WYANDOTTE — The band Exile’s musical connection, ongoing for five decades, topping both Pop and Country music charts, is still going strong.
Exile is scheduled to perform on July 29 at Bordertown Casino & Arena in Wyandotte.
It originally started more than 50 years ago in Richmond, Kentucky, a land steeped in tobacco, whiskey, and bluegrass. The original band member, J.P. Pennington, felt like “ The Exiles” playing rock and roll and R&B music. Taking their music to sock hops, parties, clubs and any other opportunity they could play, the Exiles gained attention with a garage recording, “The Answer to Her Prayers.”
Exile's big break and exposure came when they got an opener slot in 1965 on “Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars.”
A king of the music industry, Clark advised them to “never forget your audience,” which became a mantra for the band. A move to New York and a record deal with another industry wizard, Clive Davis of Columbia Records, furthered the band's rise and kicked in song writing and a name change in 1973 on guitar to “Exile”
Keyboard player Marlon Hargis joined Exile in 1973, and bass player, singer/songwriter Sonny LeMaire joined in 1977. Drummer Steve Goetzman came on next.
Together the band created the single “Kiss You All Over,” in 1978, which exploded virtually overnight, becoming a mega-hit selling over five million copies. Exile got gigs on major tours with Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Heart, Aerosmith and others across the world.
Randy Rickman, Mark Gray and Les Taylor on guitar and vocals, hired on to the band in the course of one day in 1979. The mega successful Huey Lewis and the News had a hit with the band’s song “ Heart and Soul” and country super group Alabama had record-breaking hits years later with remakes of two of the band’s recordings, “Take Me Down” and “The Closer You Get.”
Many albums later with limited success of their own, Exile underwent a two-year country conversion in the 1980s, which proved to be a good decision with the band’s songs deeply connecting to country fans.
They thundered onto the country music scene with several hits, including 11 number one singles such as “The High Cost of Leaving,” “Woke Up In Love,” “I Don’t Want To Be A Memory,” “Give Me One More Chance,” “She’s A Miracle,” “Crazy For Your Love,” “Hang On To Your Heart,” “I Could Get Used To You,” “It’ll Be Me,” “She’s Too Good To Be True” and “ I Can’t Get Close Enough,” giving them three gold albums, several multi-platinum singles, and 13 American Country Music and Country Music Association nominations.
After the rich success the band members followed different paths before coming back together,
After years apart, band members Pennington, Taylor, LeMaire, Hargis and Goetzman came together for a benefit and the reunion sparked Exile’s desire to perform and tour together once again.
Hargis gave some insight into the band during an interview.
Melinda Stotts: Decades of music, that just blew my mind, how does the band sustain 50 years in the music industry? That’s rare.
Marlon Hargis: “There aren’t many. We were talking a few weeks ago about this as far as the group. We’ve had success both in Country and in the Pop field, and there’s only one other band, and that’s the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who are great friends of ours by the way, and this is their 50th year, but other than that I don’t know of many.”
MS: Exile has had success in both genres of music that has to feel great to reach out to music fans across those genres.
Marlon: “It does. To get back to why we stayed together, I don’t really have an answer. Through the years at various points some guys would leave and come back and so forth. And one telling story is about eight years ago the original five of us got back together. The band had gone through a lot of changes over the years and the original five of us hadn’t been together on stage for I think like 23 years. We actually got back together for what was supposed to be one show; it was a benefit concert for a tour manager of ours who had been in an accident. When we were rehearsing for that show I think everyone kind of had the same thought, ‘This doesn’t sound too bad.’(laughs) We actually enjoyed ourselves.”
MS: Did that surprise you all?
Marlon: “It was very surprising because you never know, I mean everyone changes, but within a couple of rehearsals it was almost like we’d never left. So, I think maybe that’s how we got to 50 years – we actually enjoy being on stage together. There’s certain chemistry, and I think a lot of groups, frankly still tour maybe with one or two members and they’re just practically doing it for the money. I honestly can say we don’t. If we weren’t enjoying doing it, we wouldn’t be doing it.”
MS: Well how does it stay fresh for you guys? I talk to a lot of performers and artists, and you know being on the road, being away from home, and once you’ve had the success what keeps you still out there or why do you want to keep doing it?
Marlon: “I know it sounds corny, it’s just the enjoyment of playing, because we just got back from a seven day trip through Colorado and we were on the bus for something like 37 hours. Quite frankly, I don’t enjoy that. I mean when I was 20 it was all fun. (laughs) So, we don’t enjoy that part of touring, but I can honestly say I don’t remember a night when I didn’t enjoy being on stage. That’s really what it comes down to; it’s just the enjoyment of working with each other. Every show you play not only will you have your old fans, but you’ll make new fans. The interesting thing is we have multiple generations come.”
MS: It’s great because younger generations get excited about the music because it’s new to them and they start following the bands.
Marlon: “That’s very well put - it is new music to them. The interesting thing is the kids, they don’t have a clue who we are when them come and see our show, but I found out they always enjoy the show. They like the music. We have people tell us every night that our music was like one person said, ‘It’s a soundtrack to my life,’ you know, and hearing stuff like that really does make it worthwhile.”
MS: Your music has been used all over. It's in movies, it’s got to be rewarding that it’s so familiar. Tell me about Exile’s shows now?
Marlon: “Basically we obviously do all our hits. A lot of the group members have written hits for other bands, groups like Alabama and Restless Heart and Diamond Rio. So we do a medley in our show of our version of songs we’ve written for other artists which people are usually surprised to hear. We’ve toured with everyone from Aerosmith to George Jones so we do a medley or short version of some of their hits. There’s a segment where we go from an Aerosmith song into a George Jones song. I think the whole thing is we try to make ourselves as entertaining as possible.”
MS: Not all bands are that versatile, that’s great. Highlight of a 50-year career in music - what stands out?
Marlon: “It’s kind of hard to pinpoint. I remember from the very start going back to ‘Kiss You All Over’ in 1978, that was an example where the song was a hit so quickly that we were literally working in a bar one Friday for the door money, and the next Friday we were in LA singing on the Midnight Special, it happened that quickly. Then on the other end about two weeks ago we were on tour at Nissan Stadium here in Nashville playing for 60,000 people at the CMA Fest. It was a blast. Those are a couple of highlights. We’re lucky to still be able at our age to be in good health, be able to still perform and get on stage, so every day I feel lucky. It’s not like you’re going to work - you enjoy what you’re doing.”
MS: The pressure is off now too - you don’t have anything to prove. You can just enjoy getting out there and performing. Do you still sit and jam and are you still writing?
Marlon: “Yeah. Actually we work on new stuff and have a bunch of stuff in the can that’s recorded. We just finished, believe it or not, a Christmas album. It’s the first Christmas album we’ve ever done and it’s going to be available obviously this Christmas season. We have some stuff we’ve recorded over the last few years we sell at our shows. But you just made a good point, you know we aren’t going to get played on Top 40 radio and we realize that but we don’t worry about it. In other words we don’t worry about coming up with a Top 10 hit next week, we record sort of what we want to record. We do what we enjoy doing in our shows. So, you’re right the pressure is off and we can enjoy what we do.
MS: You’ve toured with the greatest, had mega-hits, played big arenas and venues and know you can pack the crowds in, so now it’s about the music you love I bet?
Marlon: “Yeah, but more importantly it’s what the audience loves. We really don’t play for ourselves.”
MS: Well, I don’t write it so no one will read it, and you don’t play and sing it so no one will hear it, right?
Marlon: (laughs) “Right, as an example, sometimes we’ll work up a song for a show that we really like but we’ll notice that the crowd’s not reacting to it very well, so at that point we’ll throw the song out of the show. Again we don’t want to play for ourselves we want to play for the crowd.”
MS: Is that what you want them to take away – a great show, great music, and a great time?
Marlon: “Right, exactly, but another thing, we’re just happy to still be around. We haven’t been to Wyandotte before. We’ve played a lot of casinos.”
MS: Do you like playing casinos; it’s a more intimate venue with smaller crowds? It’s great for us local fans here in northeast Oklahoma– we get to see such great artists and a big variety of music. Do you get feedback in smaller venues?
Marlon: “I personally enjoy playing smaller venues because you can kind of interact with the crowd and we like to do that. For example on a huge show if you’re playing in front of thousands you’re kind of separated from the audience a little bit. Frankly some of our better crowds are in smaller cities because they’re not as jaded as some of the audiences in the big cities and seem to enjoy having entertainment there. So, we certainly don’t mind playing smaller venues. We play them all the time and we usually always have a great time.”
MS: You have some great music. I know you more from your Country hits, but your older hits are great. I saw that your career kind of picked up after being discovered by Dick Clark, it was the American Idol and The Voice of that era.
Marlon: “We were part of a package tour concept that really started in the '60s with Dick Clark. That’s where the band got a lot of experience doing that.”
MS: Looking forward to the show and thanks for the interview.
Marlon: “It’s a real pleasure, and I'm looking forward to seeing you at the show. Like I said, we just want people to come out and have a good time and forget about the day to day B.S. that’s going on and just have a good time!”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1