STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
Over the course of 50 years in the music business, a lot of strange stuff happens.
The band Exile memorably proves that with the medleys they play in concert. One is a montage of songs of acts they’ve worked with, which includes a jaw-dropping segue from Aerosmith’s rocker “Walk This Way” into George Jones’ heart-rending ballad “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Or it could be Merle Haggard into The Doobie Brothers.
Yeah, it’s been that much fun for the Richmond, Ky. band that started out as The Exiles, the backing group on the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars concert tours.
The band’s keyboardist, Marlon Hargis, caught the Caravan of Stars when it came to Lexington, Ky. in 1966. He recalled that The Young Rascals closed the show, and he had no idea that he would soon join The Exiles.
“It was the first big concert I had ever seen. I thought it was really cool they were on a tour like that. It kind of gave me the idea that a band from the middle of nowhere could have success,” he said in a phone interview.
A few years after Hargis joined, and the name shortened to Exile, came the 1978 worldwide No. 1 “Kiss You All Over.” Touted as a sort of “Steely Dan of the South,” they embarked on a blurry whirlwind of concert appearances, including opening arena shows for Fleetwood Mac, Boston and Heart — all mega-rock-stars at that time.
“In ‘78 we were almost never home. (Success) hits you so fast, you don’t have the time to think about it much,” said Hargis, advising today’s rising stars to “take the time to step back and enjoy it.”
With some reluctance, Exile transitioned their sound from pop/rock to country at the dawn of the ‘80s, and it turned out to be a smart move. Among their chart-toppers throughout the decade — “Woke up in Love,” “I Don’t Wanna be a Memory,” “She’s a Miracle,” “I Could Get Used to You,” “She’s Too Good to be True” and “I Can’t Get Close Enough.”
In 1980, Exile had a “Hard Day’s Night”-meets-“Spinal Tap” moment when they landed at the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa and were surprised by the sight of thousands of cheering people. “We thought there was a famous person there. Nobody told us that we had hits there that we didn’t even know about,” Hargis said, noting that the band was hardly looking or feeling its best, exhausted from the flight, unshowered, unshaven and hung over.
Another odd chapter in the 50-year story of Exile was when they went on the road with bluegrass icon Ricky Skaggs, who was adamant that they not play “Kiss You All Over” before his shows because he claimed, at the time, that the sultry smash sent an inappropriate message. “We were actually good friends with Ricky,” said Hargis, remembering his band mates being livid at being unable to play their best-known song.
Fortunately, a lot of time has passed and there are now no hard feelings. “I think (Skaggs) is coming to one of our shows next month,” he said.
Another ear-opener at Aug. 2’s concert at the Sellersville Theater will be a medley of songs written by and/or recorded by Exile that later became big hits for other artists, such as “Heart and Soul” (Huey Lewis & The News), “The Closer You Get” (Alabama), “Take Me Down” (Alabama) and “When She Cries” (Restless Heart).
“We try to get all our hits in. It’s hard to categorize the music we do. It’s not hard-core country, it’s not rock,” Hargis said, mentioning an a cappella medley of gospel songs and a Motown medley they perform that are both crowd-pleasers.
After leaving Exile in the mid-’80s due to the draining stress of touring 300 days a year, Hargis moved to Nashville. One of his projects was working with country legend Jerry Reed, who imparted these words of wisdom to not take himself too seriously: “It’s not brain surgery, it’s music. Nobody’s gonna die if you make a mistake.”
It was 2008 when the core members of Exile, who had all married and started families, reconnected upon hearing the news that their former road manager was in a serious motorcycle accident. A one-off benefit show turned into a full-blown reunion.
“We figured out that a lot of the things that bothered us in the past … it was small stuff. And we enjoyed each other’s company,” he said.
And just like that, Hargis, J.P. Pennington, Steve Goetzman, Sonny Lemaire and Les Taylor are kissing you all over again.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Exile in concert.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Aug. 2.
WHERE: Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave. at Main Street, Sellersville,
TICKETS: $29.50 and $40.
INFO.: Call (215) 257-5808 or visit www.st94.com.
Follow Brian Bingaman on Twitter @brianbingaman.