to bass and Bluegrass music.

Lewis “Lew” Woodall of Bassett was the band’s original lead guitarist, and still performs with his own jazz quartet. He recalls the early years, when the band formed in 1959-60 as Gene and the Teen Beats. He says the band played about every weekend around Martinsville, Danville and Roanoke, frequently crossing the state border to play jobs for college fraternities. Woodall says in addition to the extended engagement at Norfolk’s Star Terrace, the Team Beats also played Virginia Beach’s Top Hat Club in the summer of 1961.

Woodall’s instrumental prowess was already legendary in Southside Virginia and Barrow says he had no rivals, calling him “the best guitarist anywhere around” and “way ahead of his time.” Barrow recalls that “Lew was getting sounds out of just his straight guitar without the fuzz box and pedals that came along years later.”

While the band was small in number, they were able to get a full sound because each member was an accomplished musician. They were primarily a soul and rhythm and blues band and Rumley points out that “Lewis (Woodall) and some of the guys hated playing rock and roll.”

Gene & the Team Beats at the Peppermint Beach Club 1962
Peppermint Beach Club, Virginia Beach, 1962, L-R: Carl Clark, Gene Rumley, Lewis Woodall

Gene and the Team Beats were the house band at the Peppermint Beach Club in Virginia Beach for the summer in 1962. The club was the sister of the renowned Peppermint Lounge in New York City and home of Joey Dee and the Starlighters of “Peppermint Twist” fame. The Team Beats played to a packed house during their two-month stint at the club. Between frat house engagements found by Rumley (aided by Bill Buckner) and the jobs secured by the group’s three booking agencies, there was seldom a weekend when the group wasn’t on the road.

One such weekend found the Team Beats in Greensboro in the dead of winter. Rumley drove the group’s blue Econovan, pulling a band trailer with the guys crammed inside the van. Barrow admits “it wasn’t highfalutin; we were lucky to get there at times.” The band finished their job about 1 a.m., loaded the trailer and Gene got behind the wheel. He was also working a day job for Gerber Foods at the time, so Rumley was tired. Barrow recalls that it was bitterly cold outside “and Gene was so sleepy that he would roll the window down and stick his head outside until he nearly froze. That would wake him up for a few minutes and when he was about to doze off, he’d do it again.” Barrow suggested that “maybe one of us should drive,” but Rumley would have none of it. They made it home safely but Barrow marvels that “we weren’t all hurt or worse.”

Gene & the Team Beats at the Peppermint Beach Club 1962
Peppermint Beach Club, Virginia Beach, 1962, L-R: Butch Fox, Gene Rumley

Wayne Motley was the band’s vocalist during this period. Rumley describes Motley as “an amazing showman and singer,” but with a troubled life that made him “hard to manage at times.” Motley, who also played guitar, keyboards and “just about anything but a horn,” was in and out of the band. Rumley explains that he “had to let him go a couple times (but) took Wayne back out of desperation.” He finally left the band for good after a minor scrape with the law.

Motley was fronting the group when the Team Beats won second place in a statewide battle of the bands competition in Richmond. Dressed in matching outfits and belting out a Jackie Wilson tune, the band took home $250 and new suits for each member.

Motley was already a veteran of the band scene by this time, starting at age 14 as a founding member of the Royal Kings, which played the club and college circuit in the Virginia Beach/Ocean View area. He would return to the Royal Teens after his ouster from the Team Beats. Barrow recalls seeing the band in Roanoke then and not recognizing Motley immediately because he was wearing a blonde wig.

Eddie "King" Scott and his wife, Katherine
Wayne “King” Motley and his wife, Katherine

In later years, Motley recorded and performed with his wife, Katherine, in the Newport News area as Wayne “King” Motley. His three-hour show was interspersed with vintage rock and roll, country classics and an Elvis tribute. He continued entertaining at assisted living and retirement communities until just before his death at age 67. Barrow, Buckner and Lew Woodall visited Motley at his home a month before he died on August 18, 2012. Barrow says he was in good spirits and glad to see all of them after so many years. Bill Buckner, who was instrumental in promoting the band, died months later on April 2, 2014. He was 76.

Gene & the Team Beats at the Peppermint Beach Club 1962
Peppermint Beach Club, Virginia Beach, 1962, L-R: Wayne Motley (singing and on guitar); Lewis Woodall; Gene Rumley; Carl Clark

Lew Woodall remembers that in 1963, the band played a couple of months at the Twist Lounge at Nags Head. Nights found the band sleeping in a hot dog stand on the beach, with all five members crammed into a small cinderblock room and sharing a single sheet. Rumley recalls that “one night the guys left the sheet for me, but they’d wrapped it around a dead shark.” While the stand had “gone broke and closed,” the awning was still up and band members would be awakened by beachcombers who wanted a snack in the middle of the night.

Woodall left the Team Beats at the end of that summer when he transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. After graduating in 1965, Woodall was drafted and his brother, Lonnie, began playing with Rumley while Lew was in Vietnam.

The younger Woodall and Barrow shared an affinity for the same music and he recalls “Lonnie and I used to do a little soulful singing to each other.” The two were like brothers and Lonnie was already a regular on the bandstand, tagging along when Lewis was playing with the group. Lonnie picked up the guitar and “after a while we could see he was going to be a great guitarist. He joined the band and Lonnie took over where Lew left off.”

Gene & the Team Beats Business Card
back of Gene & the Team Beats business card.
L-R: Charles Hairston, Lonnie Woodall, Gene Rumley, Rickie Fox, Brian Thomason

Gene & the Team Beats Business CardWith Motley’s forced exodus from the band, Rumley was in need of a soulful vocalist. He found Charles Hairston by sheer tenacity, explaining that he went up Fayette Street in Martinsville saying: “Hey, we’re looking for a black singer to really represent our group with soul music… who’s a good singer?” Someone recommended Charles, who passed the audition and became the voice of the Team Beats. Gene says his contribution cannot be overlooked, and believes “Charles really made our band at that time.”

The addition brought some problems in the segregated South, where the band was refused service at a restaurant while returning from a fraternity gig at the University of Virginia. But having Hairston on vocals also allowed the Team Beats to play in some black clubs that were generally off limits to white bands.

There were some close calls, though. On one occasion the band was playing in the basement of an all black club in Martinsville when a woman accused her boyfriend of cheating and pulled a Saturday night special from her purse. She pointed the gun at the boyfriend and shouted: “I’m gonna blow your head off!” He ran into the women’s bathroom as the band scurried for cover, ducking behind the piano and amplifiers. With a staircase on each side of the bandstand, the patrons ran up the steps to the right as the irate female continued to wave her pistol in the other stairwell. The band had nowhere to go and remained in hiding until the standoff could be diffused.

Gene & the Team Beats Rocky Mount Armory, December 10
Rocky Mount Armory poster with Frankie & the Dynamic Souls Band featuring Frankie Divers and Wayne King

Rumley recalls another incident at a long since forgotten club “somewhere back in the sticks” of North Carolina. After agreeing to take the job, Rumley was contacted by Bill Buckner, who wanted to book the band for the same date. When Buckner learned where the Team Beats were scheduled to perform, he warned the bandleader that they were risking life and limb by playing there. But the gig paid about $300 and the band needed the money, so Rumley instructed Buckner to keep quiet about his reservations.

Rumley didn’t tell the band about the club’s reputation for violence, but instructed the guys to pull the old, upright piano away from the wall, in case they had to duck for cover. With just one door on the opposite end of the dance hall, he also made certain the window behind the bandstand was open, in case they had to stage a speedy exit.

The band was rocking about 1 a.m. when two gunshots rang out. That brought things to a standstill, but the partying resumed once the patrons realized the shots had come from the parking lot.

As the band was packing up for the night, Rumley inquired about the gunshots and learned that a woman had fatally shot her boyfriend.

The band was instructed to pick up their pay at another location. Rumley was returning to the van with the night’s receipts when he spotted a drunk standing by the van, talking to the musicians about the shooting that had happened a couple of hours earlier. Turns out he was also the local undertaker and, upon determining that the shooting victim had died, simply placed him on the back seat of his car and returned to the festivities. When the band declined his offer to view the body, the mortician drove on to the morgue. It would be the first — and last — time the Team Beats booked a job there.

Gene & the Team Beats Clowning AroundMusician and composer Rickie Fox was also an early member of the band and says one of his first performances as a Team Beat was at the Rathskeller, a downtown Danville nightclub located off Main Street, behind the Elk’s Lodge. Fox explains that his brother, Butch, got him into the group after one of the members (he’s not sure which) was drafted into the Army. Butch Fox switched to lead guitar and 12-year-old Rickie picked up the bass. Fox ended up playing with the group for about two-and-a-half years, first on bass, later on guitar and finally on drums. His drumming can be heard on the band’s first two records.

Butch was asked to leave the band after missing several rehearsals. Rickie was not yet old enough to drive and had no way to get to Martinsville “so Gene hired Brian Thomason to play bass” and bring the younger brother to rehearsals. Fox switched to guitar; Lew Woodall was drafted and Rumley hired his brother, Lonnie, to play guitar with Fox. Charles Hairston was the vocalist, Mickey Walker played drums and Rumley was on sax.

Fox shifted to drums when Walker was drafted and recalls driving to Sam Ash Music in New York, “where I bought a set of drums just like Ringo’s: black pearl Ludwig’s.”

Gene & the Team Beats Otis Redding June 4, 1965
Opening for Otis Redding at the Couples Club in Martinsville, June 4, 1965

Fox says his most vivid memory is playing with Otis Redding in Martinsville on Friday, June 4, 1965. Fox recalls that Redding, then billed as “Mr. Pitiful,” was playing at the June German Ball, which was being held on Fayette Street in Martinsville. The “School’s Out Celebration Show and Dance” was billed as a five-hour show featuring Redding, with Little Royal and the Swingmasters of Washington, D.C. and Gene and the Team Beats as support acts. Fox says that Rumley and friend Bill Buckner had arranged for Redding to play for about an hour, with all of the bands using the Team Beats’ equipment “because they just kind of came in and then they went out.” According to Fox, the Team Beats were playing a club on 220 at the time and both he and Lonnie Woodall worshiped Little Royal’s guitar player, Robert Parker, stealing “every guitar lick we possibly could from him.” Little Royal was also quite a showman and emulated James Brown.

The Otis Redding show was at Baldwin’s Gymtorium on Fayette Street and attracted 3,000 fans. Rumley says the aging, two-story building had a balcony that circled the interior, with a high stage and a large dance floor. The Team Beats got the crowd warmed up and by the time they left the stage, “that place was jumping and the old wooden building was literally shaking.” He says when Otis Redding performed, the sound was “absolutely unbelievable.” Rumley recalls that the horn section from James Brown’s band had just defected to the “up and coming” Redding and says “they basically tore the roof off the place. That was one of the best jobs that we’d ever played.”

Rickie Fox today
Rickie Fox today

Fox was also with the band when the Team Beats opened for the Shangri Las at the Danville City Auditorium. The all-girl group was backed by a stellar English instrumental band, Sounds Inc. The group had recently performed with the Beatles and — like the Liverpudlians — honed their skills at the famed Star Club in Germany.

The agent for the show arranged for the Team Beats to travel to Washington, D.C. to play for other booking agencies. Fox remembers that they played a club with Little Willie and the Hand Jives. And while nothing ever came of the audition, Fox says they had a great time there.

The Team Beats performed with Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge and the Showmen. They also provided instrumental backing for Joe Simon, Inez Foxx, William Bell, the Kelly Brothers and Freddy Cannon.

Eddie Scott, who played drums after Fox left the group, says the show with Sam and Dave was especially memorable, since the Team Beats had the chance to join the duo’s huge band on stage. Scott remembers that the Team Beats “were the opening act (but) as the night wound down, we were able to play together, all of us. Sam and Dave and their group (were) on stage and then Gene and the Team Beats along with them… we were able to deliver a high powered performance.”

Gene & the Team Beats Leatherwood 45 I'll Carry OnThe Team Beat’s first single, “I’ll Carry On” b/w “Apple Fuzz” was released on Leatherwood (RI 2096) in 1965. Rickie Fox played drums on the session and says the band recorded the 45 not long after he joined.

“I’ll Carry On” is credited to Rumley, while bothers Lewis and Lonnie Woodall are listed as composers of the instrumental, “Apple Fuzz,” which features nice jazz phrasing on guitar.

Rumley explains that for the first release, the band saved some money “from a couple of gigs, rented a studio near Rocky Mount somewhere and cut our first record, which we self-promoted.” Rumley describes the recording quality as “bad,” noting “there wasn’t much separation at all… probably one, two tracks because we were playing like we were playing in a nightclub and had the volume cranked up. When the sound came out, we were not too happy with it.” The single is distorted and poorly mixed and received little airplay.

Gene & the Team Beats Leatherwood 45 Apple FuzzFox insists it wasn’t recorded in a studio at all, but rather in the basement of a home in Rocky Mount. He was 12 at the time but remembers the night vividly. Fox says the band had played a job in Roanoke at the Sportsmen Club and “Gene had hooked up with some guy that had a quote-unquote ‘studio’ in his basement.” That night after the gig, the band went to his home and recorded “I’ll Carry On” and the flip side in a marathon session. Fox says the band was “literally there pretty much through the night.” While he knew little about recording studios at the time, Fox remembers “it was kind of primitive (and) I don’t think we did a lot of overdubbing or anything like that. It seemed like it was just a situation to record right onto a big reel-to-reel.”

He says the setting looked nothing like a studio. Fox had just started playing the drums and when he listens to the 45 today, “I cringe because everything I like in a drummer now I didn’t do then; I was playing everything on the off beat… a lot of off beat snare drum hits and the ride cymbal was real heavy.” But he feels justified in that the record was “hastily done in somebody’s basement and there’s no telling what type of equipment he had.”

Gene & the Team Beats Hitchin'
Hitching a ride in ’66. L-R: Carl Barrow, Lonnie Woodall, Gene Rumley, Charles Hairston, Eddie Scott

Gene & the Team Beats Raven 45 I Want'a Be Your Baby“I Wanta Be Your Baby,” and “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me” were the group’s second and third 45 releases, respectively. Both were pressed in Tennessee by Nashville Record Productions, Inc. for Raven Records in Danville, although “I Wanta Be Your Baby” was actually recorded at Copeland Studios in Greensboro, N.C. Rumley doesn’t recall why they opted to record the single there, but believes it was because Copeland had better equipment than the fledgling House of Sound Studios on Old Piney Forest Road in Danville.

Gene & the Team Beats Raven 45 Sorry 'bout That“I Wanta Be Your Baby” b/w “Sorry ‘bout That” was released in 1966 and was the first rock record in the Raven Records (Raven 45-2006) catalog and was among the label’s first releases. Writing credits for both sides are given to Gino Lamonte, although the Italian never existed. Rumley explains that he penned both sides; however, the band decided to create a composer pseudonym because they thought a European name would look more impressive on the label.

This was to be Fox’s swansong with the band and he recalls that Frank Koger, who ran the House of Sound and Raven Records, accompanied the band to Greensboro, along with Koger’s close friend Bill Buckner, who was managing the Leeds Music Store in Collinsville at that time. Fox remembers “it was the first time I’d ever gone to a real studio and the guy came running out and oiled my (squeaking) bass drum pedal and I was like: ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ I didn’t quite get it.”

The band was well prepared to lay down the plug side, but Fox recalls that the B-side was another matter, adding that the band would always make up something for the second side. “We would go to the studio with one song, which looking back on it is not very smart, and then we would just kind of make up something to go on the other side right there in the studio,” said Fox. The flip side was usually an instrumental, because the group didn’t have time to write lyrics. “And that’s how we made up that “Sorry ‘bout That,” which he says was created on the spot in the studio. Buckner laughs on the track and Koger can be heard saying “Sorry ‘bout That” at the end. Fox was in seventh grade at the time but still remembers the excitement of recording in an actual studio setting.

The personnel on “I Wanta Be Your Baby” is: Gene Rumley (sax and backup vocals); Charles Hairston (lead vocal); Lonnie Woodall (guitar and backup vocals); Rickie Fox (drums); Carl Barrow (bass).

John and Jerry & the Soulmasters, at the 360 Drive-In with Gene and the Teen-Beats Danville Register, July 19, 1967
John and Jerry & the Soulmasters, at the 360 Drive-In with Gene and the Teen-Beats Danville Register, July 19, 1967

In addition to Rumley and Buckner, the Team Beats had three agencies booking the band: Hit Attractions out of Charlotte, N.C.; Cavalier Attractions in Charlottesville, VA; and Southeastern Artists and Promotions of Florence, AL.

As he was too young to drive, Fox recalls that “when my ride (Brian Thomason) left the band, I had to leave, too.” He went on to form the Soulmasters with musicians from Danville and Eden, N.C. He played drums in the early Soulmasters, with Thomason on bass. Fox also played in the Majors, City Council, the Manchesters and Fox and Company. He continues to record, produce and perform today, both as a solo artist and with various bands.

To “promote” the record Rumley and the band’s drummer got in Gene’s car “and drove for two days from Danville to Richmond, up to a guy playing all kind of rhythm and blues out in Delaware. Just anybody who would listen to us we go into a studio and try and tell them who we were and what we were doing.” Apparently it worked, as “I Wanta Be Your Baby” was a regional hit and the group’s best selling 45. Bassist Alan Rowe remembers buying his copy at Leeds Music Center in Danville from Soulmaster Doug Hyler, who worked at the store when not on the road with his band.

Gene Rumley BMI letter
BMI letter to Gene Rumley

A letter from Broadcast Music, Inc. to Rumley dated May 10, 1966 lists the A-sides of both singles and “I’m Sorry About That,” urging Rumley to notify the publisher (Old Standby Music Co.) and have the songs registered with BMI as soon as possible. His experience was not unique. Two other Raven bands, Lost Soul and the Individuals, thought their songs had been registered, only to learn years later that the music licensing firm had no record of their recordings. Individuals’ bassist Tommy Redd kept the paperwork showing he paid Koger $6 to register two of his songs with BMI.

Interestingly, Koger recycled the single’s flip side without telling the band. “Sorry ‘bout That” can be heard as the instrumental backing to an otherwise forgettable B-side recitation (“I’m Fine”) recorded by Charlie Chandler (Raven HOS-45-2042 “The Drunken Driver” b/w “I’m Fine”) and released on Raven’s C&W subsidiary.

Charles Hairston at the Double Door Inn
Charles Hairston at the Double Door Inn

Most regard the Hairston line-up as the band’s best. Hairston would remain with the Team Beats until his conscription to military service. He would later be reunited with Fox in City Council, a horn band that toured extensively, performing original material and covers of popular songs that were given the band’s unique stamp through creative arrangements.

Hairston moved to North Carolina in the mid-70s. He remained a fixture on the Charlotte music scene until his death from prostate cancer in 2009 at the age of 61. As vocalist, he fronted the All Stars and is best remembered for being “the soul and energy” of the band’s Monday night performances at the Double Door Inn.

Hairston put on a memorable show for the Inn’s 35th anniversary in December 2008, just two months before his death. Fans say he was his usual self, sweating, singing and moving all around the stage. He last performed publicly at the Double Door in January 2009. By then the cancer he’d battled all year had taken its toll and he sang while sitting on a stool. Hairston’s mother and family visited from Maryland about a week before his death and he sang for them and the hospice staff. He was in good spirits and one in attendance described it as “a wonderful moment… and then he passed peacefully.” The Charles Hairston Memorial Foundation was established the following year.

Charles Hairston in 1970
Charles Hairston in 1970 with City Council
Ricki Fox and Lonnie Woodall
Rickie Fox and Lonnie Woodall

Guitarist Lonnie Woodall also died too soon, suffering a fatal heart attack on May 20, 2002. He was 54 and had recently attended a bands reunion in Danville that included many veterans of the Team Beats. He played with numerous local and national groups, including City Council, the Rogues, Fox and Company, Percy Sledge and the Blues Defenders. He was the owner of Woodall’s Music and was also instrumental in establishing Harrison Scales Young Musicians Foundation and worked closely with the Bassett High School Jazz Band.

Woodall is still remembered as a great guitarist and a soulful blues singer, but also as a friend to all. Barrow calls him his “brother” and Rumley said he was “always dependable, up-beat and loved music.” Gene says there were many times when he considered quitting, but “I could always depend on Lonnie being there when we had to start over with new people in the group: singers, bass players or drummers. I don’t know of anyone who did not like Lonnie; he was always learning, always caring and kind to everyone he met.”

Gene & the Team Beats Raven 45 Insert
Insert from their 3rd 45, ca. 1967.
L-R: Lonnie Woodall, Carl Barrow, Gene Rumley, Eddie Scott, Jimmy Mitchell

Gene & the Team Beats Raven 45 I'll Let Nothing Separate MeThe band’s third and final release, “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me” b/w “Here I Stand” (Raven HOS 42-2011) came out in 1967 and features a cover of an obscure song by the Wallace Brothers as its A-side. Early pressings featured a photo card insert of the band with a brief bio and booking information.

Since they were no longer writing their own material, Rumley explains that the members would “sit down and listen to old records,” then decide which tunes would be suitable for the group.” This time the group delivered what is arguably their best effort. And, unlike their previous releases, the B-side was no throwaway. “Here I Stand” stands on its own and is preferred by many to the single’s infectious plug side.

Gene & the Team Beats Raven 45 Here I StandHairston had been drafted and Rumley hastily recruited Martinsville’s Jimmy Mitchell as vocalist for the recording session, which also features Eddie Scott on drums. While Scott only appears on their last 45, he replaced Fox in 1966 and was with the Team Beats until the band called it a day two years later. He recalls passing an audition and recording at House of Sound Studios. Scott says the studio was small and there was very little overdubbing. As he remembers, “it was more or less cubicles and everything was recorded together… pretty much live to tape.” Mitchell sang lead, Rumley played sax, Lonnie Woodall was on guitar and Carl Barrow handled bass on the sessions.

Gene & the Team Beats Raven 45 Insert Reverse
Reverse side of 45 insert from 1967 with bio and booking info

Mitchell was needed because “when Charles left we were missing that soul that only some people can bring to our style of music.” Rumley discovered Mitchell after again asking friends to recommend a good, soulful singer. He says Jimmy’s vocal styling fit the band perfectly. It didn’t hurt that he was a consummate “showman and front man.” By this point the band was moving in step on many of their numbers and Mitchell was a natural for the choreography, adding his own gyrations. Scott was also quite a dancer and Barrow recalls Eddie would hit the dance floor during breaks, “doing his best James Brown impression.”

Mitchell’s tenure with the band was brief. The singer married and left because it was too difficult to balance his day job with the band’s busy travel schedule. At some point he left Martinsville and Scott recalls that Mitchell later sang in clubs in New York City.

Barrow also left the band shortly before the break-up in 1968. Carl had been with the group on-and-off since he beginning but explains that he “went into commercial artwork” and the pressure of holding down a job and playing every weekend became too much.

Gene & the Team Beats Live 1965 Martinsville
Martinsville, ca. 1965: L-R: Lonnie Woodall, Rickie Fox, Gene Rumley, Mickey Walker (on drums, obscured) and Brian Thomason

A fourth single release was planned and the backing track was recorded. The project was shelved after the group’s new lead singer, Alfonzo Martin of Martinsville, was also inducted into the military. Rumley regrets that the band was unable to add Martin’s vocals to their final recording session, describing his range as “unbelievable.” Martin served in the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of staff sergeant. He was killed by hostile fire in Vietnam.

The group disbanded shortly thereafter. Rumley points out that the band had been together nearly a decade and he had grown weary of replacing members who moved on to other bands, full-time jobs or were drafted and shipped out to Southeast Asia.

Scott moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1996 and drove a truck until his retirement. He played in several bands over the years, including Martinsville’s Renegade Demolition Band in the eighties.

Gene Rumley, India
Gene Rumley in India

With the break-up, Rumley left touring behind and concentrated on a career. He spent more than 30 years in the business world, serving as president and vice president of multi-national corporations while leading training seminars throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America. He was named “Business Man of the Year” by, the world’s largest B2B search engine. While his home is in Florida, Rumley continues to travel extensively as a John Maxwell certified coach and teacher. But he is most passionate about his work with children in India, where he founded Mission for Orphans, a non-profit organization that helps feed, clothe and educate street children and orphans.

But rarely a day goes that he isn’t contacted by a follower of the music his band created nearly fifty years ago. The songs have stood the test of time, and Gene and the Team Beats live on through the dedication of Beach Music fans on the East Coast and lovers of Northern Soul in the United Kingdom.

The Teen-Beets and Words of Luv

The Teen-Beets, from left: Ken McGee, John McGee, George Samaras and Paul Doby
The Teen-Beets, from left: Ken McGee, John McGee, George Samaras and Paul Doby

The Teen-Beets of Winston-Salem, North Carolina released four fine records, the first three featuring original songs by vocalist and guitarist John McGee along with covers of Barbara Lynn’s “Oh Baby”.Drummer George Samaras sent in these cool photos and clippings and told me about the group:

The band was formed in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at the end of 1964. The original line-up consisted of two brothers, John McGee (lead guitar & lead vocals) and Ken McKee (rhythm guitar & lead vocals). The two other band members were Paul Doby (bass guitar) and me – George Samaras (drums).

By the summer of ’65 we had recorded our first record at Arthur Smith’s studio in Charlotte, NC (“I Guess That’s Why You’re Mine” / “Not In Love With Me”) and released it on our own label, Chain Records. It received considerable local air play and reached #20 on one of the local radio stations top 40 list. Around this time we all dyed our hair bright red (as in Teen “Beets”) to attract attention. It worked!

Our second local release (“I Should Wait” / “Oh Baby”) was also recorded at Arthur Smith’s studio and released on Chain Records. Although it received considerable local air play it did not chart.

 Winston-Salem Journal, June 19, 1965, with hair stylist Bobby Todd
Winston-Salem Journal, June 19, 1965, with hair stylist Bobby Todd

We stuck with the bright red hair and high energy stage shows achieving local notoriety. We also had a change in the band membership. Paul, our bass player, was replaced by Stan Ratcliffe.

In early ’66 we traveled to Nashville, Tenn. and re-recorded “Not In Love With Me” and “I Should Wait” in Fred Foster’s Sound Studio for Tree Publishing Company. It was released on Dial Records under the name the “Beets” but quickly faded into obscurity.

 Opening for Roger Miller at Memorial Coliseum
Opening for Roger Miller at Memorial Coliseum
 Paramount booking Promo photo
Paramount booking Promo photo

Soon afterwards, management of the group was taken over by Pete Berry – a local DJ and program director better known as the Flying Dutchman. Under Dutch’s guidance we got rid of the red hair and changed our name to the “Words of Luv” and returned to the studio to record “I’d Have To Be Outta My Mind” / Tomorrow’s A Long Time”.

Dutch was able to get us signed with a booking agency in Washington, D.C. and also with Hickory Records for a four record deal. We went on the road playing up and down the east coast. Hickory Records released “I Have To Be Outta My Mind”. While the record received good reviews in Cashbox and Billboard magazines, it only received limited air play on the national scene.

In order to earn a living, Paramount kept us booked steady in real night clubs (usually a week or two at a time) which gave a break from doing one nighters all the time. Also, we would occasionally back up some of Paramount’s fading stars. We worked with Little Eva a few times, she had a national hit called “The Locomotion” about five years prior to that time. Whenever we were with her we were the Locomotives. Also, with Jimmy Jones a couple of times. Jimmy had two national hits a few years before that – “Handyman” was his first and then “Good Timing”. With Jimmy we were the Handymen.

The promotion picture of the “Words of Luv” has the name of the band misspelled – “Love” instead “Luv”. It was the printer’s mistake and Paramount Artists made them redo the entire order. Mistakes seemed to follow us around. When Hickory Records did the initial pressing of promotion copies for “I’d Have To Be Outta My Mind” they accidently put the plug side star on the flip side and starting sending it out to radio stations before they caught their mistake. Because of this, they had to do another promo pressing and start sending it out again.

Promo sheet showing later member “Fab” Foltz

We didn’t get all the way up to Montreal. We only toured on the U.S. side of the border and the closest we played to Canada was upstate New York. As I recall, the very first gig booked through Paramount Artists was in Massena, New York (right on the Canadian border). We traveled extensively up and down the eastern seaboard (north and south), but only as far north as New York. I guess “Montreal to Miami” just sounded good to whoever wrote that promo sheet. However, we did go just about everywhere in-between.

We did a few TV shows: Some local shows in North Carolina, a show called ‘Wing Ding” in Washington, D.C. and a syndicated show (taped in Maryland) called the “Kirby Scott Show”. We also played a lot of teenage night clubs, dances and auditorium shows.

We had a fifth band member for a short period of time on the road. His name was Doug Foltz (nick name: Fab). Fab played electric piano and also sang lead.

By the early Fall of 1967 the road was taking its toll and the band broke-up. Although we had recorded a few more songs, due to the band’s break-up, they were never released. They were independently produced by Flying Dutchman Enterprises and I don’t know whether or not they were ever turned over to Hickory Records. I’m sure those master tapes are long gone by now.

“I’d Have To Be Outta My Mind” was re-mastered and put on Garage Beat ’66 Vol. 1 three or four years ago. It was a CD released by Sundazed Records. Our local releases were put on Tobacco a Go Go (Blue Mold Records) several years back.

Even though I later played in a few other road bands, and still occasionally play locally on weekends, my fondest memories will always be of the Teenbeets.

One more thing – I came across an interview that Ken Friedman of Tobacco A Go Go did a little while back. He was relating the story of the Teenbeets as one of his favorite garage band stories. In the interview Ken said he had met one of the former band members back in the 1980’s and that person was now a Moravian minister after finding religion on the battlefield in Viet Nam. Ken misidentified that person as the drummer. In actuality it was Paul (our original bass player).

George Samaras
Review of Hickory 45 in Cash Box

Paramount booking card
back of Paramount booking card

Thank you to George Samaras for photos and scans.