Very popular in their hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia, The Prophets typically performed in venues from New York to North Carolina. During their travels, they performed at Palisade Park, played the 1965 New York World's Fair, and appeared several times on TV - all while still in high school. Though lead singer Steve Jarrell played with many bands prior to The Prophets - and many after - it is his high school group that he considers the best he's ever been involved with.
An Interview With Steve Jarrell
60sgaragebands.com(60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Steve Jarrell (SJ): I started listening to music at a very young age - around six or seven - and had a toy drum set. I was born in Winston Salem, North Carolina and lived there until I was eight. I remember listening to WAAA, the R&B station there, which was my favorite. I also remember going to a Saturday morning show at the movies hosted by a radio station and there was a live band playing. It was a group called Vic and The Versatiles. I decided right there, that was what I was going to do. Later, my parents divorced and I moved in with my Grandmother in the country just outside of Mt. Airy, NC. I went to Beulah Elementary School. That is where I saw my second live band perform. This group was called The Starlights. I remember they wore white suits with plaid lapels and a plaid strip on the pant leg. Too cool! This was also where I would play on stage for the first time. I was in the fourth grade. I played the Marine Corps Hymn on the song flute and was accompanied by Larry Miller on piano. Larry and I would later work together in the '70's and '80's. Larry also became the keyboard player for Donna Fargo, The Righteous Bros. and The Judds. He had an auto accident and his injuries prevented him from playing anymore. I actually started my band career in 1962 when I moved in with my Dad in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
60s: Was The Prophets your first band?
SJ: The first band I was in was in 1962 - The Rebels. We played the American Legion on Friday and Saturday nights for $2.00 a night each, then received a raise to $5.00 each. I started out as the drummer. The guitar player had a brother that was also a drummer and he wanted him in the band. They decided to fire me to hire him. I said, "Don't fire me, I'll sing and play sax!"
My Mom bought me a C Melody Sax at a pawn shop for $60.00. I bought an Easy Steps To Band book and learned the fingering. I also went to hear another local group, The Saints. Jimmy Adams was the sax player with that group and I would get him to teach me stuff. I also became the lead singer in the band and the rest is history. After The Rebels came The Infernos, The Royals, Don Ballard and The X-Citers, and The Prophets. The first gig with The Prophets was on the stage at the Victoria Theater in front of the Elvis movie, GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS.
60s: Was The Prophets an already established group by the time you joined?
SJ: The group was actually started by Ronny Baker, the drummer; Danny Dagg, the guitarist; and Malone Schooler, the bassist. Keyboardist Leon Frazier and I came over from Don Ballard and The X-Citers. I played sax and performed lead vocals.
60s: Did The Prophets really dress in togas and leather thongs?
SJ: Yes - but not always. In the Lambertsville, New Jersey Battle of the Bands, one of the judging questions was, "If you were on TV and the sound went off, would your physical appearance still attract the viewer and keep him/her from changing the channel?" Knowing that most of the acts were dressing "mod" because of the British Invasion, we decided to be different. Being The Prophets, someone came up with the toga and sandals idea. I can't remember who. Ronny's mother made the first togas from sheets and Ronny's dad owned a shoe store. He made the sandals (I still have mine!) for us. The idea worked! From then on we would wear them frequently.
60s: Did the band compete in many Battles?
SJ: I remember a couple at the fair in Fredericksburg that we won. I don't remember what songs we played. I do remember at one, I split my madras pants all the way up the back and at (another) all of the stage lights went out and the rescue vehicles shined their spotlights on us so we could continue the show. And then there was the "daddy of -em all" - the Lambertsville Battle of the Bands that had about 900 entries, I think, and ran all summer long in '65.
60s: This was the Lambertsville, New Jersey Music Circus? The Prophets finished third, right?
SJ: How did you know about that? I've been trying to find out more about that show! Any info you have would be appreciated. I recall the favorite group of the fans at one of the contests was The Galaxies. However, I think a group called The Castaways finished first, an African-American vocal group finished second and us third, I guess. I have a 8mm video clip of the three acts with Penny ?, who was Miss Teenage America at the time. Other highlights (included) Cousin Brucie coming in by helicopter; and meeting Phil Spector, a judge, and James A Michener, a judge. We had to perform two original songs. I think we did I Still Love You and Baby on that show. James A. Michener wrote an article called "Don't Knock The Rock" in Readers' Digest and some other publications. He mentioned us, which was quite an honor.
We also did a shoe or sandal commercial for someone there. The stage was revolving and lots of cameras were filming. I wish I could see the footage.
60s: Other than Battles, where did the band typically play?
SJ: Schools, parties, colleges, and one place in particular - Fairview Beach, Virginia. There were two places to play at the beach: in the roller rink and down on the pier. The band first started playing the teen dances every weekend at the rink. The owners, Paul and Edith Floyd, would not let us play the pier in the early days because we were too young and the pier served alcohol. We started playing there in the summer of '64. I still go back there at least once a year and perform.
60s: Did you play any of the local Virginia teen clubs?
SJ: Yes. We played teen clubs in Virginia Beach. We actually had "teen dances" in Fredericksburg in the basement of St. George's Episcopal Church. They were called "Dragnets" for some reason. The church would sponsor the dances after the high school ball games and twice a week in the summer.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
SJ: We actually played as far north as Sydney, New York and south to North Carolina.
60s: What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?
SJ: In Fredericksburg, I remember The Saints, Satellites, Groovers, and Continentals. In Richmond, The Escorts, Ron Moody & Centaurs, Jesters, and Spinners. In DC, The Chartbusters and Cherry People, and in Virginia Beach, Bill Deal & The Rhondels.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?
SJ: We actually played the Top 40 of the day, but we did lean on R&B - Stax & Motown mostly.
60s: What was The Prophets' opinion on beach music?
SJ: We really didn't call it beach music back in those days; it was just called soul music. We did, however, idolize Bill Deal and The Rhondels from Virginia Beach. Bill and I became good friends, and his death last year still greatly saddens me.
60s: Did The Prophets have a manager?
SJ: Yes. Ronny Baker's dad, Roland "Pop" Baker.
60s: How popular locally did The Prophets become?
SJ: Very. We were the only local group at the time with records. We (played) gigs in New York, (appeared) on TV shows, (and played) The NY World's Fair and Palisades Park with Cousin Brucie from WABC. Our high school would give us permission to miss school for gigs and recording and we were the only kids in school that could have long hair. Plus, we had charge accounts at clothing stores and restaurants. We'd charge during the week and go around on Mondays and pay our tabs after we worked the weekends.
60s: The Prophets released three singles...
SJ: Three singles in the sixties and one single in the seventies for a reunion. The first two 45s were recorded in New York. I remember one of them was recorded at the famous Bell Sound Studios. I can't remember the studio of the other. The third single, I think, was recorded in a studio in Fredericksburg. The reunion 45 was recorded in Richmond at Alpha Audio. We were the only white act on an African-American label in New York. I have lots of stories here about the New York recording days. Call me and we can talk about that. Can you believe we rode in a chariot down Broadway in the togas? We did!
Our singles were I Still Love You b/w Baby on Shell Records; Fightin' For Sam b/w Misty on Stonel Records; All Of My Life b/w Drifting & Dreaming on Look Records; and From A Distance b/w Feelings Are Just Memories on Reunion Records.
60s: Did The Prophets write many original songs?
SJ: Yes. Most of the songs we recorded were written by Leon Frazier, the keyboardist.
60s: Do any (other) '60's Prophets recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings, or unreleased songs?
SJ: I think a few of the songs show up on albums from time to time. I Still Love You is on an album called Signed DC and Fightin' For Sam is on an album in England called The Lost Generation II. Other than that I don't know of any. We all have a couple of 45s left, I think. We do have a live recording of the reunion in '75 and 8mm video footage.
60s: What local TV appearances did the band make?
SJ: THE WING DING SHOW out of Washington, DC and THE CLAY COLE SHOW out of New York City as well as others that I just can't remember. I have 8mm footage (I've mentioned) and somewhere is the footage from St. John Terrell's Music Circus in Lambertsville.
60s: Apparently The Prophets were once offered a role in a movie...
SJ: We were approached by an elderly lady by the name of Georgia Nicholas of Nicholas Literary Agency in New York City. I'm sure she has passed on by now. She had heard or read about us from the contest at St. John Terrell's Music Circus and contacted us about a screenplay she had written. I don't know whatever happened to the copy of the script that we had. I don't think any of the guys have it.
I remember that it had a couple of working titles. One that comes to mind is WHAT FOR ARE YOU FOUR, which didn't make since because there were five of us in The Prophets.
The story line was that a rock band (The Prophets) would play for parties in the homes of the wealthy. While in the homes, the band members would rob and steal things from the houses during band breaks, and etc. The little lady that was the band's manager, also master mind and ring leader of the "band of thieves", would book the band into these parties. This was the role that Georgia Nicholas wanted Phyllis Diller to play.
She sent the script to Ms. Diller and I don't think there was any interest. I do have an original note back from Phyllis Diller to Georgia stating that she was really busy and would get to it when she could. It is signed by Phyllis which is kind of cool.
I don't know if she approached others with the script or not. The whole thing just kind of fizzled out and unfortunately we never heard from Georgia Nicholas again. I've often wondered if she ever had any real success.
60s: Why did the band break up?
SJ: We were like brothers. The first to leave was Malone Schooler. He went into the National Guard the summer of '67. We hired another bass player, but it just wasn't the same. I left and joined a group called The Rotations out of Waynesboro, Virginia. Leon Frazier would later join the group as the guitarist. I later played in Our House, Diplomats, Dick Dale & Deltones, Salt & Pepper (in Thailand), The Donna Fargo Show, and Steve Jarrell & The Sons of the Beach.
60s: How often, and where, do you currently perform?
SJ: I still perform for a living. I also host an oldies radio show when I'm not traveling. I stay mainly in the southeast but we do travel to the Caribbean at least once a year to perform.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Prophets?
SJ: They were the best years of my life. Personnel wise, The Prophets was the best band I was ever involved in. We all remain friends to this day and we get together each year.
"Copyrighted and originally printed on www.60sgaragebands.com