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Renowned town bands reunite for HHS '68 reunion

An early photo of the Casuals, before they added horns for a full beach music sound. An early photo of the Casuals, before they added horns for a full beach music sound.

The Casuals, made up of Hendersonville teenagers, achieved regional fame as a tight and enthusiastic beach music band in the 1960s.

 

"In the Southeast, an appearance at the Pavilion in Myrtle Beach was the equivalent of playing at The Apollo in New York," recalled Pat Corn, an original member who went on to a career in music. "The Pavilion was the top spot for any 'Beach Band' to appear and in the summer of 1966, during the first week of June known as Sun 'n Fun Week, The Casuals did exactly that — absolutely unheard of by a group of musicians so young and on the premier weekend of the season no less!"
PatCornPat CornThe Casuals will be back together for the first time since 1994 this weekend when they play for Hendersonville High School's Class of '68 reunion. The Casuals and another local band from the Sixties, the British invasion-inspired Mandarin Caste, will perform for the class reunion Saturday night and then play a benefit concert for the HHS Alumni Association at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the HHS Auditorium.
After graduating from Hendersonville High School, Corn attended North Texas State University. He's been a jazz guitarist and played "package concerts" with numerous country and Motown stars. His guitar work can be heard on Jerry Butler's "Only the Strong Survive" and "Please Mr. Postman." He recently founded an Internet radio station that plays classic country (loudcity.com/stations/new-classic-country-radio).
A Flat Rock Junior High School combo called "The Shifters" became the Casuals. The original band in 1963 included guitarists Danny Beddingfield and Danny Wiggins, Corn, then on drums; and vocalist Sheri Anders in 1963. Corn switched to guitar and the band added Jimmy Jones on guitar, Ronnie Thompson on drums and Jimmy Sinclair on piano.
It's a shame, Corn says, that Sinclair never pursued music fulltime.
"He was a stellar piano player when he was 8 years old," Corn said. "Incredible, incredible piano player. He would have had a stellar career in Nashville. He has an ear like nobody I know of."
In the living room of the Sinclair home, Jimmy came up with a new name that stuck. The Casuals' first "professional" performances were playing music for the North Carolina Junior Cloggers. Fans of Motown and R&B, they adopted classic Carolina beach music as their main genre. They added a bass player, Buddy Davis of Etowah, and saxophone player and singer David Drake. The Casuals got a gig at the Pow-Wow Room of the Osceola Inn.
CasualsBattle4600wThe Casuals"The group of Floridian summer guest listeners were astounded that these young teens could play the new Brazilian bossa nova song, 'The Girl From Ipanema.' After all, these boys ranged in age from 12 to 16 years old," Corn wrote in a sketch of the band's history.
When Davis left the Casuals to pursue folk music, the band added Ken Levi on bass and vocals. Beach music demanded horns, so Corn and friends asked HHS band director Earl Martin to recommend some. Frankie Todd and Jack Farris became Casuals.
"Their impact was enormous and The Casuals became an eight-piece 'horn band' playing the sounds of Soul extensively across the Southeast," Corn said. Finally, the band added female vocalists Mary Ann Sumner and Ann Eudy. They'll join the band for four songs at this weekend's reunion shows, Corn said, along with Tempo Music Store owner Mike Hall on drums.

 

As the band got more engagements, "we purchased a used hearse from the Valley Hill Fire Department to pull our trailer and would all ride to the events together," Todd wrote. "We later contracted with Hit Attractions in Charlotte to book our events.

"In 1967, several members of the group attended colleges, and it became difficult for all the band members to stay together," Todd said. "But the band continued for another two years with Jimmy Sinclair, Ken Levi, Loui Jones, David Drake, Ronnie Thompson and Frank Todd. At this time, Wayne Ward joined the group playing alto sax. We played for fraternities on weekends at Wake Forest, NC State, Western Carolina, the University of North Carolina, Duke University, University of Virginia, University of South Carolina, East Carolina University, Mary Baldwin and other colleges."

Mandarin Caste
Formed in 1966, the Mandarin Caste was made up of Tom Eizonas, Mike Carlisle and Sammy Milner. They were joined by Adrian Kerley.
Members over time included three Jimmys — Jimmy Hill, Jimmy Gibbs and Jimmy Ward — the late "Chip" Morse, Philip Gaesar and Terry McMinn. Reuniting this weekend are Eizonas, Carlisle, Gaesar and Kerley. All but Kerley, an investment adviser in Hendersonville, went on to lifelong careers in music.
"They've all been playing for 45 years," said Kerley, a bass guitarist. "I haven't played for 45 years until about a month ago."
If the Casuals were masters of beach music, Mandarin Caste carried the torch of the British invasion, covering Beatles and Rolling Stones hits and ripping away on electric guitars. The band played virtually every weekend of their high school careers, traveling as far as Charleston, S.C., and Lexington, Ky. They won a WBT Battle of the Bands contest in Charlotte and won other competitions in Greenville, S.C., and Asheville.
The Mandarin Caste put on "Hendersonville's first light show produced by Tom Eizonas, to the sounds of the British Invasion mixed with the very familiar Motown," Kerley said.

Time passes. People drift away. A reunion brings them home.

"Through the years," Casuals singer David Drake said, "the members of the group changed. Talented female singers Ann Eudy and Mary Ann Sumner fronted the group for a while and fraternity parties became the main patrons. Acid rock was replacing soul and R&B, a music style not suited for a group such as ours. On a spring night in 1970 the Casuals played their final gig at the Downtowner Inn club in Durham."

Not quite final.

"Thanks to technology," Corn said, the Casuals have been practicing. He emailed charts to the band along with YouTube videos.

"Then when we get together on Saturday morning for our first rehearsal and only rehearsal, we'll knock those out," he said.

Get your shaggin' shoes on.

 

The Casuals and The Mandarin Caste2:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday
HHS Auditorium
Suggested donation: $5 each
Proceeds support HHS Alumni Association