Artist Profiles, Concert Reviews, Music, Podcasts, Retro Rock, Virginia Artists

Chris Keaton with the Kings: Roanoke’s Quintessential Band

Earlier this year, vocalist Terry Brown of Roanoke’s legendary band the Kings temporarily stepped down due to some health issues. Finding a stand-in substitute could have posed a problem for long-time Kings leader Larry Wheeling.

In finding a fill-in pinch hitter, Wheeling didn’t have to call Ghostbusters.  Instead, he found Roanoke native Chris Keaton to sing and play saxophone for the Kings while Brown is convalescing from his illness.

The Kings were founded in 1965 by Perry Caligan, who still acts as the business owner of the band. Current leader and manager of the Kings is Larry Wheeling, who joined the Roanoke based group during 1969.

Larry Wheeling and Perry Caligan at Elmwood Park in July 2018.

Over four years ago, I featured the Kings on a music blog message and attended one of the band’s concerts in downtown Roanoke.  Here is the link for The Kings Rocking Roanoke Since 1965:

The Kings in concert in downtown Roanoke on July 5, 2018.

While Terry Brown recovers from his health issues, the Kings have been fortunate to secure the services of Chris Keaton. I had the opportunity to interview Keaton last month, just before he and the Kings had a concert at Roanoke’s Black Dog Salvage.

Chris Keaton was born in Roanoke, Virginia and grew up in the town of Vinton.  After graduating from William Byrd High School, Keaton spent a year at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond. Chris then following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan left college life to pursue a career in music.

During the mid 70s, Keaton played saxophone and toured with pop/rock bands ranging from Gary U.S. Bonds to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He also had gigs with Jay & the Techniques during this time period.

A few bands that Keaton was a member of during the 70s and 80s were High & Mighty, Dazzle Boys and Band of Oz.  Interestingly, Chris also had two separate stints performing as a member of the Kings during his younger years.

An album from the Kings: 1989. Chris Keaton co-produced this LP with Brian Wheeling. Band members (L-R), Bruce Wall, David Ferguson, Randy Wheeling, Chris Keaton, Kent Martin, Larry Wheeling and Brian Wheeling.

In 1993, Keaton moved to Nashville, Tennessee and became a business partner with another Roanoke native Tommy Holcomb. Eventually, Holcomb moved back to Roanoke while Keaton stayed in the “Music City” to venture into a new career path.

Since the mid 90s, Keaton’s career has become multifaceted.  His official bio states: “Chris is a Nashville-based entertainment industry executive, award winning music publisher, artist management consultant and a 2016 Inductee in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.”

When I interviewed Chris last month, 3 words stood out to me that describe Keaton’s current profession: connector, influencer and encourager. Keaton utilizes various forms of social media during his day-to-day activities.

One social media avenue Keaton uses is podcasting. He describes his “Random Acts” podcast, “of kindness, stories, a song or two, seeds of hope and love, and the randomness of it all through the eyes of Chris Keaton.”

Another fascinating venture of Keaton’s work is with the fashion industry.  For a number of years, Chris has been a member of Macy’s Style Crew as a “brand influencer.” As a result of his Macy’s gig, Keaton published a book in 2020 called “Dapper.”

Published at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, “Dapper” was written by Keaton and the text is supported by photographer Keith Charles.  The book conveys, “Serious tips on being a dapper gentleman tempered with a dash of humor.”

Two years ago, Keaton was a guest on Larry Dowdy Mic Side podcast and talked about his book “Dapper” along with some of his past musical performing career.

Versatility and Chris Keaton go hand-in hand as he has been a long-time voting member of the Recording Academy (Grammy Awards) and is a reviewer for an Internet country music site.

2016 was a memorable year for Keaton as he was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Working with the beach music group Band of Oz, Keaton composed an award-winning rendition of the song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for his induction.

Considering all of the activities that Keaton has been involved with during the past few years, the influencer hasn’t performed many in-person concerts. However, that changed a few months ago when Larry Wheeling asked Chris to play with the Kings on a temporary basis.

Chris Keaton singing a cover of the Time’s song, “Jungle Love” with the Kings. First Fridays downtown Roanoke in September 2022.

The current 2022 lineup of the Kings:

Terry Brown–Vocals

Mike Feamster –Drums

Brian Jones– Bass

Chris Loder–Guitar

Melody Irby — Vocals & Keyboards

Alan Walker— Sax

Randy Wheeling–Trumpet & Trombone

Larry Wheeling —–Trumpet

Chris Keaton—- Vocals & Sax

Chris Keaton singing a cover version of Wilson Pickett’s song, “Mustang Sally” with the Kings. Black Dog Salvage Roanoke on October 15, 2022.

With Keaton temporarily performing with the Kings, he plays saxophone and shares lead vocal duties with Melody Irby.  The brass section of the band is superb.

Chris Keaton singing cover of Justin Timberlake’s song, “Can’t Fight this Feeling” with the Kings. Black Dog Salvage Roanoke on Octotber 15, 2022.

Musically, the Kings are a pop/rock band and have a large following in central and southwestern Virginia.  The band plays a wide variety of cover tunes, ranging from the 60s through songs from the past ten years.

The Kings are Roanoke’s quintessential band and have been fortunate to secure the services of Keaton on a temporary basis. Providing his vocal talents and excellent saxophone skills, make him a perfect fit with the Kings.

My assessment of Keaton can be summed up as “renaissance man.”  He flows within a wide mixture of diverse areas, bringing his talents and knowledge for positive results.

Without a doubt, Chris Keaton is helping to make the world a better place by being an encourager, spreading peace, love and tranquility to everyone on his path in life.

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Broadcasting, Music, Podcasts, Radio, Retro Rock

Two Larry’s and a Mic: Radio DJs Podcasting for New Audiences

Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy in studio for “Two Larry’s and a Mic” podcast. Photo courtesy of Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times.

When DJs retire from radio broadcasting, where do they go?  For Roanoke, Virginia DJs Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy, they have started recording a bi-monthly podcast called Two Larry’s and a Mic. 

Then on alternating weeks, Dowdy produces a separate solo podcast called Larry Dowdy Mic Side.

Over the course of the past 50 years, DJs Dowdy and Bly have been an important part of the Roanoke/Lynchburg radio market. With a wealth of radio broadcasting experiences, each new podcast installment creates unique perspectives by this duo.

I spoke with DJs Bly and Dowdy via phone on April 29, just before they recorded episode 18 of Two Larry’s and a Mic. Their latest podcast features songs that were popular 50 years ago during 1971, along with interesting information about the golden age of Top 40 radio.

The idea for podcasting came from Dowdy, as he retired from radio last summer after hosting WLNI Lynchburg’s Morning Line show for the past five years. You can listen to the final words that Dowdy spoke before retirement on the clip below, along with some conversation with WLNI Morning Line co-host Kenny Shelton.

Above: Aircheck of Larry Dowdy’s last minutes on WLNI 105.9 FM Lynchburg on 7/30/20. Courtesy of Larry Dowdy.

Just after his farewell at WLNI, Dowdy contacted his former mentor Larry Bly about the possibility of recording a podcast together.  The guys quickly formed a plan and the Two Larry’s and a Mic podcast became a reality.

 In addition, Larry Dowdy’s Mic Side podcast was also started during the same time period. Debut of Mic Side occurred August 20 while Two Larry’s and a Mic maiden voyage happened August 25. Here is the link that came out on May 19, 2022, where I am the featured guest on a Mic Side episode.

On November 3, 2022, Larry Dowdy had me on as a guest for episode 61 of his Mic Side podcast. The audio link for that episode is below.

My connection with both guys named Larry was with WROV 1240 AM Roanoke when we were all employed at the station during the mid 70s.

I started my first job in radio at age 18, working for WROV during April 1974. I was a student at Virginia Western Community College, obtaining an Associate Degree in Radio & TV Broadcasting.

At WROV, I was hired to be a remote engineer by the Top 40 radio station.  My responsibilities at the station included setting up equipment for remote broadcasts, running the soundboard and playing records, while a WROV DJ was in charge of announcing duties.

Here I am at my first radio job. Sound engineer for WROV Roanoke during 1974.

During my first engineering remote assignment with WROV, I was fortunate to be paired up with Larry Bly. The morning drive DJ spoke words of encouragement, and made me feel comfortable during my first day working at the station.

It was also with WROV remote broadcasts where I first met Larry Dowdy, who was a part time employee like myself.  While I was preforming engineering duties for WROV remote broadcasts, Dowdy would run the main studio board back at the radio station.

Larry Bly and Wolfman Jack at the WROV Roanoke studio in April 1975. Photo courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

The career paths for Bly and Dowdy intersected just once, as they both worked together at WROV Roanoke. However, both guys share similarities with their celebrated broadcasting experiences. Both guys named Larry:

  •  Worked at one major market top 40 station outside of Virginia
  •  Were on TV during 80s and/or 90s
  •  Started radio careers at a young age

Larry Bly’s radio career flourished as a young man when he was an announcer for the Armed Forces Network in South Korea. Once Bly left the military, he took a radio job with WHBG Harrisonburg, which was located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

WROV Roanoke DJ Larry Bly and Music Director David Levine. Photo courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Next in Bly’s radio career was a gig at WWWW (W4) FM Detroit, Michigan. Although W4 was a major market top 40 outlet, Bly wanted to get a job closer to his native home state of Virginia. With the help of his friend Dan Alexander, Bly was hired to work at WROV Roanoke during 1971.

When Bly moved to Roanoke, he didn’t realize it would become his permanent home.  After settling in at Top 40 WROV, Bly spent 3 years full time at the station, starting on the 7 pm to midnight shift and ending up doing the morning show for a couple of years.

Above: Larry Bly aircheck on WROV Roanoke during 1973. Courtesy of the WROV History website/Pat Garrett.

During 1974, Bly became a part time employee at WROV as he started working full time for an advertising agency called System 4. A business he co-owned with Marty Hall, who was a former WROV DJ himself during the 60s.

Even though Bly became a weekend employee for WROV, he continuously worked at the station for 37 years and ended his employment there in 1998. According to the WROV History website: “The last live announcer on WROV-AM was Larry Bly, who ended its final show by playing Don McLean’s hit “American Pie” (with lyrics “the day the music died”).”

Above: Larry Bly aircheck on WROV Roanoke during 1981. Courtesy of Larry Bly.

The other major activity that Bly was involved in during the 80s and 90s was a TV program called Cookin’ Cheap. Hosted by Laban Johnson and Bly for Blue Ridge Public Television in Roanoke, the program became a nationally syndicated cooking show.  

Larry Dowdy’s radio career began in 1973 while he was still in high school at combo WRIS AM/WJLM FM Roanoke. Dowdy moved across town the following year for another part time radio position with WROV.

After high school, Dowdy worked at Beautiful Music station WLRG Roanoke 92.3 FM.  At Midnight January 1st, 1980, WLRG switched call letters and music format, becoming Top 40 K92 (WXLK). Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers was the first song played at K92.

At K92, Dowdy was part of a phenomenal Top 40 outlet which became the number 1 most listened to radio station in the Roanoke/Lynchburg market for next 15 years.  Dowdy spent 3 different times employed at K92:  1980-1983, 1984-1992 and 1997-1999.

In 1983, Dowdy left K92 to land at job at Hot Hits WMAR Baltimore, working the midnight shift for his entire employment at that station. After a year working the overnight hours in Maryland, Dowdy came back to his Roanoke roots and once again played Top 40 hits on K92.

Photo of K92 Roanoke “K Crew” morning drive staff: Larry Dowdy, Mike Stevens & Bill Jordan. Dowdy provided his photo for this blog.

TV was next up for Dowdy, as he transferred his radio skills to a new platform: Early morning television. He spent 5 years with WDBJ7 as host for the station’s Mornin’ Program (1992-1997).

At the end of his employment with WDBJ7, Dowdy jumped back over to radio broadcasting and held down morning drive DJ positions with 4 stations from 1997 until 2015.  The first two stations Dowdy worked for after completing TV duties, were Mel Wheeler Media owned K92 and Star Country (94.9 FM) Roanoke.

Morning radio DJ jobs continued for Dowdy in the 2000s as he moved across town and worked for a couple of stations owned by Clear Channel Communications (Now known as iHeartCommunications). First up was Magic FM (104.9 FM) which featured adult contemporary music.

Above: Aircheck of Larry Dowdy & Cheryl Fender on Magic FM Roanoke during 2003. Courtesy of Larry Dowdy.

The longest time that Dowdy spent with one station happened with Sunny FM (93.5), where he spent 14 years as the morning show host.  Dowdy stayed at the classic hits formatted station until January 2015.

After Dowdy’s departure from Sunny FM, he hooked up with WLNI FM (105.9) Lynchburg. The final radio destination for Dowdy was different for the radio broadcaster: He was host for a news/talk program called Morning Line.  Dowdy completed 5 years at WLNI and his radio career was completed at the end of July 2020.

K92 Roanoke DJs Tripper and Larry Dowdy inside the K92 studio. Dowdy provided his photo for this blog.

In my communications with Larry Dowdy, I asked him to give me a brief description about the topic content of the two podcasts that he is producing. Below are his quotes:

  • Two Larry’s and a Mic: Features Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy discussing what made radio fun to listen to and the incredible music that made it memorable.

  • Larry Dowdy Mic Side:  Is a one-on-one interview with movers and shakers in the Roanoke area and other guests of interest from around the country to podcast listeners.

K92 Roanoke DJ Staff on the cover of Roanoker Magazine. From Left: Bill Jordan, David Lee Michaels, John Berry, Larry Dowdy, Vince Miller and Russ Brown. Photo courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Dowdy also gave me a breakdown on the number of total installments that are now available to download with his two podcasts:

  • Two Larry’s and a Mic:  18
  • Larry Dowdy Mic Side:  22

The aspect that I like most about both podcasts:  A person doesn’t need to be a radio geek to enjoy listening to the duo on “Two Larry’s” or to appreciate Dowdy’s warm and inviting interviewing skills on “Mic Side.”

With any “Two Larry’s and a Mic” podcast, the fellows talk on a featured music topic, that is chock-full of information and is fun-filled with laughter between the duo. On any given segment, one may hear radio airchecks, snippets of Top 40 hits, in-depth musical history and radio tales by “Uncle Lar” Bly.   

Some of the wonderful subjects that Two Larry’s and a Mic have tackled since last August include:

  • One Hit Wonders
  • Great Duets
  • British Invasion
  • Elvis Presley
  • Canadian Invasion Music
  • Powerful Instrumentals on Top 40 Radio
  • 70s Music
  • Love Songs

On “Larry Dowdy Mic Side” podcasts, a single person is interviewed by the host.  The subject matter is wide open and much more than just discussions of radio or music topics.  I appreciate the variety of guests that Dowdy interviews on his solo podcast.

Interviews that I have most enjoyed on Larry Dowdy Mic Side:

  • David Lee Michaels
  • Nelson Harris
  • Bill Jordan
  • Dr. Bob Denton
  • Sammy Oakey
  • Brent Watts
  • Tommy Holcomb
  • Kenny Shelton

Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy in studio for “Two Larry’s and a Mic” podcast. Photo courtesy of Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times.

For anyone wanting new listening experiences with podcasting, I highly recommend adding both “Larry Dowdy Mic Side” and “Two Larry’s and a Mic” to your playlist. Here are the main links for these superbly produced podcasts:

I fondly remember the golden days of top 40 radio and I am glad that DJs Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy are bringing back musical memories from many years ago.  It is also heartening to know about Dowdy’s labor of love producing two excellent podcasts for the world to enjoy.

If you are searching for new podcasting suggestions, I strongly advocate adding “Larry Dowdy Mic Side” and “Two Larry’s and a Mic” to your regular listening playlist. The retired DJs from Roanoke will not disappoint.  Rock on! 

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