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Date & Place of birth: December 27 - London, KY
Instrument: Guitar, vocals
I was born and raised in London, Kentucky and started playing guitar at age thirteen. About a year later my cousin and I started a band, playing little gigs around our home town. We played sock-hops in the high school gym and local skating rink.
When it started we called our band The Wanderers and played all instrumental hit songs. A guy in our area who owned a well-drilling company, Wayne Hibbitts, became our manager. We took his advice mostly because he was a few years older. So our new manager said, “Somebody’s gotta start singing,” and they all looked at me. Then he changed our name to Little Caesar & the Romans and you can probably guess who “Little Caesar” was.
Another couple of years passed and my new career in music took a giant step forward when I joined a band from Corbin, Kentucky called The Ovations. We played at many of the colleges, clubs and youth centers all across the state. I learned a lot about music and entertaining crowds from The Ovations. I was young and grew up fast.
The Ovations played a lot in eastern Kentucky. We played a youth center in Martin, KY and it was there that I met the guys in the band The Exiles. The Ovations and The Exiles were sharing the gig, playing alternating sets on two stages, one on the front wall of the building and a second stage at the opposite end.
A few years later I went to see The Exiles at a club in Richmond, Kentucky called Specks. Easter Kentucky University students loved the band and The Exiles played there a lot. The place was packed. They were pressed together on a tight stage and really sounded great, and I thought ‘man I would really like to be in that band.’ I found out later that night that their guitar player, Mike Howard, was leaving to join the military. I talked to JP after the show and said, “Man if you guys are going to hire another guitar player, I would sure like to work with the band.” JP said we would talk, but I knew it was just a passing conversation. There were a hundred guitar players wanting that gig.
In the fall of 1968 I moved to Indianapolis, Indiana to join a band I’d never even heard or seen. I left London at 10:00 in the morning, arrived at the club in Indianapolis at 7:30 that night, walked up onstage and started playing. I played that gig until the fall of 1970 when I moved back to Kentucky to play at a club in Lexington called Marty’s.
Marty’s was a pretty rough place, but the music made it worth the trouble. Every other Wednesday night the club booked national acts and our band backed them up. I worked with artists like Rufus Thomas, Ronnie Dove, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Box Tops to name a few. I saw Bob Seger with his band and many other hot acts of the day. The Exiles performed there, too.
After three years at Marty’s I went on the road with The Johnny Greene Show, playing on a nightclub circuit. Those were the days when bands played dance sets before and after a ‘floor show.’ The floor shows were built around a theme that included comedy, choreography and more elaborate arrangements of popular songs. I miss those days and those show bands. The experience taught me the importance of entertaining an audience. It was a good training ground for me and a lot of other musicians. Two of the other guys in Johnny Green’s band, Earl Grigsby and Taz DiGregorio, went on to play with the Charlie Daniels Band.
I spent five more years on the road with different show/dance bands including Gary Edwards & Sage and a ten-piece group called Cyclone. In 1978 I came home to Lexington to play with a nightclub house band called Sunburst. I liked the band, the club was nice and it was good to be off the road. The only traveling for Sunburst was an occasional two week gig in Panama City, Florida that we thought of as a working vacation.
Some of the guys in Exile (as they were now called) would come in and hang out with us. By then we’d all known each other for a long time. They would come in just to have a good time. I had heard lead singer, Jimmy Stokley, had left Exile and they had hired another guy to replace him, but I didn’t know the new guy wasn’t working out. JP came into the club one Thursday night and we talked. I was surprised when he said they were thinking of making another change and, if the opportunity presented itself, asked if I would be interested in joining the band.
A few weeks passed by, Sonny and a couple other members came into the club and we talked more about my joining. I think they were checking me out to see if I would be a good fit for the group. They hired me in August 1979. It was definitely a dream come true.
My first gig with Exile was August 10, 1979 at the Illinois St. Fair opening for England Dan and John Ford Coley. Over the next nine years we recorded two more pop albums and four country albums and had a lot of success, but I kept feeling I had a lot to offer as a solo artist. In 1988 I left the group to pursue a solo career. The label we were signed to at the time, Epic Records, asked me to stay on the label and I agreed.
In 1989 Epic released my first solo album. In 1990 my second album came out. I had a little success, but nothing earthshaking. I toured for almost five years playing all over the country and had a really good time as a solo artist. I wrote a lot of the songs I recorded and I wrote a hit song for Janie Fricke, too. Janie’s version of “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy” went #1 in 1982.
The bands I’ve mentioned had the most to do with my development as an artist, or they stand as milestones in my music story. But there are countless bands not mentioned here, each one important to me in some way. It’s been a long road from The Wanderers to here. As far as right now, though, I’m really glad to be back with all the Exile Brothers.