Scrapbook: The 90's: Ron & The Starfires Reunion Show

Ron & the Starfires bring back memories

NOTE: Ron & The Starfires, a rhythm and blues band of Auburndale High School graduates who played off and on together from 1960 through to 1975, were reunited in concert at the 25-year Reunion of the AHS Class of 1965 Saturday night, Aug. 11. The event was special because it brought additional people to the Civic Center beyond the 120 or so gathered for the reunion. Here's a little background on who and what were Ron & The Starfires, by Jennifer Shafar, a daughter of Carl Chambers, and correspondent for The Auburndale Star.

By Jennifer Shafar

Sometimes the name changed, and so too the members, but Ron & The Starfires continued unfailingly in popularity in the 1960s and 70s in Auburndale and around the state.
The band as it was known in 1963 to 1967, consisting of Ron Whitney (lead vocals), Allen Keefer (drums), Charlie Brown (keyboard and guitar), Carl Chambers (lead guitar) and Jesse Chambers (bass), reunited to perform at the Auburndale High School Class of 1965's reunion, and people crawled out of the woodwork just to see Ron & The Starfires one more time.
"You just can't understand how good (Ron & The Starfires) were. They were like nothing around today. They were just incredible," said Glenda (Mock) Chambers, one of the coordinators for the Class of 1965's reunion.
The band began playing together in 1960.
"When I came home from college in 1960, Ron (Whitney), Charlie (Brown) and myself got together and started The Starfires," said Allen Keefer, one of the original Starfires.
"Ron chose the name Starfires because of the airplane," said Keefer. "But we had to change it (from The Starfires to Ron & The Starfires) because there was another band in Florida named The Starfires. We put Ron's name in the group title so there would be no confusion."
The three original group members added a few musicians within the next two years, inclusive of Tulley Stokes and Ross Williams, both bass players, and a couple of sax players, Jack Pilkington and Buddy Canova.
Also an integral part of the first Ron & The Starfires was a piano player named Bobby Braddock, who went on to become the writer of many hit songs such as "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E".
In 1962, the band broke up, but was again playing together in 1963 and had two new members - a pair of cousins - Carl Chambers (joining the band in the spring of 1963) and Jesse Chambers (joining the band in the fall of 1963).
Keefer, who had taken a break from the rhythm and blues band in 1962, returned, reclaiming his position as drummer from Ray Lee in the fall of 1963
From 1963 to 1964, the band played at area teen centers. Nearly every city had one, and Ron & The Starfires had a "gig," or playing engagement, almost every weekend.
The band also put out a record in 1964 featuring a song written by Ron Whitney, "The Grass is Greener." The song was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami. This was the same studio used by such greats as The Eagles and Eric Clapton. The song turned out to be a regional chartbuster.
"At the time," said Whitney, "I don't think any of us knew what a truly good thing we had."
"We played in Auburndale, Bartow, Haines City, Winter Haven, Lakeland and Lake Alfred," said Carl Chambers. "We also played in Lake County a lot. (We played) at Eustis, Umatilla, Mount Dora, and Dade City - you can't forget Dade City."
When Ron & The Starfires had proven themselves on the teen center circuit, the band moved on to play in Orlando and the Daytona area, all the while continuing to frequent the teen centers of Polk and Lake Counties.
Carl came to rehearsal one day saying that we had to do some songs out by this little British group called the Beatles," said Charlie Brown. "He said we needed to get into the British Rock if we wanted to get anywhere. We were able to capture the sound better than any of the other bands around. We put it in our show, and it went over big."
The group was so popular in Central Florida that word spread of their talents as far north as Gainesville, specifically the University of Florida (UF) Campus. Ron & The Starfires were asked to play at a Pi Kappa Phi fraternity party.
And they became one of the most sought after bands around.
Besides still touring the teen centers, Ron & The Starfires played at such places as the Daytona Beach pier ballroom, the University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech. The band was a regular item at the Daytona and Gainesville teen centers - both coveted gigs.
The band went on to back up such greats as the Shangri-Las and Rufus Thomas. They were also featured several times on the dance show "Hi-Time" hosted by Jack Stir.
In 1967, Charlie Brown, who played keyboard and guitar, left to go to law school, and he was replaced by the late Muggins Willard (George Wier).
The band was on a high until 1968, when they broke up, but in 1969 minus Carl Chambers, who had dropped from the band and had been replaced by Larry Howard, the band was again alive and kicking again, and played together from this time until 197 7, using different names: Cinnamon (1969-1970), and Matanzas (1971-1983).
What ever happened to the band members?
Ron Whitney went on to make music for 23 years after he, Keefer and Brown formed the original Starfires band in 1960. A 1957 graduate of Auburndale High School, he has worked at Tampa Electric since 1963 and is now a field engineer. Whitney played with The Starfires until their end, then moved on to Cinnamon and Matanzas, where he stayed until 1983.
Whitney wrote one song that was recorded in 1964 by Ron & The Starfires, "The Grass is Greener," which shot to the top of several regional charts. Now Whitney enjoys astronomy, still making music, and is a World War II buff.
Allen Keefer, a 1960 graduate of Auburndale High School, has been an employee of Tampa Electric since 1965. He is, by title, storekeeper. Keefer left the band in 1977. Although he had performed with the Bruce Canova Show Band for a while -fi-om 1968 to 1970, The Starfires was his main musical venture.
As far as feelings on the band reuniting, Keefer said that he was "having a good time getting back together. "He is married to Judie, his wife of two years, and has one son, Philip. The Keefers live on a houseboat in Haines City and enjoy water sports. Keefer is a bicycle racer and a scuba diver. He is also in the process of building a house.
Charlie Brown, a member of the graduating class of Auburndale High in 1961, dropped out of the band in 1967 because, "working three jobs, and being a full-time law student was too much," he explained. He has not played in a band since, but says that having a reunion of Ron & The Starfires is something he's "always wanted to do."
He has, however, done quite well for himself as a lawyer. Brown graduated from law school in 1968. He moved directly to West Palm Beach to be the Asst. State Attorney for Palm Beach County. In 1974 he started a private practice, and there he stayed until 1989, when he sold his practice.
Brown is now semi-retired, and said that he and his wife of 7 years, Zonna, are both going to "relax, unwind, and just enjoy ourselves." They are now in the process of remodeling their Auburndale home, which Brown purchased from his primary school teacher, Mrs. Margaret Lavigne. The house is 52 years old.
Other than restoring houses, Brown enjoys collecting and restoring antique military vehicles, and is an "antique hunter." Brown has one daughter, Teri Leigh, and two grandchildren.
On the reunion, Brown says he is having a great time getting back together. We were so close back then. We could trust each other completely, and that came thought in our music -- we all thought alike. You could count on the guy next to you. The more we play together, the more that feeling is coming back."
Carl Chambers went on to make music his life. After graduating in 1964, he played with Ron & The Starfires until 1974. Then Chambers moved on to another band - Dizzy Rambler. Carl stayed with Dizzy Rambler for one year before he took a job at Central Sound Studios, Winter Haven, as a producer, studio musician and commercial artist.
In 1978, Carl left his job at Central Sound Studios to go with the Bellamy Brothers, who approached both Carl and his cousin Jesse with an offer to go on the road. All of this came about because Howard and David Bellamy had often seen Ron & The Starfires perform.
The brothers had heard Chambers boys and had thought of the cousins when getting together a band of their own to take on the road and record albums with. The Bellamy Brothers had a hit song on the pop charts, "Let Your Love Flow," but were being pushed as a country band. Chambers did go on tour with the Bellamys and stayed with their band for two years.
Carl dropped from the Bellamys in 1980, having had his share of the road.
In 1981, Chambers hit the national Billboard charts with the single, "Take Me Home With You," which he co-written with his wife of thirteen years, Nancy. In 1983 Alabama recorded Close Enough to Perfect and Chambers won two BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) awards, one Nashville Songwriters Association award and a Music City News award for his song.
In 1985, Ricky Skaggs recorded Brand New Me, which Chambers also wrote. Chambers went on to have John Schnieder record another of his songs, "He Finally Made Up Her Mind."
Most recently, in 1987 , Chambers wrote another song for Ricky Skaggs, the hit title song off the album "Love's Gonna Get You." Chambers has had his own business since 1980, Dizzy Rambler Productions, an artist promotion and demo/sound studio, and a division of which, Dizzy Rambler Music, is associated with BMI.
He lives in Auburndale with his wife Nancy, and has five children, Craig, Wendy, Jennifer, Trudi and Christina.
Gerald "Jesse" Chambers also went on to have a career in music. "I didn't really plan on it, but that's the way it turned out." He held a job as International Paper Company from 1967 to 1978. He, like his cousin Carl, went on to play with the Starfires until 1974, when he went to join Dizzy Rambler.
In 1976, Jesse took a job at Central Sound Studios as a studio musician and he stayed there until 1978 when he was offered an on the road job with the Bellamy Brothers band. Jesse took the job as musician, but also took over the position as road manager for the band.
He stayed there until 1980, and one month later, in 1981, he signed on as bass player and road manager for Ricky Skaggs. During his time there he played on several albums, including Highways and Heartaches, Country Boy, and Love's Gonna Get Ya.
In July of 1989 Jesse Chambers quit the Skaggs band and came home. Something happened that "turned my whole life around," said Chambers. That something was the meeting of his wife, Denise.
"I met Denise and I knew I just wanted to spend the rest of my life with her," commented Chambers. They were married soon after and Chambers and his sons Jackson and Jeremy and his wife and her daughter, Allison, live in Auburndale. He is now employed at Florida Tire supply.
"I think it's terrific that we got back together. It's very nostalgic, it brings back a lot of good memories," responded Chambers when questioned on his feelings about the reunion. "Actually, it's just fortunate that we are still here and healthy, some of our friends weren't so lucky."
Joe Spann, local musician, though not an original Starfire, sat in with the band and played keyboard, as Carl Chambers said, "represented all the musicians that we ever had in the band at any time during our history."
Ron & The Starfires played at the 1965 Junior-Senior Prom and it was at the request of the planning committee that the group got together again.