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Full Band Bio (Continued)
Things always change when that set of artistic hormones kick in. The first big change was the name. The more semantically economic “Exile” became the handle. The just-opened Wooden Nickel/RCA became the label home. Chicago became the recording locale. The renovated recording blueprint was an album that was half-studio, half-live and the exiting-member revolving door spun at an unprecedented pace. The two albums that emerged from this period were Exile and Stage Pass on Wooden Nickel/RCA Records. Short of a conversion to country music, not much else could have changed. Even that would come later. While on the right path, the road got longer. Oh, and they found out that Chicago is freakin’ cold in January.
The next creative bastion to haunt were the warmer climes of Los Angeles and that was home base by 1973. At this moment in show biz history the shift of geometric center of the rock music business from New York to L.A. was in full swing. Though they were camping in a new town, they kept it old school, whuppin’ out the axes at every showcase venue and gathering with a P.A. and lights in Hollywood they could, just to play live. The menu was broad & deep: The Whiskey-A-Go- Go, The Troubadour, The Roxy, maybe even a Hamburger Hamlet or two; hold the Jerry’s Famous.
The first memory highlight in the LA chapter was a meeting with legendary entertainment executive, Jerry Weintraub. As excited as they were about the meeting, the enthusiasm ran out of gas faster than they did in New York when he made plain he expected to be addressed only as “Mr. Weintraub.”
The real highlight, however, was the connection with ûber producer/writer team, Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn known collectively as “Chinnichap.” The Australian Chapman had already revolutionized the early 70’s British pop scene as a member of “Tangerine Peel” when he met creative partner Nicky Chinn. Star producer Mickie Most hired them to produce and write what turned out to be a string of 19 top-40 hits in ’73 & ’74 alone for the likes of Suzi Quatro, Smokie, Hot Chocolate, Mud, then more with Sweet & Toni Basil. The point is that dudes were a Big Deal and Exile was ready to elevate their game with the right Big Deal producer.
An Exile tape made it onto the desk of Chapman in 1975 who decided he’d discovered the “Steeley Dan of The South” as the band had returned home to Lexington, KY. A brief creative romance ensued. Chapman crossed the country to Lexington, loved what he saw, cut an album on them and got them a deal on Atlantic that produced the barely-charting single, “Try It On.” It didn’t fit and they were dropped without an album coming out. But all was not lost.
Along with meeting the Chinnichap guys, this time period brought some of the most significant upgrades to the band personnel yet. Keyboard player Marlon Hargis came aboard in 1973 and he recruited and bass player/singer/songwriter Sonny LeMaire who joined in 1977.
Sometimes, mining the misery of a failure can produce the path to success. The short flight and quick crash landing convinced the band’s creative brain trust by ’77 that a change in musical direction was the answer. The harder-edged rock gave way to a more pop sensibility. Groovemeister drummer Steve Goetzman was now the rhythm section rocket and the songwriting had seemed to be drifting that way for some time. So it felt a natural evolution. Re-enter Chinnichap.
Always intrigued by the band’s potential Chapman made another trip to Lexington at their urging to witness their version of the new direction. This moment was magic. Writing custom-made hits they produced was Chinnichap’s stock-in-trade. The rabbit pulled out of this hat was the iconic ’78 hit, “Kiss You All Over.” The third-time-is-the-charm LP, Mixed Emotions, exploded around the world on the strength of this mega-hit. Selling five million units, it was the classic story of how three minutes and thirty seconds can change several lives, virtually overnight. One week they were playing for the door at a club in Lexington working schlubby jobs like landscaping; the next week they were in LA taping “Midnight Special.” It went that fast. All the frat gigs and bar band gigs got cancelled and in their place came major tours with Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Heart, Aerosmith, Dave Mason and Seals & Crofts among others.
Everything they had hoped, dreamed and worked for over the long preceding decade was coming true. The tour dates were better, the money was much better, the road longer—stretching as far as Europe and South Africa. The second single, “You Thrill Me” didn’t raise any goose bumps in the U.S. but the hits continued to roll across the pond and further away in South Africa. They pragmatically followed the Yellow Brick Money Road the hits paved there.
There were wise strategic business moves that fell in place at this time as well. Among the most beneficial was signing with the highly regarded manager, Jim Morey, who had guided careers as diverse as The Osmond Bros, Dolly Parton, The Pointer Sisters, Whoopi Goldberg and Neil Diamond. A low-profile, high-powered master of the behind-the-scenes career direction, his was the perfect temperament and experience base to guide the transition and channel the band’s energy as much as any band makes that possible.1 2 3 4 5 6