RON AND THE STARFIRES
Florida band from Auburndale.
Thought by many to be one of the top three bands playing the central Florida circuit. They covered the Righteous Brothers like no other band.
info courtesy Steve Jones (guitarist in the Pacers and later bassist in the Berkeley Five in the mid-late 60s.
The Starfires played a circuit of jobs that managed to keep them busy most of the year. In the Spring they played high school events from Jacksonville to Ft. Myers and in the summer they were regulars at the Polk, Lake, and Pasco County Teen Centers, as well as the Orlando Youth Center, the Ormond Beach Teen Club, and "The Pier", "The Wedge" and "The Martinique" in Daytona Beach.
It was in Daytona that the Starfires became friends with manager Mike Stone and his group "The Nightcrawlers", who were enjoying a regional hit in the southeast U.S. with the song "The Little Black Egg". Mike set up a recording session at Criteria Studios in Miami (with Lee Hazen engineering), where he produced several original songs Ron had written, as well as a couple of cover tunes. They did manage minor successes in the Gainesville and Daytona areas with the tune "The Grass Is Greener", on the independent Lee-C record label although it was actually the "B" side of the single, "Why Did You Cry".
During the fall of the year, probably 75% of the jobs that Ron and the Starfires played were at or around the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. Chuck (Charlie) Brown was a student there and got the group a gig at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house where he was a brother. The next term (fall of '64?) the Starfires opened the newly constructed Pi Kappa Phi house on Fraternity Row and were made honorary pledges that allowed them certain "house" privileges. They became known around town as the Pi Kapp "house" band and were always booked in advance to play their "Homecoming party" as well as a good number of their other events each term.
As Ron and the Starfires' popularity spread, the group branched out to the other houses on the row and around town. They were one of the most used bands on the University of Florida campus during the mid-60's. Among the more popular bands playing the Gainesville circuit during that era, were a group from Leesburg, The Nation Rocking Shadows, and a local Gainesville band, the Maundy Quintet, who incidentally had a couple of guitar players by the names of Don Felder and Bernie Leadon.Ron & the Starfires played as opening act for quite a number of sixties artists including: The ShangriLas, The Birdwatchers, Tommy Roe, The Nightcrawlers, John Fred & His Playboy Band and Rufus Thomas and often shared the stage when in Daytona with The Allman Joys (several great stories there... maybe later).In the fall of 1966, Charlie Brown started "Law School" at the University of Florida and could no longer devote time to playing in the band (maybe his priorities were just out of whack).
During this short period between organists, the band returned to Miami for their second recording session, this time with producer Brad Shapiro. The initial tracks were recorded at Bobby Dukoff's Studio and overdubs were done at Criteria Studio. Keyboards for the sessions were provided by Bobby Puccetti, from the Birdwatchers, and the session yielded the single (on the Kim Records label), "Lyla" (written by Whitney, Chambers and Chambers) b/w "Crawl Into My Shoulder" (written by Charlie Conlon). The single was pressed but it was never promoted to any extent. For some reason, the artist was Ron Starr on the single but no one remembers what madness lead to that decision (probably some record label chicanery). This session produced what were probably the best recordings the Starfires ever made. Unfortunately, the original masters seemed to have been lost, but a board mix made after the session did survive on cassette.
Ron & the Starfires continued to perform and grow musically for several years after Charlie Brown left the group, but this was definitely the end of an era for the band.
When the Original Starfires broke up at the end of 1962, Ron Whitney and Chuck Brown decided to keep the group alive and they asked Carl Chambers (who's group The Dynamics had also recently broken up) to play lead guitar for them. Carl was eager to play with the older musicians who had first kindled his desire to play rock and roll and says he still has that maroon After-Six dinner jacket (the band's uniform) stuck back in a closet somewhere. Ron sang and played rhythm, Chuck (the former lead guitarist) played the bass and the job of drummer was filled by Ray Lee. The name of the band was still just simply "The Starfires" and first went on stage on Saturday, February 7, 1963 at the Auburndale Teen Center (incidently the band was paid $40.00). This four-man configuration lasted until around the middle of September when circumstances made it neccesary to make a couple of changes.
When Brown left the Starfires to give full attention to his law studies, his place in the group was filled by Muggins Willard of Groveland, Florida, an organ and piano player that was lured from the Nation Rockin' Shadows, a rival band from the Leesburg area. Muggins (his real name, although he later had it legally changed to George Clayton Weir) was an enthusiastic addition to the Starfires and worked really hard to do some of the more technical songs that we had not before been prone to attempt. The band's song list remained a mix of top 40 rock and rhythm & blues made up from English and American covers with a healthy slice of Memphis soul. The group was near it's technical peak -- although it was probably at the expense of that raw edge that had characterized the Starfires for so many years.
After a few months, Ron & the Starfires decided to fulfill a long-time dream and added horns to the group. The first additions were two trumpets, played by Howard Shumate from Auburndale and the other was Roy "Cowboy" Burns from up near the Groveland area. This sound would prove to be a little thin and eventually the configuration was changed to locals, Howard Shumate on trumpet, Don Flentke on saxophone and Larry Howard on trombone. Larry would later become a guitarist with the notable southern rock band, Grinderswitch. It is regrettable that there are no pictures of these extended versions of the Starfires. Although the music was probably the best the group ever made, the eight-way split made for some difficult times in the money department. The band still played a lot of fraternity parties, teen centers, proms, and the occasional show.
During June, 1968, Ron & the Starfires played their first full fledged lounge gig (other than some one nighters played at the Temple Bar on Friday nights in Gainesville during the fall) at Griggs’ Sword and Sirloin located in the Southland Shopping Center in Auburndale. Griggs was an upscale (for a small town) dinner club on the edge of town. But unfortunately, the restaurant was razed by fire on a Sunday morning just before the band was booked to start their second stint there that following Monday. On the positive side, they had not already loaded in their equipment for that coming week.
This incarnation of the group was somewhat short lived but is survived by several live recordings and a couple of good photos.
When drummer, Ray Lee, failed to show up for a mid-September gig at the Bartow Teen Center, the drummer for the original Starfires, Allen Keefer, was given a call and he agreed to play the night. Also sitting in on that evening was Gerald Chambers on bass guitar who had been playing with the now only recently defunct "Legends". That night marked the first performance of the legendary "Ron & The Starfires", made up of Ron Whitney on vocals, Chuck (Charlie) Brown on rhythm guitar and organ, Allen Keefer on drums, Gerald (Jesse) Chambers on bass and Carl Chambers on lead guitar. All five members of the band lived in Auburndale, Florida and would play together until mid-1966.
Ron & the Starfires started out as basically an R&B band, doing mostly the blues and rhythm and blues songs of the late 50's and early 60's. They leaned heavily toward the stylings of such artists as: James Brown, Jimmy Reed, the Impressions, Lonnie Mack and Jerry Butler -- sprinkled with a little Jerry Lee Lewis, and some of the more popular doo-wop tunes of the time. The coming of the "British Invasion" of the mid-60's, took the band down a brand new path and the shows became a more or less 50/50 split of R&B and the English rock music of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Searchers, Zombies, Animals, Dave Clark 5, etc.. That mix of music kept Ron & the Starfires in high demand for several years.
Toward late 1968, the group dropped the horns for monetary reasons but retained Howard Shumate for a short time as a second keyboardist [photo]. Carl Chambers left the group to play with the group"We The People" out of the Orlando/Winter Park area and was replaced on lead guitar by their former trombonist, Larry Howard.
The end of the sixties would also bring an end to Ron & The Starfires, although most of the group would reappear in 1970 as "Cinnamon" and then again in the early-70s as a lounge act going under the name "Matanzas".Not until 1990 would the original band members play together again in a reunion show for the Auburndale High School Class of '65 and again in the following year for the Class of '61.On January 19, 2001, the original members once again played a few tunes (to the delight of the audience) at the PolKats Reunion Show that featured many of the former Polk County residents who had gone on to make a mark on the national music scene.
In April 2001, Gear-Fab Records released the CD, "Psychedelic States: Florida in the 60s, Vol. 2" which includes the original Ron & the Starfires recording of "Why Did You Cry", along with recordings by 27 other Florida garage bands of the 60s
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