A Half Century in Exile: Q&A with J. P. Pennington

JPPLexington, KY - Exile (formerly The Exiles) got its start 50 years ago in Richmond, Ky., playing local clubs, which led to touring with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars and opening shows and providing backup for major rock artists of the period. They hit the peak of their success in 1978 with the rock-pop ballad hit Kiss You All Over. After subsequent pop hits, they re-established in 1983 as a country music group. Between then and the early 1990s, the band had several country chart hits, including the No. 1 songs Woke Up in Love, I Don’t Want to Be a Memory, Give Me One More Chance, Crazy For Your Love, She’s a Miracle, Hang On to Your Heart, I Could Get Used to You, It’ll Be Me, She’s Too Good to Be True and I Can’t Get Close Enough. Exile has continued to record ever since and has projects in the works in 2013. Mike White of the Lexington Area Music Alliance spoke with Exile founder J.P. Pennington.

MW: Exile came together in Richmond, Ky., a rural little Kentucky town where all these extremely talented musicians found each other. Do you find that strange?

JP: Well, you know, it is strange that we could find as many as six guys in Richmond, Ky., in 1963 who wanted to dedicate themselves to being in a band. I just can’t believe it’s actually been 50 years, and also that I still have the enthusiasm for it that I do.

MW: One of the things that you guys brought to the table back in the day, which nobody else did, were the harmonies, which you still do unbelievably today. Why did you feel that was important?

JP: From the moment we started rehearsing together, it seemed that everyone could hear harmonies. You know, it’s one thing to like to sing harmony, but it’s a whole other deal to be able to hear harmonies and how the different parts stack up against one another. It’s just something that, over the years, we have found that we got the best crowd reaction from. We just really like to do it, and still do. We do more harmony singing now than we ever did.

MW: And it makes the music sort of distinctive?

JP: Well, I think it has its way of defining you, especially now. Not many people do it. I’m not arguing with the way people are making records, because I really like the music that I’m hearing now, but it seems like harmony singing has sort of gone by the wayside. We are trying to keep it alive.

MW: A lot of people may not know that, when the band first got together, you were the bass player.

JP: Yes.

MW: Not the guitar player. And now you are one of the finest guitar players that I know. How did it all evolve?

JP: I was always a guitar player, but when the band formed, what they needed was a bass player.

They had two other guitar players, Paul Smith and Mike Howard. I’d never played bass before. As a matter of fact, during those days it was rare to see an electric bass anywhere, because most bands had a standup bass or acoustic bass. … So I was a bass player for the first nine years of the band.

And then we changed some members, and as chance would have it, we changed one member who had to go to the army; it was Mike Howard. The band started looking for another guitar player, and I campaigned to be that guy. The first guitar I ever played on a recording with the band was when we made our first album in 1972, up in Chicago.

MW: You’ve really made a name for yourself as a songwriter. How do you approach that?

JP: I don’t think there are a whole lot of rules in songwriting, other than making rhymes, but I usually like to write from a title. If a title is good enough, then it will help the song write itself.

I’m most likely going to write a chorus first. The chorus is the section that will occur several times over the course of the song, and it’s usually after a verse or two. So I kind of go to the middle of the song and write that part of the song, which is the chorus, and then when I get that like I want it, I’ll come back in and write what I call the dreaded first verse — and then the double-dreaded second verse or third verse. I like to write short songs, short commercial songs.

MW: Any recording projects on the calendar?

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