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Date & Place of birth: January 22 - Berea, KY
Primary influences- Musical: Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, George Gershwin, Fredrick Chopin, Ray Charles
Primary influences- Personal: Personal: My mother, Lily May Ledford Pennington and my father, Glenn Pennington
What life has taught me: That there's always room for growth and improvement
It could be said I’m the last man standing from the origins of Exile…but not by me. I am part of an amazing circle of life and music, certainly a better man for the ringside seat on reality I’ve been afforded. Rather than ruminate about when & why I started playing music I’d rather talk about the journey, the rich experiences and incredible people I’ve met & worked with along the way.
We did several tours with The Dick Clark Caravan of Stars in the late 60s. As the backup band to all the singles acts on the tour, our only rehearsal was in the dressing room before the first show of the tour. There were usually 3 singers with 5 or 6 songs apiece. That's 15 to 18 songs we had to remember the arrangements to with only a couple of hours until showtime. I think it was because we were such quick studies, that we were asked back for subsequent tours. That and the fact they were paying us next to nothing!
There were a lot of firsts we encountered on the Caravan Trail and some stories that still make me grin. It was the first time any of us had seen floor monitors. We played sold out arenas and football stadiums every night instead of bars & sock hops. We traveled endlessly in busses with seats—no sleeping quarters (good ol’ Arrow Bus Lines). Paul Revere of The Raiders, who was a barber by trade, cut our hair. Mark Lindsay, the star and lead singer of the Raiders, would subtly wipe his brow with a Holiday Inn towel during shows, making sure every girl in the audience knew where the tour was staying. Freddie Cannon was a tireless practical joker. Bryan Hyland was a pot-head. B.J. Thomas took his lightly retarded brother, Jerry, with him everywhere he went. He gave him little jobs and errands to make him feel important. That endeared us all to B.J. And then, of course, there’s the ringmaster himself, Mr. Dick Clark, y’all!!!
As the bio explains we did several stints in New York City in the late 60’s. In the fall of '68, we moved to New York for a second extended stay. Our soon-to-be former manager arranged for us to move into The Broadway Central Hotel in the skid-row, Bowery section of Lower Manhattan. The apartment on the Upper West Side on our prior trip in '67 seemed like The Waldorf compared to this place. Our flat on the 3rd floor was a dilapidated, stinking mess. We hesitated when we saw the place, but were talked into giving it a go.
There were pimps, whores, junkies, pushers and most any other form of foul human life one could imagine residing there. There was the heavy stench of urine in the staircases where passed-out winos were a common sight.
We endured this into the late winter months of '69 when we had finally had enough. On the night we moved out, we destroyed the place—our one and only hotel room trashing. There were fire trucks with lights flashing outside the lobby as we packed our gear and belongings into our van and car. I asked a fireman what the problem was and was told that it was a small fire in a lower floor apartment. He added, "If it was up to us, we'd let the whole place burn." Hearing our accent he also asked, "What the hell were you boys doin' here?" It was the worst few months of all our lives. KY seemed like paradise!
We fired that manager, calling him from a phone booth on the way out of New York that same night.
While resident of NYC we saw a lot of great local acts and drew things from them that greatly helped us to better ourselves as a band. Two that come to mind are The Vanilla Fudge and The Hassles (who were fronted by Billy Joel before he became a giant star in his own right). They all knew how to entertain and we lapped it up like sponges. We also saw Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd in some small clubs shortly before they became stars.
We got signed to a singles deal with Columbia Records. This didn't lead to much radio success to speak of but it was an invaluable learning experience for us to see how records were really supposed to be made.
One of the first people we met at Columbia's main studio in Manhattan was Roy Halley. Roy was a genius recording engineer who engineered all of Simon and Garfunkel's records. Although I suspect Roy wasn't overly enthused about working with us, I remember him being gracious with our many questions and telling us, "If it doesn't sound honest, either change it or do it over." I never forgot that.
Despite the hardships we all had to deal with, the NYC experience was invaluable beyond measure to everyone. We were a much different band when we came home late that fall. We even had a strobe light!!
By now you’ve read plenty about finding amazing, talented people like Mike Chapman, Nicky Chinn and Jim Morey; the success of “Kiss You All Over”; the sinking of our Rock Ship and rise of our Country vessel. For me it was all amazing and blurry. What’s not so blurry is the time away from the band and what I learned about myself.
When I left the band on Jan. 1, '89, I had zero aspirations to be a solo artist. I was happy to be at home with my family and away from the stress and pressures of life on the road.
For several months, I stayed away from anything musical, but as I knew it probably would, the itch to write songs began to creep back into my psyche. All along I had been receiving calls from several Nashville label people inquiring about working with me as a solo artist. After talking with Tony Brown, then at MCA, I decided that I'd give it a go. I signed with MCA in 1990.
Tony thought producer Barry Beckett and I would be a good match in the studio and, needless to say, I was unbelievably flattered when Barry agreed to produce me. I was a huge fan of not only his records, but also of his playing, which any musician worth his salt would certainly be aware of.
We went into the studio in the spring of '90 and finished the project in about 4 weeks.
There were things about making that record that I loved. Working with Barry and learning how he did things in the studio was an invaluable experience. Getting to play guitar with the incredible studio musicians was something every writer/musician has dreamed about.
There were also things I didn't like about it: Most of all, it made me miss the band. I felt sort of like a fish out of water trying to record an album without them. To me, some of the band's happiest moments were being in the studio together, going through the blood, sweat and tears of making records together and having the time of our lives.
The album was released in '91 and didn't exactly set the world on fire. On the heels of three single releases, I asked off the label and never looked back.
After 28 years of being in a band, I realized that, my calling was not as a solo artist. I knew I would always be happiest in a group—with others I could share the good and bad with and not be pressured to make all of the important decisions by myself. I had left the only band I'd ever been in and was faced with the reality that I may have made the biggest musical mistake of my life (except for The Opry Train Wreck, maybe!) (:
There’s nothing like a common cause to show you your real center, where you really belong. The benefit for our old friend Raymond Patrick was the perfect device to till the old days under and plow new ground with the people I had enjoyed my most satisfying success.
I am happier than I can tell you that it has now it's come full circle and I'm back with my friends that I've sorely missed - Sonny, Steve, Marlon and Les - my Exile brothers!