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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Wilkes revisiting his musical roots
Beach festival is a part of his weekend agenda
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Courtesy Photo: The Coastal CruZ’rs, including sax player Carlton Wilkes, will play tonight at Rania’s in Martinsville and Saturday at the Stuart Beach Music Festival.

Friday, June 7, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

Carlton Wilkes is returning to his roots this weekend, playing beach music in Martinsville and Patrick County.

Wilkes plays with a band, Coastal CruZ'rs, which will be performing tonight in Martinsville and Saturday at the Stuart Beach Music Festival.

One member of that band, Jay Flippin, was part of those musical roots, he said, and it all started when he was in high school at Bassett in the early 1960s.

Wilkes was one of the original members of The Embers from Stuart, a band formed in 1963 that also included Wes Wells and Mike Clay, also from Bassett, David Arnold from Collinsville, and Cecil Akers, Flippin and his brother Rick Flippin from Stuart.

During those days, Wilkes, who retired a few years ago as Franklin County High School's long-time band director, said he, Jay Flippin and other members of The Embers played all around Martinsville, Patrick County and at Danville's "Saturday Night Barn Dance" on WBTM Radio.

"We played in all of the country clubs, at Martin Stables, in people's homes, at churches, at Bassett Pythian Hall and at the Moose Lodge," Wilkes said.

After high school, Flippin went to Mars Hill College in North Carolina as a piano major, while Wilkes spent two years at Patrick Henry Community College.

But their musical careers merged once more.

"One winter day, Jay called and said, 'I want to form a band here and I need a sax player. Can you transfer here?'," Wilkes said. "My first question was, what kind of degree would I get? Jay said, 'Well, you could become a band director.'"

Those words were prophetic as Wilkes made the trip to Mars Hill, played in a band (The Imperials) and did become a band director.

Wilkes left Mars Hill in 1969 to take the position of band director at Holbrook High School in Gastonia, N.C., and later at Ashbrook and Hunter Huss high schools. His groups won many awards in competition, he said.

"I was burned out after nine years (in North Carolina) and missed my home state," he said. "So I took a year off, moved to Richmond and proceeded to have a thoroughly miserable experience. It was during that year -- 1978 -- that I realized my true passion -- teaching young people to play music."

In the summer of 1979, Wilkes came to Franklin County High School and remained until his retirement in 2009, with his bands winning many awards during that time.

"The Eagle Band maintained a consistency year after year, earning honors and respect throughout the region," Wilkes said.

But Wilkes did not quit performing, playing with bands such as Sunset Drive, which was based in Stuart.

"I guess my 15 minutes of fame so far would be the 2005 performance (with Sunset Drive) on 'Good Morning America' with legendary soul crooner Percy Sledge," he said. "He was being inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and we met people like Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts and Will Farrell. It was a grand experience."

In the meantime, Flippin was making a name for himself in the music business.

Flippin, a keyboardist and vocalist for the band, recently retired from Morehead State University after teaching keyboards, jazz studies, theory and music history for 33 years. He is currently teaching part-time at both Marshall University and Morehead State.

Flippin has toured with dozens of artists, including Clark Terry, James Moody, Chris Potter, the Count Basie Orchestra, Bernadette Peters, Ray Charles, LeAnn Rimes and Wilson Pickett.

His compositions and arrangements include more than 2,500 works for orchestra, chorus, band, jazz ensembles of every size and description, keyboards, solo instruments, voice and orchestra.

He has also scored more than 50 films and videos, and composed cues for several television series. In 2000, he won an Emmy for his score for the documentary, "Ashes to Glory," and in 2001, he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for best original song.

Flippin's recording credits include arranging, producing, and/or playing on more than 350 album/CD projects. He has five CD releases under his own name, including his most recent, "The Jay Flippin Trio: By Request."

But Flippin's music may be more familiar to the most people through television.

Two of his commercial jingles, "We Do Chicken Right" for Kentucky Fried Chicken and a jingle for Roto-Rooter, are well known.

Wilkes said he and Flippin have remained friends and played concerts together occasionally in Kentucky. But in early 2010, those occasional meetings between musical friends took a new turn.

Wilkes said he, Flippin and other musicians who knew each other and had played together from time to time decided to meet for a "musical reunion."

After playing for a Mars Hill homecoming that October, the members decided to continue their practices, Wilkes said.

"Eventually, the engagements (concerts) came and a CD was produced in 2012 in a Martinsville studio," Wilkes said.

The group initially called themselves Bob Drake and the Imperials, but the name was changed to Coastal CruZ'rs after a gospel music group from Nashville that owns the rights to the name "Imperials" became aware of the band.

"They kept what they wanted -- their name -- and we came up with an outstanding band name that really sums up what we like to play," Wilkes said, "the best of rhythm and blues, oldies and beach music."

Band members include Flippin (Kentucky) on keyboard and vocals; Wilkes (Boones Mill) on alto and tenor sax; Bob Drake (Ware Shoals, S.C.), vocalist; Aly Malone (Mauldin, S.C.), vocalist; Don Peach (Lincolnton, N.C.), trumpet; David Buddin (Anderson, S.C.), trumpet; Bill McNeil (Sunset Beach, N.C.), tenor and baritone sax; Bob Suttenfield (Mt. Holly, N.C.), drums; Carroll Aldridge (Mt. Airy, N.C.), guitar; and Bill Brown (Easley, S.C.), bass guitar.

Flippin, who compares the effects of beach music to a "letter from home," said this will be the first time he has played in a commercial venue in the area since 1964.

Coastal CruZ'rs will perform from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Rania's in Martinsville tonight and at a late afternoon show at the Stuart Beach Music Festival on Saturday.

The beach festival, a long-time tradition in Stuart, started Thursday and runs through Saturday night. The festival is held off Wayside Drive, just east of Stuart.

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