History of The Avengers
The Avengers were started in 1964 by Keith Smith and Mike Timms. At that time I was playing a band known as the Emperors. When the Emperors decided they were moving their music in a different direction, I was replaced by Joel Rice. Within a day or two Keith Smith called me to ask me to join The Avengers. I played lead guitar; Keith played rhythm guitar; and Mike played drums. We then recruited Hal Shirley to play bass. This was interesting, since Hal had never played any instrument. Keith and I set about the task of teaching Hal how to play bass. Over the next year or two, we gradually got better and started playing at school functions and local teen clubs. We acquired a trailer to haul our equipment and finally landed a regular gig. This was at the skating rink in Ware Place, SC. We played there every Saturday night for a long time. We also played other local spots in Belton and Anderson.
In 1965 we went to Charlotte, NC, to record our first single at Arthur Smith Studios. By this time, Joel Rice had joined our band as vocalist, and we had some practice sessions at his house on Brown Ave. His Dad drove us to Charlotte, and we recorded “Juliet” and “If You Really Care,” both songs written by Joel and me. I sent the finished record to over 500 radio stations all over the USA. We got some local airtime, but little else. The biggest spot to play locally at the time was the “Chicken Shack” in Seneca, SC. It was owned by Charlie Stancil, and I’m sure that I drove him crazy. I called and called until finally I secured a date for us to play there. BIG DEAL!
In 1966, Belton and Honea Path combined their high schools and we had new opportunities for playing and new band members. While David Galloway was from Belton, he didn’t join our group until we were at the new school. Before David joined, though, our first sax player was Johnny Babb. The addition of a horn opened up many new music avenues for us, and it was exciting. David joined later along with Blair Rice, who had been an original member of the Emperors, and joined us as a lead vocalist. This brought the total to eight. We added South Carolina beach music to our repertoire and began to play a wider radius around Belton. For reasons I don’t remember, we rented the American Legion Hall in Honea Path and put on our own dance. It was successful beyond our wildest dreams. These became a regular part of our music until we all left high school in 1968. We packed the house every couple of months. Had we played only Jr. Walker’s “Shotgun” all night, the crowd would have been happy. David graduated high school in 1967, but went to Anderson College; so the band never missed a beat. We all graduated in 1968, except Joel, and looked forward to an awesome summer. We were not disappointed.
I had been handling the band’s business and bookings and had started using a written contract. This was about to save our summer. The biggest venue in SC was the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. I had sent our demo recording and corresponded with them all through the winter of 1968. We were finally booked for two dates. The first was for one night and the second was for 3 nights, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday toward the end of July, 1968. Well, at the first performance (I think in May), we didn’t do so well. We weren’t well prepared and it showed. I don’t think we realized how major a venue it was. They didn’t want us back, but my written contract held and we went back. When we did we were prepared and put on 3 shows that were fabulous. We were all (including Pavilion management) glad that we had returned. We spent most of that summer playing at various places in SC, but no doubt the Pavilion was the highlight. We played the PAD, Fat Zacks and others that I can’t remember.
In the fall of 1968 for reasons that I no longer remember, Mike Timms stopped playing with us, as did Hal Shirley and Joel Rice. We had a drummer named Dewey McIntyre for a while, and we recruited a singer from Clemson (where Keith was in school) named Larry Laney. We also got a trumpet player named Jimmy Brewerton. By this time, Keith has switched to keyboards, and was playing keyboard bass. Dewey didn’t last long, and we were joined by Joe Morris. Joe had been the original drummer for the Swingin’ Medallions. Joe had married and left the Medallions, wanting to “get off the road.” He discovered that he missed the road and joined up with us. He brought some much-needed professionalism to the band and did a lot to “whip us into shape.”
During that time, I was trying to get us hooked up with Cecil Corbett of Beach Club Productions for help in booking the band. Finally, Cecil showed up at a club where we were playing. When he left after about 10 minutes, we were pretty dejected. However, he called me the next day to say that he loved us and wanted to represent us. We left our association with “Hit Attractions” and signed up with Cecil. He immediately put us to work. The event that changed us happened soon after. I received a call early in the week from Cecil telling me he had booked us to open and back up Arthur Conley in Atlanta. Johnny Babb was my roommate at USC at the time and when I told him, I thought he was going to faint.
First, we had to join the musicians union, the American Federation of Musicians, to be allowed to play in Atlanta. We did and showed up early to rehearse with Arthur Conley. It was a real eye-opener to a bunch of small town boys from Belton, SC. Arthur and his manager, Speedo, showed us their set list and keys, and simply asked if we knew the music. We said “Yes” and the first time we played was when Arthur danced on his left foot all the way across the stage, and we opened with “Sweet Soul Music.” We had played for about 2 hours for a packed house when he started. I can’t remember how long he played that night, but from all the times we played with him afterward, it must have been about 2 hours. From that date, we played with Arthur many times all over the South. He asked us to go to Europe to tour with him, but for reasons I will NEVER understand, we declined.
Cecil must have gotten great feedback from Arthur, because we almost never had a weekend off after that. We played some awesome Atlanta clubs, including a place called the “Athens in Atlanta,” easily the swankiest place any of us had ever seen. We started opening and backing up all sorts of big name entertainers after that. Some included the Dynamic Showmen, Ike and Tina Turner, and Jerry Butler, just to name a few. We also played college fraternities from Auburn to East Tennessee State (the 2 greatest party schools on the planet) to USC, UGA, West GA State College and Davidson College. This is by no means a complete list, just all that I can remember at age 62. We stayed busy.
In the fall of 1969, we had what would be our last recording session, where we recorded “I’m Gonna Miss You” and “Story Books are Lies.” While we were recording, the owner of a local Charlotte club, the Purple Penguin, called to see if anyone was recording and if they were any good. It was yes on both counts. It seems that Willie T had been scheduled to appear and was unable to make it. We played that Sunday night. We were such a hit that we played there what seemed like every Sunday night for the next several months, all the while keeping a schedule of one night stands that Cecil Corbett had us booked into every Friday and Saturday.
In December of 1969, I got married. That was an event that brought my musical career to a close. My last performance was at the University of Georgia. The band replaced me with several guitar players over the next year and a half, changing the name to Quicksand. Finally, in August of 1971, it all came to a close.
Fast forward 40 years. One day I get a Facebook message from a cousin of mine telling me to go to 60sgaragebands.com and read an article. It was an article written by Tommy Hanley about the Penetrations. He was gracious enough to talk about the Avengers and mentioned that our sax player, David Galloway, still played and gave their bands website. I clicked on and sent David a message. It had been 39 years since we had spoken. I then found Keith Smith’s phone number and called him. Later, I had a business trip to Richmond where Keith was the pastor of a Baptist church. We made plans to meet and spent the afternoon together. It may have been 39 years, but it seemed like only yesterday. The next summer, 2010, I traveled with my wife to see David’s band, the Flashbacks. Two of my children went with us. David asked if I would like to sit in on a song. It was the first time I had been on stage in 40 years. My kids had never seen me in that spot. Last August, while reading a CNN article on my iPad, I came upon an article by a writer that had seen a band in 1965, and the week before the article, had seen the lead singer from that 1965 band perform in the same city. The singer spoke about how he had been completely out of music since 1968 until 2007 and how it meant so much to him to be singing again. I forwarded the article to David with the line “how about an Avengers reunion.” He responded immediately “how about an Avengers reunion tour.” He and I set about to locate everyone, which resulted in our getting the weekend before Thanksgiving this past year. It was the first time we had been together in 41 years. We decided to try our hand at putting together a reunion concert. It has been a lot of work, but I am totally certain that when we take the stage Friday night, July 19, in our old hometown of Belton, SC, it will have been worth it.