Wrongly convicted in 1981, guitarist, keyboardist and bassist Raymond Towler spent 29 years in jail before he was exonerated on May, 5, 2010.
Shortly after his release, he put together the Exoneree Band with bassist Ted Bradford, drummer Thomas Gruscinski, singer-drummer Antoine Day, singer William Michael Dillon and singer-guitarist Eddie Lowery, all of whom have been wrongfully convicted.
The group came together in September of 2010 for an Innocence Project benefit in Cincinnati. The organizers thought exonerees would have something to say and helped assemble the band.
“The guys in the band now were like the house band for guys who wanted to do poetry or just sing one song," says Towler. "It turned out so good that we decided to stick together to provide the music for other Innocence Project events.”
They did shows in Salt Lake and Portland. At one big show in New York, the group really came into its own.
Even though members live in other parts of the country, they come together a few times a year and practice before gigs. Combined, the group’s members have spent more than 150 years in prison and that experience figures into the music.
“Our original songs talk about our experiences,” says Towler. “Eddie Lowery is a folk rock singer, and he definitely sings about the troubles he’s had going directly to his time and prison. For me, it’s mostly instrumental. I have two songs with vocals and my favorite line is 'the courts released me, but Jesus set me free.' The original song ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is about moving forward. We mostly do original stuff, but we want popele to let their hair down and do some cover songs too. We do some boot kicking tunes and some R&B also. I used to do a rendition of [Funkadelic's] 'Maggot Brain' to provide some variety.”
For Freedom Rocks
, a benefit concert that takes place at House of Blues at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, Faith & Whiskey as well as the No-Name Band, local bands featuring lawyers, will join the Exoneree Band on the bill. The benefit will raise money for the advocates at Ohio Innocence Project Northeast who represent individuals who maintain they are actually innocent.
"I used to have an idea about lawyers, but I finally met the ones who are the cream of the crop who work with the Innocence Project," says Towler. "A lot of them give their time for free. I think there might be money down the line, but I think good things happen to good people. I have no problem with this group of lawyers. Believe me, I had my trouble with the bad ones. That’s probably why I did 30 years.”