By Bill Lightfoot
Editor’s note: Vintage Albany photographs are published weekly in The Albany Journal. The photographs and information can be found on the “Vintage Albany” page on Facebook.
Eden Band began in the fall of 71, in retaliation by some of its founding members for not being selected in the Albany High School stage band, ROGB. High school seniors Tom Chatmon, Bill Lightfoot and Ted Fralich, and juniors Robert Carter and Jerry Williams, started the project.
Upon their first rehearsal, members Charles Neal, Butch Thomas, Mike Boone (whose father was the Albany High School band director) were present and were asked to join the band. Within a few weeks Jenny Findlay was added and soon thereafter, Butch and Jenny were dropped, and Jimmy Deviney was hired as lead singer. At about the same time, Kenny Lovelace joined the group as soundman.
Within six months, the band was appearing at sock hops and Junior/Senior dances, and at the occasional school assembly program. The instrumentation was Robert Carter; guitar, Bill Lightfoot; bass guitar, Jerry Williams; keyboards; Ted Fralich; trombone, Tom Chatmon; saxophone, Mike Boone; Trumpet, Charels Neal; Drums, Jimmy Deviney; vocals, and Kenny Lovelace, sound/lights.
Equipment was hard to come by, but eventually the inventory grew to staggering proportions; an 18-foot truck was eventually purchased after practically ruining vans owned by Carter and Chatmon. The band was now making money playing at the various armed forces bases in the area and at college dances. Around June of ‘72, Eden Band was hired by NEA booking agency of Atlanta, and started working some of the fraternity parties in the Atlanta, Athens and Macon area. Soon thereafter, Mike Boone left the group to be replaced by Bill Entrekin on trumpet.
It was in ‘73 that the band signed with Armstrong Agency, well known for groups such as Birnam Wood, and later, Molly Hatchet. Armstrong ratcheted up the performances of Eden Band with bookings for opening concerts for Sly and the Family Stone, Earth, Wind and Fire and the original, pre-airplane disaster Lynyrd Skynyrd, in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. At this time, Bill Entrekin left the group and Rodney Rouse, AKA Jackson Riley, joined the group on trumpet and Charels Boone joined the group on saxophone.
As most bands evolve, Eden Band was no exception. After Charels Neal left the band to go to college, Rick Freeman and Kenny’s Brother, Mike, were the next to join the group as drummer and percussionist, respectively. Later, the band’s percussion section grew to a second trap drummer, Len Dorminey. Jerry Williams left the band to do a mission with The Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints. He was replaced by Sam Watts, and then Johnny Slappey. Guitarist Neal Phaison briefly worked with the group during this time.
At the height of the group’s popularity, they traveled as an 11-piece band playing in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Eden Band was one of the most popular club and opening concert acts of the day in the South. Appearing with names such as Sly, Earth, Wind and Fire, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bill Deal and the Rhondells and Greg Allman, Eden Band played Southern rock, jazz, blues and other music that featured its unique horn section and Latin percussion section.
On July 5, 1975, following a week in St. Petersburg, Fla., Eden Band effectively came to an end when their truck and equipment were permanently damaged in an accident. Although to this date, they have never performed together, in the past five years, there have been some reunion get-togethers and discussions of a possible reunion concert in their hometown of Albany.
Pictured are from bottom, left: Rich Freeman, drums, Bill Entrekin, trumpet, Jerry Williams, keyboards, Jim Deviney, vocals, Ted Fralick, trombone; second row: Mike Lovelace, Latin percussion, Robert Carter, guitar, Bill Lightfoot, bass guitar; top center, Thomas Chatmon, saxophone.