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Kingsmen Quartet (1956-present)
Brothers Raymond, Reece, and Louis McKinney formed the Kingsmen Quartet in 1956. Pianist Charles Matthews was also a member of that early group. Matthews died unexpectedly and was replaced by "Little" David Young, who was a student at Mars Hill College at the time. Charles Collier and Harold Bailey were members of the group in 1958 along with Young.
Eldridge Fox had been a member of a group called the Silvertones in 1953 along with Frank Cutshall. Both men went into military service within a year. When Fox joined the Kingsmen to play piano in 1958, he was returning to the same group in a sense. Charles Matthews had been a member of the Silvertones in 1956 when he and the McKinneys changed the group name to the Kingsmen. After two years with the Kingsmen, Fox left in 1960 to form a group called the Ambassadors (along with bass singer Calvin Runion). Two years later he worked for the Statesmen Publishing Company for a couple of years. He returned to the Kingsmen in 1964 to play piano. He switched to singing baritone in 1965 and in 1970-71 became the group owner. He would eventually step down from singing baritone as in later years he did not travel with the group all of the time. This trend of a group member leaving, then returning later would be followed by a number of key group members in the future.
Longtime bass singer Ray Dean Reese was another example. Upon returning home from the U.S. Army after two hitches, Reese joined the Silvertones when one of the McKinney Brothers reformed the group in 1963-64. In 1967, he began his first stint with the Kingsmen after singing with various groups including The Inspirations. A year later, he left to drive a JFG coffee truck and sang bass in two different groups over the next three years: Pine Ridge Boys and Journeymen and Kathleen. Reese returned to the Kingsmen in early 1971 around the time Fox took over ownership of the group.
A third individual whose name came to be synonymous with the Kingsmen joined for the first time in the Spring of 1971. This man was lead singer Jim Hamill. Hamill was formerly a member of the Blue Ridge Quartet, Weatherfords, Watchmen and Oak Ridge Quartet. He had also pulled two stints with the Rebels prior to joining the Kingsmen. Like Fox and Reese, Hamill also left the Kingsmen for a short time only to return. Aside from the months of May to December in 1976 when he sang with the Senators, Hamill was the group's lead singer/emcee for the twenty-five years spanning 1971 to 1996. In his latter years with the group, Hamill would often sing a few songs and then step aside to allow one of the musicians to sing in the lead spot while he otherwise ran the show. Hamill officially retired in September 1996 at the National Quartet Convention.
In 1973, the Kingsmen released what would become for them a trend setting recording titled Big And Live. On this project, they introduced fans to their exciting brand of singing. Unlike the more polished and choreographed Statesmen and Blackwood Brothers of the previous two decades, the Kingsmen emphasized an exuberant energy. Big And Live also showcased a number of songs that would go on to become classics. Their first version of “The Glory Road” is on the recording. The project also included their own arrangements of “Love Lifted Me” and “Love Will Roll The Clouds Away.” With the success of Big And Live (which won a Dove Award in 1974), and never missing an opportunity for creative marketing, the group soon began to bill themselves as the “Ton Of Fun.” Indeed, when the entire group of eight individuals (including band members) stood on a set of vehicle scales, they did surpass 2000 pounds. The success of "Big and Live led to many more live projects, including "Chattanooga Live" and "Live...Naturally".
The Kingsmen of the 1980s continued to combine high energy, up-tempo music with an exciting brand of showmanship. They recorded more live projects than the average Southern Gospel group, because a concert setting was where they excelled. Popular songs for the group during this time included “Saints Will Rise,” “Child, Child,” and the novelty song “Excuses.” Johnny Parrack, Ernie Phillips, Ed Crawford, Wayne Maynard, Squire Parsons (who went on to form a highly successful solo career), Anthony Burger, Garry Sheppard, Arthur Rice and other individuals passed through the group over the next few years. Burger was so popular during his extended stint with the group, he won the Singing News Fan Award in the Favorite Musician category ten years in a row. For several years after that, the award was named after him.
In the 1990s, the Kingsmen joined forces with Gold City to record a series of live recordings titled KingsGold. Parker Jonathan was singing baritone for the group by this time. Tim Surrett took on a dual role singing lead at times in Hamill’s place, and playing with the band. Andrew Ishee became the group’s piano player in the late 1990s. The multi-talented Randy Miller played guitar, harmonica, and was featured on selected songs as a vocalist. A hit with the sentimental song “Wish You Were Here” featuring Surrett’s bluegrass tinged vocals marked a turning point for the group. The song proved the group could have success with a polished studio ballad in addition to their success in emotion driven concert settings.
In time, Fox and Hamill withdrew from traveling, though they did continue to appear at selected events. Greg Fox, son of Eldridge and longtime drummer for the group, assumed road manager duties for a few years. After the elder Fox’s death in 2002, the Kingsmen Quartet name was retired. The legal ownership of the name was turned over to Charles Burke, a businessman from Maiden, NC and owner of the Singing Americans.
The remaining Kingsmen members toured for two years billed as the Carolina Boys Quartet. During this time, they had a hit song "God Sits On High," featuring tenor singer Jerry Martin. Nick Succi had replaced the departing Andrew Ishee at piano when the name change occurred and Tim Surrett returned the following year.
In 2004, the Kingsmen Quartet name was transferred from Charles Burke back to the group, now managed by 40+ year bass singing veteran Ray Reese. The group subsequently released a project titled Born Again that included several previous Kingsmen hits like “Excuses,” “Love Will Roll The Clouds Away” and “When I Wake Up To Sleep No More.” Vocal problems plagued Tim Surrett over the next year and he ultimately left the group. Surrett was replaced by former Wilburns and Palmetto State Quartet baritone Tony Peace in 2005. Other members at that time included Jeremy Peace at tenor, Phillip Hughes at lead, bass player Jason Selph (who was frequently featured as a vocalist and filled in whenever a vocal part was missing), pianist Nick Succi and drummer Brandon Reese. Jason Selph left in early 2007, and was replaced by Grant Barker on the bass guitar. Barker's tenure proved to be short lived. By the end of 2008, both he and Succi moved on to other things. At this point, Brandon Reese switched from playing drums to running sound. For the first time in many years, the Kingsmen began to take the stage without a three-piece band of live musicians.
Harold Reed replaced Jeremy Peace at the tenor position in 2007. Former lead singer Bryan Hutson returned to sing baritone that same year. After two years without a musician, Cody McVey joined the group to play piano in 2009, but McVey left in 2011. Hutson stepped back into the lead singer role after the departure of Phillip Hughes in 2010. Following a similar pattern, former lead singer Randy Crawford returned to the group to sing baritone when Hutson made the move from baritone to lead. Hutson left to join Soul'd Out Quartet at the end of 2011 and was replaced by Bob Sellers. Harold Reed left around the same time to join the LeFevre Quartet. Former tenor Ernie Phillips filled in for several weeks until Chris Jenkins was hired as the next Kingsmen tenor in 2012. The line-up of Jenkins, Sellers, Crawford and Reese released a CD in 2014 titled Battle Cry that produced the number one on the Singing News airplay chart for the month of February 2015 ("Oh, Yes I Am") and another number one for the month of August 2015 ("Battle Cry").
GMA Hall Of Fame (2000)
Due to the large number of projects in the Kingsmen Discography, this section has been divided into separate pages by decade for easier loading. Please click on the link below for the decade you wish to view.
Other Kingsmen Groups
Several groups have used the name "Kingsmen" or a variation like "King's Men" over the years, both in sacred and secular music.
The Kingsmen based in Oregon are best known for their 1963 popular hit single “Louie, Louie.” The song was No. 2 on the Billboard chart for a period of six weeks.
Harold Reid, Phil Balsley, Joe McDorman, and Lew DeWitt initially sang together as teenagers in a group billed as the Four Star Quartet. The group reformed in 1961 billed as The Kingsmen with Harold's brother Don replacing McDorman. Once “Louie, Louie” became a hit in 1963, they felt they needed a new identity to set themselves apart. That is when they famously chose the name "Statler Brothers" after seeing a box of facial tissues manufactured by Statler Industries.
In 1945 and 1946, Wally Varner played piano for a group of teenagers that called themselves the Kingsmen Four. Other members of that group were Calvin Newton, Jimi Hall, Harvey Hudson and Vernon Klaudt.
Prior to joining the Asheville, North Carolina Kingsmen described in the main article above, "Little" David Young had played piano for a Kingsmen Quartet based in Lenior, TN from 1953 to 1956.
In 1958 at the National Quartet Convention, a part-time Missouri-based group billed as the "Kings Men" performed. After seeing the positive reception, two members of that group, Ed Hill and Jay Berry, relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1959 and formed the Prophets.