For some time, the bronzed rock and roll boots of various band members hung on their respective walls awaiting a day of rebirth as Heart ‘n Soul. The following is a brief summary of how these musicians found a new purpose for their talents and how their desire to get back on stage has brought joy to audiences and beneficiaries alike.
In February 2006, a jam session was held at Doug Neal's house with Malcolm Gordon, Ron Barrett, John Taylor, and Bud McNeely. Bud and Doug had played together in the Rivieras, Bud on guitar and Doug on bass. Malcolm had played with the Travelers and Ron with the Counts. Many years had passed, but the yearning to once again play soulful R&B had brought these musicians together. However, Doug was now on drums, Malcolm on harmonica and Bud on keyboard. Ron picked up his guitar and started pulling up chords and theory from yesteryear. John Taylor, although an accomplished musician, felt more comfortable playing folk music than blues; so he mainly listened and enjoyed the session.
Doug had been playing drums for less than two years and Malcolm had been playing harmonica for only a few months, but to those present that day, the moment couldn't have been more exciting than Christmas Day for a six year old. We were having a ball, even if the quality of the music left much to be desired. After wearing ourselves out during that non-stop session, we decided to hold another one and invite in a few more musicians.
A session was held a few months later in a youth recreation room at Shandon United Methodist Church. We were joined by Marion Brown, an accomplished guitar player who had played with the Travelers and Dickie Chappell on keyboard, who had played with the Counts and Momma's Home Cookin'. Since we did not have a bass player at that point, Ron Barrett played bass for the jam session, but later made clear that his real love was the guitar, whereby he could apply his love and knowledge of music theory.
At this point, we decided there existed a hunger and a need for someone to perform the Doo Wop and R&B of the 50's and 60's. Audiences love the Doo Wop shows that play periodically on ETV fundraisers; yet, no one was bringing that music live to the audiences here to enjoy. Furthermore, all of the individuals in the group thus far had already spent their time "on the road" and were not looking for any commitments that would require them to be playing every weekend or for their own personal remuneration. Thus, the idea was born to form a group to play the music we loved and played in the 50's and 60's, but for a higher purpose than self.
Doug's daughter, Rebecca Neal (Tompkins), was working for a PR firm in Atlanta which worked with non-profit organizations. She came across a newspaper article where a group of mutual fund managers in Chicago had formed a band for the purpose of helping amputees buy prosthetic devices. It was based on that concept that we decided our talents could be used to help others, by donating the revenue generated from gigs (referred to as "community service projects" in several band member's households) to charity and for charitable purposes. So, that became the mantra and purpose of our group.
Someone had mentioned Bill Miles, former bass player with the Persians, might be interested in our group, so the call was made to Bill. He had recently lost his wife and, as he put it, "was at a point in time that he really needed something like this” (what we were putting together). The next session was held with Bill on bass and, at the end of that session, we all felt something had connected. We were "wired" with the same innate rhythm patterns and licks and at that session we collectively agreed to pursue a musical project to see where it might go.
That session was held in the summer of 2007 at Quail Swim and Racquet Club in the Lake Katherine area and we continued to jam, mostly blues with a mixture of old 50's and 60's R&B thrown in. An invitation had also been extended to Carl Ellsworth to come by and see what was happening, with the caveat that there was no obligation. Whatever we were doing piqued his interest because it was not long afterwards that he said, "Count me in."
Later that summer, Doug and Betty Neal were visiting Columbia friends, Ed and Sara Ellen Ringley, at their summer home on Lake Michigan. For some strange reason, out of the blue, Doug asked Ed if he knew of a good sax player in Columbia and explained the reason for asking. Without skipping a beat, Ed said, "Sure. Call Curt Rone. He's the best you could possibly get…”
As soon as Doug returned to Columbia, he called Malcolm to give him Ed’s suggestion. Doug and Malcolm went to Curt's office at Loxcreen in West Columbia and, over lunch at Lizard's Thicket, explained what was forming and taking place. Curt thought for a moment and said something like this, "Count me in. I love that music and the thought of doing this for charity has hooked me. I'm on board."
This "hook" is the same common denominator that brought all of us together. When we had approached Bill Miles, he had expressed the same reason for joining. But we still needed to complete the “horn section” to play much of the music and when Malcolm announced what we were doing in his JOY Sunday School class, lo and behold, we found Fran Rametta, a National Park Ranger and former Army band trumpeter right there under our noses.
Many songs in the 60's featured female singers, so we decided a "chick" singer would add versatility (and class) to our group. We found such a singer, with amazing talent right in our Shandon UMC choir, Margery Ballowe. Not only was Margery interested, but in a package deal, her husband, Gary, a multi-talented musician came on board to play baritone sax. We now had a complete horn section.
The group continued to practice in the fall of 2007 and by March 2008, we had a fairly decent playlist of songs. The band needed a name and, after several possibilities were vetted, Marion Brown came up with the perfect name - "Heart ‘n Soul" – because we play from the heart and definitely have soul. A logo was designed and a banner was constructed.
On March 25, 2008, Heart ‘n Soul played its first live performance at Shandon UMC for a JOY Class BBQ Sock Hop. There were approximately 200 people in attendance and they all loved the music and show. They shagged and slow danced to all the numbers played. The event was a huge success and we were off and running with a fan base.
We played to packed houses at Doc's Gumbo Grill on Assembly Street in Columbia and the crowd loved hearing the music they grew up with. Our rhythm section was beginning to gel, our vocal harmony was improving, and the horn section was getting tight. The group continued to practice concentrating on refining everything. Now that we were (and had been) professionals in our various careers, we were much more mature that when we played back in the 50's and 60's. Consequently, that drive for career perfection carried over to our music and we worked hard on honing and perfecting every song to the point where we were satisfied to move on to the next one.
We submitted an application to the IRS, requesting the band be treated as a public charity (known as a 501(c)(3) organization). Usually, these applications take several submissions, with the IRS requesting subsequent information and clarifications to endless questions. However, we received a "Congratulations, you have been approved" letter on the first attempt. We were now a full fledged public charity.
By the spring of 2008, we were booked to play for our first big gala, the Picasso Project for the Children’s Trust of S.C. This event was held at the Columbia Conference Center and raised over $30,000 for abused children. Later in 2008, we were booked to play for Project Pet's Fur Ball in the new Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. We played for a packed formal event and they loved the music so much they immediately booked us for the next year's ball. We helped them raise over $250,000 in that one evening!
Through the IT talents of Dick Chappell, the band launched its website in order to keep our growing family of fans (groupies) up to date. The website www.heartnsoulband.org is complete with a demo of representative songs from our extensive playlist that were recorded in an all-day recording session at the Jam Room Studios in December 2008. We can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/heartnsoulband.org.
During 2009, we continued to play at Doc's but, Ron Barrett began having health problems. He eventually lost his sight and his central nervous system began to shut down. Shortly before he died in October that year, we gathered at his house for a 45 minute performance by his bedside. We played and sang softly with minimal amplification and soft brushes on the snare and ride cymbal. Ron had a smile on his face the whole time and, even though he could no longer talk, he laughed when Marion missed a chord on Maurice Williams, "Stay." All Ron could do was move his foot, but he did so in perfect time with each song.
During 2009, the band got another big break when we were asked to play the opening set for the Concert in the Park series at Finlay Park. We rehearsed that show until each of us could play it in our sleep. The show came off as a success which ultimately led to our being booked to play a full concert in the 2010 series. In October 2009, we played for our second Fur Ball, which by now was one of the largest fundraising events in central South Carolina. The auctioneer asked Doug to do drum rolls with a cymbal crash every time someone raised their paddle during the cash part of the auction. The idea really caught on when one person's donation got the drum roll/cymbal crash and then the next person wanted to be recognized, and so on, until almost the entire gathering had raised a paddle for some level of cash donation.
Having built up a cash reserve from playing private events, we decided to hold a dinner at Shandon United Methodist Church to present a check for $5,000 to the church to be designated for Cooperative Ministries. The Executive Director and his wife were there along with Sr. Minister, Mike Guffee and his wife, and all the band members with various guests and spouses for a delicious dinner and evening of fun. WLTX-TV was on hand to report it on the 11 o’clock news.
Some time after Ron had passed away, we found a talented guitarist by the name of JJ Mackey. JJ came on board in 2010 and gelled with Marion, sharing the rhythm and lead parts of songs. JJ loves to rip out a solo on a blues song and the enjoyment he has for music shows all over his face as he plays.
Since 2010, the band has booked about 22 events each year, including the United Way gala (at the Greek Orthodox Center), the Heart Ball (Columbia Hilton), Red Cross Red/White/Blue gala (Medallion Center), Concert in the Park (Finley Park Summer Series), SC Public School Transportation conference, Camp Gravatt’s Under the Tent event, Palmetto Health Foundation gala, Fur Ball, Blue Jean Ball (Symphony League of SC Philharmonic), and Chester (SC) Rotary Club's Christmas party. We played the McDaniel Golf Classic/ Steve Spurrier event at The Zone to raise money for Palmetto Health Cancer Centers, performed a mainstage event at Newberry Opera House and played for many, many other functions, public and private.
We continue to play the major events in and around central South Carolina with several repeat performances at the Georgetown Shag Festival. The band is now well recognized as a valuable drawing card for events raising charitable dollars. In 2020, during the height of the Pandemic, we performed a Livestream concert broadcast nationally from the stage of the Koger Center for the Performing Arts to benefit the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation. From the best we can determine, Heart ‘n Soul has helped charities raise more than $4 million since its inception. In addition, we have donated over $400,000 directly to various charities in the community. We established the Heart ‘n Soul Band Fund to create a vehicle to perpetuate the name, history and our legacy of giving that has been the mission of the band since its inception and in 2014 Heart ‘n Soul was awarded the Group Philanthropy Award by the Central Carolina Community Foundation.
Heart ‘n Soul continues to provide high quality music for listening and dancing pleasure for all ages. We believe this is a way we can all give back by using our time and talents in a meaningful way to help others. That purpose, plus the enjoyment we all share in playing the best music of our lifetimes, makes for a wonderful way to give from our hearts and souls.
Gary Ballowe, Baritone Sax, Vocals
Certified Public Accountant
Previous: Sax and vocals in Midnight Friends
Margery Ballowe, Vocals
Registered Nurse, Cardiology
Previous: Reedy Creek Band, Second Nature, Sterling, Mad Romance, keyboard and vocals in Midnight Friends
Steve Briody, Guitar
Music Professor & Chair at Five Towns College, NY (retired)
Previous: Recorded or performed with Randy Brecker, Dave Valentin, Charlie Daniels, Jimmy Webb, Carl Fischer, Bill Heller, Eric Marienthal, Bernard Purdie, Run DMC, Paula Atherton, Funk Filharmonic, Jeff Lorber, and various NY cover bands
Ron Barrett, Guitar (R.I.P.)
Previous: Swingin’ Singin’ Counts
Marion Brown, Guitar, Vocals (emeritus)
Previous: Travelers, Eddie “Sweet Thang” Brown
Dickie Chappell, Keyboard
Previous: The Counts, Twilights, Funky Bunch (ex-Swinging Medallions members), Fire and Rain, Mama’s Home Cookin’ - Opened for Chicago, The Allman Brothers and Iron Butterfly
Carl Ellsworth, Vocals
Previous: Swingin’ Singin’ Counts – recorded Along The Way – opened for James Brown, Second Nature, Endless Summer – on the jukebox in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Macon
Malcolm Gordon, Vocals, Harmonica
Previous: Travelers, Slightly Fabulous Checkmates, backed Lettermen, Rufus Thomas, Shirelles and Dr. Feelgood - listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Macon
JJ Mackey, Guitar, Vocals
The Lite House & jjmackey agency
Previous: Stonewall (mid 70’s), Acoustic single & duos (80’s), Z-96 Band (late 80’s), Griff (late 90’s), Garage & Bedroom (forever)
Steve McGowan, Bass
Previous: Fantasy, The Dawson Gang, Devendow, J. Michael Barber Band, NightShade
Bill Miles, Bass (R.I.P.)
Information Technology (retired)
Previous: Persians, Mama’s Home Cookin’, Mark Bradley and Summer Breeze, U.S. Navy Ship Band
Doug Neal, Drums
Certified Public Accountant and Registered Investment Advisor
Previous: Played Bass with The Rivieras - recorded Behold at age 17, opened for Temptations and Stevie Wonder - listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Macon
Fran Rametta, Trumpet
National Park Ranger (retired)
Previous: Athens Brothers and played for U.S. Department of State functions
Curt Rone, Tenor, Alto, Soprano Sax
Chief Financial Officer (retired)
Previous Ronnie Milsap, Piano Red (Dr. Feelgood), Joe Lagano, Little Hugh and His Madmen, The Lancers, The Majestics – opened for Aretha Franklin, Billy Stewart, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Little Clarence at the Royal Peacock in Atlanta
Heart 'n Soul has played for the following organizations and made donations to all of them. Additional donations have made each year to selected charities.
American Heart Association
American Red Cross
Camp Gravatt and Conference Center
Capital Senior Center
Carolina Childrens Home
Carolina Sunshine Fund
Chester Rotary Club
City of Columbia
Epworth Children's Home
First Baptist Church
Indian Waters Council - BSA
Long Living Foundation
Newberry Hospital Foundation
One SC Fund
Prisma Health Foundation
SC Governor's Mansion
SC National Guard
SC State Museum
USC Educational Foundation
Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge
West Columbia Beautification