BBHF Heritage Trail adds band

Published 4:09 am Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival has chosen American Empire, a band with a direct tie to The Daily News, as its 2017 Heritage Trail addition.

The group got started in 1965 as the Mustangs, but changed its name to American Empire shortly thereafter. The band went on to not only open shows for Barbara Mandrell and the Oak Ridge Boys, but also to record its own music in various studios across the country.

Johnny Leos said he founded the band, along with Jimmy Rayburn, Ken Amacker and Wayne Smith.

“Through the years a lot of musicians went through the group, including Hoyt Garrick, Mike Moga, Johnny Bunch, Eugene Foster, and Edwin Poole, to name a few,” Leos said.

The group was known for many years for playing the Swing Club in Sun, with members Jimmy Rayburn, Ernie Wells, Johnny Mack Simmons, Mike Edwards and Johnny Leos. After the Swing Club, the group played the local area with private parties and in some clubs.

“During this time several songs were recorded at Eugene Foster’s Magic City Recording studio and, perhaps the most popular song, ‘Taking You For Granted,’ was recorded at Studio in the Country, (which is located between Bogalusa and Varnado),” Leos said. “Several other recording projects were done during this time.”

After a few years, two female vocalists were added — Anita Smith, a former advertising representative at The Daily News, and Renay Elmore. Ernie Wells retired and was replaced by Marc Elmore.

Leos said the band traveled to Nashville, Tenn., and recorded several songs with Mike Elliot as engineer. Additional recordings were done at Southlake Studios in Metairie, with David Farrell as engineer.

“Professional management was signed, and the group started touring,” Leos said. “We opened for Barbara Mandrell for several shows, along with openings for the Oak Ridge Boys. Additional artists included Jo El Sonnier and Earl Thomas Conley. In one concert, William Lee Golden opened for American Empire. The group toured Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.”

Members of the group for the concert openings were: Jimmy Rayburn on steel guitar, keyboards, and lead guitar; Mike Edwards on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and sax; Marc Elmore on bass; Anita Smith on lead vocals; Renay Elmore on lead vocals, and keyboard; and Johnny Leos on drums. Wayne Smith was the sound technician and John Fussell was the road manager.