Space Blues
The musical career of Jeff Cotton

Jeff Cotton, The Exiles, The Magic Band & MU

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Merrell & The Exiles

After deciding to get a band together Merrell and Jeff put some ads out for more players. They were eventually joined by Jim Ferguson on bass, Dan Stevens on sax and Greg Hampton on drums ... The Exiles were born. Well, one incarnation of The Exiles anyway...

They soon became a popular live band around Lancaster playing school and after-school parties and dances. It wasn't long before they were spotted by the 'Sam Phillips of the High Desert' - Glen MacArthur - and asked to demo some tunes for him. MacArthur ran a small recording studio out in nearby Palmdale, and released material on his own Glenn Records label. He was well known locally and the studio in his garage was renowned for its vocal booth made from the cockpit of a F-86 Sabre jet fighter.

Vocal booth in Glenn Studio

The legendary vocal booth at Glenn Studios.

The Exiles visited MacArthur's Glenn Studios where they laid down some demo tracks - one of which, a cover of Buddy Holly's Rave On has been released on the Wild In The Desert compilation.

By April 1964 they had recorded a number of songs, including Don't Call On Me which was the first real musical collaboration between Merrrell and Jeff and also featured Jeff's first recorded solo. Their single releases, which were credited to MERRELL & The Exiles to cash in on Merrell's name from his time with The Impacts, had some local success. That meant they were in greater demand and when they signed for a Hollywood agency (Hollywood International Talents - HIT Talents) they were soon touring extensively.

Tape decks in Glenn Studio

The tape decks at Glenn Studios. (Apologies for poor quality photo)

 See more about The Exiles Single Releases

A news clipping from mid 1964 gives some idea of the success they achieved:

Exiles play teen night club in Palm Springs

The Exiles, a group of Valley youths, have recently completed a second engagement at the La Paz Hotel in Palm Springs, a teen-age night club.

The band is composed of Grey [sic] Hampton, Danny Stephens, Jim Ferguson, Merrell Fankhauser and Jeff Cotton. Under the leadership of Fankhauser, who is also the lead guitarist and vocalist in addition to writing a large number of their songs, the group has been attracting considerable attention in the Valley and other areas. All are students at Antelope Valley High School or AV College.

The Exiles recording of "Please Be Mine" on the Glenn Label reached a rating of nine on the music charts within the first few weeks after its release. Additional attention was received when Cash-Box-Magazine gave a B plus rating to the flip side of the same record: "Too Many Heatbreaks". Both songs were composed by Fankhauser.

The Exiles have played to near capacity crowds at Jane Reynolds Park since their formation and have several dances booked for the summer months on the coast and the San Joaquin Valley.

The success of the single also led to a couple of TV appearances. One in San Diego on Bob Howard's "Dance Time" and another for "9th St. West" on KHJ Los Angeles. Their local radio chart success was repeated further afield in Oklahoma and Indiana but national success eluded them mainly due to the lack of publicity and distribution that a small label like Glenn could manage.

Exiles '64: Greg, Dan, Jim, Merrell, JeffPhotographs of the band from 1964 (which seem to be from a publicity shoot for the Please Be Mine single as there are a number of variations on the same theme) show them dressed identically in their stage uniform of dark trousers and black-trimmed striped collar-less buttoned jackets. The very young, short-haired Jeff (far right in photo on the right) looking as if the over-large jacket is about to consume him.

By 1965 these outfits had gone in favour of a more casual polo-necked sweater uniform and Jeff (second from left in photo below) looks more assured. His hair now well past his ears is an indication that he's already moving on from the other guys in the band. His guitar playing was developing in leaps and bounds.

The line-up of The Exiles had been changing over these early months. Dan Stevens was no longer in the band. After the first single had been released Merrell decided he didn't like Greg Hampton's drumming so enlisted Danny Martin in his place sometime around June 1964. As Danny says:

"Merrell approached me and asked me to join his band. John Day (played piano)and I had a band called the Chevelles that we thought was the best band in Lancaster at that time, but Merrell had a recording contract. So John and I joined the Exiles.

At the time we joined Dan Stevens was no longer a member of the Exiles. Both John and I played on "Send Me Your Love" and "Don’t Call On Me" we also played on a couple of other songs that were never released.

During this time is when Jeff started letting his hair grow, he was the first person I ever saw or knew that parted his hair right down the middle."


Exiles '65: Larry Willey, Jeff, Merrell, GregDespite being in a relatively successful band, recording and touring Jeff still attended Antelope Valley High School. Although long hair was not normally allowed at the school Jeff was able to keep his because, apparently, it related to his employment in a professional band! This was presumably quite a concession by the school as another student was refused attendance at his own graduation if he didn't have his hair (which was shorter than Jeff's) cut.

The line-up of The Exiles seems to have continued to have been fairly fluid and it is very difficult to figure out the different band configurations. At various times John French sat in on drums for live shows and in the studio. Merrell gives the impression that there was a lot of movement and interaction between the Lancaster bands, members of The Exiles and the Magic Band jamming together at various times. Although this sounds interesting, even plausible, there is little evidence from elsewhere of this taking place. However, in a small place like Lancaster the happening bands at the time couldn't help but take notice of each other and would be well aware of any particularly good players. Jeff seems to have left and rejoined The Exiles a number of times to play with two other bands - The Illusions (or Allusions) and The Bountys.

Find out who WAS in The Exiles?

The main break-up of the original band came at the end of 1965 following a disastrous six week gig around Christmas at a logging camp in very cold Portland, Oregon. This is how Merrell told the story in an interview for 'Goldmine' magazine:-

"We had this booking agent that Jeff and I didn't see eye-to-eye about," Fankhauser explained. "We had a buzz going in L.A. with 'Can't We Get Along' and we were getting a lot of gigs at the hot clubs along the Sunset Strip and then this agent books us for six weeks at Christmas time at this logger's night club in the snow up in Portland, Oregon.

"We walked into this night club, the Town Talk Lounge, and the first thing these loggers said was, 'Oh, man, when did school let out?' They grew to like us but we were going to be there for six weeks, while the agent returned to sunny L.A. to collect our checks and take his 50 percent. I thought that wasn't right and didn't want to be stuck up there for Christmas so after a couple weeks I quit and took a bus back to LA.

"The rest of the band tried to finish the gig as a trio but it didn't really work out. Driving home with the manager, they all got arrested because the car the manager had was reported stolen. Jeff woke up in the back seat of the car with a police shotgun in his face, and they all got thrown in jail until their parents showed up to bail them out."

That was the end of Jeff and Merrell working together as The Exiles on any regular basis.

See Calling From A Star for more Exiles info


Who was in The Exiles?
The Exiles 45s
Live on Stage
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