Kiss You All Over Singers Recount Path From Garage Band To International Success
Marlon Hargis joined Exile in 1973 — 10 years after the band’s inception and five years before they hit it big. At most, his paycheck was $75 a week — a pay cut of about $425 but he didn’t care. Although band members were literal starving artists, Exile was the most talked about group in their area. When singer J.P. Pennington asked Hargis to come on as Exile’s keyboard player, he didn’t blink.
“I never thought twice about joining,” he recalls. “It was the band in that part of the country.”
They weren’t starving for much longer. In 1978, “Kiss You All Over” catapulted Exile from bar gigs in Lexington, Kentucky, to the national spotlight. They appeared on NBC’s popular late-night music variety series “The Midnight Special” in California then jumped on tour with Aerosmith and Fleetwood Mac.
More than 55 years since the band’s creation and 40 years since the release of “Kiss You All Over,” Exile is celebrating the music that made them among America’s longest running bands. Members Hargis, Pennington, Les Taylor (guitar/vocals), Sonny Lemaire (bass/vocals) and Steve Goetzman (drums) re-recorded the band’s 11 No. 1 hits along with a few of its Top 10 songs to mark the milestone. Dubbed “Hits,” the album includes “Woke Up in Love,” “She’s a Miracle,” “Give Me One More Chance” and is available now. Exile will bring those hit songs and more to Franklin Theatre 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets start at $37.
“When we get on stage, we really enjoy playing together,” Hargis said. “Usually from the first few bars of a soundcheck, it just clicks. There’s something about the combination of the five of us that works. It really does make all the other b******t bearable.”
The current line-up has played together off and on for 46 years. In the group’s 55-plus year history, dozens of members have passed through the ranks. But the men in the band today are the same people who played on the bulk of Exile’s hit songs. Lemaire and Goetzman were on all of them while Hargis, Pennington and Taylor each left the group and then rejoined in 2008 when Exile reconfigured its most hit-friendly line-up.
Exile isn’t aware of any other crossover bands with a 55-year history, of which Lemaire said members are “very proud.”
Before “Kiss You All Over,” the band often recorded music in a converted garage and toured in a broken-down Winnebago. They wrote songs including “Take Me Down,” “The Closer You Get” and “Heart and Soul” that were hits for other artists and recorded versions of them in the little studio. Hargis worked there so the band had access to it when it wasn’t in use.
He said it was members’ dedication to original music that kept them hungry for more than a decade. While other groups in the area were happy to play covers to gain club gigs, Exile was determined to forge a path with its own songs.
"Nightclubs wouldn’t hire us because it wasn’t what people wanted to hear,” Hargis said. “The band made a conscious effort, instead of going for the money, thinking long term of the bigger picture. I think that’s one thing that set us apart from other bands. We always thought of the bigger picture and we always thought we could do something on a worldwide level and we were willing to sacrifice for a long time.”
One of the garage tapes found its way to songwriter/producer Nicky Chinn. Chinn co-wrote “Kiss You All Over” with Mike Chapman. The tape sparked the relationship that led Exile to the amorous multi-platinum selling hit.
In the years that followed, songs that Exile members wrote and recorded found success with other artists. When country group Alabama took “The Closer You Get” and “Take Me Down” to the top of the country radio charts, Exile members thought there might be interest in the country genre for more of their music.
In 1984, Exile scored its first country hit with “Woke Up in Love.” “I Don’t Want to Be a Memory,” “Hang On to Your Heart,” “She’s a Miracle,” “Super Love” and “She’s Too Good to be True” followed.
Later this year, Exile plans to release a collection called “The Garage Tapes” that Hargis explained will be seldom-to-never heard recordings the group made – and thought they lost – in the converted garage studio. The tapes include variations of their popular songs in the writing and recording process as well as tunes that haven’t been heard since the group was playing club gigs in the Bluegrass State decades ago.
“We were pretty amazed at how well they sounded,” Hargis said. “What’s kind of cool is that there are some early demo versions of hits. It shows the development of a song in the band, which is kind of unusual to have. It was a transitional period, and that’s an interesting thing. It’s not rock 'n' roll or country, it’s in between.”
Pennington said Exile never gives any thought to slowing down or speeding up its schedule. Hargis explained there’s at least one thing that keeps them going: Exile wants to become members of the Grand Ole Opry.
While the men have played the show more than 100 times and their songs are in the bedrock of modern country music, membership into the esteemed Opry has been elusive.
“We did a lot of innovative things,” Hargis explained. “We were the first group to play on our own records. We were one of the first really successful crossover groups. We’d like to be remembered as important. We want to be Opry members really badly. That’s one thing that keeps us going, like, ‘What the hell? Maybe it will happen this year.’”
Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227, [email protected] or on Twitter @CindyNWatts.
If You Go:
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Franklin Theatre, 419 Main Street in Franklin
Tickets: $37-$47 by calling 615.538.2076