Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My High School Reunion

This past weekend I went back to my hometown, Newberry, SC, for my high school reunion. About three or four years ago all of the classes of the sixties combined for one big reunion. It worked great, there was a large turnout, it was fun, and I got drunk. The committee decided to do it again this year. There was another large turnout, this time I took Nancy with me, I danced more, and I didn't get as drunk. By the way, I made it through the weekend without smoking, and today is day 14 of the "Quest To Quit"!

I spent some time on Saturday afternoon before the big dance at the country club, riding around my old neighborhood and checking out what was left of my "stomping grounds." Way too many changes to talk about, but as I drove past what used to be, the memories came flooding back. Each memory serving to remind me once again, how lucky I was to grow up in this small little town.

I didn't have a car my freshman year in high school so the only way for me to get to school was to ride the big yellow school bus...or walk. The fact that not nearly enough people recognized it at that time, I was, even at that young and awkward age, cool. The big yellow school bus was not an option for me...I walked.

To get from my house on Caldwell Street to Newberry High on Nance Street, I had to walk down Caldwell Street, 9/10 of a mile to Main Street. Then cross over Main and continue another 7/10 of a mile to Speer Street, go left for one block to Nance Street, a right and a couple of blocks up on the left was good ole Newberry High. Just over 1.6 miles, hot or cold, rain or shine, I walked. (Well ok, maybe I did ride that funkin bus a few times when it rained, I was cool .. not stupid.)

About once a week on my walk home from school I would stop at the corner of Main and Caldwell and pop into Rose's Five & Dime. In those days almost every town of any size in the South had at least one Five & Dime on their Main Street. Five & Dimes were the same everywhere. They had that wonderful smell to 'em; they smelled like popcorn and chewin' gum rubbed around on the bottom of a leather sole shoe. I'd stop in to flip through the discount 45 rpm record bins in hopes of finding some of that soul music they played on our local AM station, WKDK 1240 on your radio dial. Every once in a while I'd get lucky and find a record I'd always wanted all my life for .59 cents. No matter the weather, what happened bad at school that day or what fate awaited me at home, when that happened, it was a great day.

I saw lots of folks from those years that I hadn't seen in a while. Some I hadn't seen in twenty or twenty-five years or more. It was nice to see them all one last time. But to be honest, for me, there was just barely enough fun and barely enough memories to take away, for the night not to be a total disappointment. It was very apparent that the years are catching up with the large majority of those folks. Yea, this one was about as good as it will ever be. I've been to every Newberry High reunion that I've known about over the last 42 years...but I don't think I'll risk another.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memorial Day

Before I get to a few thoughts about Memorial Day, I just want to let those of you who are interested in the "quest to quit," know that I'm now into day seven. I had a fairly stern test on Saturday night. Nancy and I threw some meat on the grill, she had her usual one glass of wine, while I tossed back several vodka tonics. This was the first time I had much to drink since I stopped smoking. It wasn't nearly as agonizing as I thought it might be and I did make it through, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss having my old friend along while I drank. There's an even bigger test looming this coming weekend, as I go back for my high school reunion. Wish me luck.

I keep a picture of my dad in his army officer's uniform on a bookcase next to my desk in my music room. A friend stopped by on Saturday and while I was showing him the various memorabilia in my room, he noticed the picture of my dad and asked who it was. My friend noted that my dad was quite a handsome man. I sort of just let the comment pass and we moved on to something else, but the compliment stayed with me for the rest of the weekend. Maybe it was all the TV coverage about Memorial Day and the various remembrance ceremonies, or maybe it was that I had passed that picture thousands of times and he but once, and yet he took notice of it.

I picked up my dad's picture just now and looked at it for good long while. He was, in fact, a handsome young man, and he struck quite a pose in his officer's uniform. My dad served in the U. S. Army before, during, and after World War II. He earned the rank of Chief Warrant Officer and was stationed on the island of Okinawa during the last part of WW II. It was not a secret in our family that daddy loved the military and probably felt his biggest mistake was leaving the army before retiring. However, he rarely talked in much detail to me about his wartime experiences until near the end of his life. I would sit and listen as he spoke with a great sense of pride about his military service. It was obvious that he wouldn't trade those times for any other.
I'm glad I took the time on this Memorial Day to look at my dad's picture and to remember him and recall some of our time together. I thank my friend for noticing and thus reminding me to take time to remember. In addition to being a kind and gentle man, a wonderful father, and a patient and devoted husband, Earl Brady Hamrick served his country with honor and was indeed a member of the greatest generation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Out of Sorts

I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but I didn't post a blog last week. I wanted to, I needed to, but I just couldn't do it. The truth is, since I got back from SOS, I've been "out of sorts." For those of you not from the South, "out of sorts" is simply a catch all diagnoses, most often used by ladies of my grandmother's era, to explain otherwise unexplainable ailments and illnesses. To make matters worse, for the last twelve days, I have been taking a mind altering drug that is supposed to help me dump my oldest and most dependable friend, Mr. Cigarette.

Chantix, a product of Pfizer Labs, is a 1mg pill, taken twice a day for a minimum of four months, with an additional three months also recommended, designed to "help ease" nicotine cessation. Simply put, Chantix's active ingredient Varenicline, binds with high affinity and selectivity, to neuronal nicotine acetylcholine receptors in the brain, thus preventing nicotine from binding to said receptors. Yep it's all that and a bag of chips, too for only $150 a month. By the way, insurance doesn't cover a dime.

Yes it's a little pricey, but you get a lot of extras and possible extras, that you don't get with that $6.00 pack of Merit Ultra Lights. The clinical name for these extras is "adverse reactions." They include, but are not limited to: rash, nausea, vomiting, constipation, flatulence, headaches, abnormal dreams, nightmares, insomnia, dry mouth, fatigue, lethargy, irritability, mood swings, depression, and not least but maybe last...suicide. It sounds pretty involved to me. With Merit Ultra Lights it seems much simpler: your lungs turn to brown goo, you can barely breathe, you get cancer and you die.

I first heard about Chantix from my friend Steve Dean. After Steve's doctor told him if he didn't quit smoking, in about a year his lungs were gonna turn to brown goo, he would hardly be able to breathe, and he would get cancer and die, Steve decided to try Chantix. I remember the Saturday morning Stevie told me he was gonna quit smoking. I took a big draw off my cigarette and thought sure...right...you go son, never believing he had a chance in hell of stopping. I told him I hoped he could, and I meant it, but I also told him, they would have to pry them out of my nicotine stain fingers before I'd give them up. Well it's been over a year and a half and my friend Steve is still on the wagon! God bless you my friend, you go son!

I really do have it in my mind to quit this time. I'm down to about 6 cigarettes a day now and I know my "quit date" is very close at hand. Already I miss smoking. It really is like losing a best friend, not to mention, I really think it's affecting my blog production. Poe had his opium, and Hemingway had his booze for inspiration and relaxation. Soon I won't even have my cigarettes. Now don't misunderstand me, I'm not comparing myself to, or insinuating that I am as recondite as Poe or as prolific as Hemingway. I'm just saying, "can't this brother have a crutch too."

It's good to finally get back to blogging. Hopefully if the "adverse reactions" don't get too bad, we'll chat again next week.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spring SOS Recap

Another Spring SOS has come and gone. As always, I'm grateful for the chance to participate one more time. Like all of you who attended, I was really tired when I got back to Atlanta. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a sinus infection. Got a Rx and I'm feeling fine now.

I heard a lot of talk about it being a weird SOS in terms of the crowd. Many folks felt like the numbers of people were smaller and when they went to the various clubs they didn't see a lot folks they recognized. I too thought it was a weird SOS, but for reasons that I'll just keep my little secret. I will say this however, I knew or recognized the greater majority of the folks at The Pavilion when I played Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I appreciate that most of the same folks come back each SOS when I play. If nobody else thanks you, I'll thank you...THANK YOU!!

Maybe the SOS highlight for me this spring, was the opportunity to introduce the newest member of The Pavilion DJ family, young Jason Cagle. Jason played his first SOS set on Saturday before I came on. As I observed and listened to Jason, I felt he found his stride and did a fine job. I know he learned a lot that day and will continue to learn and get better. Hell, after all these years, I still learn something every time I play. Well done my young friend, the future of our music is in good hands.

I had several of my FB friends come up and introduce themselves to me and I appreciated them doing so. I never decline anyone who wants to be my FB friend even if I don't happen to know them. I figure if they're gutsy enough to want to call themselves my friend, I'm happy to have 'em. I especially enjoyed my brief chat with Kristy McDonald. She's a "straight shooter" and loves that old Pavilion every bit as much as I do. I also think that she and Marilyn Burrage are doing a fine job with "Boys in the OD Band". By the way, congratulations to all the new members of the band!

On a serious note, I'm quite sure that most everyone had that moment at some point during SOS. That moment when you thought about the terrible fire. Maybe you got a whiff of the smoke, or saw the ash float around in the air, or maybe it just sorta popped in your mind. You thought to yourself, "God bless those poor people." I just don't know what I would do if that happened to me. Maybe you even felt a little tinge of guilt for having a good time while just up the road a few miles peoples' dreams were being wiped away. Learn to appreciate what you have folks, while you have it. As we were reminded once again, you can lose it all in a blink.

I want to thank Pam and H. Lee for putting up with me for one more SOS. I love you guys! Thanks to all of you who came out when I played. Thanks to those of you who gave me words of encouragement regarding my blog. Thanks to those of you who bought my CD's. And last but not least, THANKS FOR NO REQUESTS!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring SOS 2009

Yes Oh Yes...It's SOS...Again! Spring and Fall SOS are the two events that get me the most wired of all the events in our community. Although I am about to DJ my 51st SOS, I still get as excited as a child on Christmas Eve. I think I'm lucky that it still affects me that way. Beside the fact that it's the biggest shag party of the season, I think I also still get excited because I have a deep appreciation for still being able to participate one more time.

Having been around this life style since high school and college, I've been fortunate to have darken the doors of many of the great old joints and honky tonks throughout the two Carolina's, as have many of you. I'm sure some, if not all of them will ring a bell with a lot of you: The Cellar, Coachman, Castaways, Bushes, Jokers, Four Winds, T-Club, Twilight Lounge, Jack's Palace, The Castle, Wit's End, D.A.V., Owl's Club, Tally Ho, Fiesta, Upstairs, Pawley's Pavilion, The Pad, The Beach Club, and many more. The singular thread that binds them together is...they no longer exist.

I would bet my life that not one of us, back in those days, ever gave a thought to the fact that all of these great joints would all be gone one day. I know I thought there would always be The Pad. This is yet another example of youth being wasted on the young.

I think about those great old joints, and other memories of the past, every time I step in that DJ booth at The Pavilion. I remind myself that our Pavilion too, will one day be only a memory.
I'm always excited and greatful for one more opportunity to play my music in that great old building.

Twenty six years ago H Lee Brown gave an unknown, little skinny "dj" from Newberry SC, a shot at playing, what would become, the biggest shag party on the planet. I hope he would agree that it worked out fairly good for both of us. This SOS, H Lee is again stepping up and giving another unknown, skinny little guy a shot. Young Jason Cagle out of Charlotte NC will be playing at the Pavilion on the last Saturday of SOS from 11am untill I come on at 3 o'clock. Young Jason knows and loves our music and he plays it from his soul. A good DJ is like a good song, they're both very hard to find, but when you hear one, it's so easy to recognize. I've been around this community a long time, and if my opinion counts with any of you, Young Jason is a good 'un! I hope you'll choose to slip away from the parade a little early and get down to the Pavilion and support Jason. I'm confident you won't be dissappointed. A special thanks to H Lee and Pam for bringing Jason into the fold.

Speaking of H Lee and Pam, I hope you will take the time to seek them out at SOS and thank them for providing us with this special place to re-live the past, share our memories, and make new ones. The Pavilion is a very special place and they are very special people.

This will be my last blog for a few weeks. Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read them and to comment. I know you won't always agree with what I write, but that's OK, just keep on reading. Y'all drive safe and hope to see ya at The Pavilion, Thursday the 23rd at 3 o'clock. LET'S BOOGIE WOOGIE !!!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dead Ducks

Due to all the things that I need to get done in preparation for SOS, I had decided not to do a blog this week. However, after certain events occurred at the beach last week, I reconsidered. I am of course referring to the "Ducks Debacle."
Let me make a few things clear at the outset. To me, Ducks hasn't been Ducks since Norfleet Jones and Bob Baker turned over their keys. I haven't DJ'd at Ducks but twice since 1999 so it's not going to affect me if the joint lives or dies. But the demise of Ducks will affect a whole bunch of folks. My young friend William Green and the other members of Duck's staff who were cast aside like so much small change, will be greatly affected. The members of the shag community who enjoyed years of memories and who were loyal patrons, will be affected. Also I'm sure that as I write this piece, there are 15 or 20 DJ's looking for a port to weather this storm in.
Short and sweet, what you have here is, a fellow who came down to the beach, with a full bag of money, and an empty bag of history. He obviously had no conception of how things work at the beach, and never got a clue about who and what is important at the beach, and to the shag community as a whole. The first thing he did was to start tearing out the past and completely change the landscape of Ducks. He showed arrogant disregard for tradition, history, and what the folks felt comfortable with. He did away with as much of the past he possible could, and as quickly as he could. The past be damned! This was his club and he was hell bent to put his stamp on it. He turned a cozy little shag joint into a bowling alley. Well you did it your way...how'd that work for you?
Memo to the man from Charlotte: The shag world is about PRESERVATION! It's about HISTORY! The shag community's whole world revolves around THE PAST!
In my very first blog, I spoke about what money will buy you in the shag community. I said it could buy you those fancy "dance" shoes in a bag, and a few shag steps, but it can't buy you a history on the beach. You either lived it or you didn't. So too, a big bag of money and an even bigger ego, does not equal success in the shag joint business at the beach. But a sense of our history and knowing who the players are would likely give you a good head start.
The irony, it seems to me, is that the man who wanted to show us how it should be done at the beach, although he failed miserably, will, in the end, still have a legacy. He will forever be known as the man that killed Ducks.
As I have alluded to before, God blessed me and allowed me to be born in the great state of South Carolina, but I have lived the past 22 plus years in the Atlanta area. The "locals" of greater Atlanta, having had to deal with the influx of folks from the North, have a saying, "We don't give a damn how y'all did it up there...if you don't like the way we do it here...Delta's ready when you are"!
Memo to the man from Charlotte: "Highway 9 is ready when you are"!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Windy Hill Beach Here We Come

Since, to my knowledge, there were no major events this past weekend in the shag world for me to pontificate on, I'll take this opportunity to ramble and reminisce. Before I wrote my first blog I made a list of blog ideas. I, of course, included all the major events in "our" world, SOS, Nationals, HOF, etc., but I also made a list of people, places, and things that I have experienced over the years that mean something to me, if to no one else.

By the grace of God, I was born in the great state of South Carolina, in Columbia to be exact. Once again God shed his light on me and allowed me to grow up in Newberry. My daddy worked in a cotton mill and we lived there until about March of my junior year in high school. Gotta be honest here, I wouldn't trade growing up in Newberry for anywhere else in the world, but I wouldn't want to live there now. Anyone who grew up in the South knows that the mills always "shut down" for the week of July 4th. For me and my family that meant, Windy Hill Beach here we come! Mama and daddy would rent the top half of the same second row house every year. Oh, and every year we shared that house with my aunt and uncle and cousin Larry from Winnsboro S.C.

My Mama can, and always has been able to get the most bang for her buck. Youseeopie, the second row was cheaper than the front row. The upstairs unit catches more of the ocean breeze than the downstairs unit. ( Think No AC! ) Also if we split the cost of the house with Aunt Juanita and Uncle Wesley, we'll have money to take you and your brother to the rides one night at Ocean Drive. Nuff said.

My daddy, Uncle Wesley, and my older brother, Jerry, spent most of their days on the Windy Hill fishing pier. Daddy and Uncle Wesley would take a break from fishing late in the afternoon and slip over to Moonies beer joint across the street from the pier, and toss back a few cold ones before supper. Cousin Larry and I spent our days in the ocean, pretty much tormenting anybody stupid enough to come within 20 feet of us. Mama and Aunt Juanita, among other things, spent their days sitting and walking on the beach. Of course Mama spent a lot of her time screaming at me to stop this or stop that, and come in closer to the shore, and threatening to kill me, or worse, not take me to the rides in Ocean Drive if I didn't. Mama always seemed to know how to get her baby boy to act right.

Below L to R: My brother Jerry, Cousin Larry, and Little Tommy

After supper, right about dusk, when everybody else was settling in to watch T.V., mama would let me walk the block and a half down to the Windy Hill Pavilion. This was my favorite thing to do at the beach, except of course, going to O.D. on Wednesday night to ride the rides. There was something magical to a little five or six year old boy from Newberry, about the colorful neon signs, the pin ball machines, and my absolute favorite, the juke box. I would put my money in and play my favorite songs of the day and dance by myself in front of the juke box. Folks didn't seem to mind, in fact they seemed to enjoy it so much that they would toss coins on the floor to me. Even at that tender age I knew how to "manage" money. When the song was over and the dance ended, I would pick up the coins and promptly "re-invest" them in to that magical music machine and continue to dance.

Uncle Wesley, Aunt Juanita, and daddy are all gone now. So too, the house on the second row, the fishing pier, Moonies, the Pavilion, and the rides at O.D. Hell, there's not even a Windy Hill or an Ocean Drive anymore. There's only a "North Myrtle Beach". What I said earlier about Newberry applies here as well, it was a great place to grow up...but I wouldn't care to live there now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shag Attack

I finally got back to the beach this past weekend for the first time since fall SOS. I was beginning to have withdrawal symptons. My wife, Nancy, and I attended the Shaggers Hall of Fame "Shag Attack" party. We stayed at the beautiful Norfleet Jones Resort and Weapons Depot, on the intercoastal waterway, located near the heart of North Myrtle Beach S.C. As he has graciously done many times over the years, he once again "comped" our room, food, and beverages. Thanks Norfleet for your generous hospitality.
This was the weekend when, for a select number of shaggers, dreams came true, and for others, dejection and disappointment were the more prevailing emotions. Four males and four females were elected on Saturday by a group of their peers to be the Shag Hall of Fame Class of 2009. The folks whose names were called out on Saturday night are all well-deserving of this great honor, and they have my heart felt congratulations. I was especially pleased and proud for my friends Bill Hussey, Ronnie Shue, Olivia McManus, and Jennifer Wattenberger. Again, congratulations to all the members of the class of 2009.

This year's selections for Keeper of The Dance, Kristal Taylor and Jason Cagle, were outstanding choices. Bob Myrick was dead on when he described Kristal's dancing ability. As to Jason Cagle, in addition to his dancing and continuing contributions to our community, he is one of the finest young men that I have had the pleasure to get to know. The selection committee did themselves proud.

I attended my first SHOF in 1985 at the old Sand Flea Beach Club in Greenville S.C. This just happened to be the year that my favorite "shag character", Jo Jo Putnam was inducted. It immediately became one of my favorite events. I have always had an interest and a respect for the history and the players of our community. Each time that I go to the beach I always make time to go by the O D Resort and read a few of the HOF plaques displayed there. I can't say that I've read them all, but I've read quite a few of them over the years. I always come away with a greater sense of who these folks are and were, and why they're on those walls.

This past Saturday morning, in anticipation of doing this blog, I read again the plaque of one Rick Hubbard. Rick opened The Sand Flea Beach Club in 1983 in Greenville S.C. Later that year Rick met in Charlotte with the late Harry Driver and a few other shag pioneers, to discuss his idea to recognize, honor, and remember, "those what brought us to the dance." Thus was born The Shaggers Hall of Fame. As I read Rick's plaque I couldn't help but wonder how many people have come to and enjoyed HOF parties and events at the beach, without ever knowing how it all started and who started it. ( think Gene Laughter ) Truth be told, most of 'em could give a shit.

A few years ago Rick was down at the beach for a HOF induction weekend. It had been quite some time since I had seen Rick, and I was glad we got the chance to catch up. I took the picture you see here of Rick, (with trademark suspenders) that night. I told him that I wanted a picture of the man who started the SHOF. He genuinely seemed to appreciate that someone remembered. I wish I had gotten someone to take our picture together. I hope time doesn't run out before I can get that done.

I guess that I too often forget, to not expect so much from people. But is it really too much to expect that if you want to be a part of a community, maybe you should learn as much as you can about it? Couldn't you, at the very least, remember "the one's what brought you to the dance."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

National Shag Dance Championships

The National Shag Dance Championships were held this past weekend. Even though I was not in attendance this year, this event is very near and dear to my heart. I have a long list in my book of memories dedicated to the "Nationals." Before I share some of those memories, let me say congratulations to all the folks who competed, placed, or won. Also "koodo's" to the folks that did support this great event by attending.

I have, over the years, participated as a spectator, a stage daddy, a DJ, and an emcee. Yes I said emcee. My friend, Barry Thigpen, would probably like to erase this fact from his Nationals memory, but it's one of my personal favorites. I'm not sure of the exact year, but it was the late eighties. In those days I tended to get a real fast start on my buzz, and that Friday night was no exception. I had already tossed back three or four adult beverages in quick succession, when Teresa Dew ( then a member of the Nationals committee) found me and told me that the emcee was a no show and informed me that I would be the emcee for that night. My confession of having had a few cocktails didn't seem to deter her. Maybe because in those days, drinkin and smokin in a honky tonk was what you did and there were no political correctness police to call. But I digress. Teresa took me over and introduced me to Barry, who quickly handed me the list of contestants and the microphone and said "let's get started".

I nestled in to my seat next to the dance floor, lit up a cigarette, took a big hit off my vodka drink, and introduced the first couple. Previous to that night my only experience doing a big time dance contest was Ducks Across The Street's Halloween shag contest. I figured what the hell, it's the same thing, I'm just not playing the music. I thought the night went pretty well, all things considered. All the contestants got to dance, I got drunk, I had fun, and...I got drunk and I had fun. Later that night at breakfast Barry asked me if I would show up at Studebaker's the next day about two, for the non-pro cut, in case their guy was a no show again. He was a no show, but before we started that day Barry said to me," just introduce the couples and keep your comments to yourself." That Saturday afternoon the contestants danced, I didn't get drunk, I didn't have as much fun, but I got the feeling that Barry enjoyed it a lot more. To this day, I'm the only person who has both DJ'd ,and Emceed the Nationals. To me that's a pretty special memory. Thanks Barry.

In the early nineties, a group of new junior shaggers burst on the Nationals scene. Among others, there were names like Beaver, Smith, Best, Key, and a kid named Hamrick. There were others of course who would go on to leave their mark on our dance, but I mention these five for a specific reason. Some of the most special memories I have of the Nationals, are of the long, cold, windy afternoons spent waiting in line outside Studebaker's. Harold Beaver, Stacy Smith, Pete Best, Ken Key, and I would get to Studebakers about noon to stake our place in line. There were other folks as well in line, but these were my "buds". We all had our favorite table we just had to have by the dance floor, to see our "babies" dance. We spent untold hours in those lines each day and each year at the Nationals. We would take turns holding each others spot in line for bathroom breaks, food, and beer runs. We shared cigarettes and swaped lies. There were a lot of words between us over the years, but never a cross one. Yeah I'm sure that all of us wanted our child to win, hell I know I did, but we never talked about winning, just that we hoped they all had a good dance.

Am I glad I don't have to sit in that line any more? You bet your ass I am. But if I had to again, those are the guys I'd like to have there with me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DJ Throwdown

It seems that our little shag world just keeps "boogie walkin' " along. This past weekend, Ducks hosted the 18th Annual DJ Throwdown. This event featured a free cocktail party, a Big Money raffle, three white bands on Thursday night, and over fifty dj's playing a plethora of music by white artists. I could write volumes about this event, but like Forest Gump, "that's all I'm gonna say about that."

Throwdown does, however, bring to mind memories of days gone by. Below is a picture that hangs behind my desk in my music room, taken at The Pad in 1986 by Steve Dean from Greensboro N.C. It's a picture of all the dj's, minus Butch Davidson, that played SOS that spring. There is hardly a day that goes by that I don't look at that picture and remember something funny, aggravating, or special about one of those in the picture. Most importantly that picture always reminds me how special those days were and how lucky I was to be there and be a part of those times.

First row L to R -Bo Lee, Richard Nixon, Mitt Starbuck, Gary Gibson --Second row L to R - Jack Moore, Butch Metcalf, Mike Lewis, Joanne Johnson, Bob Bullard, Irvin Ellington -- Third row - Tommy Hamrick, Ronnie Gardner, Ray Clement

Of the thirteen in the picture, two are deceased, four no longer play, one plays on a limited basis, but the remaining six are still at it. Just a note regarding Ronnie Gardner. I didn't know him very well, in fact I barely remember him. I had to ask Butch Metcalf recently, "who is this guy" in the picture. I always sorta thought that he was just one of Joanne's friends from an Airborne Ranger unit out of Ft. Bragg, that she brought along with her that day, and he just decided to get in the picture. I do, however, know the rest of the gang very well and have for many years. I have fond memories of my association with them through the years and I will share some of these memories over the months to come.

The period when these folks ruled the dj booth realm of SOS and the known Shag world, early to late eighties, was a very different, but special time. Every time we played was a "vinyl" party. We all had a hand truck to carry our music into the clubs. For many it took two trips, one for 45's and one for Lp's. Trying to maneuver three or four cartons of records on a hand truck through a honky tonk packed with drunks at SOS, twice, was not as glamorous as you might think. A lot of us did two sets a day, and more often than not, they were at two different clubs. The standard pay back then was $15 an hour and you drank free. We were all much younger then, so free drinks meant something. H Lee Brown paid me $20 an hour, cause I was his house dj, plus free booze, and free pharmaceuticals as needed. When Rock Carter took over the management of Ducks, the money and the free booze stayed the same, but my medical plan went away. Oh, by the way, 26 years later I'm still working for H Lee Brown. My pay is not much more than it was back then, and the free booze and medical plan are both gone.

There are hundreds of stories that could be told by the surviving people in that great old picture, of those days and that era. I have had the privilege over the years to have listened to a lot of them. In addition to the thirteen from the picture there were other pioneers out there. Chris Beachly, Spider Kirkman, Jim Davis, Butch Davidson, Granville Elliot, and Charlie Byrd, to name a few. I wonder how many of the dj's attending "Throwdown" this past weekend, have ever sought any of these folks out, bought them a drink, and asked them to share some of their experiences. I wonder how many of them even know who most of these folks are, and were. In my opinion, talking to these pioneers, would truly be a "Throwdown".

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Visit With Charles

There were a lot of activities available this past weekend in the shag world. In Atlantic Beach N.C., at Memories, there were the Atlantic Beach Hall of Fame inductions. In Greensboro, N.C., Thirstys hosted the Beth Mitchell Memorial dance contest. Oh, and I'm sure across the two Carolinas, there were quite a few shag club get togethers featuring the ubiquitous free buffet/covered dish supper and bad shag music.

I however, passed on the free buffets, and boarded a plane late Friday afternoon heading to Raleigh N.C. to visit my friend, Charles Gurley. It has been my good fortune and my privilege to make this trip each February for about the past five years.

I have known Charles for close to twenty-five years. Over the last half of those years we have established a very close friendship. Charles is a member of the Shaggers Hall of Fame, along with his "sainted" wife, Cathy Jane. Charles has been a serious collector of our music for nearly thirty years, and his collection rivals any that I have ever had the privilege to see. He loves him some little records with big holes. Not only is Charles an avid collector, he also is a true student of our music. He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge and recall of information regarding R&B, Soul, and Doo Wop music.

Shortly after I arrived at his house on Friday night, I told him about an obscure song by an obscure doo wop group, that our friend Milton Nowell Jr. had recently called me about. I only told Charles the name of the group, and the information began to flow like whiskey on an SOS Saturday afternoon at the O.D.Pavilion. He told me where the group was from, the label they recorded on, where the label was out of, how long the label lasted, almost the groups entire discography, including which songs were ballads and which were jump. Then he pulled up on his computer every song they recorded, and played them for me. Yes, of course, he played the one that began the whole conversation as well. Was I surprised? Was I in awe? Not at all. He has done this to me too many times.

We spent most of the weekend together listening to music, talking about music, and sharing stories of people and honky tonks from our past. I always enjoy listening to, and laughing at, his stories of record huntin' trips. Charles has but one rival in that department, and that would be Mike Lewis. Mike's stories of record huntin' trips with John Swain will "hurt cha," you'll laugh so hard. But I digress.

Seven years ago in February, Charles suffered a tragic medical catastrophe which left him confined to a wheel chair. I have difficulty, as I'm sure most folks do, fathoming tragedy. We wonder to ourselves, is it fate, is it destiny? Catastrophe can, and may, await everyone, from a false move, wrong turn, or fateful encounter. It's been said that every life has such a moment. What distinguishes us is whether, and how, we ever come back. My friend Charles came back in extraordinary fashion. I love him and he has my unwavering admiration.

I wish that I lived closer to Charles so I could spend more time with him. I always learn so much from our visits, and the best of what I learn has nothing to do with music.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Welcome To My Blog

Welcome to the first little tommy blog. Apparently there are no educational, intellectual, or institutional requirements to be a blogger. Nor, it seems, are there any restrictions on content. Hell that's like waving a red cape in front of a bull. I can say any FUCKIN' thing I want to! Now how can I not love bloggin'!

My hope is, that these weekly pontifications will inform, amuse, offend, inspire, and always entertain. I hope they will never be boring to those of you who choose to read them. The subject matter will center around the "shag" community. Consisting of thoughts, opinions, and recollections regarding our music, our dance, the dancers, the joints, and the many interesting, unique, and colorful cast of charcters that make our community anything but normal and boring.

From time to time I will venture outside of "our world", into that other world. As we all are aware, that other world is pretty damn messy right now, so I'll mostly stay here where it's a little safer and warmer.

It occurs to me that we are somewhat fortunate to have our "shag world" to retreat to. No, you don't have to remind me that it is populated with, and sometimes ruled by, dysfunctional ego maniacs. I know this can be a source of severe irratation, but in the big picture, those folks are fairly harmless. I rather think of the "shag world" as a big dysfunctional cocoon. It's sort of a , "if you can't say anything nice about anyone, come sit by me" place. But as quick as we are to criticize, we seem to be just as quick to hug and forgive.

We'll pass the hat in a heart beat for one of our own. We'll have a dance contest, an auction, or a half and half raffle to raise money for a charity or other cause we deem worthy. Oh, then there's the Shaggers Hall of Fame Foundation and all the good works they do. If you have a little history on the beach, you might not find someone to lend you money for your car payment, but within ten feet they'll be twenty people who will buy you a drink to help ease your pain.

It's been my experience that money is not the measure most hardcore beach people use to judge people by. Money is for drinks, breakfast, and a place to lay your head. Money might buy you a nice pair of black suede "dance" shoes, or a couple of "mirror" steps, but money can't buy you a history on the beach. You either have one or you don't. If you hear someone referred to as a "player" at the beach, they didn't buy that designation, they earned it over the years.

Dysfunctional?...Yea a lot of times I guess our little community is. Still, if I'm out on a ledge, I'd feel pretty good about havin' a lot of them sittin' out there with me. I'm comfortable in our little world. I feel fortunate to have it to retreat to. I hope I get to stay in it for many years to come.