By Bill Robinson
In 1963, a group of Madison County high school boys who let their hair grow long formed a rock ‘n’ roll band, worrying local adults.
The Beatles, another rock ‘n’ roll band whose music and long hair caused unease among adults, would not come to America until 1964.
So the band that called itself the Exiles, because it was shunned by traditionalists and authority figures, was ahead of its time.
It may have taken half a century, but Exile, as the band came to be known, was enshrined Friday night into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.
That’s a long way from when the FCC deemed Exile’s first No. 1 hit, “Kiss You All Over,” too racy for network television in the late 1970s.
In 1983, Exile switched to a country music format, and the hits kept coming. Of their 18 hits, 11 were chart toppers.
Madison County, where Exile started, is sandwiched between Lexington, where the induction ceremony took place, and Renfro Valley, the hall of fame’s home.
Lexington Center’s Bluegrass Ballroom was sold out for the event that drew many of Kentucky’s elite, in addition to those being inducted.
J.P. Pennington, the only original member still with Exile, paid tribute in his acceptance speech to the group’s past members, which number at least 16.
“We feel we’d be wrong if we didn’t recognize all the former band members who did their part in helping to keep the dream alive,” he said. “We think their names should be read aloud,” Pennington said on behalf of the band.
He started with the late Jimmy Stokely, Exile’s lead singer on “Kiss You All Over.” Next came Buzz Cornelison, Billy Luxon, Mike Howard, Mack Davenport and Ronnie Hall.
They were followed by Paul Smith, Bernie Faulkner, Bill Kennon, Kenny Weir, Bobby Johns, Rand Rickman, Lee Carroll, Paul Martin and Mark Jones.
“It’s the least we could do to recognize these awesome people and publicly let them know we appreciate them for the time and the sweat and the miles they put into furthering the cause,” Pennington said.
Former Richmond postmaster Kim Owens, a member of the hall of fame’s board and Stokely’s cousin, accepted a hall of fame trophy on his behalf.
Nicole LeMaire, daughter of current Exile member Sonny LeMaire, has written a history of the group, “Life In Exile: A Journey Home: 50 Years of Music from the band Exile," went on sale this month on Amazon.com.
Exile wasn’t the only music act with a Madison County connection inducted into the hall Friday.
Old Joe Clark, who lived near Berea and died in Richmond in 1998, also was enshrined.
Clark’s son Terry, who performed for many years with his dad, accepted on his behalf.
Other inductees included Steven Curtis Chapman, The Hilltoppers, the late Skeeter Davis, The Kentucky Headhunters and Emory & Linda Lou Martin.
Members of Exile and the Headhunters talked of their connections and mutual admiration, just as Terry Clark talked about his father’s relationship with the Martins.
Several Headhunters called Exile their inspiration, and one told of when Stokely invited them to join Exile in playing at a popular club and advanced them money to buy gas.
Clark said the late Emory Martin helped keep his father’s banjo tuned.
Linda Lou Martin still lives in Rockcastle County. Her granddaughter, Alexandra, joined Terry Clark in a musical tribute to their forebearers, she on the fiddle and he on the banjo.
After the show, Pennington remarked that he now had two hall of fame trophies, his and his mother’s, the late Lillie Mae Ledford of The Coon Creek Girls.
Exile performed “Kiss You All Over” for their portion of the show, along with an a capella version of a Coon Creek Girls song that Pennington recalled from his childhood, “Didn't It Rain.”
This year’s induction class was only the sixth since the hall of fame’s first in 2002.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6690.