Situated in the south central heart of Virginia on the Dan River, Danville sits near the Blue Ridge Mountains about 200 miles from the coast. Since the early 1960s Danville has remained a small city with just under 50,000 residents. Primary local employers at that time were tobacco and textiles manufacturers. A quarter of the Danville population were African-American then, though black and white residents kept to themselves. Prior to the Civil Rights Act, segregation was very much in force in municipal buildings, eateries and other public facilities of Danville and 1960-1963 was a particularly busy and dangerous time politically. Civil rights demonstrations sparked off by the Greensboro Woolworths sit-in resulted in a number of violent riots over the summer of ’63, where police and hired garbage workers used clubs and fire hoses on the crowds. Martin Luther King Jnr. and associated organisations came to Danville to speak to the masses and assist the arrested but were unable to quell the violence.
That was pretty much Danville pre-1964. Just like other towns and cities, even after desegregation, residual negative attitudes and hatred undeniably existed within some sections of the community. Doug Hyler from the integrated Soulmasters who recorded for Danville’s Raven label commented: “Being in a band that was mixed didn't make you popular with the older generation of the day. But if there are any praises they should go to our families who supported the endeavour. I remember my grandfather being confronted in a grocery store due to my interests. It was a different time.”
The passing of the Civil Rights Act did indirectly but rapidly make race music more accessible to local white youth in these isolated semi-rural communities after this point. White teenage bands from Danville and surrounding areas wanted to pick up on the Motown and R&B sounds coming through the bigger broadcasting stations, play this material locally and by the coast, and in some cases would recruit a black lead vocal or two to provide them with that ‘authentic’ soul sound. Similarly, many record producers and labels who were a primarily white audience, would now turn their hand to this potential market opportunity.
In the mid to late 1960’s, Frank Koger owned the tiny House of Sound recording studio on Old Piney Forest Road and ran the Piedmont and Raven record labels. The Raven label is perhaps best known in rare soul circles for The Lost Soul’s “A Secret of Mine” (a Stafford classic) and “I’m Gonna Hurt You”, and also The Soulmasters “I’ll Be Waiting”. Koger’s standard deal was $50 for 50 records or $250 for 500 records, often with the band given some and the rest distributed by Koger to radio stations. This could point towards the reason for the level of rarity of many of the Raven releases – perhaps a maximum of between 50 and 500 records were pressed? To date no comprehensive label discography exists, although sixties soul collector George Gell attempted to start one in the pre-internet days, and reports that there were dozens of Raven releases, though primarily country and folk. Frank recorded a variety of genres such as gospel, country, bluegrass and soul from Virginia and the Carolinas.
Gene Rumley from Martinsville, VA was the saxophone player and vocalist for Gene and the Team Beats. They performed from 1959 to 1968 throughout the Carolinas and Virginia, at fraternity parties at Virginia University and for one summer in the mid-1960s were the house band at the Peppermint Beach Club in Virginia Beach. The Team Beats played with Otis Redding, the Kelly Brothers, Freddie Cannon, Joe Simon, William Bell and others. After an initial unremarkable and poorly mixed uptempo release on Leatherwood, they recorded two for Raven, the mid tempo harmony laden “I Wanta Be Your Baby” (Raven 45-2006) and “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me” (Raven HOS45-2011), a very different up-tempo version of the Wallace Brothers release on Sims. “I Wanta Be Your Baby” was actually recorded at Copeland Studios in Greensboro NC rather than Koger’s place but released on his label. Band members were Gene, Charles Hairston (on lead vocals: the only black member and whom Gene found in Martinsville), Lonnie Woodhall (guitar and backing vocals) and Carl Barrow (bass). Rickie Fox was their substitute drummer whilst their regular Mickey Walker was drafted to Vietnam, and played on both Raven records.
Eventually, Charles Hairston moved on to other things. Another record was planned with a new lead singer to replace Hairston and was part recorded. However The Team Beats disbanded after further military drafting in 1968. Gene Rumley became a very successful businessman and entrepeneuring skills speaker, winning e-business Champion of the Year in 2008. He also has humanitarian interests and runs an international charity which provides aid and assistance to orphans, street children and victims of human trafficking. After The Team Beats, Charles Hairston continued to play in a variety of bands until his death in 2009. Rickie moved on to play with the Soulmasters in the late sixties, and still plays today.
There were at least three bands in the mid sixties called the Lost Soul, or Lost Souls, from Cleveland, New Jersey and West Virginia. The specific band under scrutiny here are The Lost Soul from the Bluefield West Virgina area, on the border of VA and West Virginia. They were responsible for two records on Raven: “A Secret of Mine” (HOS-45-2018) - a Gary Rushbrook spin when it eventually hit the UK soul scene in the early eighties - and perhaps the lesser known “I’m Gonna Hurt You” (HOS-45-2032), both rare and very suited to the northern scene.
The waters are a little muddied regarding the dates of these releases. Originally thought to be from 1965, it appears that the band actually recorded “A Secret of Mine” early 1967. They even lip-synched it on a local NC TV teen dance show around the same time. The track was written by Steve Calfee and Randy Conlee who played guitar and organ in the band, a basic production by all accounts but featuring a memorable bass riff and drums. “I'm Gonna Hurt You” was recorded at a seperate session in the same year and is another fine example of blue eyed soul which would stand strong alongside similar material from established acts of the time, such as The Embers.
The Soulmasters were another Raven band, well known in rare soul circles for their "I'll Be Waiting Here". The initial set-up included Doug Hyler (saxophone) and Wayne Womble (keyboards) from North Carolina around 1966. They underwent a temporary name change to The Sensational Soulmasters after joining forces with black vocalists John Irby and Jerry Wilson from The New Breed, followed by further mergers with individuals from other bands from the Danville area, including Gene and the Team Beats, The Kondors, The Continentals and The Majors. Irby and Wilson became the band's front men. The Soulmasters obtained their musical inspiration from listening to black radio stations such as WILA from Danville and Nashville’s WLAC. They played all over the south east, primarily at frat parties and dances at the Pavillion on Myrtle Beach, SC, the Coke Plant, the 360 Drive-In and at Martinsville. Their young age prevented them playing many clubs. This was also still the early days of desegregation; the band did not entirely avoid racial tension from both sides. One advantage however of an integrated band was that they could play ‘black venues’ as well as white ones, and The Sensational Soulmasters became a popular in both. Around 1967 they reverted back to the title of The Soulmasters and went off to record at the House of Sound. Wayne Womble recalled a little of the studio:
“The studio was built in a house on Piney Forest Road. It was not elaborate by any means, just a carpeted area of an old house with a petition for the drums. It also housed an upright piano. The control room was in a separate room that had a glass window looking into the studio. Very basic and only the capacity to record two tracks. The instruments were recorded in the studio and the horn section recorded in a separate room. The combined recordings were laid onto one track. John and Jerry on vocals were recorded on the other track in another room.”
They recorded their only single, “I’ll Be Waiting Here” and the flip over a two day period. “I’ll Be Waiting”, with John Irby on lead vocal was clearly influenced by Chuck Jackson’s Wand classic “I Don’t Want to Cry”. According to their bass player, 500 records were pressed for $200, paid for by a local DJ and promoter. An error at the pressing plant meant that both sides of the 45 were made at the wrong speed and with suboptimal recording quality. The speed fault on listening is not necessarily immediately apparent but does result in “I’ll Be Waiting Here” being a slightly more manic up tempo soul dancer than was intended! Nevertheless the record did get some local airplay and even made the Top10 briefly on WLAC. Wayne has since digitally edited both sides of the 45 to the correct speed and also enhanced the recording. Wayne and Doug Hyler also report that the band later re-recorded both songs:
“The Soulmasters re-recorded "I'll Be Waiting Here" and "You Took Away The Sunshine" sometime in 1969 at a studio in Raleigh, NC” says Wayne. “I was out of the band at this time and don't know exactly how many songs they recorded at the session. Jerry Wilson gave the original master tape to Eddie Floyd in hopes that he could help The Soulmasters further their career. This was a big mistake in that there were no other copies of this recording. The Soulmasters never heard back from Eddie Floyd and the tapes were lost forever.”
Doug Hyler, whilst not on the actual re-recording of “I’ll Be Waiting” was at the session where it was done. He mentioned several songs were recorded, including Otis Redding material. Doug also reported it was years later before Jerry would confess that he gave the tapes away.
By the late sixties The Soulmasters had grown into a very popular twelve piece band, and had played with The Tams, Percy Sledge, Rufus Thomas and Sam and Dave. Luck thereafter though seemed to be against them. Plans were made to tour further afield, including a stint at the Apollo Amateur Night in New York in 1968, but this was cancelled after the shooting of Martin Luther King. They were also unable to go on a month long European tour with Arthur Conley, as many of them were still at high school and their parents refused to support the offer. The group disbanded in 1970.
As discussed elsewhere The Greater Experience may also have had a connection with Koger. Colony Sound Productions, credited on the Colony 13 label, were responsible for another release known to have come from another of Koger’s labels. Greater Experience member Roger Scruggs reports “Don’t Forget to Remember” as being released in 1970. This was also the year that Koger moved to Nashville to pursue a country career and when the House of Sound was demolished. Colony Sound Productions may have been some kind of short-lived transitionary name perhaps? Unfortunately Koger is untraceable these days to ask.
Copyright E. Mark Windle 2013.
References and resources
Jack Garrett. The History of Raven Records. Showcase Magazine, 4 January 2012. Available at http://issuu.com/showcasemagazine/docs/jan_12_rave_web
Jack Garrett. Gene and the Team Beats. From: http://southerngaragebands.com/geneteambeats.html
Andy Patterson and Dave Strickland. Personal coms. September 2012. Permission obtained to use information from southerngaragebands.com
Doug Hyler. Personal coms. October 2012.
George Gell. Personal coms. September 2012.
Tom Mathewson. Personal coms. October 2012. Permission obtained for reproduction of photographs of The Soulmasters.
Wayne Womble. Personal coms. September, October 2012. Permission obtained to use material at: http://soulmastersband.com/