FIFTY YEARS LATER
I'm Mike Fitzpatrick, guitarist and vocals for The Return. In 1967 Gary Kesling and I started playing music together. Here we are fifty years later, Gary has been asking me to do a history report. The year's half over, I should get started.
I'm gonna drop as many names along the way that I can remember.
Fifth grade I got my first guitar. So did my friend Dave Panchot (yes the same guy that plays with The Fugitives, and Hoods Creek Revival). We started a band with our friend Sam Hoffman called the LTD's. Best gig: we played a party in the Henry Clay Ballroom. Larry Ritchie joined us on drums and WCMI DJ Tricky Ricky Cool was the emcee.
We had changed our name to The Sound Wave. Ed Abbot had replaced Sam on tambourine and James Rice was our drummer, (yes, the same guy that plays with Deeper Ground). James had to quit, Ed said a friend of his from Boy Scouts played drums. Next practice he brought Gary Kesling. So begins the fifty years.
We played all the cool jobs that Jr. High school kids could get. Westwood Boys Club, Cattletsburg Youth Center, friends' parties.
We played a party that Dave couldn't do. I don't remember the hows and whys but bassist Bob Sizemore and keyboard player Steve Kinner played with us that night. They were older than us and better than us. Bye bye Dave and Ed. Cruel.
They played three jobs with us before moving on to college. One at Coles Jr. High featured Ralph Morman, the singer with The Outcasts.
A turning point year. The band was just Gary and me, then I met Marc Cantrell (yes, you all know who Marc was). I asked him to join us, he did, we bought a couple Fender amps and a P.A. and the crazy high school years took off. Played all the schools, parties, and pools, Boys Clubs, and Youth Centers. And don't forget The American Place in Flatwoods. Some players that passed through the band those years included: Steve Hanks, Karl Hefner, Greg Hill, Dan Gore. They all lasted about a minute or two each.
Gary became the lead singer when Joey Maynard joined us as the new drummer.
That line up continued on until Sept. when Marc decided to go away to college. He was replaced by Steve Hoffman (yes, the same Steve Hoffman who years later would become our soundman, but more importantly work for Exile). That Dec. Joey left the band.
It was Gary back on drums, Steve, and me. Kenny Chinn joined on keyboards and played one job. Marc also showed up a few more times. That summer we recorded our first demo tape of original songs recorded in my parents' basement where we practiced. In July Joe Thacker joined us on guitar. He had played with the band from Charleston, Pegasus.
We recorded a five song demo of originals at Appalachia Sound Studios (now known as The Recording Workshop) in Chillicothe, Ohio. The owner of the studios arranged a meeting for us at April Blackwood Music Publishing in the CBS Building, NYC. Gary and I made the trip to New York and had a very short meeting. They said they had listened to the tape and sorry but they didn't have a place for our concept. Whatever that meant.
That version of the band kind of dissolved somewhere in early '75. Later Ed Fields joined Gary and me for some jammin' in the basement. Eddie Hart came in and played some keyboard, Ed was playing bass. We played two or three jobs, no big deal. Ed decided he was moving to Florida and asked me if I'd like to go too. In December I was there.
Ed and I formed a band in Bartow Florida called Entrance. Entrance played around central Florida until spring of '77, then we broke it up and moved back home.
Gary had joined a band called "Deuce" with Charlie (Keith) Wineka, Howard Miller, Bobby Murnahan and Andrea Kenny. They performed around the tristate for over a year.
We relaxed. Wrote songs. Thought about next moves.
We formed a band to just play original music. It was called Aire. It included Charley Wineka on guitar and Bill ? on bass. We played one show at Ashland Community College and then broke up.
Ed Fields played a song for me that he wrote. I wrote lyrics for it. We decided to start a new band. We called Gary and Dave Copley. This was Menlo Park. We booked time at The Recording Workshop and recorded our first single, "Wrong Side Of A Gun" and "My Heart". Throughout '79 and '80 we recorded at the Workshop and played clubs (mostly the Monarch Café, Huntington) and shows.
Menlo Park still playing and recording. During these years we recorded somewhere around 25 original songs at the Recording Workshop.
We played the 4th of July at the Ashland riverfront on a flatbed truck. Bob Anders' (yes, from The Whipps) band opened for us. It wasn't called this yet but it was the first Summermotion.
We won the "Next Great Superstars" contest at WKEE with our song "Run And Run". Gary quit the band. Jim Gillespie played drums with us for a while, we won a "Battle of the Bands" contest at the Paramount Art Center. Then we ended it.
Gary started drumming and backup singing for a Show Band called "The Exact Change Band" featuring local Celeb, Bunny Shivel. They mostly performed at Country Clubs and larger Venues and even did some regional touring including Lexington, Maysville, Cincinnati, Columbus, Pikeville and more! This group also included Teresa Conley, Don Gillium and Joe Klaycamp.
Gary continued to be busy with "The Exact Change Band"
Gary and I got together with Teresa and Barry Gillum and played "girl singer" type music. It was their band we were just the side guys.
We decided it was time to start again. We started The Return. The first incarnation included Jeff Sands on keys and Nick Phelps on bass. After Nick had to leave Perry Stephens joined us. We played New Years' Eve at the newly opened Ashland Plaza Hotel. We went on to play that job six years in a row
More clubs, a couple county fairs. The usual.
Verdict's Inn was one of our regular places this year.
Jeff left the band that year and Ray Whitlock joined us on keys. Perry left at the end of the year and Dave Copley joined us.
Played VFWs and Legions, the Mill Run (there's an old name for you) in Huntington.
Danny's East End, also known as the TNT club in Huntington was a big one for us this year.
TNT, Verdict's, and the Ashland American Legion kept us busy.
Ray left the band sometime in 1993. After that we decided three piece was the way to go. The Watering Hole was a new Huntington club added to the mix. That New Year's Eve we played for the city of Ashland on Judd Plaza.
Sharkeys, Watering Hole, Renegades, Boyd Co. Fair, Policeman's Ball, and our first year to play the Tri State Fair and Regatta, opening for B.T.O.
Bogeys Inn in Teays Valley was added to the list. We also played NYE there. We opened for 38 Special at the Regatta.
Jan. of ’96 we started playing at Crickets Too in Huntington. We played there several times that year. It was also the year of Whistles on the Water in Ironton, Bogarts in Huntington, more Bogeys in Teays Valley, Renegades in Barboursville. Those clubs kept us busy all year. We opened for The Drifters at Whistles On The Water. In Aug. we played Summerfest in Huntington opening for Jefferson Starship.
Sharkeys and Crickets Too started us out in ’97. In May we played a place called The Menagerie in Ironton, Ohio. We had to sue them, it’s a long story. In June we played The TNT club, also known as Danny’s East End. This became one of our favorite places to play during this time period. It was also one of the smallest. We were set up in the corner right beside the front door. The crowds were great. The mood was completely relaxed. In July we played Summerfest in Huntington opening for Steppenwolf. We also played Heritage Station’s Party On The Patio a few times.
Played Summerfest, opening for Kansas. Played the main stage for the 3rd Annual Riverfront Ribfest in Huntington. We played for WKEE’s 50th Anniversary Party at the Huntington Civic Center, opening for Blessed Union of Souls and Richard Marx. There’s a long story about that show.
Gary started a commercial recording studio, calling it Darkwood Studios that year and began recording The Return and other local bands. At this time, Darkwood Studios started offering CD Duplication for the local bands.
We played NYE ’98 at JDB’s and stayed for the weekend. In Feb. we started doing some recording, working on “White Roses”, “Guessing Game”, “Serious”, “Try Me”, and “Matter Of Degrees”. These songs became our first CD called “It’s About Time”. It was released on MP3.com and hit No. 2 on their charts.
That summer we produced a very cool video for the song “Guessing Game” with Friley Productions. We started playing at a club called Borderline in Huntington. Played Sumerfest in July opening for War. As soon as we finished that show we had to get to JDB’s to play that night. In Sept. the great Phil Bush joined us as our new soundman. We finished out the year back at JDB’s for NYE.
Another new location for us this year was the AM Vets club in Greenup, Ky. After that came the Ashland Am Vets. In July we opened for The BoxTops and The Little River Band at the Ashland Summermotion. We also played Summerfest in Huntington opening for Loverboy. The Am Vet jobs were short lived. We had been playing at the Ashland club in Oct. When we showed up Friday the 13th to play, the club was closed. No one had called to tell us. We couldn’t get our equipment until the following Wednesday. On the 16th we were informed that the Greenup club had decided to not have any more bands and cancelled our next two weeks. We picked up another new club called Divas (another one I can’t remember), and Peter Outlaws in Huntington. We played NYE there.
Who knew we’d start out 2001 in a club called The Wildcat Tavern in Fort Gay, WV. Still playing the usual Dockside, Mulligan’s, etc. At the end of the year, on Gary's birthday, Dec. 18th, our trailer with all of our band equipment except my guitars and Dave’s bass was stolen. Great birthday present! We played NYE at The Ashland Plaza Hotel on equipment loaned to us by Dan Howard of City Heat and Soundwave Productions. We can never thank Dan enough for the help and later, Gary went to Dan to purchase all the replacement gear that he bought to keep the band on the road. Thanks again Dan!
In Jan. of 2002 our trailer was found way up on a hillside in Fort Gay WV. It had been stripped off its frame and burned. There was hardly anything recognizable remaining but the lock was still on the door and our keys fit it. No doubts that it was ours. We limped along on some borrowed gear until some insurance from Gary and myself replaced things as we went. It actually took a lawsuit against the Insurance Company on Gary's part to get the majority of the gear replaced . Gary won the lawsuit but the lawyers enjoyed their share for their services. Another story all together.
From January to October we were playing only clubs in Charleston WV. The Dockside, Mulligans, Julie J’s, Coles Old English Tavern (it wasn’t really), Uno’s Pizza, Charleston Eagles Club, Billy Sundays Bar and Grill. We also played Peter Outlaws a few more times including NYE.
Gary manages to land a drumming gig with Carolyne Wonderland and the Emperial Monkeys, Opening up for 3 Doors Down at the famous Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, South Dakota for the world's largest and craziest Bike Rally!
Still racking up the miles to Charleston adding Atlantis, and Joeys to the list. The Barboursville Moose brought us back to Huntington in Sept. as well as a little place downtown called Tapas.
It’s pretty much a copy of 2003, we stayed busy. We added Murphy’s Bar in Ironton to the list. We also began recording a few new original songs. We finished three and released a CD called “3 Cuts”
Things changed again. We began playing at the Ashland Elks Club on a regular basis. There was a club on the side of the road in Prestonsburg Ky. called Vito’s that we started booking. There was the Club 52 in South Point Ohio, The Tractor Bar in Mt. Nebo WV., BMWs in Cross Lanes WV., Buddy’s BBQ in Huntington for Thursday night Bike Night, Pullman Square Thursday Nights a couple times, and we ended the year on NYE at the Charleston Moose.
We added a club in St. Albans WV called Tomahawks to our list. They, along with the Ashland Elks, Vito’s, Buddy’s, and Pullman Square kept us busy that year.
A few times at the V Club this year. Also The Laidback in Hanging Rock, Ohio, Holderby’s Landing in Huntington, and parties for the Holiday Point Boat Club. August 30th we played the Charleston WV. Sternwheel Regatta opening for Jefferson Starship. NYE was booked at Austyn’s Restaurant in Ironton Ohio. They were out of their comfort zone and had no idea how to do New Years’ Eve. A disaster.
Also, this year, Gary formed 9 Lives Records and by now, his studio was known as 2 Cat Studios and with the help of Dr. George Borst, became one of the best equipped recording studios in the area.
We added a club called Illusions to our list. Somebody remind me where this was, I have no idea. NYE at the Ashland Moose Club.
In March Gary and I started doing an acoustic Tuesday night at the Fuzzy Duck in Ironton Ohio. That was the birth of The Return Acoustic. In April the band played one night at Sam’s Uptown Café in Charleston, for the door. Never again. One night at the Creekside Café in Cross Lanes. In May we played a new place called Tequila Rocks in Huntington. Another place with an owner who had big dreams and no real clue how to make it work. Another disaster. Holderby’s Landing was still going strong until suddenly it wasn’t. Played the Bike Rally at the Fuzzy Duck.
Gary's Label becomes a member of the RIAA ( the Grammy's or The Acadamy) and has now signed dozens of artists from California to China!
We did some acoustic shows at the V Club, and Fuzzy Duck. The Ashland Moose for the month of March. We added a place in Winfield WV. called The Riverside Club. Buddy’s BBQ, Charley’s Harley Davidson in the summer. Holderby’s had become an acoustic gig that we played a few times. We played the Laidback a few more times. We played the Rally On the River main stage on Thursday afternoon at 3:30. Nobody is there at that time of day. We played Bike Nights for the Texas Roadhouse in Ashland a few times. In Oct. we played our first gig at Frogtown in Ironton. In November we played our first acoustic gig at The Port City Pub in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Somewhere in this period of The Return, one of our early members, Mark Cantrell passes away. He had become a fixture in several local bands. Gary would like anyone to message him about more details as of the time and date and any other info and it will be added to this history.
By now Charleston jobs were pretty much a thing of the past. Most of the places we used to play were gone and what was left just wanted to pay the door. The same was true of Huntington. We were working Ironton now. Frogtown and Murphy’s became regular stops. We still played The Riverside Club. More Bike Nights at The Roadhouse. We played the Bike Rally at Frogtown on a Thursday night to a huge crowd and Friday afternoon on the main stage downtown at 4:00. Nobody’s there at 4:00. That September started our first time at the Ashland Eagles Club. The Southside Pool Reunion Party was fun in November. And don’t forget that one weekend at RT Champs, or maybe do.
Still playing all the usual places. In July we were setting up to play at The Riverside Club in Winfield. We were nearly finished when a storm and mini tornado blew through. All the electricity was out for miles around, up and down I-64. It was completely dark inside so there was no way to break down the gear. We had to go back Saturday afternoon to get it, and the electricity was still out. Needless to say we didn’t get paid for that weekend. Gary’s son Tyler began taking over drum duties in the fall of 2012. We finished out that year with the full band playing NYE in the tiny basement of Timothy’s in Charleston.
More acoustic shows were happening. Timothy’s in Charleston, Port City Pub in Portsmouth, and Callihan’s in Cannonsburg were all acoustic and we played them frequently. Still played Frogtown. Ashland Eagles kept us busy several months that year. We tried a new club in Charleston called The Monkey Barrel. That happened twice. We had the full band in Port City Pub for NYE.
On March 1st, Menlo Park founding member, Ed Fields passed away suddenly of a heart attack. He was still very active in the local music scene and actually had performed the night before his passing and was scheduled to perform that very night. He will always be fondly remembered.
We played Murphy’s a few times in’14. The Ashland Eagles, Timothy’s, Port City Pub and Callihan’s filled out the dates. In December we found Berils in Piketon, Ohio. We played NYE again at Port City Pub.
Mike Fitzpatrick has now released some of his solo projects on 9 Lives Records and is seeing some success in his commercial sound track recordings that he records in his own home studio, "Record/Play"
Went back to Berils in January. in February, after many years away, we were back at the Ashland American Legion. Played March and April at The Eagles, then moved into the Portsmouth Moose for two weeks. Dave Knipp started playing drums with us during this time period. More months at the Eagles and the Legion, then we added the New Boston Eagles in Nov. In December that Legion bubble burst, it was closed again. So we ended 2015 at home.
We spent a little bit of time at A&E Bottoms Up in Kenova WV. early in the year. Added the Portsmouth Eagles to the list. In October we started playing at Bobby G’s Pasts Time in Huntington, doing the acoustic duo. In November we parted ways with the Ashland Eagles club.
Finally, here we are at the 50th year. Still standing are Mike, Gary, and Dave, as it should be. Standing with us are Dave Knipp on drums, and Tyler Kesling mixing the sound. I think we’re playing at the top of our game. So here we go again as old clubs and gigs fall by the way new ones come on. Starting in January with the Barboursville American Legion. We played there about once every six weeks and ended the year there on NYE. Mel’s Place was a great new place in Grayson. Later in the year new owners reopened it as The Hogs Trough and we continued to work there. That summer we began a rotation at the new club, Shooters, in Canonnsburg Ky. We even headlined the Hot Dog Fest in Huntington WV. for our old friends at WKEE.
In this year, 9 Lives Records has passed 4,000,000 in sales of CD's, Album and Single Downloads and streams, has seen one of it's artist placed on the Country Music Highway, Had recordings placed both ona Compilation CD with Eddie Money, done work for Geraldo (Rico Suave) and done the sound track to a commercial played during the Super Bowl.
IT AIN’T OVER YET…
You can get your copies of both Mike's music and The Return anywhere you download your music, iTunes, Amazon.com, Youtube and more!