Danville, Va

The Soulmasters actually held their first practices in Eden, NC. Organizers Doug Hyler and Wayne Womble met John Irby and Jerry Wilson while jamming with the area's best soul band, the New Breed. Practices were soon moved to Danville. Irby said the move was necessitated by threats from the Klan; however, Womble insists that wasn't the case and Danville was chosen because most members lived in the textile town. Either way, having two black vocalists fronting a white soul band proved difficult in the Old South. Bill Adams, who played keyboards after Womble's departure, recalls that "John and Jerry both would get on the floor of the bus when passing through certain towns." On one occasion, the entire band was thrown out of a restaurant in Carolina Beach. While Adams was visibly shaken, Jerry just shrugged and said, "Welcome to my world."

Four local bands merged to create the Sensational Soulmasters and the group went on to pack dances at the Coke Plant, the 360 Drive-In, Baldwin's Gymtorium in Martinsville and The Pavilion in Myrtle Beach, SC.

The group expanded to 12-pieces and the band was slated to perform at Amateur Night at the famed Apollo Theater in New York in 1968. The trip was canceled following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

The SoulMasters recorded one 45 RPM titled I'll Be Waiting Here and You Took Away the Sunshine on the flip side. Producer was Raven Records, an independent label with a small studio "The House of Sound" on Piney Forest Road in Danville, Va. The companies would "press" 50 copies for $50.

The Soulmasters recorded one 45 for Raven Records in 1967. Womble recalls that the studio was simple, even by sixties standards, and included a single, two-track recorder. WYPR DJ Bill Dudley financed the sessions and the group spent two days recording "I'll Be Waiting Here" and "You Took Away the Sunshine."

Something went awry when the master tapes were sent off to the pressing plant and both sides came back at the wrong speed. Womble has since digitally corrected the problem and the results are amazing.

Sax player Doug Hyler wrote the B-side at his dad's house, in his bedroom. He regards "You Took Away the Sunshine" as "a better reflection of the Soulmasters as a whole, with John and Jerry doing a lot of counterpoint." More time was spent on "I'll be Waiting Here," as it was the intended "hit" side.

Bassist Ernie Dickens recalls promoter and DJ Bill Dudley paying $200 for the session and 500 45s, adding: "I think we gave away more than we sold."

Hyler says the sessions were "lengthy, tedious and fun," describing trumpeter Dennis Shephard's idea to pause near the end of "Sunshine" as "awesome." Both are great songs, but "Sunshine" sounds more spontaneous and soulful.

Both sides charted on AM stations in the area and the single became a regional hit for the band while reaching the Top 10 on WLAC in Nashville.

Womble recalls that the band re-recorded both tunes in Raleigh at a better studio in 1968 or 1969. But vocalist Jerry Wilson gave the master tapes to Eddie Floyd ("Knock On Wood") in hopes that the soul singer "could do something for us." There were no copies.


At the 360 Drive-In in 1967 the SoulMasters were the opening group for the Atlanta Tams. The group spent a lot of time in Myrtle Beach and backed a number of soul greats. They were a white band ("blue eyed soul") with horns and fronted by black vocalists John Irby and Jerry Wilson.

SoulMasters backing the Tams

Soul great Arthur Conley heard the group and was so impressed that he invited the Soulmasters to perform in Raleigh as his personal band. The invitation was declined, as was Conley's offer for the group to accompany him on a month-long tour of Europe. Womble points out that many of the Soulmasters were still in high school.

Dickens accompanied Wilson to the Apollo Theater in 1968 to secure a booking for the band. He recalls seeing James Brown perform and running into the Godfather of Soul again in his hometown of Augusta, GA around 1983. Brown "actually remembered us and chatted for quite a long time about those days in the sixties on what he called the chitlin' circuit."

There were numerous personnel changes between 1968 and 1970, when the Soulmasters called it a day. As Hyler reflects on those years, he calls it "a different time.


Brent Hosier 1965; you're living in Danville, Virginia and you're a white kid who has just formed a soul band.  One problem though - you just can't get "the sound".  Good white soul singers are nowhere to be found.  What to do?  For Doug Hyler and Wayne Womble it came down to calling up people in the phone book who lived in the black section of town and asking them if they knew anybody who sang.  Despite these creative efforts no one came forth.  But soon the guys connected with The New Breed and integration began for the Soulmasters. 

Circa 1966

Vocalists John Irby and Jerry Wilson came over to practice in Doug's all-white neighborhood.  Summertime and with the windows open the guys looked out to see black people lined up and down the street.  The word was out.  Black folks kept showing up outside of Soulmaster's rehearsals.  The neighbors at first were not too happy, but at least no one called the cops.  Summer's here and the time is right for (discreet) dancing in the street.  Soon the neighbors were  out on their porches enjoying the sights and sounds. 

The Soulmasters were for the most part too young to play clubs.  In Danville they played the Y, the Coke Plant and the 360 Drive In.  Sometimes the group would go out to the Fairgrounds to play  at Danceland.  The all black dances that started at midnight lasted until "til". 

Their only recording was thru the local Raven / House of Sound facility in '67.  No local airplay came about but a few times they were thrilled to hear " I'll Be Waiting Here " coming through late at night from Nashville, courtesy of John R. at WLAC.  Doug's "You Took Away The Sunshine" has a cool intro with John and Jerry name checking each other as well as cutting loose a scream n shout.  The title makes for a great hooky chorus with plenty of boost from the band and a full throttle fade has the singers riding it all the way.  The Soulmasters carried on before coming to an end during the changing time of 1970.  

Info and pics courtesy Jack W. Garrett, taken at the 360 Drive-In in the summer of 1967.

The following courtesy Jack W. Garrett and WBTM 1330 radio, Danville, VA:

SoulMasters 1970

SoulMasters at Bill Dudley's Apartment

SoulMasters horn section with George Parish

SoulMasters 1967

Stratford College in Danville, VA play a valentine Dance sponsored by the Freshman class in 1967.

L-R:Wayne Womble keyboards; Dennis Shepherd trumpet; Jimmy Mathews trumpet; Doug Hyler sax; Junie Walton sax; Lary Davis drums; Charles Gentry guitar; and Ernie Dickens bass

SoulMasters at Chatham Hall, 1966

L-R: Juney Walton, Doug Hyler, Dennis Shepard, Steve Scearce, Tom Mathewson, and Ernie Dickens


Rijcky Fox, Doug Hyler, Wayne Womble, Jimmy Mathews, Steve Scearce, Jerry Wilson and Brian Thomas (pic taken by Tom Mathewson)

Charles Gentry and Ernie Dickens, 1967

All of the big bands played the Pavilion

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SoulMasters 1993

Men of Soul 1998

check out the link: Men of Soul

Special thanks to Jack W. Garrett and Johnny Dollar, WBTM 1330 radio, Danville, VA. Check out Beach and Motown shows at :

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