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Days of Glory
Rock Music in the Kanawha Valley (1965-1975)

By Terry Lowery

General Edward Greer
The band Quiet reunited at the Randall Wray tribute show in Charleston at the Empty Glass on September 24, 2011. From the left are guitarist Tom Benson, drummer Tom Fontaine, harmonica player Mike Baker, and guitarist Terry Lowry. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Charleston and the Kanawha Valley have never been at a loss for musical talent and creativity, but the period between roughly 1965 and 1975 is considered by many musicians and critics as the “Golden Age” of rock & roll music in the valley. It was a time when many individual musicians and groups peaked in creativity and popularity, clubs and venues flourished, and fan support was massive.

The decade began with a flurry of soul or rhythm & blues (R&B) bands, with Charleston’s own Esquires leading the pack. The band featured Bobby Lanham, a man who epitomized the phrase “blue-eyed soul” on lead vocals, accompanied by Butch Evans on guitar, Carl Nestmann on bass, drummer Jimmy (J.B.) Neal, organist Jack Bumgarner, trumpeter Dick Gregg, and sax man Tennessee Jackson. This band was emulated by all others and exemplified the best in R&B music. This early version of the Esquires always brought down the house at such places as the Checkmate (Charleston), the Twin Maples (St. Albans), the Roaring Twenties (Hale Street in Charleston), the old Lee Street Armory, the South Charleston Recreation Center (beside Oakes Field), and Goldfinger (South Charleston), in addition to high schools, colleges, and summer jaunts to Myrtle Beach.

The group released two 45 rpm records. The first, released in 1967, was “I Can’t Get Along Without You Baby” b/w “Just Loafin’,” (written by South Charleston white soul man Turley Richards). The other was a 1968 reworking of a tune by Electric Flag called “Groovin’ Is Easy” b/w “Can’t Be So Bad” (originally recorded by Moby Grape), made during the latter days of this Esquires lineup in an attempt to stay current. Lanham departed the band to sing blues and gospel, and was later killed in a car wreck. The Esquires continue to perform today. Although a number of competent singers have fronted the band through the years, none has ever recaptured Lanham’s intensity and soul.

Others bands close on the heels of the Esquires were the Barons, the Eight Souls, the Fascinations, the Rooks, the Majestics, the Seven Seas (featuring a young Spurgie Hankins), and the Tiki Turbans. Possibly one of the best conglomerations, with racially integrated personnel, was the King Sound Interpreters, which featured Kai Haynes on bass, Curtis Price and Mike Lewis on guitars, and Ivor Sheff on keys. One group, the 7 Showmen, recorded a 45 rpm record in 1967 called, “You’re The One That I Adore” b/w “You’re Worth It All,” which fared well on local airwaves. All of these musicians eventually went their separate ways, but they helped set the stage for the music that was about to burst upon the local scene.

While these groups were catering to the soul music and dance crowd, five musicians from the St. Albans-Hurricane area were going against the odds in early 1965 and playing the music of the new “British Invasion,” spearheaded by the Beatles, which had yet to make a significant mark in the valley. The young men were Tom Crouse (vocals), Joe Clatworthy (guitar and vocals), Paul Selan (bass and vocals), Robert Harris (lead guitar), and Charles “Pedro” Jarrett (drums). The band, called the Mojos, was extremely popular and developed a huge following at the Thunderball Club (St. Albans). In 1966 the band recorded “Go” b/w “What’s She Done to Me”, a 45 rpm record that reportedly was the highest-rated record ever on Dick Clark’s American BandstandTV show. A year later they migrated to Columbus, Ohio, to pursue their dream of musical fame and in the process changed the band’s name to the Muffetts (for legal reasons), replaced Selan with Steve Farley, and recorded a number of 45 rpm records under various names and with shifting personnel. But, as with many such bands, the success eventually came to an end.

During the 1967-68 period the music scene in Charleston and the Kanawha Valley changed dramatically. One of the prime reasons for this was Ray Brack, a former executive editor of Billboard magazine, who moved from Chicago to Sumerco in Lincoln County around 1969 in order to buy cheap land as part of the so-called “back-to-the-land” movement. Upon arrival he immediately began work at The Charleston Gazette, where he launched a youth–oriented page called “Thirteen-To-Thirty” or “T-T-T,” which ran every Saturday.

Brack once stated, “Where there isn’t a music scene, you create one,” and without a doubt his weekly page helped to do just that. For some four years, his column was anxiously read each week by area musicians and fans. In 1973 he published his own newspaper, the West Side Weekly. He also briefly managed a concert hall on the west side, at the site of the old Jamboree Hall (the former Custer Theater). He eventually left to take a job as a printing director for the Appalachian Educational Laboratory, but his contributions to the area music scene during those early years were immeasurable.

By the late 1960’s the national trend toward hard rock music had invaded the valley, fronted by such bands as the Bristols (with guitarist Dick Allowatt), Yesterdays Morning, Better Days, and the short-lived but highly touted Powerhouse, a group featuring guitarist Randall Wray, bassist Bruce Corey, drummer Gordon Cupit, and ex-Mojo Paul Selan. This group was known as Charleston’s first true “super group”, as both Wray and Cupit had come up through the ranks of the Rooks, the Fascinations, and other local soul bands, and both were considered by many to be among the best on their particular instruments. Wray became a local legend with his intense, blistering, blues-based guitar work that could hold up against the best in the nation. During its short existence Powerhouse caught the approving attention of rock guitar giant Jimi Hendrix when he performed in Charleston.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.