One of the most successful groups in music history gets their time in the spotlight, thanks to a very informative new book. Exile. 50 Years In Exile: The Story of a Band in Transition, a book by Eastern Kentucky University musicologist Randy Westbrook. According to the band’s Steve Goetzman, Westbrook definitely did his homework – and then some.
“He interviewed all of us extensively, and went back and talked to a lot of the former members – going all the way back to the group’s formation in 1963. It’s an extensive history, and it’s accurate. He allowed all of us to go through it, and check it. As a musicologist, he’s really gotten deep into the production and what instruments were used, and all the recording techniques. He did a really great job on it.”
Sonny LeMaire, the group’s bassist since 1977, says the book was very much an education – for even him.
“The interesting thing was there was a lot of stuff that I had forgotten, and things I didn’t even know. All the guys that were there back in the 60s, and all the anecdotes about that time period. It was really cool to read up and know the history of the band, which has been going on for over 50 years.”
There have been numerous changes in the band over the years, but the nucleus of Goetzman, LeMaire, J.P. Pennington, Les Taylor, and keyboardist Marlon Hargis has remained very much intact over the years. But, for reference sake…just how many member have there been in Exile? Hargis says with a laugh:
“I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that. I think it’s something like 23, but there were some members who were there for one gig, so it’s really hard to say. But, that’s every band – you go through a lot of changes, but we were able to stay together – which most bands don’t do.”
Though the band started together in the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1978 that they truly connected with fans on a nationwide level, with the million-selling “Kiss You All Over,” a song that LeMaire says he is still grateful for – almost 40 years later.
“Thank goodness for that song. It’s amazing how three minutes can change your life forever. It’s interesting how I thought at times ‘If I have to play this song one more time, I’m going to shoot myself, but that time has definitely passed. The song seems to be timeless, and it’s amazing how people still latch on to it.”
By the early 1980s, the band brought their sound to Nashville – eventually earning 10 No. 1 records on the Billboard charts between 1983 and 1988. Goetzman says that one might think playing those records would get a little stale, but he related to CMChatLive.com some career advice they were given early on by an entertainment legend.
“Long before we joined the band, they went on tour with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, and they were the backing band for all of the solo artists on the show, like Freddy Cannon and BJ Thomas. The band cornered Dick one night, and asked him for advice. He told them ‘Never forget your audience.’ This band has adopted that as his creed. That’s our responsibility when we walk out on stage – to deliver the hits that we’ve had. We can pace the show, change arrangements a little bit to keep things fresh, but at the end of the day, that’s our responsibility – to give the fans what they want to hear.”
Goetzman said one believer in the band that played a huge role in their Country emergence was producer Buddy Killen.
“He always believed in the band. Our manager, Jim Morey, was in a meeting with him concerning Dolly, and Buddy asked what we were doing. He told him ‘As a matter of fact, they’re no longer a pop band,’ and Buddy pounced. We were in awe that he had showed an interest. He brings us down to Nashville, and we do a couple of showcases at his Stockyard Restaurant. We ended up getting signed by Epic on the second one. A lot of people criticized his production style, but he was very hands-off. We would be listening to a playback, and the band would be picking it apart, but he would say ‘Whoa. Whoa. Wait, guys. Just listen to the feel.’ We had more hits with Buddy Killen than any other producer we ever worked with.”
Exile is still hitting the road – performing close to 150 dates a year, and have just completed work on their very first holiday album – which they will premiere at the Franklin Theatre (just south of Nashville) on December 17. Hargis says it’s all for a great cause that the band is very passionate about.
“It’s going to be a release party for our first Christmas CD, which we are very excited about. We’re all huge animal lovers, and are working with an organization called SAFPAW, which is the Southern Alliance for People and Animal Welfare (www.safpaw.org), and it deals with rescuing and helping underprivileged and homeless people with their animals. People don’t think about the animals with homeless people. A lot of the shelters won’t accept animals, so a lot of people won’t take advantage of them because they don’t want to leave their best friend. They go out every day and night into camps and terrible parts of town to make sure that the homeless and their pets are taken care of. It’s an organization that we feel strongly about, and we want to help, so it’s very important that we do this.”
After all of these years together, which of their hits is as fresh now as ever? Goetzman said:
“I would have to say ‘I Could Get Used To You,’ which was one of the country number ones we’ve had. It’s real R&B sounding, and to me, as a drummer, to lock into that groove is definitely a kick.”
Hargis said he also loved one of their groove-based cuts.
“It varies, but I would say right now, it would be ‘It’ll Be Me.’ Though next year, it will probably be different.”
LeMaire went for the obvious, but spoke of a night where the reaction to their biggest hit surprised even him.
“I guess my choice would be ‘Kiss You All Over.’ For a long time, when we would do the Grand Ole Opry, we didn’t’ do the song – kind of out of respect for the Opry and its’ history, thinking that the song might not have been the appropriate song for the audience there. About two years ago, we mentioned that to Pete Fisher. He told us ‘I think you ought to do it.’ We launched into it, and people went crazy. It was a unique experience.”