THE EARLY YEARS
Marion was born in Monroe County, Arkansas. His Mother, Janice Ballowe, was from Lake Providence Louisiana, the daughter of the local veterinarian. His Father, Otis Marion “Bo” Deaton, had Cherokee Indian, English and Irish lineage.
Bo, Marion’s Dad, was a self- taught honky tonk piano player who loved popular music and played at any opportunity. The Deatons had no electricity or in- door plumbing in those early years in rural Arkansas, so singing in Church and around the piano was a part of everyday life.
Marion’s parents farmed and ran the local café. Marion and his sister, Carol, grew up in an environment of music and hard work. The Deaton children worked on the farm and in the café after school and on weekends. Marion spent a lot of time with grandparents.
Marion was a high school athlete and football star and hung out with the popular crowd. It was a given that he would farm like his father and spend his adult life in Clarendon, Arkansas.
For high school graduation, he asked his grandmother for a drum set. He wound up with a base, a snare and a high hat, and spent hours trying to reproduce the rhythms of the music he heard on the radio.
Marion went to Arkansas State University to study agriculture. What he found was several other guys who loved music as he did. One night, he and his roommate, Mike Saalwaechter, (a guitar player), were offered $5.00 each to play three songs at a fraternity party. That was a lot of money for doing something he loved. Marion was hooked. He left school and went on the road as a professional drummer.
MARION'S GETS HIS START
HEART OF A MUSICIAN
He gravitated toward players with his rural Arkansas roots and soon found himself playing with some of the South’s great players. They formed The Shades, one of the first, talent laden touring Rock and Roll bands of the era. Gene Hughey, later to be Conway Twitty’s baseman, played base and Wesley Wilson, the hottest talent of his time, played lead guitar. Will ‘Pop” Jones, the original piano player with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, was the piano player in the group and coached the young, talented players to a higher level. Jerry Kattawar, one of the South’s most engaging performers, replaced Will on piano later on. Many of the players with whom Marion played in those early days have become music staples and legends.
Marion married his high school sweetheart but playing music on the road fifty weeks a year is not conducive to a healthy marriage. They divorced five years later. During that time Marion had three children, Angie, Butch and Christy.
One night, a club they were playing caught fire and all the band
equipment was destroyed. Marion struck up a friendship with Jean Harmon, a woman he had met in a club. Marion and Jean opened several nightclubs together featuring some of the hottest acts of the era. Jean and Marion shared a love of life in the fast lane and soon began a tumultuous affair that ended in a stormy, short-lived marriage.
Marion wanted to control his own destiny, so he formed the Marion Deaton Group, a high energy, Top 40, horn band. He was now the drummer, who sang occasionally, and the bandleader. He began booking his band and several others. They worked constantly over a decade demanding big bucks. Sultry voiced Coley Chaudoin, a gifted guitarist, and smooth toned base player Bert Castro were staples in the group. Club owners could be assured that the cash register would ring and the club would be full of women when the boys were back in town.
Marion set up headquarters in Alexandria, La, and created the Marion Deaton Music Agency. He booked his and other acts all over North America. During this period he and a partner opened a recording studio and cut his first record, ‘The Bump.’ He was one of the original members of the Louisiana Music Commission. But Marion couldn’t wait to get on the road again.
Over the years Marion played with Percy Slegde, Ace Cannon, Roy Orbison, Neil Sedaka, Gene Pitney, Dell Shannon, Bruce Chanel, Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton, Jimmy Clanton, Dicky Lee, Rufus Thomas, Gee Gee Shinn, John Smith, Gene Simmons, and Ronnie Millsap, to name a few.
THE FUTURE OF SMOOTH WILLIE
In 1980, while looking at other business interests, Marion met
Robbie Blumenthal. Robbie was an executive who had a strong musical background. She had sung on the road with her own band and worked in various Playboy Clubs as a featured vocalist singing with the Al Baletto Jazz Quartet. Al was Playboy Enterprises musical director and world famous alto saxophonist.
This seemed to be a match made in heaven. They married in November of that year and are still together. When son Matt was two, Marion decided to get off the road. He had little to do with music for several years.
One night, at a Karaoke bar in Memphis, Marion sang a Willie Nelson song. The response was wild and overwhelming. The crowd went crazy! It seemed he not only sounded like Willie Nelson, but looked like him, too! Every time Marion sang the response was the same. “ Oh my gosh, he looks and sounds like Willie!” A new career was born, out from behind the drums.
Marion, now affectionately called Smooth Willie, searched the country for the best pickers available and formed The Smooth Willie Band. A CD was recorded as a tribute to Willie Nelson. They are currently appearing all over the globe*, performing with the respect one Road Warrior has for another.