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.