Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Greater Experience

The Greater Experience ran from 1969 to 1975, and were an eight man band from Lynchburg, VA. Despite their “Don’t Forget to Remember” having been around for years on the UK scene, well known and classed as an established ‘alternative oldie’ by some, the actual 45 has remained elusive to collectors and has maintained a high price over the last 30 years. Until a couple of group members were located for this project, very little was previously known about the label or band history. Technically this track falls just outside our focus on sixties soul (having a release date of 1970), however more than deserves inclusion here due to its popularity amongst sixties soul fans in the UK. Despite its relatively late release it has all the spirit and feel of 1960s beach and then some, with its infectious and relentless uptempo rhythm and impressive organ and horn section. Band members were Jerry Mitchell (lead vocals), Roger Scruggs (guitar), Chip Wood (alto saxophone, flute, rhythm guitar), Johnny Dodson (hammond organ), Ed Burnette (trumpet), Robert Tunkel (tenor saxophone, trumpet and flute), Chuck Wall (drums) and Russ Hovda (bass guitar). The label name Colony ‘13’ refers to Virginia state, as one of the original thirteen colonies that declared independence from the British Empire. The record itself was distributed by Colony Sound Productions from Danville, which gives a clue to some of its history. This record had links with Frank Koger’s House of Sound recording studios, sharing the same Colony Sound Production credits as The Mustangers release on Piedmont, one of Koger’s labels. Chip, Ed and Chuck remember that the track was recorded in Greensboro, North Carolina but was pressed up in Danville.

“Don’t Forget to Remember” was brought to the attention of the UK northern scene in 1978, following a Philadelphia record buying trip by DJ and collector Arthur Fenn:

“I went on a trip with two friends, Dave Raistrick and Ady Dundas, in the early part of ‘78. I'd been told of this huge warehouse called the House of Sounds (no connection with Koger) in Upper Darby in Philly.  I have a book in my office about the corruption in the music business with MCA. It talks about John Lamonte (the warehouse owner) and how he was a small time player! Yeah, with 30 million 45s. How funny is that? Anyway, we were shown a new batch of 45s - some 300,000 of them. The place was so big and this load was just sitting in one corner of one room on one of the floors.  We were offered a deal for the lot at three cents each, or cherry pick at 25 cents.  We went pickin’. 

Even then, we were after records we didn't know and pulled anything that looked interesting. I remember when I found The Greater Experience, I thought it was something else as the label is similar to a record on Holly by Billy Arnell (“Tough Girl”). I was disappointed and just put The Greater Experience record in our pile of unknowns. Later in the trip we found ourselves at Fred Bohn's house in Pittsburgh, way before he opened up Attic Records.  Fred was given the job of splitting the unknowns of our trip between the three of us, we each had 7 records. Three of mine were The Greater Experience, Danny Owens on Manhattan, and Don Ray on RCA. It wasn't until I got home that I realised what a great record The Greater Experience was and decided to keep it a secret by giving it the false name of Billy Parker "I Can't Let Go". I had just got my first two big DJ spots at Cleethorpes Winter Gardens and the Fleet all-nighter at Peterborough. I did something at these two places that I've never done before (or after) - to start and finish all my spots with that record. I guess it stayed an exclusive for a couple of years by which time I'd played it at many clubs around the UK, including my one time guest spot at the Wigan Casino, before selling on to Soul Sam in 1980.” 

Since then, a few copies of The Greater Experience have surfaced. Ten copies were reported to have turned up in a thrift store in Virginia in October 2003, where the lucky finder paid 35 cents each for them, not aware of their value at the time (bear in mind this is a £400 piece of vinyl at the time of writing). Most were quickly moved on via ebay and one directly to a US private collector. No further reports have been made since of more finds. Initially locating the band members was impossible. UK soul collector Dave Abbott did have some communication from a close friend of Jerry Mitchell, after Jerry died:

“He passed away March 16, 2011 in Roanoke, Virginia at the age of 62. He found out he had cancer about seven months ago. He was a very talented singer. I have a video from the beach at Outer Banks one year we went on vacation of him singing "Brick House" and "Easy" by The Commodores. It was awesome. I just wish now I'd had more things recorded. Thanks again for posting that song. It means a great deal to me.”

Roger Scruggs and Chip Wood are still active in the music business today. Roger gave a potted history of the band: 

RS: Chip, Chuck, Ed, and I went to E.C. Glass High School (Lynchburg). We graduated in 1970 / 1971. Jerry, Johnny, Russ and  Robert were older guys who lived and played in bands around Lynchburg, VA. We had all played inprominent local bands and met through friends. We mainly played colleges, frat parties and lots of local private parties. We could take The Greater Experience into just about any type of social gathering! We played soul from the late 60’s like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, & James Brown but we were also into Blood Sweat & Tears, Cold Blood and The Ides of March.

MW: How many records were pressed of “Don’t Forget to Remember”? Five hundred? Less?

RS: Jerry Mitchell kept up with the records. Probably under five hundred were pressed. I have one copy in my collection. It was a thrill to hear ourselves on the radio. Jerry Mitchell once told me he was driving around with his son telling him about our song being on the radio. When he turned the radio on “Don’t Forget to Remember” started playing. He said his son thought it was magic that his dad could do that!

RS: It got a lot of airplay on local WLLL. Jerry Mitchell also worked for WLVA, local TV. We actually launched the record on WLVA’s Christmas party, which was televised 1970.

MW: Did you guys know The Lost Soul on the Raven label (“A Secret of Mine” and “I'm Gonna Hurt You”), though it might have been a year or two before you guys? Any other memories?

RS:  I believe those guys were from Waynesboro or Staunton, VA. A girl I went to school with gave me their 45rpm. I still have it. They were a couple of years ahead of us. It was a great time to be alive and to be playing music. When I first met Jerry Mitchell he used to come by my house and hang out. He was a real lady’s man and could get us young guys into lots of good trouble! When I first heard Jerry had cancer I really felt bad. I pulled out my old E.C. Glass 1970 High School Annual that I hadn’t looked at in years. When I picked it up several small pieces of paper fell out. They turned out to be Jerry’s hand written lyrics to “Don’t Forget To Remember”. I guess Jerry stuffed them in there back in 1970. Everytime I think about it I feel like he wanted me to remember him. A few months later Jerry died.

MW: Were any other tracks made at the session you did for “Don't Forget to Remember” for Colony 13?

RS: “Don’t Forget to Remember” and the flip side “Carole’s Carol” were the only two songs we recorded then. Carole’s Carol was written by our sax and flute player Robert Tunkel, for his wife Carole. I do have several old reel-to-reel tapes of the band playing live back then. We did have another original tune somewhere on one of those tapes. Chip also has some old reel to reel tapes. We need to sit down and go through them soon. I have sent you a live recording we made in fall of 1970 at Lynchburg College. The quality is pretty bad as it came from an old reel to reel recorder. I believe it's the first time we played ‘Don't Forget to Remember’ out live before it was recorded to 45 rpm record. Unfortunately only got about half before the tape ran out.

CW: It is pretty cool that there is so much interest in our band after all these years. I came across an auction several years ago that had the 45 record listed for bids.  At the time the bid was pretty high and I was shocked.  It is great that the song is still being played and enjoyed by northern soul fans.  As to where the recording was made, I really don't remember.  What I remember most was the studio cost of $1.00 per minute and knowing we had to pay for this was scary.  I kept thinking the longer it takes the more it will cost.  In 1970, $1.00 a minute was a lot of money.  I also remember as we were leaving town to go to the recording session we were listening to WLLL radio.  Our then manager Stan Jason was the DJ on the air at that time and he dedicated a song to us wishing us luck on our way.

After the Colony 13 release, the band members took a different musical direction, being influenced by the Allman Brothers and ‘southern rock’, reflecting the change in the general music scene in those parts during this period. By 1975 the band members had dispersed. Some went on to college, some married and others took local jobs. Keyboard player Johnny Dodson died in 2010. Chuck designed and installed large home theatre systems before he retired.  Chuck, Ed and Chip still get together occasionally. Ed Burnette is currently the General District Judge for the City of Lynchburg. Russ Hovda  is still playing music today. Roger Scruggs is still very much in the business with his band Surrender and mentioned a planned get-together:

“I spoke with Chip Wood last week for the first time in about 30 years. Chip, Ed, Chuck, and I are supposed to get together later this year to talk over some old times. I’ll tell them about you and your friends in the UK. Until recently we never knew the record meant anything to anyone but us old band members and our close friends. I'm glad you enjoyed the record! On behalf of me and the rest of The Greater Experience band, we feel really blessed and thrilled that someone as far away as the UK could be interested in our music after all these years. Good luck.”

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.


Arthur Fenn. Personal coms. May 2012.
Chip Wood. Personal coms. June and August 2012.
Dave Abbott. Personal coms. May and June 2012.
Jack Garrett. The History of Raven Records. Sowcase Magazine, 4 January 2012. Available at http://issuu.com/showcasemagazine/docs/jan_12_rave_web
Mike Gibbs. Personal coms. May and June 2012.
Roger Scruggs. Personal coms. June and July 2012.

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