The history was there — all five decades' worth. So was the notoriety — specifically a monster, nationwide pop hit from 1978 and a string of 10 No. 1 country singles that defined their music during the 1980s.
There was, in short, every reason imaginable for Exile's induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. But the long-running Central Kentucky band, now back to the lineup that made it one of country music's most prominent acts, wasn't about to lobby.
"We've discussed it over the years since the Hall came into being and wondered if we would ever have a chance of getting in," said Exile founder, singer, guitarist and songwriter J.P. Pennington. "But we were the last guys that were going to contact anybody and say, 'Hey, we've done this, we've done that. Can you put us in?'
"But we found out last summer we were going to be inducted. That was quite a moment for us. We were actually in our manager's office in Nashville. (Kentucky Music Hall of Fame executive director) Robert Lawson was in town, and he wanted to stop by to 'discuss another matter' with us. That's when he told us. He just dropped it right on us. We were excited beyond belief."
Turns out Lawson had stopped by the Glasgow area en route to Nashville to tell the Kentucky HeadHunters the same thing. That they will be inducted into the Hall of Fame the same night as Exile delights Pennington.
"We were doubly excited when we heard that the Headhunters were going to be put in, too. Those guys have been friends of ours for so many years.
"Years and years ago, we used to do little local gigs together in and around Kentucky. I remember vividly a band that those guys were in called Itchy Brother (a predecessor to the HeadHunters). We used to play all these gigs together. We've had a mutual admiration society for a long time."
Formed in the Richmond area as The Exiles in 1963, the group rose to national prominence in the summer of 1978 with a No. 1 song called Kiss You All Over. As Exile enters the Hall of Fame, the song is getting a second life. For his next album, country star Trace Adkins teamed with Exile's popular '80s lineup — Pennington, singer/guitarist Les Taylor, bassist/singer Sonny LeMaire, keyboardist Marlon Hargis and drummer Steve Goetzman — to recut Kiss You All Over. It's too soon to know whether this version will be issued as a single, but Pennington is thrilled that a new generation is getting introduced to Exile's musical past.
"That song seems to resonate with them, especially with younger audiences," he said. "I can see it. I try to watch for it because I'm always interested in what young people think about music. They know the song, right along with the older fans. They're right in there cheering. So, who knows? I feel like Trace's audience might really like it."
Even if the tune hits again, don't expect Exile to duplicate the exhaustive touring schedule of its past. At the height of the group's '80s popularity, it played more than 230 dates a year. Today, it handles about 70.
"But it's more fun for me now than it ever was," Pennington said. "I think it's the comfort factor. We're all approaching our mid-60s now, so we don't take ourselves so seriously these days. We're human. Believe me, we're very human."
IF YOU GO
Kentucky Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
When: 6 p.m. April 12
Where: Lexington Convention Center
Tickets: sold out
Learn more: Kentuckymusicmuseum.com
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.