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Beach music, also known as Carolina beach music, is a regional genre which developed from various musical styles of the forties, fifties and sixties. These styles ranged from big band swing instrumentals to the more raucous sounds of blues/jump blues, jazz, doo-wop, boogie, rhythm and blues, reggae, rockabilly and old-time rock and roll. Beach music is closely associated with the style of swing dance known as the shag, or the Carolina shag, which is also the official state dance of both North Carolina and South Carolina. Recordings with a 4/4 "blues shuffle" rhythmic structure and moderate-to-fast tempo are the most popular music for the shag, and the vast majority of the music in this genre fits that description.

Contents

Early history

A majority of the recordings that constituted and/or influenced beach music early on were originally termed "race music". As popular R&B tastes changed to encompass funk, reggae, disco, hip hop and gangsta rap, the predominantly white beach music enthusiasts have remained more loyal to the "old school" stylings. This has been due primarily to the beat and tempo of the music.

Historical accounts of beach music as it relates to the development of this dance are often conflicting, but most agree that the Ocean Drive section of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is where the beach/shag phenomenon had its greatest impact among vacationing teenagers and college students.

Socio-political context

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, white youth in the Jim Crow South could not always hear the compelling music of primarily black R&B artists in their home towns. In some communities, this remained in effect even after racial integration was implemented in the region. However, these young people flocked to the bars and pavilions of the Carolina beaches where the shag was gaining popularity and R&B ruled the jukeboxes, and to the "beach clubs" where R&B artists performed live.

A major contributing influence upon this cross-racial musical affinity was the powerful radio station WLAC in Nashville, TN, which blanketed the Southeast with the gritty, driving sound of jump blues and other forms of R&B. Stations with similar playlists began to emerge in the Carolinas and surrounding states throughout the late fifties and the sixties, increasing the popularity of the music across racial lines and contributing to the increasing popularity of the emerging new gospel-infused R&B sound, soul music.

"Classic Beach"

Artists and groups that were important to the formative years of this genre include: Clifford Curry (known as the 'King of Beach Music'), Artie Shaw, Wynonie Harris, Jimmy Cavallo and The House Rockers, Ruth Brown, Little Willie John, Earl Bostic, The Drifters, Wilbert Harrison, Clyde McPhatter, Billy Ward and His Dominoes, Hank Ballard, James & Bobby Purify, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs, The Tams, The Tymes, The 5 Royales, The Coasters, Fats Domino, Jimmy McCracklin, Solomon Burke, Sam Cooke, The Platters, The Four Tops, Louis Prima, Arthur Alexander, Stick McGhee, Jackie Brenston, Willbert Harrison, Big Joe Turner, Bruce Channel, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Dinah Washington, Billy Stewart, The Temptations,The Impressions, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The O'Jays, The Spinners, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Etta James, The Checkers, The Clovers, Barbara Lewis, Don Covay, Jimmy Ricks and The Ravens, Mary Wells, Garnet Mimms and The Enchanters, Ben E. King, Major Lance, Willie Tee and Ernie K-Doe.

While some of the "beach hits" by these artists appeared on the R&B and rock and roll charts nationally, a great many of them were "b-sides" -- or even more obscure recordings that never charted at all. With this penchant for obscure R&B, especially from the sixties, beach music has much in common with the northern soul phenomenon in the UK.

Transition and renewal

The "Beach Bands"

Another wave of artists, known today as the "beach bands" came into prominence in the mid sixties to early seventies, heavily influenced by the sound of Motown and the other prominent R&B labels of the day such as Atlantic Records, Stax, etc.. These included The Tassels, Harry Deal and the Galaxies, Gene Barbour and the Cavaliers, Calvin Lindsay and the Hysterics, The Men of Distinction (Original), The In-Men, Ltd., The Attractions, Cannonball Band, The Embers, The Monzas, The Sardams, The Catalinas and the nationally-charting groups The Pieces of Eight (Original), The Swinging Medallions, The Okaysions, and Bill Deal and the Rhondells. Many of these bands got their start backing the famous R&B/soul artists who played at The Myrtle Beach Pavilion and The Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, The Coachman and Four in Bennettsville, SC, The Cellar in Charlotte, NC, The Embers Club in Raleigh, NC, The Galaxy Club in Wilson, NC, Rogues Gallery and Peppermint Beach Club in Virginia Beach, VA and other such venues.

This wave of primarily white R&B artists was part of a strong but nationally short-lived musical trend known as "blue-eyed soul" which also produced The Rascals, The Box Tops, John Fred, Rare Earth, Leon Russell, Johnny Rivers, Bonnie Bramlett, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, and The Righteous Brothers.

The revival years

In the '80s, after decades of waning popularity, Beach music enjoyed a major revival in the Carolinas, thanks largely to the formation of a loose-knit organization known as The Society of Stranders (SOS). Originally intended as a relatively small social gathering of shag enthusiasts, "beach diggers" and former lifeguards meeting yearly in the Ocean Drive section of North Myrtle Beach, S.O.S. quickly grew to become a major Spring event.

At around the same time, a fanzine called "It Will Stand" (from the rock'n'roll/R&B anthem of that name by The Showmen) began to delve deeper into the history of beach music than any publication before or since. Concurrent with the new enthusiasm for the shag, and an increased emphasis on the roots of the music came a period of revival for many of the beach bands that had come to prominence in the sixties. In addition to these groups, younger artists began to emerge, either as members of established groups, or with groups of their own. Dedicated beach music charts began to appear, tracking the musical tastes of shaggers and other aficionados of the genre. The number of regional radio stations playing beach music began to increase substantially.

In 1981, Virginia entrepreneur John Aragona sponsored the first Beach Music Awards show at the Convention Center in Myrtle Beach. He would sponsor and produce two more TV Specials over the next several years. In the late '80s interest in Beach Music was revived and expanded. On November 19, 1988, live from Reynolds Coliseum, on the campus of North Carolina State University, "The Third Annual Beach Music Awards" was videotaped by Creative Center, a Los Angeles based TV Production Company. The Awards show featured 20 of Beach Music's greatest stars and groups, 10 Los Angeles Dancers, 20 Professional Shag Dancers, twenty-piece back-up band, performing 50 of the Best Beach Music Hits.

The 3rd Annual Beach Music Awards was said to be,one of the Southeast's premier events, with more than four solid hours of Beach Music. The TV Special was produced by Ron Dunn and Susan B. Donovan. Ron Dunn, DGA, served as Director and Writer, along with Susan B. Donovan (Choreographer), and the show's Executive Producer... John X. Aragona. Today, the show's four-hour videotape and triple-record album are considered Beach Music Collectables. One of the key factors was a new song by O.C. Smith,”Brenda”, written and produced by Charles Wallert. “Brenda” was on the national Billboard charts for 3 months and became the number one Beach Music song for two years. "Brenda" was nominated for six Awards and won five at the Third Annual Beach Music Awards. Additionally O.C. Smith's "Whatcha Gonna Do" featured the Susan Donovan Dancers... and brought the house down. Backstage... through thunderous applause, Cuba Gooding (The Main Ingredient) was overheard asking O.C. Smith "why did you do that? The Main Ingredient was next to perform.

The telecasts of the Beach Music Awards in the 90’s (the footage appears in TV shows currently being broadcast) brought new awareness to the wide appeal of this music. New songs that were also national hits became popular in the Beach music markets, illustrating the great desire for new product. John X. Aragona, the show's Executive Producer, has spent more than 30 years promoting Beach Music. He is well respected for his record and television productions.

These shows set the stage for the CAMMY Awards show, first held at Salisbury, NC in 1995. The shows soon moved to Charlotte and then to North Myrtle Beach, SC (the home of Beach Music), where they are still an eagerly-anticipated and well-attended annual event under their new name, The Carolina Beach Music Awards (CBMA). The CAMMY (CBMA) show has turned into a five-day long showcase and party for the fans and the bands, with shows all along the strip in NMB. It culminates in a huge show at the Alabama Theatre. Chuck Jackson ("I don't Want to Cry") and William Bell ("Private Number") were the national stars featured in 2009, backed by the Craig Woolard Band and the Band of Oz respectively. The CBMA Awards Show is THE highlight of the year for beach music fans and artists. Check out www.cammy.org

The best of beach music from the early decades, from both national and regional artists, is known today as "classic beach". However, there is more to beach music than just the "oldies". New recordings in this style are being produced regularly as part of the regional music industry in the Southeastern United States. While the terms "beach music" and "Carolina beach music" are still used, the increasing popularity of the shag has led to it sometimes being identified as "shag music". Many web sites have lately begun to refer to this music as "beach & shag".

The Current Regional "Beach & Shag" Scene

Artists Of Note

Current regional artists and groups who appear on the Beach and Shag music charts include:

Also charting regionally are such well-known US and international artists such as Van Morrison, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Huey Lewis, T. Graham Brown, Simply Red, Wilson Pickett, Hall & Oates, Al Green, James Hunter, Seal, Duffy, and Delbert McClinton. In recent years, national artists of note -- such as O.C. Smith, Alabama, Jimmy Buffett, Eugene "Hideaway" Bridges, and the Carolina's own Nappy Brown and Roy Roberts -- have recorded music specifically aimed at this market.

Impact On Popular Culture

Though primarily confined to a small regional fan base, in its early days what is now known as Carolina beach music was instrumental in bringing about wider acceptance of R&B music among the white population nationwide. Thus is was a contributory factor in both the birth of rock and roll and the later development of soul music as a sub-genre of R&B.

In the years since its beginning, while the older styles of R&B have faded from popularity nationally, the Carolina shag has gained wide popularity in swing dance circles around the US. This has not generally led to increased appreciation for the music of the beach bands, however. Many of these new shag dance aficionados prefer the "R&B oldies" and/or shagging to currently popular tunes that happen to have the required beat. As more networking is being done on the Internet among shag deejays and beach music fans nationwide, however, there is a growing acceptance of the regional bands by the "new shaggers".

In a related trend, since the year 2000 there has been a steady increase in the popularity of Southern Soul, led by such R&B labels as Ecko and Malako. These labels feature both original and new artists of "the old school", and sometimes turn out recordings aimed specifically at the beach/shag market. An example of this is "In A Beach Music Mood" by Rick Lawson. In addition, at least one dedicated Beach act, General Johnson and the Chairmen of The Board, has begun to chart both nationally and internationally with their brand of Southern Soul -- sometimes with songs that are not aimed more at the beach and shag market, such as "Three Women".

Jimmy Buffett cites beach music as a major influence. His CD Beach House On The Moon was intended as an homage to the genre. Though it featured The Tams, and for a while they toured with him as vocalists, the CD did not yield any tunes that were big hits with beach music fans. However, it may have been influential in popular country music. Since that release, there have been others by artists associated with Buffett that have had that "perfect shag beat" and a beach music feel to them. Some have become hits with shaggers, including "Drift Away" and "Follow Me" by Uncle Kracker, "Some Beach" by Blake Shelton and "When The Sun Goes Down" by Kenny Chesney. Just as was the case with "Dancing, Shagging On The Boulevard" by Alabama in the nineties, these country-flavored songs went over well on the dance floor regionally but did not please the more R&B oriented beach music fans. They did, however, impact the growing national shag dance scene to some degree.

In addition to these country and pop connections for the music, the pure R&B aspects of it have led to a kind of cultural cross-fertilization of beach and shag music with the northern soul scene in the UK and elsewhere. This has been due in large part to communication between DJs of the respective genres on the Internet. 'Fessa John Hook's Endless Summer Network, streamed on the Internet, has a weekly program featuring noted northern soul deejay Kev Roberts, and there are plans for its programming to also be carried on satellite radio in Europe. Other noted djs streaming online include Charlie Brown, Pat Gwinn, Willie C. and Butch Halpin.

Carolina beach music was featured on the sound track of Shag, a 1989 film starring Bridget Fonda and Phoebe Cates, filmed in part at the Myrtle Beach Pavilion and other Grand Strand locations. Though not a wholly accurate portrayal, it is an agreeable and entertaining "coming of age" movie, with a good soundtrack and some excellent shagging. Not widely popular in its initial release, Shag has gone on to become something of a cult film. No doubt it has helped to foster and maintain some interest beyond the Carolinas for beach and shag music.

In what is undoubtedly the most internationally famous example of its influence, Beach Music by South Carolina author Pat Conroy takes its title from this regional genre of music. The novel's protagonist, Jack McCall, seeks to get his daughter more in touch with her Southern roots. He does this by introducing her to the shag and to classic beach music. He describes The Drifters' immortal song, "Save the Last Dance For Me" in this way:

"This is your Mama's and my favorite song. We fell in love dancing to it."

Then: "Carolina beach music," her uncle Dupree tells her, "is the holiest sound on earth."

Radio airplay

WKSX, an FM oldies station in Johnston, South Carolina plays beach music.

WLWL, an AM oldies station in Rockingham, North Carolina, plays beach music almost exclusively

WRBK, an FM oldies station in Richburg, South Carolina, prominently features beach music every Saturday afternoon from 2 PM to 9 PM, interspersed with other oldies

WSWO, an FM oldies station in Dayton, Ohio, broadcasts the Carolina Beach Music Show every Saturday evening from 6 to 9 pm.

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