February 25, 1998|By TERI JOHNSON


There's one tune that EXILE fans want to hear over and over again.

Two decades after its release, "Kiss You All Over" still is the group's signature song, said J.P. Pennington, who shares lead vocalist duties with Les Taylor.

"To this day when we start the song, people immediately light up," Pennington said.

The hit, Billboard's No. 1 pop song in 1978, raised some eyebrows because the lyrics could be interpreted as being suggestive.

"One of the things that made the song so big was the fact it was controversial," Pennington said.

Jesse Jackson and Oral Roberts mentioned it in speeches. Several disc jockeys refused to play the song, and one got fired.


The group later had 11 No. 1 country songs, including "She's Too Good to Be True" and "I Can't Get Close Enough."

Area fans can hear some of those songs Saturday, Feb. 28, when the group performs at Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Pennington and Taylor left EXILE in 1988 to pursue solo careers, and the group replaced them and continued to perform until it disbanded in 1993.

Pennington said the biggest reason he left was to spend more time with his family. He lives in Lexington, Ky., with his wife, Suzie, their 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, and their 9-year-old son, James.

He continued to write songs, but he said he really missed being in the group.

One night he and Taylor did an impromptu performance with a band in a Kentucky bar, and they decided EXILE needed to return. They recruited new players and gave their first show in December 1995.

"Here we are, and we've been busy ever since," Pennington said.

The group played 120 dates in 1997 and expects to do at least that many this year, Pennington said.

EXILE also includes Herb Shucher on drums, Ronnie Stone on bass and background vocals and Jason Witt on keyboards. Pennington and Taylor both play guitar and write songs.

Pennington, 49, is the only original member of the band, which he and some friends started in 1963 when he was in high school in Richmond, Ky. The rock and roll band first was known as The Exiles.

The band gained a regional following, but it wasn't until 15 years later that it found success making records, Pennington said.

Finding a followup song to "Kiss You All Over" was a problem. The group continued to make albums for the next few years but didn't find much success.

Meanwhile, several country performers had scored hits with Pennington's songs, including Alabama with "Take Me Down" and "The Closer You Get," Janie Fricke with "It Ain't Easy Being Easy" and Kenny Rogers with "Take This Heart."

EXILE was at a crossroads, and the members decided to either disband or find a deal as country artists.

"We'd gone from touring all over the world to playing in a bowling alley in Lexington. It took about five minutes to make that decision," Pennington said.

He said he thinks the group made the right choice.

"Country music is easier to connect with, especially for people who've gotten past high school and college and are looking for music that makes some sense," he said.

The band, which has recorded some new material and is between record deals, has changed members about 25 times over the years.

One thing has stayed the same.

While Pennington loves singing and playing in front of an audience, he can't shake the nervousness.

"I still have the same butterflies," he said.

The Herald-Mail Articles