local music scene south carolina
The Killer Whales
I clearly remember the first time in my life that I felt proud of my state of South Carolina as a musician – the first time I heard “Marlene” by The Killer Whales on the radio. Having made my way back home after a stint in California where I was exposed to a whole new world of music, I was so excited because in my mind I felt we had arrived. South Carolina bands have always struggled to break it big (or break through) and make it on a national level, something I hope will change for us in the near future. But the Killer Whales did just that, and they did it first, obviously no small feat and one worthy of gratitude and respect.
I am so proud to be able to showcase this band, and the fact that they are my first showcase on our new official site and the first for the newly added "Lowcountry" page just makes this even sweeter for me. My thanks to David Bethany and Murphy Pitts for allowing me to do this, two really nice guys! My advice to you the reader is to go back and listen to this band – the production, the musicianship, the songs – it’s all there and yes, just as good today as it was then! Thanks guys for giving us such great music and for setting the original bar for all South Carolina musicians and bands that followed.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist David Bethany formed the Killer Whales in 1979 with bassist Jim Blakeslee and drummer Murphy Pitts. They played their first show at Captain Harry's Blue Marlin Bar on the corner of Cumberland and State streets in early 1980, and after that the power trio could be found regularly performing at places like Myskyn's Tavern on South Market Street and the Windjammer on the Isle of Palms. Playing a mixture of old and contemporary pop rock and blues, Bethany began writing and the band injected their own original songs into the mix which quickly caught on.
The band released their self titled 4 song EP, “The Killer Whales,” in 1981 on a small North Carolina label called Moonlight Records which included the infectious pop hit “Marlene.” So began a regional love affair with the band that started in Charleston, SC and eventually spread across the southeast.
1983 saw their first full length studio release titled “Emotional Geography” on Ripete Records, which continued their momentum and attracted interest from major record labels. As their fame grew, the Whales were tapped to open shows for acts such as Men at Work, Culture Club, Huey Lewis and the News, REM, Bonnie Raitt, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and Cheap Trick in some of the biggest concert venues in the area. The band played showcases in Manhattan and Los Angeles, and appeared on Ed McMahan’s “Star Search” TV show, all the while continuing a grueling touring schedule in clubs from Texas to New York.
In 1985 original bassist Jim Blakeslee stepped down and bassist Tom Lentz took over in time to see the band return to the studio and record their 1986 final release “Big Bang,” which is hard to find but hailed by some as their best work. You can visit the band's Reverb Nation page if you would like to hear and purchase digital downloads of both the debut EP and Big Bang. Emotional Geography can be found on iTunes for purchase.
The Killer Whales continued to tour heavily then finally broke up near the end of 1987. The members parted as friends, leaving behind a solid legacy of original material and a dedicated fan base that continues growing to this day. The original members regrouped in 1990 and were received with great anticipation and excitement. Since then they have gotten back together about once every 4 years or so for special performances or to lend their name and support to regional and statewide causes of good worth.
The killer Whales produced a solid body of work with clever pop song writing and brilliant musicianship so tightly executed you forgot it was 3 piece, all signatured with a unique vocal voice, making it easy to see why they occupy such a singular place in South Carolina music history, and why there will never be another quite like them.