At 40, Headliners still making news with the beat of good times

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comApril 27, 2013 

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From left, Billy Howe, Danny Dennison and Larry Perigo perform with their band The Headliners at the XO Lounge in Palmetto Dunes in 2009.

SARAH WELLIVER — null

It says a lot about Hilton Head Island that one of its longest-running institutions is a show and dance band.

The Headliners turned 40 on Tuesday. The band has been on Hilton Head since 1977, when Larry Perigo brought his six-piece group from Nashville to do a month in an oceanfront hotel lounge. They never left.

Four members have been with the band since 1985 -- Billy Howe, trumpet; George Slone, bass; Mark Husbands, drummer; and Steve White, keyboards. Trombonist Danny Dennison is the new guy. He's only been a Headliner for 16 years.

For 19 years they played six nights a week at Club Indigo, downstairs in what was then the Hyatt and is now the Marriott in Palmetto Dunes.

From 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., they helped vacationers, conventioneers and lots of locals forget all their worries with tight covers of Little Anthony, the Platters and Sister Sledge.

They did two floor shows and two dance sets. They did skits, jokes and storytelling, led by Perigo

In Club Indigo's heyday, it was hard to get a seat.

Soon the band was asked to fill a lot of dance cards, playing for corporate meetings, conventions, private parties and weddings.

They're still keeping time. They have a new CD recorded live at Harbour Town at the 2012 Yacht Hop fundraiser. And last week they headlined a first for the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing -- a show near the 18th tee following Saturday's play.

But the recession has sharply slowed the tempo from the gravy days of more than 200 gigs a year. Club Indigo is long gone, and few hotels have lounges anymore. Tastes in music have changed to stuff that's less polished and more raw.

But Perigo sees no reason to change tunes now.

'MARBLES'

When Perigo was growing up, he missed the British Invasion because he was playing rhythm and blues with an African-American band in clubs around the historically black colleges in his hometown of Nashville.

He was seen as a novelty -- a white guy singing black music -- when he became a full-time musician with The Continentals in 1963. A replacement guitarist for that band was a soft-spoken kid who could play like the wind, but didn't always show up on time and sometimes pawned his guitar. He didn't last with The Continentals, who had to be tight and on time in backing up popular R&B acts like The Shirelles. Perigo said they called the kid "Marbles."

The rest of the world would know him a decade later as Jimi Hendrix.

Perigo said his parents no doubt wished he'd done something more normal for a living, like his father, a factory worker who pumped gas in retirement. But once his mother heard he had health insurance, she never asked about it again.

He played baritone sax and sang with other bands before forming The Headliners. They opened in a small hotel in Nashville called the Master Host.

"It was billed: 'First Time in Nashville,' " Perigo said. "It was the first time anywhere."

Jay Thomas, another of the four original members, lives on Hilton Head.

The band was an instant success, and years on the road followed.

"It's hard to keep people on the road," Perigo said. "I always said The Headliners was my career, but their job."

Over the years, there have been 40 members of the band.

But that changed on Hilton Head, where the band achieved unheard of stability, and Perigo has become an elder statesman among long-time musicians, including Gregg Russell of Liberty Oak fame, Earl Williams, Duchess Raehn, Bobby Ryder, David Wingo, Lavon Stevens, Bob Masteller, Larry Mercer and members of the Daly family.

Many of their venues have come and gone -- the Ribbet Room, Sahari's, Evonne's, the Crow's Nest, the Old Post Office Emporium, Scandal's, Shoreline Ballroom, the Golden Rose.

Even church music has changed.

One constant beat has been The Headliners.

TIMELESS

Perigo, who will turn 69 next month, wonders about the future.

He has more time to think these days on his long motorcycle rides through the Lowcountry on a Harley-Davidson Road King.

He still plays tennis, pulls for the Yankees and conducts a Sunday morning service at a convalescent home.

But he sometimes gets up in the night to scribble thoughts on a small yellow legal pad. It can be spiritual thoughts on life, perhaps like the words of Savannah native Arthur Gordon in a wonderful book Perigo once gave me, "A Touch of Wonder."

He worries about his purpose in life, the recession, a divorce, and whether time, or even music, has passed him by.

He jokes that the recession has forced him to play "parking lots, grand openings and grand closings."

But he says that after a lot of prayer, he has concluded: "Times have changed, but I'm pretty good at what we do."

He's banking on the timeless appeal of good times. It's a universal appeal The Headliners have tapped into to help make Hilton Head rich and famous.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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