Chart-topping band Exile hits the road performing their greatest hits, step into the extraordinary at Louisville’s superhero-themed restaurant SuperChefs, and explore the history of Ulysses S. Grant and his Kentucky connections and inspirations in this first part of a three-part series.
JP Pennington is a guitarist, vocalist, and the founder of Exile, a band that got its start in Richmond, Kentucky, in 1963. Pennington cites some early advice the band received from Dick Clark as one of the pillars that has kept Exile going strong for more than 50 years.
“He said one thing to us that has stuck with us our whole career,” Pennington remembers. “He said, ‘Never forget your audience,’ and we haven’t.”
The band’s hard-working roots kept them going from the beginning through their 1978 breakout hit, “Kiss You All Over.”
“We went from a pickup to a Cadillac overnight,” says Pennington. “We like to say we were a 15-year overnight success. That changed it all for us.”
“’Kiss You All Over,’ it was a life-changing song,” says Exile keyboardist and vocalist Marlon Hargis. “At that point we had recorded the ‘Mixed Emotions’ album and it had been finished for a while, but we were still playing clubs every week and basically kind of starving. We weren’t making a lot of money. I remember one week we were playing in downtown Lexington for the door money, [and] literally the next week we were in Los Angeles taping ‘The Midnight Special,’ and heading out on a major Aerosmith concert.”
Exile spent four weeks at the top of the pop charts in the U.S. with “Kiss You All Over,” and the song made the band popular around the world. In the 1980s, they started writing and performing country music and went on to have 10 No. 1 songs on the country charts during that decade.
Now, in 2019, the band is touring again to audiences that have been with them throughout their long career.
“Here we are, 55 years as a band and the fans are still turning out,” says drummer Steve Goetzman. “One thing that we hear constantly when we’re signing autographs is, ‘Thanks for the memories.’ We take people back now. That’s where we are in our career. That’s where they are in their lives, and so that’s pretty cool.”
Ulysses S. Grant Part I
Ulysses S. Grant isn’t technically a Kentucky native. But he spent a great deal of time in his formative years exploring Northern Kentucky.
“[Grant] loved horses, and early on, his parents entrusted him with a horse,” says author and historian G.L. Corum. “He, as a very young boy, would make trips down into Kentucky.”
He spent one school year in Maysville, Kentucky, where he most likely lived with family members. Ultimately, at his father’s suggestion, he went to West Point where he excelled at math and looked at becoming a math teacher at his alma mater.
“He graduated age 21,” says historian Ronald C. White. “He was stationed out in St. Louis. It was there that he met his roommate’s sister, Julia, and they fell quickly in love and it became one of the great matches and marriages.”
The Mexican-American War altered Grant’s plans to teach math. He served in the war and was then stationed in Oregon and California.
“He missed Julia and he met the children,” says White. “He probably fell into drinking. The story’s a little bit mired; he might have been threatened with a court martial. He resigned and come home to Missouri and he struggled.”
“Grant was happy to rejoin his family,” says David Newmann, a park ranger at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis. “He was certainly very proud father and husband, happy to be here with his loved ones. But at the same time, he also struggled financially. His father-in-law’s plantation, Whitehaven, had never been a great success. Grant struggled to make a living as a farmhand on the property and resorted to a number of odd jobs to help pay the bills.”
Grant’s father, Jesse, owned leather goods stores in Covington, Kentucky, and other locations. When Grant asked his father for a job, he sent him to Galena, Illinois, to work for his younger brother at one of the family’s stores.
“All of a sudden, in April of 1861, Fort Sumter gets fired on,” says historian Christopher Burns. The beginning of the Civil War was the end of Grant’s career selling leather goods. “Grant walks out of the store and he said it was one of the happiest moments he ever had. He never had to be a clerk again in his life.”
However, Grant’s first role was at a desk in Springfield, Illinois.
“He helps muster in new regiments, troops and acts as an adjunct to the state,” says Burns. “He lives in a little nook up in the old statehouse which is still there. It’s called Grant’s nook in a little corner under a staircase and that’s where he does all this work. He travels back and forth between Galena and Springfield and finally he gets a command by Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne and he becomes Col. of the 21st Illinois infantry division.”
Louisville’s popular spot, SuperChefs, started out as a pop-up concept that gained a big following early on.
“We started back in 2012 at a gyro restaurant,” says Rodney “Rock Alan” White, co-owner and chef at SuperChefs. “We would do breakfast there and then around 11:00 they would come in and do gyros.”
“We started Derby week, and by the time July hit, we’d already been offered three other restaurants to go into and do our same pop-up concept,” says co-owner and executive chef Darnell Ferguson.