By Kirt Webster
The story of one of the most successful bands in country music history has been documented with the recent release of the book “50 Years of Exile: The Story of a Band in Transition.” Written by Randy Westbrook, an Eastern Kentucky University musicologist, the book details the group’s rise to prominence over the past five decades.
Founded in Richmond, Kentucky by Jimmy Stokley, Ronnie ‘Mack’ Davenport, Paul Smith, Mike Howard, Billy Luxon, Buzz Cornelison and J.P. Pennington—while all were still in high school—the band found a following in the Lexington area. But, the Exile story doesn’t end there. A stint on the Dick Clark “Caravan of Stars” in the mid 1960s broadened their audience even more. During that stint, they opened for such Pop acts as the legendary B.J. Thomas.
Continuing to record and tour throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Exile’s star began to shine bright with the 1978 release of the single “Kiss You All Over.” After fifteen years in the business, the band was suddenly an “Overnight Success,” with the song hitting number one in the fall of 1978, and selling over five million singles. The single’s massive commercial success introduced Exile as the new opening act on the Aerosmith tour and then the Heart tour, respectively. The group followed up that hit with another Top 40 on the Hot 100, “You Thrill Me.”
In the 1980s, Pennington – along with members Sonny LeMaire and Les Taylor – began to have success as songwriters in Nashville with cuts by Alabama (“Take Me Down”), Kenny Rogers (“Take This Heart”), Janie Fricke (“It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy”). That, combined with the fact that their roots had always been steeped in Country (Pennington’s mother, Lily Mae Ledford, was one of the stars of the iconic Renfro Valley Barn Dance), led them to sign with Epic Records in 1983.
Their first single, “High Cost Of Leavin,” found success at radio and set the stage for hit after hit throughout the decade. “Woke Up In Love” became their first chart-topper and it was followed by songs such as “She’s Too Good To Be True,” “Hang On To Your Heart” and “She’s A Miracle.”
“50 Years In Exile: The Story of a Band in Transition” is an honest look at one of America’s most enduring success stories, with anecdotes from many of the band’s former and current members, including Paul Martin, who later went on to fame as one of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives.
Keyboardist Marlon Hargis says the book was educational—even for him. “I learned things about the band that I never knew before! An interesting history of exile from a musician’s viewpoint, I recommend it to any Exile fan, or any budding musician wanting a realistic depiction of a band’s life!”
Published by Acclaim Press, the book is available in select bookstores and Amazon. The band continues to tour in 2015, with dates already being added to their itinerary for 2016.