One of the rare father-daughter duos in country music history, the Kendalls were also the most successful, racking up a series of hits during the late '70s and early '80s. Daughter Jeannie sang lead on most of the group's material, while father Royce typically double-tracked his harmony vocals behind her and shunned the spotlight on most occasions. Though their production was certainly radio-friendly, they were more grounded in country tradition than many of their contemporaries, working elements of bluegrass, honky tonk, and country gospel into their music.
Royce was born in St. Louis, and along with his brother Floyce, he formed a group called the Austin Brothers during the late '50s. Jeannie was also born in St. Louis, and her father taught her to sing as a child. Royce moved the family to Los Angeles as he pursued a career with the Austin Brothers, but after a couple of years, he returned to St. Louis and set up his own barber shop. He and Jeannie teamed up as a family act when she was 15 and started selling their demo tape via mail order. They found a patron in producer Pete Drake, who signed them to the small Stop Records and helmed their very first chart single, a 1970 cover of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" that just missed the country Top 50. The Kendalls subsequently moved to Nashville in pursuit of greater success, but although they recorded a bit more, their breakthrough was several years in coming. It wasn't until 1977 that they signed to Ovation and released the smash hit "Heaven's Just a Sin Away," which went all the way to number one on the country charts and won a Grammy for Best Country Vocal by a Duo or Group. The Kendalls visited the country Top Ten regularly up into the mid-'80s, establishing a penchant for cheating songs; their biggest hits of the late '70s included "It Don't Feel Like Sinnin' to Me," "Pittsburgh Stealers," the number one "Sweet Desire," and "I Had a Lovely Time." In 1981, they switched from Ovation to Mercury and scored more hits with songs like "You'd Make an Angel Wanna Cheat," "Teach Me to Cheat," and a third number one, "Thank God for the Radio."
Changing tastes in country music meant that their last Top 40 hit came in 1985, and although the Kendalls continued to record for several different labels into the late '80s, their hitmaking run was over. They continued to tour, however, and for a time took up residency in Branson, MO. In 1997, they signed with Rounder Records and began work on a new, bluegrass-flavored album, but Royce died of a stroke on May 22, 1998, just prior to a show in La Crosse, WI. Several tracks had been completed, and Jeannie eventually returned to the project, completing it as her solo debut; Jeannie Kendall was finally released in early 2003. ~ Steve Huey