I started my career in Rock I suppose you could say. My first little band was The Apolloes. I was mostly a piano player in those days though I had learned some basic guitar by then as well. I had been at Middle Georgia College for a year and had met Jimmy Ellis. We did a recording and used the name Jimmy Ellis and the Apolloes.
One day, and this is about how it happened, best I can remember anyway, I was walking through the auditorium and noticed the piano lid was up. I seldom got to play a grand piano so I went up and started playing something. In a few minutes a guy named Ralph Witsell came up to me and said "I have a guitar in my room. How 'bout if I go get it and sit in". So he did and we played a few more minutes. About that time Tom Preston came up and introduced himself as a bass player. I don't remember if he sat in that day or not but I think he did. In another few minutes Pat Ray appeared and said you guys sound good. I have a set of drums in St. Louis I can have sent in and we could practice at my brothers place off campus, I think it was the crows nest or something like that, so we all agreed and The Apolloes were basically born that day. Sounds like Hollywood, but that's the gist of what happened. I have often wondered how different my life would be today had I not sat down to that piano that day. I knew very little at the time about putting a band together. I just knew I wanted to play, so I learned.
At first we called ourselves the Calientes but after playing a couple of times and people not understanding what it meant or how to say it, we decided we needed to change it. So having done the record with Jimmy, I asked him to join the group, so for a brief time there was actually a Jimmy Ellis and the Apolloes. We drifted apart while trying to get things going and the four of us wanted to transfer to Georgia Southern but Jimmy wanted to stay at Middle Georgia because he was on the baseball team. So we parted amicably. But by then we were The Apolloes. Jimmy went on to fame as Orion later in his career.
We began as a clone of the English invasion so to speak and it remained a big influence even when we tried to "venture into our own stuff". Mostly a cover band in the beginning, we were just learning to play and put things together so we could play as a group and not sound too bad in the process. But after a year or so we began to build a following and got better and better bookings and actually did a few recordings which you'll find on the videos page.
I think the first songs that we did after Jimmy left was with Bobby Smith at his studio in Macon. I don't remember the name of the studio now, but it was fairly nice. Much more up town so to speak than the little studio in Kibee. But sadly I no longer have the masters to those sessions. Sigh.
And then, Famen. Wayne White, a memorable character I loved, had done work for several studios in Atlanta for studio time. He recorded his band, Famen, but He was also friends with Mojo our bass player. We somehow hooked up and he arranged for us to go into Lefevre's studio in Atlanta where we recorded "Laugh In My Face" that he had written and "Hey" that I had written. It was the first time I was able to produce us. Maurice, the owner, let me take over the board, the whole nine yards. I was in heaven! We released it as our first single if I remember correctly.
The band underwent some changes after the first year or so. Our bass player Tom had to leave the band for family reasons and was replaced by Gerald "Mojo" Cox, a friend of Pat's. Pat also left us later on and Randy, a friend of Ralph's came in from Macon and started playing with us. I no longer remember the exact dates or circumstances, but Ralph Justice was our last drummer and Woody Turner, formerly with the Atlanta Vibrations, joined us on Vocals and Guitar somewhere in there and did the lead vocals on "Slow Down", one of our recordings. It was fun. I loved playing music!
We worked with Pat Hughes of WQXI fame and Harvey Leach "booking agent to the stars" from about our 2nd year on. Harvey booked us at places like Misty Waters, the WQXI dances around town, Frat parties and such and the occasional concert with a Name artist. Pat got us into another studio in Atlanta to record us several times. Again, the studio name escapes me, but another nice studio. We recorded "Gone", our first version of "Summertime Blues" and "Lucille" there if I remember correctly. Don't remember the line up of the band at that time but Brooksy Hunnicutt did the high ethereal vocal for us on "Gone". Haunting. From those sessions we released Gone and Summertime Blues on Soupa Records and Pat (Hughes) subsequently licensed it to another label, White Cliffs.
And then, Famen. Wayne steps in again and introduces us to Johnny Brooks at Atlanta Sound Studio who needed a rock band to back up a lounge quartet that they wanted to give a little edge to in hopes of them becoming something like The Four Seasons. We agreed to swap them equal time for us to be able to record. The evening went well and after we finished the project I asked Johnny if I could move some things around a bit for our session. By this time we had gotten to be friends rather quickly and he trusted me to be able to do what I wanted.
When we got through with our session he looked over at me and said "Baby, you want a job?". I said what do you mean? I was still in college at the time. He said "I want you to come to work for me". He basically said he'd book the sessions and I would engineer and to a large extent free him up on most sessions. He of course always had the upper tier sessions that he did and I usually played on those sessions. But I learned a lot from him and I apprciated him so much. To make a long story short, I immediately went back to Statesboro, packed my things, left school and moved to the "Big City"! An exciting time to be sure.
While I was there The Apolloes recorded "Summertime Blues" and "Slow Down" with Woody on Vocals. We released them on our own label and almost got a deal with Bang Records. They flew us to New York, talked with us, gave us a contract and we went home and had a lawyer read it and he told us to sign it because it looked good. We did, returned it to them and in a couple of days they sent us a note saying basically that they had signed Van Morrison and it would take all their resources behind him. We were disappointed to say the least.
I produced and engineered some other bands about that time as well. One band was The Younger Brothers that I had met while in college. They did a song called Chained and Bound and I found a way to weave a haunting backward guitar into it. They let me release it with my band, The Apolloes, so I redid the vocals, in my best English accent of course lol!, and it became one of of our records. OK. So my English accent is not so good at best!
By this time the Apolloes were entering their 4th year together. We had put in a lot of miles and a ton of memories. But we all had grown up going to college together and some were getting married and one thing or another and we just sort of drifted our own separate ways. I don't think we ever had the meeting where we said "OK. That's it. Were done." It just sort of ended. But what great times we had learning about life, playing music, traveling, finding out who we were.
I'll always love those guys! . . . .