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Exile

Exile will perform in Benton Friday.

There have been countless songs recorded since 1963, the year Kentucky-based band Exile was formed. Those tunes stretch from punk rock to traditional country, as writers fill each musical genre with boundless creativity.

Editors at Billboard magazine pulled from every musical style when composing its Top 100 list of Sexist Songs of All Time.

The odds of putting a song on this list was incredibly low, making it into the prestigious Top 10 even more astronomical.

Exile spent 15 years crafting its unique sound and finally used, “Kiss You All Over,” as a signature song to launch their brief pop career in 1978 and make it to No. 9 on the Billboard list of sensual sensations.

The hit-producing team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn wrote the song, but it was the flawless vocal tandem of J.P. Pennington and Jimmy Stokley that brought it to life. It stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart for four weeks.

“It’s our favorite song to sing. After all these years, it still gets the biggest reaction from the crowd,” says Marlon Hargis, longtime keyboardist for the band.

A one-hit wonder on the pop charts, after Stokley departed in the early 1980s and was replaced by vocalist Les Taylor, the group turned into a cross-over hit-making machine in the country market, reaching the top of the charts with 10 of its first 13 singles for Epic Records, including classics like “Woke Up in Love,” “Give me One More Chance,” “Hang on to Your Heart” and “I Can’t Get Close Enough.”

“The secret to our success was that all our material was written from within the band,” Hargis said Wednesday as the band traveled to a show in Jacksonville, Florida. “We were the first group to play on our own records. We didn’t use studio musicians, so it was easy for us to reproduce our sound for live shows. We always sound just like the record.”

Exile will be in concert at 7 p.m. Friday in the Benton Civic Center. Premium reserved tickets are $22 and can be purchased by calling the civic center at 618-435-5700. VIP seating for the show is sold out.

“We were at the right place at the right time in country music,” Hargis says. “Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys moved the industry to a more progressive sound and that’s exactly what we were playing.”

Formed by Richmond, Kentucky high school students in 1963, they quickly found fame by appearing on the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars when it passed through the area. Clark was impressed by the group and had them tour nationally with the caravan, opening shows for B.J. Thomas and Paul Revere & The Raiders.

Heavily influenced initially by The Beatles, their sound evolved into more mainstream rock during the late 1960s and 1970s. As the fire went out of their pop career, members of the group were writing songs that became major hits for country stars, namely “Take me Down” and “Can’t Get Close Enough” for Alabama.

Legendary Nashville producer Buddy Killen, owner of Tree International Publishing and the Trinity Broadcasting Network, was the first executive in Music City to recognize Exile’s star potential.

In 1983, debut country single “High Cost of Living” introduced the industry to the band and they quickly became a dominant industry force, cranking out 10 No. 1 singles from 1984 to 1988.

Members of the group’s prolific hit-making machine were: J.P. Pennington, vocals/guitar; Les Taylor, vocals/guitar; Steve Goetzman, drums; Sonny LeMaire, bass guitar and Hargis.

The magic started creeping out of the band in the late 1980s and after the vocal heart of the group — Pennington and Taylor — left to pursue solo projects, Exile disbanded in 1993.

This story does not have a sad ending. Instead of a permanent split, Exile was on more of an extended hiatus.

In 1995, the band had agreed to play at a fundraiser to cover medical bills for a former crew member. At two practices for the gig, a spark was created that ignited an old flame.

“Everybody just went their separate ways when we broke up. We were getting on each other's nerves,” Hargis says. “When we got back together, it just evolved. It wasn’t planned. There was no animosity. Everything was in the past. We kinda scratched our heads and thought, ‘We’re still pretty good.’ “

Hargis says the band takes pride in delivering high-quality concerts and is constantly tweaking production with to make improvements. In the middle of the 55 No Limit Tour, Hargis says the band is working more than it has in a decade.

The band is currently promoting its new album, "Hits," a new recording of 15 of the biggest songs in their storied career. A book, "50 Years of Exile: The Story of a Band in Transition," was published in 2015.

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VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at vincehoffard@gmail.com or 618-658-9095.

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