The Blazers


Best remembered today for their On Fire LP, The Blazers were the undisputed rock and roll kings of Blue Ridge, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee. Though guitarist Danny Davenport has had a very successful career in the music industry - included amongst his impressive list of accomplishments is launching the career of Country Rock superstar Travis Tritt - he graciously found the time to recall his days spent as a member of his popular teen band in this exclusive interview for 60sgaragebands.com. To read more about The Blazers, visit http://www.firstake.com/The_Blazers_St.html.

An Interview With Danny Davenport

60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?

Danny Davenport (DD): When I was just a toddler. My Dad sang in a gospel quartet and I would try to sing like he did. They stood me up on a chair in church on Sunday and I sang Honey In The Rock with his quartet. I think I was maybe five or six years old at the time. I loved all the attention.

60s: Was The Blazers your first band?

DD: My first band was in high school. I was a brief member of the FFA String Band (Future Farmers Of America). These guys were soooo cool and could really play. I wanted to be in that band so bad and finally I got in ... just as they broke up!

60s: Where was The Blazers formed, what year, and by whom?

DD: The Blazers was formed in, I think, 1961 or 1962. I could be wrong but thatís close. I was a part of it being formed with two of the members of the FFA Band after the break up. (The group consisted of) The McKinney brothers, Skip (bass) and Johnny (lead guitar), Roger Mull (drums), and me (guitar). This was done in Blue Ridge, Georgia.

60s: There were three distinct line-ups of the band. What were some of the reasons for the personnel changes?

DD: Letís seeÖSkip, Johnny and Roger as mentioned earlier were the first; Ted Christopher replaced Roger after Roger got ill, then the band changed several times after that. I was the only one who played in all versions of The Blazers. The other members were:

First Blazers:
Johnny McKinney - lead guitar
Skip McKinney - bass / guitar
Roger Mull - drums
Danny Davenport - guitar

Second Blazers:
Danny Davenport - guitar, lead and background vocals, organ
Eddie Queen - bass, guitar, organ, lead and background vocals
Teddy Christopher - drums
Ronnie Thomas - guitar, lead and background vocals
Tony Matthews - bass

Third Blazers:
Danny Davenport - guitar, lead and background vocals, organ
Eddie Queen - bass, guitar, organ, lead and background vocals
Bobby Ferguson - bass, lead vocals
Larry Patterson - drums
Danny Postell - guitar

I suppose it was not unlike all other bands. Things change, (there were) disagreements of one kind or another, and the need for individuals to do other things with their lives. Nothing ever changed our friendships, though. I think everyone who played in one or more versions of The Blazers are still friends today some 40 years later.

60s: Where did the band typically play? Did you play the usual schools, parties, and teen clubs?

DD: We did all that. Mostly, though, we played our two canteens. The Blue Ridge and Copperhill Teen Canteens were the hot bed for the whole region at the time. Itís fun to look back now and see that these little bands were the center of everything on Friday nights after the high school games and Saturday nights at the canteens. When it was all said and done, the Canteen played a really serious roll for those four or five years in the lives of all teenagers in that region and The Blazers and other bands were a big part of that. It was a time that will never come again, and thatís really sad. I wish my children could have had a place like that to grow and be a part of something so special.

60s: What would you say were the differences between the CopperHill and Blue Ridge Canteens?

A: Well, we loved them both. We actually started at the Blue Ridge Canteen but started to play both and give other bands a chance to play Blue Ridge when we played CopperHill. The CopperHill Canteen is "Home North" for us as well. We had many, many great times there including the night of THE GREAT FIGHT which broke out and caused all kinds of havoc! That will be a part of my book when it comes out. The similarities were that both were home to local and regional bands and both brought full houses when these bands played. The CopperHill Canteen hosted some of our favorite memories of that time as well. The main man who kept it going was Jerry Dalton who was always there and kept it organized. It was located in the Copperhill YMCA building which also was the local library and had a gym upstairs which became the CopperHill Canteen on Saturday nights. It was a great place to play. Many people would start at one Canteen and end up at the other on Saturday night.

60s: The Blazers were kings of the area...but which band was your closet competitor?

A: I always thought The Lovin' Machine was the best band I ever saw and played with back then. I loved that band. Don Boring was the keyboard player and sax player. No one else had a sax player in the area and he just blew me away. The other bands were all excellent bands, too. The Mondells, The Twilights and The Unknowns were the other most popular bands other than The Blazers. As time went by, new bands started to appear like Red Beard and The Pirates and a few others. These bands were all very good and talented and could carry their own fans as well. It was a very good pool of musicians who created this north Georgia phenomenon of Canteen band history. If I had to pick one as our biggest competitor, I guess for a while it would have been The Twilights. They had Billy Suit and Bobby Ferguson and they were really a great band. When The Blazers ran into our member problem and the "Red Flame Coat Blazers" broke up, we stole Bobby from them to be a member of The Blazers and play bass and sing.

They were all really good bands and could pull their own fans to shows - they just weren't The Blazers! When The Blazers had personnel problems and someone dropped out, we just pulled the best players from the other bands. Mean, huh? Hey, it was the way it was. If you got invited to join The Blazers, you did it. We were all kids, and playing with The Blazers was big stuff. No one ever turned us down.

I guess you'd say (we were) about as popular as it gets on a local level. I mean, we truly were top dog (other bands might disagree - laughs), but after The Blazers, there were the rest of the bands in the area, and even the best local bands in Atlanta started to come up to North Georgia to play with us - Kudzu and The Loviní Machine, just to mention a couple. We could hold our own with them, too. It was a great little band. I guess if you looked at the region we lived and played in as the world, then we were The Beatles - HA!

60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?

DD: Our sound was really our best feature. We could do originals and sound like "The Blazers" (but) we could also do covers. On our web site, well, you be the judge - we sound like the band on the records to me. At least we thought we did. You had to do covers, as you well know. It was okay, though; we'd buy the latest records each week and be doing the new hits before they reached the top. We were really dedicated to being on top of the latest hits. We were very versatile, too. Our biggest influence though, I guess, was The Ventures, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Although we did cover most all types of music, we loved the English Invasion.

60s: Did The Blazers have a manager?

DD: In the sense of a paid manager - no. Joe T. O'Neal, the man who started the Canteen in Blue Ridge was the closest we ever had to a real manager. I guess you could say he was every ones manager tho. All the kids loved him and knew he was there for our benefit. He helped us set up the Beatles Party (NOTE: The Blazers dressed up as The Fab Four and performed on stage) at the Canteen which led to our gig in Jekyll Island.

60s: A newspaper article from the time reported O'Neal signed the band to a contract that afforded you weekly pay. This seems like an unusual agreement for the time. How long was the contract for?

DD: I don't remember much about that. Being kids, we did what we had to - just get on stage and play. We trusted Joe with our lives and would have done anything for him and he for us as well. I can't remember the contract being an issue at all for any reason. We just played where we could get a job and Joe really helped us do that. We played all the way from one end of Georgia up into Chattanooga and Knoxville, as well as Atlanta. We played for colleges and VFW Clubs and private parties too.

I remember one private party in particular we played for which was unique. If you've ever driven the interstate highways of Tennessee, you have seen the Stuckey's signs. This was the Stuckey candy guy. It was big in this part of the country back then. Well, the quadruple millionaire owner was a guy named Bill Stuckey. I don't remember all about him, but I think at some point he was also involved in politics...maybe he was even a big politician but at the moment I can't remember. Anyway, he tracked us down and wanted us to play for a private party at his house. We were astounded that this guy would go out of his way to find us and get us to do this for him. Of course we did and it was an amazing event. It involved this guy who was at the party who wanted us to get involved in some sort of racket he was in which involved airplanes and smuggling stuff. It was too weird. We were to be a front for the travel in the planes if I remember correctly. This had nothing to do with Bill, this guy was just at the party, heard us play and started talking. Also, he may have been a little tipsy. That had to be the weirdest gig we ever did.



60s: What was it like playing on Jekyll Island?

DD: It made for the greatest summer ever. We had a condo paid for on the beach. We played three or four major hotels poolside and convention halls all summer long. It was like a dream come true for four young men from North Georgia. Joe was always trying to find ways to help the community and this was a natural since The Beatles had just broke on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW and the British Invasion was on!

60s: The Blazers performed for the Georgia Press Association while on Jekyll Island, and it was that gig that reportedly really put The Blazers on the map...

DD: True, the Beatles Party photos ended up in the local papers and were spotted by the Georgia Press Association who asked us to play for their yearly convention which was being held at Jekyll Island on the Southern Georgia Coast. It was a really exciting gig and the original Blazers were just awesome! I really believe we could have given The Ventures a run for their money. Johnny McKinney was our lead guitarist and just an outstanding player. His brother Skip was our bass player and equally talented and did most of the arrangements. Roger Mull was our drummer and I was the rythym guy for the most part. Johnny let me take the lead now and then if I knew the song well enough. We did the job for them in this arena which none of us could have ever imagined playing in our lives. It was huge with a stage set up in tiers (different levels for each player in the band). It looked like something off SHINDIG or HULLABALOO. We must have done good as they say, bcause the management of the Island liked us so much they offed us a gig to play the whole summer, which we did.

60s: Did you get to tour much at all?

DD: We traveled some in eastern Tennessee, Georgia, and some in South Carolina. But, like I said earlier, (we played) mostly in our hometowns of Blue Ridge and Copperhill.

60s: Newspaper articles of the time also reported that The Blazers played weekly on a local radio station. Which station was this for?

A: I can't remember which station - or if that even actually took place. I think it did maybe for a few weekends an then we just couldn't make our hotel dates and do the radio, too. One had to go...and the hotels were paying our salaries so that was that.

60s: Did The Blazers participate in any Battle Of The Bands?

DD: Yes, we did. We played several and did very well. We won a recording contract offer at a local competition in Blue Ridge at one point and were offered a "record contract" by this (fly by night) company. We came down to Atlanta to meet with them to discover it had been a rip-off. Sadly, we learned a valuable lesson. Things aren't all what they seem. We also played in several Atlanta competitions and came in fifth I believe in the Quixi in Dixie Hot Radio competition (WQXI radio station). We thought we did well enough to win but fell short somewhere, I guess. We were asked to open for Paul Revere and The Raiders and Brian Hyland at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart as a result of that competition though and, to us, that was better than the $1,000 prize the winner got. So hey, we were winners after all. This was the second version of The Blazers and - in my memories - the best version of all. We had red velvet flame custom made jackets and new red Gibson SGs and Vox Super Beatles, and traveled in a custom made ambulance. Talk about hot!

60s: Whose idea was it to have the band travel around in the ambulance?

DD: The Ambulance was a great idea but I can't tell you exactly whose (idea it was). We all wanted it really bad though. I can tell you that my Mom and Dad signed for it and Raymond Akins from the Akins Funeral home in Blue Ridge took me and my Dad to Knoxville to buy it at a place which sold used ones. Raymond knew the people there pretty well and had called ahead to set up a meeting, so off we went. I do remember how great it was to see it and to know it was gonna be ours. It was an Oldsmobile and was grey and white. No mistaking it for anything else; it was for sure an ambulance when you saw it, and still had the working blinking red lights in the grill. What we didn't know was that it was only one of four ever made like it in the whole world. When I put up the web site for The Blazers, I got a few emails from collectors who would have died to get their hands on it now - but no one knows where it is.

Like I said, it was grey and white two tone and stayed that way for a long time. It had all the gear taken out of the back which was good because we didn't have to remove it ourselves in order to hold all our equipment. It also had one folding "jump seat" in the back and we had to take turns riding back there with the equipment. It was "hard time" on the road for whoever had to do it and there was NO air back there and you couldn't roll down the window either. We took turns. We had these signs made for the rear windows and we still have one of them, believe it or not, which will go in the museum along with my guitar, Teddy's gold jacket, and a ton of other stuff from donations made by the Canteen Membership.

60s: Wasn't the ambulance painted red at one time?

DD: We all had a blast getting the paint job done. We pulled the ambulance down in our back yard and got the water hose and a box of sand paper and for a couple of days, we wore out our fingers and arms getting it ready. I can't remember exactly who or where we had it painted by but one thing we all agreed on was the color...RED! The color was just a natural choice for us: the red flame jackets, our red drum set, our pink and grey set of Slingerlands, our red Gibson SGs (I wish I had a closet full of those babies now, too)...Oh, the flash of it all! I have to tell you, when we pulled up for a gig EVERYONE knew we were there. It was without a doubt, the coolest ride around! The Blazers had everything... but a hit record! The make up of the band at this time was: Teddy Christopher on drums; Eddie Queen on vocals, guitar, organ; Ronnie Thomas on vocals and guitar; Tony Pitman on bass; and me on guitar, vocals, and organ.

60s: What do you recall about the Merchandise Mart gig?

DD: To be honest, I am starting to feel a bit memory challenged at times...ha! I can't remember for the life of me how we ended up on that stage. I mean, I think it was part of an audition we did for WQXI Radio in Atlanta, or maybe part of a contest - or maybe both. I do know it was the biggest thing we'd ever done, and it called for a new wardrobe! We all got these really cool gold blazers from Ferris Maloof in CopperHill, Tennessee. Ferris was one of our biggest fans and supporters. He helped us with lots of things including the recordings we made - both the acetate and the album. Anyway, he owned the local business, "Maloofs On The Corner" in downtown Copperhill and could special order just about anything we wanted so that's where we got the gold outfits.

60s: Did you meet Paul Revere & The Raiders?

DD: Yes. We did meet Paul Revere but only for a second...sort of a "Hi and Bye" thing. However, we did spend some time before the show with Brian Hyland (Sealed With A Kiss), who was also on the show, and I remember that very well. He was a really nice guy but for what ever reason couldn't get his guitar in tune so I tuned it for him. I felt really good about that and I know he appreciated it. My (clearest) memory of that show, though, was that our bass player Tony came down with the flu the day of the show and was as sick as a dog. Fever, nausea - the whole thing - and he could barely stand up. He came through though and we did the show. We thought for a while we'd have to drop out, but some how he did it without upchucking on stage. I'll never know how he managed it but thank goodness he did and it was a really big successful show for us. We got a great ovation and really felt like the big time! I know there are picturess of it somewhere and some day they will surface, but I just can't locate one right now...what a shame. The Blazers were hot in those gold outfits.

60s: Were the various matching outfits a trademark of the band?

DD: We always tried to look nice and have some sort of impact. We also had blue nehru jackets as well as yellow-ish tan ones. The red custom-made flame jackets were made by my (later to become) mother-in-law and now, my daughter Kristy, is making another one for me to be displayed in the Museum along with the other Blazers stuff we have. I thought it would be appropriate for the granddaughter to make the new one. Cool, huh? We were well dressed most of the time.

60s: Your group released one single that I'm aware of: The Way It Was b/w Don't Pick On Me. What do you remember about the recording session?

DD: Well, it never actually made it to a single "release" status, per se. The acetate was our first recording ever. It was done at Master Sound in Atlanta. One of the local business owners, Ferris Maloof in Copperhill, took us down to Atlanta and we did the songs in about an hour. We were scared to death and he'd only booked an hour of time so we did our best to get rid of the nervousnessÖbut still had problems. Our harmony was off on The Way It Was, and we didn't have time to go back and fix it. The first half of the song is noticeably off but the second half is okay. Don't Pick On Me was better and had no problems, but unfortunately that side was completely ruined by what ever happened to the acetate. Something liquid was spilled on it and ate the plastic covering on that side of the platter. Sad, but we did manage to The Way It Was on tape and now on CD. The sound isnít perfect, but Iím glad I transferred it to tape when I did or it might not be even useable at all now.

60s: Did The Blazers write many original songs?

DD: Yes we did. We wrote many but only did a few of them on stage. We did the ones we thought could hold up against the current hits on the radio. If not, we just didn't do them. Our originals did work great live, though.

60s: The Blazers recorded an LP (On Fire)...

DD: This was recorded by the final version of The Blazers. The local chapter of the Jaycees asked us to do an album for them to help raise money for their charities. We were all too happy to oblige. We called several studios in Atlanta and because of the price limitations, we chose Perfection Sound Studios in Marietta / Smyrna. Jim Crisp was the Owner / Producer and it turned out really well. He was very patient and we were able to do the whole album in one day - if I remember correctly. The photos were done locally in Copperhill and at the Blue Ridge Canteen (it was a live shot). Again, Ferris Maloof wrote the liner notes. The sessions were limited in time because of the costs but we did okay. Although there are mistakes, we felt good about it at the time.

60s: How was the LP distributed?

DD: We pressed 1,000 copies and had no distribution for it. We sold it at shows and the Jaycees sold it at their fund raisers. I think all except a few copies my Mom had kept were sold. I still have few copies which were never opened and are as new.It's quite the collectors piece now and sells for over $500.00 for an unopened copy.

60s: Do any (other) '60's Blazers recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings?

DD: There are a few here and there. (Theyíre) really just reel-to-reel songs here and there of live stuff we did ourselves with my Dadís old Roberts recorder. Iím not sure if they'll play now but I think they do exist. I will at some point try to find them and transfer them if possible.

60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?

DD: No TV, but one 8mm clip does exist. Of course, thereís no sound sadly. This was way before video. The good thing I remember about it though was we were wearing our red velvet flame jackets. Too cool!



60s: Why did the band break up?

DD: We just had no choice but to grow up. Sadly, we weren't really in a place to "make it." We knew and accepted it. We graduated from high school and found out that life changes after that. You either move away to go to college or go to work to earn a living. If you wanted more out of life than to work at the Tennessee Copper Company (mining) then you moved away. We held on as long as we could, but reality sets in and you have no choice but to move on. I worked my way into the music business and stayed there for over 31 years - 27 at Warner Bros. I created Travis Trittís career from nothing to superstardom and a great deal of how I did that came from my experiences with the Canteen and The Blazers. That was my "college", if you will. My book will be out sometime next year, God willing, and I believe all who read it will find parts of their lives as well as mine between the covers of this book. I canít tell you how awesome its going. I mean, not because Iím writing it, but because of the story line. It could easily be a movie. There are parts of it that most every garage band you could name would recognize as a part of their experience in one way or another. It will move a lot of readers.

60s: Did you join or form any bands after The Blazers?

DD: Only one - my current band, BluesCruiser. Itís three of the original BlazersÖfrom version one - myself; from version two, Teddy; and from version three, Bobby. Again, itís on the web site and you might be surprised. One cut, Ain't No Pretty Sight, features Ricky Hirsch from Wet Willie on lead guitar - awesome track! We only do originals. Also, there are some cuts on the Blazers web site if youíd like to hear some of our recordings we did together through the years following our official "break up".

60s: What is your association with Calvin Newton, the man behind the legenday '60's Justice Records label?

DD: Calvin was a pioneer of the Southern Gospel Quartet style of singing. He is a Superstar in that arena. He sang with the biggest and best groups of all time like The Oak Ridge Quartet and The Blackwood Brothers, among others, and is a living member of the Gospel Music Hall Of Fame. I never knew him back (inn the '60's) personally, only as a fan of his most successful group, The Sons Of Song, which he put together and turned the Gospel Music world upside down with. My Dad brought home a copy of one of their albums, Something Old, Something New, and it had a bigger impact on my life than The Beatles did. I loved that album and still do.

After my Dad passed away in 1984 I started looking for that album again. I wanted to know more about the three guys who made up the group. Finally, after many years (and with the help of the Internet), I tracked one of the original members down and called him at home. That was Calvin, and he and I have been very close friends ever since. I love Calvin Newton. We're cutting an album now in my studio which will be released I hope sometime this summer. It's a Blue Grass Gospel Album done with The Suggins Brothers and it AWESOME. I never knew anything about his old label Justice Records until after he and I were already involved in this project and I was just blown away by the interest in what he had done back then. Justice Records has a following and a history all its own and it's huge! Anyone who reads his book, Bad Boy of Gospel Music, will come away with the same feeling I got when he gave me his personal copy of the advance: "This is a movie waiting to be made!" I believe the movie will be made at some point, and will be a huge success when it happens. It's an awesome story, so do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy, you'll be so glad you did.

60s: What about today? How often, and where, do you perform?

DD: I am retired now after a 31-year stint with the music business and making other "garage bands" dreams come true, i.e. The Doobie Brothers, Madonna, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, The Allman Bros., Wet Willie, Deep Purple, Manfred Mann - and on and on and on. I even got to work with The Beatles (Let It Be) and George Harrison, on most of the Dark Horse albums. I got to know George, too, on a personal level. What a great and sweet guy. I have some funny stories about him, too. Mostly though I spend my days working on the Blue Ridge Canteen Programs which consist of :

1. The Joe T. OíNeal Scholarship Program which is at the center of the whole thing.

2. The Blue Ridge Canteen Reunion

3. The Blazers Reunion Concert (at the Canteen Reunion), featuring as many of the original Blazers members as can be gathered together for it - as well as a surprise '60's Pop Superstar who will be our Special Guest Host for the Reunion and will also perform with The Blazers at the concert. How COOL is that?!

4. And finally, The Blue Ridge Canteen Museum - which will feature the original Wurlitzer Jukebox from the Canteen as well as my Silvertone guitar; one of the original gold blazers we wore when we opened for Paul Revere and The Raiders; and my daughter Kristy is making the new red velvet flame jacket to go in as well with the gold one. We also have many, many items to display such as old photos of the Canteen (blown up to poster size) as well as the surrounding high schools letter jackets, rings etc. We are also commissioning an artist to do and original oil on canvas painting of the old Canteen with '50s and '60s cars parked out front with lights on inside and kids dancing visible in the windows. This will be done in the vain of the Mel's Diner type paintings. We will have a limited edition run of 100 of these numbered prints for sale and then the image will be placed on all sorts of "swag" as our for sale items at the museum i.e.: t-shirts, postcards, ball caps, key chains, etc. to raise money for the Scholarship Program.

60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Blazers?

DD: Thatís the easiest of all the questions you've asked. Without question, that was the most exciting, carefree, and happiest time of my life. If I really had one wish, it would be that everyone could have experienced the same thing in his or her lives. This time in music history will never come again. Itís no ones fault; itís just the way it is. Time passes. I am thrilled that maybe my experience might be shared through our web sites and the music and stories left behind by thousands of "garage bands" worldwide can be enjoyed. We may not have made it to the top, but we sure had as much fun as anyone who did. Check out our new Canteen web site at: http://www.firstake.com/brctest1.html. The password is blazers. The address will change later, but for now, itís a free site within Firstake and you can see it before we go public with it.

God BlessÖ

POSTSCRIPT: 60sgaragebands.com is in complete support of Danny Davenport's efforts for the Joe T. Neal Scholarship program. Continue to check back frequently for updates on exciting news pertaining to The Blazers' Reunion...and for all the latest happenings related to the Blue Ridge Canteen




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