Intimate Cyrcle – Bringing the Upbeats to Downtown

The first time I heard the Intimate Cyrcle’s Chetwyd single was a bit of a shock. I knew it was the label’s last 45 release, but given the spelling and knowing most of the label’s prior releases I figured it had the potential to be a psych-tinged rocker. Like many times in my life I was dead wrong – but pleasantly so. This great two-sider deserves more attention and the band certainly deserves some recognition for their music. Ladies and gentlemen…

The Upbeats / Intimate Cyrcle

The origin story starts simply enough with a group of participants of a fairly new educational program dubbed Upward Bound, which was a college preparatory summer session for high school students. Morehead State was one of the earliest universities in Kentucky to host Upward Bound students and during the summer of 1968 tutor counselors Lydia Lewis and Calvin Settles (both of Maysville) worked with future incoming college freshmen Diane Berry, Kathy Haley, Charles Corde, Arvid Hall (also all from the Maysville / Mason County area), Joan Barber (West Liberty) and, perhaps most importantly, Lisa Palas – a recent graduate from Richmond’s Madison Central High School.

Upbeats L to R: Berry, Palas, Lewis, Barber, Haley, Settles, Corde, Hall

Several of these students had already participated in Upward Bound in prior years (Barber, Corde, Hall) and there seems to have been some form of the Upbeats as early as 1967, but it is this group of eight that really earned the name. All had interest in music and MSU assistant music professor Gene Deaton was on hand to offer guidance. As for the band name, it was possibly derived from the “Upward Bound Upbeat” radio show that aired on WMKY (the campus radio station).

If this group had emerged in a more recent decade cynics may have dismissed them as just another manufactured band full of media friendly faces picked to appeal to a broad audience. It would be understandable. Lewis was Miss Morehead State of 1967, while Palas would wear the crown herself in ’71. The other members were also fresh-faced with plenty of appeal. Certainly, the band had looks, but also real talent and origins of a more altruistic nature. Palas had already penned over 100 songs in her young life and lead Settles had a smooth, soulful voice that he would also use as a co-founding member of MSU’s Black Gospel Ensemble. Several of the group were music majors.

The Upbeats EP Cover

As for the altruism? The first real impact the band had was recording four Palas-penned songs for their eponymous EP release with the profits going into a scholarship fund for the Upward Bound program. The songs included a tribute to the program entitled appropriately “We’re Upward Bound” as well as what would later become a more famous cut – “World of Love”. The remaining tracks were “Someday” and “So Many Times”.

Little is known about the actual recording session, but it was a fairly bare-bones production. Palas was tasked with piano duties while Settles tackled the lead vocals. In addition to the octet, the session included Jim Martin on flute and David Taylor on drums with Mr. Deaton acting as arranger. This offering was released in 1968 on the California-based Century label (well known for their custom pressing of high school and collegiate bands) with the help of Ronald K. Ball in Greenup, Kentucky. The EP was sold for $1 through the mail by the Upward Bound office. It is uncertain if copies were also carried locally or sold at events.

The record only added to the band’s campus popularity and appearances in the region were common. Fortunately, during the racially tense period of the late 1960s and early 1970s the mixed race band probably suffered very little. The vast majority of their concerts were campus events or school related off-campus events including various banquets and dances and even large alumni gatherings at places such as the Beverly Hills Club in northern Kentucky. Additionally, the group often accompanied the MSU Stage Band to various competitions – venturing as far south as Mobile, Alabama. Closer to home, they performed non campus gigs such as playing in Lexington for the National Republican’s Governors Conference in 1969. The Upbeats’ days were over. Certainly by early 1969 the band was only being referred to as the Intimate Cyrcle and a new chapter was beginning.

Under the new moniker the band headed to Lexington and Ed Common’s Chetwyd studio where their second release was born. The Chetwyd session included a re-record of the earlier “World of Love” and a new track “Someday (You’ll Be Breaking My Heart)”. Though similar in name – this is not the same song as “Someday” from the earlier EP.

Gene “It’s Finger Poppin’ Time” Deaton

Commons had a great ear and years of experience behind a sound board and this session captured a much fuller sound than the prior recording. Obviously the band had improved as well. Settles delivered the vocals powerfully, but with real smoothness and heartfelt emotion. While Martin was certainly a master flutist on the first record, the new cuts featured a strong brass section that completely exorcised the slightly jazzy folk feel of the first EP and ushered in a soul sound that clearly was the right direction for the band. Music prof Deaton again handled the arrangement and the musicians were likely members of the MSU Stage Band. Due to the constant state of flux of the band beyond Palas and Settles it is unclear who else appeared on this record from the earlier band.

By 1970 it was clear that the ensemble would exist as a free flowing group and Intimate Cyrcle had completely morphed into the vocal group fronting the Stage Band at the university. The instrumentation and arranging was left in the good hands of Deaton or the legendary Morehead teacher/musician Jay Flippin. Some other members who appeared with the group during that time include Upshaw Briggs, Chuck Carthan, Brad Jones, Sharon Porter, and Richard Wanamaker – there were potentially a dozen or more others.

The Intimate Cyrcle circa 1972

The Intimate Cyrcle as an entity seems to have died out around 1972. Interestingly, this is the same year that the last original (and still performing) member Lisa Palas graduated. Lisa went on to have the most successful music related career becoming a very popular songwriter for many Nashville country artists like Alabama (including the #1 hits “There’s No Way” and “You’ve Got the Touch”), Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Kris Kristofferson, Chris LeDoux, Lee Greenwood, The Whites and many others. She has also penned music for the stage and film, while trying her hand at acting along the way. She remains active as a songwriter and performer.

Beautiful Lydia Lewis sought an even bigger crown and in 1973 became the first African-American to be named Miss Kentucky. Her talent portion? A crowd pleasing rendition of the Carol King tune “Sweet Inspiration / Where You Lead” made famous by Barbra Streisand just a couple years prior. In 1978 many local music fans spotted her as the model for Prince Phillip Mitchell’s “Make It Good” album cover. Lydia appeared as a public speaker at various events in the subsequent decades and at last report lives in Ohio.

Yearbook BFFs: Hall, Barber, Lewis, Settles, Palas

Unfortunately, the rest of the band members post-Intimate Cyrcle careers are not well documented. Calvin Settles is possibly deceased. Arvid Hall spent more than forty years working for Dayton Power and Light. The remaining members from the original eight are in the ether for now, but hopefully the future will mean some additional details emerge.  – Shawn Chambers, 2017

*Note – special thanks to Morehead Library for providing label scans and some sound files. Most of the yearbook photos above are from the library and can be attributed to Morehead State College http://scholarworks.moreheadstate.edu/morehead_state_yearbooks

Discography:
45s:
CENTURY
33948   World of Love; So Many Times / Someday; We’re Upward Bound   1968

CHETWYD
45010 A World of Love / Someday (You’ll Be Breaking My Heart) 1969*

*some discographies show 1967 for this release, which is not possible. The band was not even the Intimate Cyrcle in 1967. An August 22, 1968 press release states the pending Century EP as “its first record album” and it will be “released in about a month”. Clearly the first release was late 1968. There is no reason to believe the Chetwyd release would be earlier than 1969 as the band would surely not be recording another record so quickly on the heels of their inaugural release. Label owner Commons could not verify date, but 1969 seems most likely with an outside chance of 1970. Also note that this single exists with a cream colored label as the first pressing before being remastered and re-released with a blue label. Per Commons and others, the first pressing has a better sound.

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