Johnny Hensley and the Red Hots, one of Augusta's first rock 'n' roll bands, got its start five decades ago in Columbia County.
"Where all this started was at the Martinez Teen Town in 1956," Hensley said. His aunt and uncle ran the teen club that was at Baston and Old Petersburg roads.
"There was just a group of us kids that would meet up there. We had an old jukebox and we would meet there every Saturday night. ... Some of us would sit around in between the jukebox songs and play guitar."
The Martinez club also is where then-13-year-old Hensley's first love, a 12-year-old girl, suggested the band's name after a song by Billy Raleigh and the Little Green Men titled My Girl Is Red Hot .
The band will celebrate its 50th anniversary Saturday with a reunion show at the Imperial Theatre. The concert, which includes performances by Patrick Blanchard and Eryn Eubanks and the Family Fold, starts at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets cost $21 to $26 and can be purchased from the theater at 745 Broad Street or by visiting www.imperialtheatre.com.
Proceeds from the concert will go to Seeds of Hope, a fundraising campaign for Press On: The Patrick R. Chance Fund for Neuroblastoma Research.
"All the money ... goes to this 5-year-old little boy. This is the most precious child you've ever seen in your life," Hensley said of Patrick, an Augusta native who now lives in Atlanta.
Hensley said the Imperial Theatre is a special place for the band. It was from that stage that Hensley and the Red Hots performed on WRDW radio in 1958 as part of a weekly Saturday morning teen rock show.
"I figured that's where it all came together," Hensley said. "You can't imagine how many memories this building holds for me."
But the Imperial stage was only one of many for the newly formed band of Murphy Middle School pupils. The band often played at a Martinez club Friday nights and was ready for the 9 a.m. Imperial Theatre performance on Saturday mornings. Hensley said they would then pack up and move to the WJBF-TV (Channel 6) studio, where they performed on the Top Ten Dance Party .
The weekend usually included a Saturday afternoon trip to the Manger Hotel in Savannah for the live television broadcast of the Sol Ratner Dance Party, before Saturday night performances on the pier at Tybee Island.
"It is amazing, at that age in 1957, how things just snowballed," Hensley said. "We really started getting serious about it."
With the help of a local radio station manager, Hensley and the Red Hots recorded some songs for regional distribution. They soon played as the opening act for Conway Twitty and other major entertainers of the day while touring along the East Coast.
In 1962, Hensley disbanded the Red Hots to become lead singer for the Celestials from the Atlanta club Pig Alley along with two other original Red Hots. After meeting a producer in Nashville, Tenn., the Celestials recorded two songs in the RCA studio that was home to some of music's greatest legends.
"This was the studio where Elvis recorded Heartbreak Hotel, " Hensley said. "When he signed with RCA, all of his hits were recorded in this studio, in the same room where we did our two songs. It took me a while just to get my mouth closed. ...To me, it is just mind-boggling."
The Celestials were one of the last artists to record in that studio, which is now a museum.
In the years since, the band has played together with numerous different members. Hensley spent many years as a concert promoter and organizer and retired from music in 1977 to pursue real estate and is now vice president of Re/Max Augusta.
The group reunited for reunion concerts at the Imperial Theatre in 1994, 1995 and in 1998 for their 40th anniversary. The band also performed for WJBF's millennium show in 1999. They played local events such as reunions and weddings through 2002.
Saturday's concert will include blues, a Broadway production number and rock 'n' roll, Hensley said, in addition to the original song for which the band was named.
The concert will be broadcast live on WJBF-TV.
Hensley said his music career has been full of jaw-dropping moments, but he wouldn't want to do it over again.
"It was pretty heady stuff," Hensley said. "I wouldn't take $1 million for the experience. But you couldn't give me $1 million to do it again. It is hard to explain."
For more information about the concert, visit www.johnny hensleyredhots.com or www.imperialtheatre.com.
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