It’s 7 p.m. on a Thursday and PlayBack “The Band” is at St. John Towers assisted living center on Greene Street doing what it has done best for the past 20 years: making people happy through music and helping them forget their troubles, at least for a few hours.
“Here’s a little thing called Sleep Walk,” bandleader Timm Coxx tells the audience about the band’s opening instrumental number, originally released by brothers Santo & Johnny in 1959. “Check this out.” That is followed by another classic ballad, My Girl, made famous by The Temptations on Motown Records in 1964.
Throughout the large social room you could see seniors tapping their feet in time with the music, nodding their heads and mouthing the words. This is the music they grew up on, heard repeatedly on Augusta-area radio stations such as the powerful WBBQ and WRDW-AM, or heard in the background as many fell in love on those rainy nights in Georgia.
One elderly lady who moved to Augusta from West Virginia rolled her wheelchair up to one of the tables and said, with a big grin, “This is the best band I’ve ever walked in on here, and I’ve been here three years.”
Without a doubt, PlayBack “The Band” is one of Augusta’s most popular dance and performance groups, having entertained at scores and scores of corporate functions, special events, wedding receptions, anniversary parties, etc., with its unique blend of classic soul, funk, country standards and ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s rock.
Come Saturday night, the band again will be helping celebrants welcome in the New Year with a booking at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Columbia County.
The group was a mainstay for six years as the house band at Surrey Tavern on Highland Avenue and continues to return to the popular Surrey Center shopping center on a frequent basis and during Masters Week.
Among the celebrities the band has performed with or opened for have been President Clinton, Lou Rawls, Mary Wilson (formerly of The
Supremes), Dennis Edwards (formerly of The Temptations), The Manhattans, The Impressions, The Chi-Lites, Melba Moore, New Edition, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, and BB King.
Recently, the band received its 10th “Best Of” award from Augusta magazine as Augusta’s best rhythm and blues band.
BY NOW AT St. John Towers, bandleader Coxx has called up a true local music legend: the amazing and entertaining Tutu D’Vyne, whose powerful vocals and vibrant personality add fuel to the musical fire that the other members of PlayBack “The Band” already are fanning. Her first number of the evening is another classic ’60s ballad, Stand by Me, which Ben E. King took to No. 4 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart in 1961.
She follows that by telling the audience, “I usually end up singing this next song three times a night,” and with that she launches into the classic Etta James ballad At Last.
Few people know that D’Vyne is a double musical personality in the Augusta area. She also is known for singing with the Paine College Concert Choir under her real name: Petula Fluellen.
“I started out singing with Tony Howard,” she says during a break, ‘‘and with (Augusta’s late blues piano maestro) Jerry Harris. That’s how I met (Harris’) nephew Tim Sanders. He performed at my prom at T.W. Josey (high school) in 1984, and I told some friends then that I would be singing with Tim one day.”
Sanders, known especially for his saxophone playing, founded and worked with several versions of the band, then called just Playback, in the 1980s. Then into the picture came Coxx, who had accepted a job at Savannah River Site and had moved to Augusta from his beloved Pittsburgh.
“What Sanders and David Heath were looking for was to create a band that could play classic rhythm and blues music and jazz, especially of the ’60s and ’70s Stax and Motown Records era,” Coxx recalled. “I was used to small, tavern-type clubs, and the Surrey Tavern fit that picture.” The reformation of the group with Coxx led to the revised name PlayBack “The Band.”
ONE INTERESTING aspect of the group is that it has several interchangeable musicians, who might or might not be performing with the band on any given night.
Core regulars besides Coxx on drums and D’Vyne and Johnny “Soul” Pryor as featured vocalists include Wayne King, trumpet; Michael King, bass guitar; Gary Oxton, lead guitar; and Courtland Saxon, saxophone and flute.
Auxillary members are band counselor and father-figure Joe Perrin on bass guitar; and Patrick Redmond and George “Paisley” Gordon on guitar. Sanders consults with the band and sits in on various occasions.
“Our motto is ‘Real Music 4 Real People,’ ” Coxx said. “The music we play is so powerful that it is emotionally connective … bridges spaces in time. We play for senior citizens, but we also play at the annual prom at Briarwood Academy in Warrenton, Ga., where the ages are 15 to 19.”
Coxx also said the band’s belief in God has undoubtedly led to the group’s success and longevity. Several members hold music positions at area churches and perform at Sunday morning services.
Coxx remembers having a brief conversation with entertainer James Brown – Brown told Coxx that he could keep a band together working and earning money for years if he could maintain a sense of camaraderie and keep his musicians interested in their performances, and always having fun with their music.
“Some people use golf as their hobby to have fun,” Coxx said, “but we’re musicians, and we really enjoy going out and having fun playing our music and having people enjoy it.”
“Then, for you, a hole in one is actually a standing ovation?” Coxx was asked.
He smiled and replied, “Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s a hole in one for us.”