Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Carolina Beach Music

Guess what, folks?! I live on the East Coast again! I've had several posts in the 'draft' stage for months, but after our military move back to Virginia Beach, VA in May, I'm finally motivated to post something new! I've recently discovered a radio station on Sirius XM called Carolina Shag (Ch. 13, a temporary channel), and it's become the summer soundtrack as I drive through my new neighborhood.
Not to be confused with Surf Music and the California Sound, "Beach Music" (also known as Carolina Beach Music) is a regional genre that developed from R&B and pop music in the 1950s and '60s along the East Coast from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Virginia Beach, VA. Also associated with the style of swing dance known as the shag, or the Carolina shag (the official state dance of both North Carolina and South Carolina), the Beach music/shag phenomenon developed right after WWII when vacationing white youth had the opportunity to hear this compelling R&B sound not always heard in their still-segregated hometowns in the South, and young people flocked to the beach clubs and pavilions of these East Coast beaches where this music was gaining popularity. The term "Beach Music" emerged in the mid-1960s, and keyed off of the memorable experiences of dancing the shag to this music at venues by the sea.

Having a life-long love for The Drifters, I was pleasantly surprised to learn this R&B vocal group has that quintessential Carolina beach music sound. Forming in New York City in 1953, the long-lasting Drifters have been through 60 vocalists, and enjoyed three Golden eras: the early 1950s, the 1960s, and the early 1970s (post-Atlantic Records period). In May of 1964 when the group was scheduled to record "Under the Boardwalk," then frontman Rudy Lewis unexpectedly died (don't do drugs, folks), so former Drifters lead vocalist Johnny Moore (whose previous departure was due to the military draft) was brought back to perform lead vocals for the recording. The last-minute move was a success that August of '64 when the single went to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and #1 for three non-consecutive weeks on Cashbox Magazine's R&B chart. Here is that classic magic of The Drifters.
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The East Coast beach party really starts groovin' with this next tune. From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Esquires were an R&B group that first formed in 1957 around the Moorer family. After many lineup changes over their first decade, the group scored a major hit on their debut record with "Get On Up" in August of 1967. It reached #3 on the R&B chart and #11 on the Billboard chart that year; ten years later, the band released an updated version in 1976 entitled "Get on Up '76." Perfect groove for some Carolina shag dancing!
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Next up, Chicago R&B singer Major Lance had a number of US hits in the 1960s, and later became an iconic figure in Britain in the 1970s among followers of Northern soul. Although he stopped making records in 1982, Major Lance continued to perform at concerts and on tours until his death in 1994. Written by Curtis Mayfield (record producer and friend of Lance), "Um Um Um Um Um, Um" was Major Lance's most successful hit with a #5 peak on the Billboard chart in February of 1964 and #1 on the Cash Box R&B chart. One of the leading figures of Chicago soul, here's the sweet voice of Major Lance featured on Shivaree (an L.A.-based music variety show).
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This next classic soul music song seemed to play on heavy rotation on the oldies station during my childhood, yet it never got old. Raised in the Los Angeles area, Brenton Wood is a singer-songwriter and music entrepreneur with an iconic soulful voice and decent piano chops to boot. Released in August of 1967 on the album Oogum Boogum (also the title of another great hit single), "Gimme Little Sign" hit #9 on the pop chart, #19 on the R&B charts, #2 on KHJ (AM radio in LA), and #8 in the UK Singles Chart, selling over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Oddly enough, the title is not actually sung in the song; the chorus instead repeats "Give me some kind of sign." Check out Brenton Wood performing on Top of the Pops in 1968.
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This group hails from a city just down the road from me in Portsmouth, Virginia. Bill Deal began his musical career as a backup musician on studio recordings, including Jimmy Soul's 1963 hit "If You Wanna Be Happy" (written and produced by Norfolk’s Frank Guida). By 1965, Deal’s own band, The Rhondels, had made a name for itself throughout Hampton Roads, VA and northeastern North Carolina, performing regularly at Virginia Beach’s Peppermint Lounge. Crossing blue-eyed soul and beach music, Bill Deal & The Rhondels had three hit singles in 1969, including renditions of The Tams' "What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)?" (#23)  and "I've Been Hurt" (#35). Beloved by fans from the Carolinas to the Chesapeake Bay, here's some footage of "I've Been Hurt" (never mind the Portuguese subtitles).     

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From Salem, Michigan, the talented Barbara Lewis began writing songs at 9 years old, then recording as a teenager with record producer/DJ Ollie McLaughlin. She wrote all of the songs on her debut LP, including the hit "Hello Stranger" which reached #3 on the Billboard chart in 1963. After a few moderate follow-up hits, her million-seller "Baby, I'm Yours" peaked at #11 summer of 1965, produced by Bert Berns and written for Lewis by Van McCoy (producer/songwriter known for "The Hustle" in 1975). . The "beach music" scene of the Carolinas remains a mainstay of appreciation for Lewis' records, which continue to enjoy popularity and airplay there decades after their original release.
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There are so many stellar groups in this genre, I'll definitely need to make multiple Beach Music posts, but for now, we'll conclude with doo-wop/ R&B group The Jarmels who officially formed in 1959 in Richmond, Virginia. After meeting in high school and singing together at their local baptist church, the start of their big break came in 1960 when they met Ben E. King (of The Drifters) after his performance in Richmond, and he invited them to travel to New York and meet various recording companies. Their second single, "A Little Bit of Soap," reached # 12 on the Billboard chart in September 1961 and #7 on the R&B charts. While "Soap" proved to be the only hit single for The Jarmels, it was the first hit record for the song's writer Ben Berns (who went on to write hits like "Twist and Shout," "Under the Boardwalk," "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Hang On Sloopy," just to name a few). Time to get your Carolina shag on with this beach music classic by The Jarmels. 

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