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Exile
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About Exile

     
     
EXILE: The Short History of an Endless Career

In 1963, the year before the Beatles scored their first American hit, a group of kids calling themselves The Exiles climbed onto an outdoor stage in the small midstate town of Richmond, Kentucky and proceeded to make musical history—not just with their songs but with their longevity as well. Forty-six years later, that same band—Exile—is still rockin’ with a mix of original and seminal members. Nations have had shorter life spans.

Nowadays, J. P. Pennington, Les Taylor, Sonny LeMaire, Marlon Hargis and Steve Goetzman can look back on a career arc that embraces 11 No. 1 country and pop hits, two gold albums and fans by the hundreds of thousands. Best of all, Exile is still touring and creating and recording brilliant new music.

Following the band’s debut in Richmond City Park, which, as founding member Pennington recalls was “upstaged” by a fist-fight in the crowd, The Exiles steadily moved on to regional and then national fame. In 1966, pop music godfather Dick Clark tapped the band for his “Caravan of Stars,” a touring company headlined by the likes of Freddy Cannon, Bryan Hyland and B. J. Thomas.

Over the next few years, the band (which had pared down its name to Exile in 1973) chased and secured record deals in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. But it always fell short of achieving that one giant radio hit that would launch it to superstardom. Then, in 1978, it happened, thanks to a three-and-a-half-minute surge of heavy breathing called “Kiss You All Over.” The song rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart and stayed there for four weeks. From then on, it was a blur. The band appeared on Midnight Special and toured with Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Heart, Aerosmith, Dave Mason, Seals & Croft and other rock luminaries. Now the guys from tiny Richmond, Kentucky, were pounding out music on giant stages throughout the U. S., Europe and South Africa.

But one hit does not a career make. A series of albums and a few personnel switches failed to re-ignite Exile’s pop fire. Fortunately, the band had been noticing the artistic changes taking place in country music, how it seemed to be opening itself to rock and pop influences following the Urban Cowboy craze. “Going country” certainly wasn’t a stretch for Pennington, whose mother, Lilly Mae Ledford, was the pivotal figure in the Coon Creek Girls, an “old-time music” band that once played at the White House to entertain President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the King and Queen of England.

Through their manager, Jim Morey, Exile attracted the attention of Nashville superproducer Buddy Killen. A deal with Epic Records soon followed. Then the No. 1 hits began pouring out, every one of them written by Pennington and LeMaire. The first, “Woke Up In Love,” topped the country charts in 1984.

Over the next three years, Exile reigned with “I Don’t Want To Be A Memory,” “Give Me One More Chance,” “Crazy For Your Love,” “She’s A Miracle,” “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.” When it came to light-the-candles-and-warm-the-brandy love songs, Exile was country music’s answer to Barry White.

By the late 1980s, though, the band was suffering from road-weariness. So, one by one, the members peeled off in different musical directions. After a hiatus of several years, during which Pennington headed and toured with various permutations of the band, the original members of Exile’s country incarnation reunited in 2007 for what they believed would be a one-time benefit show. But the audience response was so encouraging—and the music still sounded so damn good—that Pennington, Taylor, LeMaire, Hargis and Goetzman decided to regroup and do it all over again.

After 46 years, they certainly know what they’re doing. And the new crowds they’ve attracted know it, too.
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