The inevitable happened. Tony and his two sisters now make up the Top 40 band SP8, performing at Rhythm In Riverview Monday night.
“My father, Gino Speight, and Vic (aka Vic Danger) both had the same musical mentality in putting your best foot forward on stage and giving the crowds their money’s worth,” Tony said.
“They always delivered, and they’re looking down on us today, expecting us to do the same.”
VIC DANGER AND THE VOODO DOCTORS
Victor Simon, one of Kingsport’s most popular native sons, lost a battle with leukemia seven years ago, and Gino Speight, the keyboardist in Vic’s band, the Voodoo Doctors, passed away suddenly from surgery complications just last year. The pair first met in Nashville more than 20 years ago as members of the Tyrone Smith Revue, and the musical group Vic Danger and the Voodoo Doctors evolved from that band.
The two aspiring musicians also had a local connection: Kingsport singer and entertainer Kenneth Wayne “Scat”
Springs, already part of Nashville’s music scene, actually introduced Vic to Gino. The two became part of an intimate circle of musical friends in Nashville that also included Springs, playing many venues in the capital city and backing up many famous singers, songwriters and entertainers.
Ultimately, group members became so popular around Nashville that they could recommend each other for gigs whenever the call came from big-name country, pop, R&B and gospel stars.
Members of the Nashville group remained close-knit friends who all loved music and, coincidentally, happened to work well with each other.
Today, the loss of Vic and Gino weighs heavily on Tony Speight and his sisters, all in their 20s.
“As performers, their influence pushes us to give the crowd everything we’ve got and have fun on stage at the same time,” he said.
Suggestions by both Vic Danger and Gino Speight were felt strongly in the Voodoo Doctors band, and later by the Speight children growing up.
“Vic was like the Joe Jackson of the Voodoo Doctors (referring to the patriarch of Michael Jackson and the Jackson family),” Tony remembers. “Joe Jackson pushed Michael and his brothers and sisters hard until the music, the songs, the show and they themselves were letter perfect. Vic did the same with our dad, who passed that on to us. Everybody was always on the same page.”
Even today when Gretta Simon talks about her late husband, Vic, in a phone interview, although you can’t see it, you can tell she has a gleam in her eye.
“Vic always wanted to inspire young people to find their musical potential, explore it, use it, and above all, have fun with it,” she said. “He saw the potential in Gino’s children. They were always talking about breaking the kids aside and letting them showcase their own talents. He had a way of seeing the hidden talent in the little things that young people do normally. If it was musical talent that Vic saw, well of course it was ‘move to the front of the line.’ He was very good about seeing that in people and he saw a talent in Gino’s children.”
As Vic and Gino watched the children progress, their own Voodoo Doctors continued taking on new looks.
“Those two were the cut-ups in the group,” Gretta remembers. “One day, Vic noticed Gino having a lot of fun with one particular song and he told him, ‘Hey, I need you to be the lead man on that song and some of these other songs we’ve got. ... You need to get out there and swoon and woo the crowd just like you’re doing now.’ Gino said, ‘Nah, you’re the front man. You need to be out in front of everybody,’ but Vic wasn’t having it. He saw Gino’s personality as a way to keep the crowd involved in the performance.”
GROOMING THE NEXT GENERATION
Gino has apparently impressed that personality on to his son Tony and his sisters Tabitha and Tiffany. Tony still speaks of his father as if he were still alive.
“He groomed us in a way that we didn’t even realize by teaching us the values of music,” he says. “As we got better with my sisters and my dad all together on the same stage, it was definitely too many chiefs and not enough Indians, but once the music starts, the groove sets in, you start giving yourself to the crowd and they start feeling it, it always comes together in a beautiful show. We’re feeding off the crowd reactions, and they’re feeding off the sights and sounds of the band. It just works.”
So where did the band’s name SP8 come from?
Tony says it’s a memorable variation of the name “SP-eight,” and it’s pronounced the same way it looks. It’s their sentimental way of honoring their late dad.
“When we played together before he passed, my dad always played keyboard with us,” Tony says. “So as a reminder of him and perhaps a security blanket to us, we always put our keyboard player on the left side of the stage (audience right) where he would be. It sounds crazy and it’s the weirdest feeling, but it feels like he is still with us right there on stage. It’s also fun because it’s our chance to show the crowd what he would want us to do. He was even working on stage moves with us, shortly before he passed.”
Gino made two trips to Kingsport with Vic and the Voodoo Doctors in July, 2008 and July, 2011. Both memorable performances were at Rhythm In Riverview, one of the premier events in Fun Fest. Rhythm In Riverview is now one of the annual summer festival’s longest running events.
Program coordinator Johnnie Mae Swagerty says the crowd will be involved in Monday’s special performance by SP8.
“We’re planning a dedication and a 30-second moment of silence to commemorate Gino Speight and Vic Danger and the legacies they leave behind,” she said. “We want Kingsport to open up its heart and embrace SP8, the next generation of their music. The celebration of Vic and Gino’s musical lives also continues with the Line Dance for Leukemia, an annual fundraiser for the local Leukemia and Lymphoma Society chapter, to raise awareness of the disease.”
PERFORMING ON HIS STAGE
Meanwhile, the appearance by SP8 and the children of Gino on Monday will carry another special significance, probably the biggest one of all.
This will be the first time since Gino’s passing that his children will perform on a stage where he once performed.
“Stepping on the stage without his booming presence has been difficult, but the fact that he once performed on the same stage we’re now on is something we’ve tried to prepare ourselves for mentally,” Tony says. “We’re stepping into the shoes he left here eight years ago. It’s a daunting task, but I believe that once the music starts, any nervousness will go away because our dad would say, ‘Get over it. Let’s have fun.’ His spirit will be here, and it will guide us.”
Activities for children in the old Douglass Ball Field at the V.O. Dobbins Complex on Martin Luther King Drive at Louis Street will be going on all day Monday, where vendors will also be selling food. Rhythm In Riverview itself kicks off around 6 p.m., and the SP8 band takes the stage at 7.
“Our show is a big difference from other shows,” Tony says. “We play Top 40, pop, R&B, anything on the charts from the 1960s up to now. Expect a lot of high energy, enthusiasm and well-choreographed moves. SP8 is bringing Las Vegas to Kingsport. It will definitely be something different.”
Are people expected to get up and dance?
“You’ll have no choice,” came Tony’s confident answer.
“You will have no choice.”