God Speed to the B.S.er !!!
For decades, Labor Day marked the end of summer and the Beach season
along the Grand Strand. Labor Day, 2009 marks the end of an era in
Beach Music history with the passing of Billy "The B.S.er" Smith.
Billy's career spanned over five decades beginning in 1958 in his
hometown of Marion, SC to Tabor City, NC, Charleston, Wilmington, NC,
and a few other stops along the way--shining from the top of his career
were his stellar years at Tiger Radio, WNMB-FM, and most recently an
eight-year run on 94.9 The Surf.
Before Shaggin' In the Carolinas was published four years ago, I
told Billy I absolutely had to have a picture of the Billy Smith Beach
Party before the book would be complete. Tens of thousands
of summertime visitors sought out the B.S.ers' Beach Party with every
sojourn to the Beach.
Billy was awarded DJ of the Year at the very first Beach Music Awards at
the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in 1982 and has won several more
since, including Comedy Personality of the Year which acknowledged his
infinite capacity for humor.
I was honored to remaster Billy's comedy cassette of the 80s--skits from
his morning shows on WNMB--as a CD in the 2000s, simply because it was a
classic and I was proud to see him re-release it.
As a revered DJ and entertainer, Billy was featured in countless High
School yearbooks throughout the 60s and 70s, an honor that goes to a
Deane Morris, owner of the Surf in the late 90s up to 2002, and Rossi's
and Myrtle Beach Golf Carts, was responsible for pulling Billy off a Hip
Hop station and putting him back in the morning Captain's Chair with
94.9 The Surf. Deane and Billy were compadres in Beach Music for
decades, from the days when Billy's headquarters were Deane's Dutch
Deli, to the days when they put together one of the first Beach Music
From hereon, Labor Day is the day every self-respecting Beach jock
should doff his and her hat to the B.S.er, who not only carried the
Torch of Beach Music nearly five decades, he set the bar for every
dedicated Beach music DJ entertainer. May we carry on the
tradition in his forever unfillable shoes.
--Fessa' John Hook
The Endless Summer
Network has gone - International.
I will continue to offer the Beach Music Top 40 Countdown and the Yearly
Beach Music Top 40 Countdowns to affiliate radio stations (those are
listed under the 'Charts' button above). The charts will continue to
appear weekly at
www.beachshag.com (more timely, however).
Both shows are
available for listening and downloading at
www.cashboxmagazine.com/countdowns/beachmusicweekly.html on time,
every week. As of this month, Cashbox has re-launched the hard copy
Cashbox after a long hiatus. Books-A-Million ordered
100,000 copies of the first issue. In it you’ll find the Beach Music
Top 40 and the Roadhouse Blues and Boogie Top 40 as well as one or more
columns that I’ll write for each issue.
In addition, numerous stations in Europe and Asia are picking up both
Top 40s -- we've yet to ascertain how many U.S. stations are picking it
I’m working on Dancing On the
Edge. Our Beach/Shag/Bop inheritance is a rich, multi-layered
legacy which I aim to bring to the world within the next 24 months. And
who knows, their may yet be a renaissance of the Endless Summer Network
Meanwhile, we're also developing online access to the complete database
of the Beach Music Guide Vols 1 & 2, as well as an extended
encyclopedia of Beach Music history.
It hasn't been an easy decision to
close the Endless Summer Network webcast. Occasionally I feel as if
I’ve betrayed myself as well as thousands of friends I’ve made over the
years. A close friend with whom I shared my decision recently remarked,
“I understand what you’re aiming for and you’ve got to follow your
heart. And I know the difficulty you’re in, it’s easy to get into
things, and sometimes it’s hard to get out of them.” (Sort of a
spin-off of William Bell’s great beach hit, “Easy Getting’ In, But Hard
I’m concerned that you realize
that I don’t take this change for granted. In that light, I offer you
the best explanation I can offer. I could toss it off with an ambiguous
statement such as, “Hey, I’m just following my passions,” but that
doesn’t really explain anything. If that does explain my decision to
your satisfaction, there’s no need to read further. If you’d like to
know the foundation for why I’m doing this, and what I’m planning next
(which is still deeply embedded in Beach and Shag culture), then read
My Beach Music experiences have
been the central and major thrust of my life. The last 35 years have
been dramatically different from my Midwestern upbringing. When I took
off my socks and stepped fully into the Weejuns-track of my life, I made
more friends in the first 3 months of my first major Beach show on WBT,
Charlotte than I had made altogether in my first 30 years. I was
invited to fish fries, low country boils, catfish stews, afternoons and
evenings around privately owned jukeboxes on decks and in homes where I
learned from men and women who had Beach Music in their DNA. And they
were total strangers.
My good fortune began with my
association with Sandy Beach at Big WAYS in Charlotte, followed
soonafter by 26 years in partnership with Chris and Carolyn Beachley of
the Wax Museum there.
I hitched my star to Chris’s
entrepreneurial trajectory in 1976. We formed YesterYear Records as an
adjunct to the Wax Museum, buying our first inventory of 100,000+
records out of Eden, NC. Through the Wax Museum, Chris was already
auctioning Rhythm and Blues and Beach records all over the United States
and around the world. Through YesterYear, we added auctions of
Rockabilly, Country, Pop, Swing, Jazz, Soundtracks, Rock and Roll, Big
Band, Countrybilly, Popcorn (a Belgium specialty), Northern Soul, and
everything else we found on wax and shellac including Picture records,
78s, Edison records, cylinder records and other related music products.
Later that year we bought out one of the biggest distributors in the
South and our inventory catapulted to three quarters of a million
(I left for Virginia two years
later where I bought several massive record collections which grew until
I had to rent two houses to keep all the records. I sold my first
private collection of nearly a million records in 1984—too much rent and
too many records!)
Chris started It Will Stand
magazine in 1979 and I was fortunate to rejoin him in 1980 as a staff
researcher, writer, and sales partner. That same year, I became
‘possessed’ by the need to learn the histories of Beach Music and the
Shag. I thought I could finish the research and write a history of both
in six months (ha ha ha!)
After I joined WBT to produce the Saturday
Night Beach Show, Chris and I, along with Randy Rowland, co-owner of
Groucho’s Beach Club at the time, began syndicating the Beach Music News
in 1982 on over 70 radio stations.
In 1983 I joined AMRECORP out of
Dallas, Texas to develop a new broadcast division. One of my jobs was
to launch and manage WGSP radio out of Charlotte. It was a little 1,000
watt, daytime AM. WGSP was a great experimental lab for me. I had some
ideas about how to mix Beach Music with Oldies, and strategies for
‘music flow’ I wanted to experiment with. A year later Billboard
magazine voted me national Program Director of the Year for Medium
Regretfully, I barely noticed the
honor of that award at the time, I had discovered another love that has
been co-joined with my Beach and Shag passion ever since. My good
fortune was to participate in a blossoming new tradition in the fields
of communication, language, and personal and organizational coaching. I
was in the first small group in the nation certified as ‘ontological’
coaches in 1984.
I won’t bore you with a long
explanation of ‘ontological’ except to say that it entails a rigorously
different understanding of what makes human beings human in the way we
communicate and relate to one another through languaging and emotioning.
Two other important things
happened in 1984. After letting Frank Herbert’s book Dune sit in
my library for 17 years, I finally read it and fell in love with him,
seeking out every book he’d ever written. It was the only fiction I
read at the time because all the rest of my discretionary time was taken
up with Beach and Shag research.
I also took my first five Shag
lessons that year, at the end of which, watching myself in the mirror,
my deepest fear seemed to have come true—I couldn’t dance like the
smooth steppers I admired, and apparently I never would.
Then I read Herbert’s third book
in the Dune series. At the head of one of the chapters was a
passage that shook me all the way down to my roots,
“Odd as it may seem, great struggles such
as the one you can see emerging from my journals are not always visible
to the participants. Much depends on what people dream in the secrecy
of their hearts. I have always been as concerned with the shaping of
dreams as with the shaping of actions. Between the lines of my journals
is the struggle with humankind’s view of itself—a sweaty contest on a
field where motives from our darkest past can well up out of an
unconscious reservoir and become events with which we not only must live
but contend. It is the hydra-headed monster which always attacks from
your blind side. I pray, therefore, that when you have traversed my
portion of the Golden Path you no longer will be innocent children
dancing to music you cannot hear.”
Somehow, that seemed to be a clue
as to how I could conduct my research into Beach and Shag history. One
of the axioms I learned in my ontological training was that *everything
human beings invent is invented in languaging and emotioning.*
Furthermore, language is more than description, it also creates what
exists for human beings.
(In that context, the invention of Shag and Beach Music is not trivial.
It's MORE than a recreational or leisure activity).
My Shag training
had failed miserably. There had to be something I wasn’t seeing or
I boxed up all the research I’d
completed so far and started over by interviewing as many of the
pioneers as possible. My aim was to see how Shag showed up in their
‘languaging’ back in the 40s and how Beach Music showed up in the
‘languaging’ in the 60s.
This is not the place to lay out
the subsequent years of research except to say that Shag and Beach Music
did not show up *overtly* in the language of Shag and Beach culture.
Both existed for many years before they were ever *named.* Therefore,
they showed up in the *emotioning* first and in the languaging later.
The question I was left with was, “What was happening in the
emotioning that was later named?”
It has been a long, exceedingly
rich, road of discovery since. I’ve collected thousands of documents
and pictures from all over the South and points North, East, and West
that paint a panoramic picture of unknown American history. For years,
every time I thought I had a sense of the entire scope of Beach and Shag
history, I was surprised again and again. Our legacy of improvisational
dance and unique Beach Music subculture is not only extraordinary in and
of itself, it reveals a way in which culture, art, and creativity moves
through society under the radar. Even more fascinating is Why it does
My ontological studies continued
for nine years. Right at the end, I happened to hear a friend with a
radio talk show interviewing a physicist from Vienna who claimed he
could describe the natural laws of growth. He went on to make some
extraordinary claims that boggled my mind. I bought his book that
afternoon. By early 1993 my dearest colleague and friend helped write a
‘gopher’ (early slang for Search Engine) to explore the Internet and
find the formulae and software I needed to start researching the
physicists’ fascinating claims.
In the summer of 1996, I presented
a paper on my work to the Society of Continuing Adult Education in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. In late 1997, I presented the evolution of
that work as a keynote speaker to 200 scientists from the world over at
an international symposium at the Federal University in Belo Horizonte,
I’ve been researching with these
unique tools of observation in languaging, emotioning, and growth ever
since. They provide a perspective on cultural history that helped me
get “outside the box” every time I’ve been stuck (i.e. using ‘growth’
projections I am able to figure out Where to look, and When,
for clues to Beach and Shag history).
That brings us to today. I’m 60.
Shag is well beyond 60. Beach
Music, in the interpretation I present in both Shaggin’ In the
Carolinas and the Beach Music Guide, is also over 60. I have
an eight-book series entitled Dancing On the Edge that is laid
out with many sections already completed. At this point I need
capitalization for additional research to complete and publish the
series (and I'm running out of 'extra' time).
The good news is that my 25 years
of studies in the ontologies of communication and creativity, growth
science, and Shag and Beach music have revealed keys to my First Love,
one I haven’t mentioned as yet.
My first love is Ambition. That’s
not what I always called it. As a youngster, I was driven by the notion
that human beings can do whatever they put their minds to. But
in the 60s there wasn’t any science that supported that notion. At the
time, society and science believed that one had to have a high IQ,
innate talents, and formal education in order to achieve high
performance and excellence in our pursuits. Those beliefs persisted
despite the fact that there are a wealth of exceptional individuals
throughout history who realized extraordinary ambitions even though they
didn’t have notable IQs, talents, or formal education.
The question I wrestled with over
the years is HOW to put our minds toward our Ambitions so that we are
successful. (This eventually begged the questions, “What is Ambition?
How do we observe it? How can we effectively follow our Ambition?”)
I’ve been researching and
experimenting to answer these questions for a long time. In recent
months, we’ve experienced success after success. I’ve provided a small
set of “processes of reflection” to a few select people to see if they
gain some clarity about their Ambitions. The surprise has been that we
are not ordinarily “aware” of our ambitions. But that’s another, longer
In 2010, I’ll be launching a
Pop-Up toolkit with which individuals and organizations can not only
uncover their ambitions but locate where they are in their growth in
relation to those ambitions. (Learn more at
Currently, I’m still inviting
people to participate in these processes to put the final touches on the
software which will be a set of Pop-Up screens on personal computers
which people can use again and again to Uncover, Implement, and Expand
their ambitions, along with a tool with which they can track their
progress in learning and growing toward their ambitions.
What about Beach Music and Shag
My ambition from the 70s forward
was to provide ALL of Beach Music on BIG radio stations
regionally, with an aim toward national exposure and attraction.
There are now about 400 members in
the Association of Beach and Shag Club DJs providing every flavor and
style of Beach Music available. There are numerous radio shows,
Internet shows, and webstreams which supply Beach Music. They've
got all the musical bases covered which frees me to pursue my further
ambitions to present Beach Music in new ways so that it garners the
respect it deserves as an inheritance with deep roots in the Southern
way of life, as well as roots in other fundamental human interests.
For now, my love and best wishes
to you, I gotta get to work,
If you have comments or questions, e-mail me at
World of Beach Music
Our relationship to Beach Music has evolved along with technology's
impact on music. Since early man, the use of song, sometimes acapella
sometimes with an added instrument such as the lyre or flute, has
changed in seen and unseen ways.
Although singing doesn't require
musical accompaniment, over the last couple of thousand years our
expectation to find musicians as an integral part of every song became
deeply embedded in our psyches. Yet the last one hundred years
have slowly remolded our standards for music consumption.
At the turn of the 20th century a concert or a song was always
supported by a band, an orchestra, or at the very least a guitar or
piano. The advent of tinfoil recordings in the 1890s, although an
interesting novelty, still didn't change our preferences.
Three new technologies in the 1920s changed all that as they
slowly gained dominance in the world of musical entertainment. Cylinder
records, soon to inspire cylinder jukeboxes, and early forms of records
(short for 'recordings') floated about in the homes of the wealthy as
novelties, but few seriously thought they'd change the world.
As the Roaring 20s grew so did the proliferation of records and
jukeboxes. Coming from behind was a new kid on the block that would
profoundly impact the future--Radio.
The flat, usually one-sided record was the first of the three to
impact society. In the early days records were played on phonographs of
various types and various speeds. The invention of the jukebox extended
the diversity of the phonograph with a large library to draw from
(nowadays we'd call that a 'database').
From Duplication to
As a new form of permanently stored music, records offered new
possibilities. One of the great stories out of New Orleans that clearly
demonstrates one of those is the story of musicians there who dearly
wanted to duplicate Louis Armstrong's solos in several of his most
popular tunes. The problem was that no one's ears could keep up with
the intricate and rapid trills that Louis played so masterfully. It was
Bunk Johnson on a trip North who found a record of an Armstrong
masterpiece and slowed the turntable with his finger until he was able
to identify each individual note. Upon his return to New Orleans, Bunk
received a heroic reception from his peers when he played an Armstrong
solo note for note.
Records opened a door for musicians to replicate the songs and
styles of musicians who lived 100 or 2,000 miles away.
At the same time, records created a new taste-preference in
fans. The permanence of a record's groove inscribed or stamped in wax
and hardened into a medium that faithfully reproduced the song embedded
in its surface generated a similar phenomenon in the psyches of its
listeners. From then on they *expected* to hear the song duplicated in
exactly the same way they'd heard it.
The Regional Return of
Except for a minority, popular music diverged from jazz's
improvisational foundations. Fans wanted the popularly familiar,
not reinvented versions of the songs they loved. One minority stream
was a Southeastern culture which crystallized in 1945 when early
Shaggers and Boppers began to 'improvise' on the dance floors and
'improvised' to find songs which matched their new-born appetites for
songs with tempos and moods that paralleled their preferences.
Young Shag enthusiasts turned over every record on the 78 rpm
jukeboxes in the early days to find good 'fas' dance' songs. 'Fas'
dance' was a misnomer. Their criteria wasn't "fast," they searched for
a good 4/4 beat to which they could adapt their evolving form of
(For those who hold to the erroneous notion that Shag evolved from
the jitterbug, sorry, it didn't happen. There may have been a few
jitterbug-dancers who adapted to the new tempos of the Southeast. There
are some dramatic hints about this, if you read between the lines in
Shaggin' in the Carolinas. The 8-book Dancing on the Edge
series coming out over the next two years will make this clear, once and
for all, with a plentitude of historical documentation).
What started as a dancer-driven Shag culture metamorphed into the
Beach Music culture in the 60s. Along the way a few enterprising
"Beach-Shag Music" fans bought 45 rpm players that fit under the dashes
of their cars. It was one of the only ways to hear Beach music at will;
it didn't play on most radio stations or inland jukeboxes. The
permanence of records made it possible to hear Beach Music outside its
As Technology Changes, We
As the permanence of recording media have changed, our attitudes and
relationships to music have changed from static to flexible to
digital--from written-in-stone, to wider acceptance, to the capacity to
play and adapt all music at will.
The advent of Radio increased the range of choices beyond the
self-contained libraries of jukeboxes. Radio's early musical
offerings were usually live performances from urban centers such as
Chicago or New York over the growing national radio networks. For
the first time, people in small and rural communities could hear top
shelf entertainment they couldn't access nearby or afford if it did come
DJ culture emerged from the very late 40s impacting radio and radio
listening for years to come. Before the invention of Top 40, many
stations permitted their DJs to each bring their 'favorite' songs and
play them at will. Diversity and personality ruled the airwaves
while producing a massive selection of music to choose from.
Cassettes and 8-tracks were agents of new possibilities -- more
music on a material far more pliable than wax, polyvinylchloride -- that
could be stored in a much smaller container. A 90 minute cassette could
hold 30+ songs from the 50s and early 60s, or 20+ from the 70s and 80s.
The ability to stick 30 songs into a 3" wide by 1/2" tall slot in
the dashboard console or entertainment center was far less cumbersome
and labor intensive than a record changer and a box of 30 45s.
CDs opened yet another relationship to music. We no longer use a
needle or stamping machine to engrave wax cylinders or platters. Nor do
we have to impregnate tape with silver oxide and use magnets to realign
the oxide's polarities to reproduce music.
A CD uses light to change molecular polarities on a small flat
disc with a sound clarity previously unavailable on tape or record.
The digital CD was a half-step to wave files. With the help of a
few engineers working on the soundtrack of the first Arnold
Schwarzenegger Terminator film, we progressed to a compressed
digital form of audio called the MP3. Standard practice in film making
often calls for the re-recording of dialogue which previously demanded
actors return to a studio to record their lines again. After
Terminator was filmed, Arnold had other projects which called him to
the other side of the world. The Terminator director didn't want
to ramp up expenses by flying Arnold back and forth so he asked his
engineers to come up with a way for Arnold to make high quality
recordings on the movie set where he was working and send them over the
telephone lines. The engineers developed the algorithms for MP3s.
Cyberspace -- Technological
Freedom to Act Freely
Today music exists in cyberspace as a series of "1's" and
"O's"--the digital world's fundamental alphabet--played back by
'software', a euphemism for the digital representation of a machine that
doesn't really exist, but is also represented by a sophisticated series
of 1's and 0's.
Computers, i.e. the hardware, don't actually play the
music. On closer examination, a computer is run by an operating system
(more 1's and 0's) which coordinates the software held in the computer's
RAM (random access memory).
In other words, a box containing a machine-that-doesn't-exist
(the operating system) co-ordinates other
machines-that-aren't-really-there (software) which reproduces singers
and instruments producing music that really isn't-inside-the-computer,
software, or operating system.
Additionally, digital memory capacity has grown to the point that
a Blackberry can hold several thousand songs and a terabyte hard drive
can hold 100s of thousands.
DJs and collectors today can pack 500,000 songs onto one or two
hard drives, no matter that it would take 4.3 years to listen to a half
million 3 1/2 minute songs.
Or, if it were our job to listen for 8 hours per day, it would
take 13 years to listen to them all one time.
Simultaneous with our geometrically greater access to music,
compared to the last 120 years, sampling is now a practice ingrained not
only in the practices of recording artists we have new social practices
called personal playlists, peer-to-peer sharing, digital samples on
ITunes, Amazon and an unthinkably large number of other web portals to
all musical genres and artists.
In the Beach Music world, DJ practice of slowing or speeding up
songs in the 80s (with the help of new turntable technology), has been
infinitely enhanced by Cool Edit Pro, Pro Tools, and other sophisticated
software. Many recording artists complain about this, but it's really
not a new practice.
(Although not the subject of this essay, recording artists'
complaints about fans 'altering' their music is worthy of a closer look
another time. For the time being, consider this scenario:
Imagine a movie set where an actor has just completed a scene. The
director says, "we're going to have to redo that scene, I want you to
slow down your delivery, give me more empathy, sympatico." To
which the actor responds, "You'll have to accept what I've just given
you--that was my art."
The director retorts, "No, actually your craft demands that you work
with me. A movie is a collaborative art, not a totalitarian
state." The same is true of a recording. Once it's released,
the fan becomes the Director and can do whatever he/she wants with it.
This is a Free country, not totalitarian or a dictatorship. Those
who invoke 'laws' can do so, it's a Free country. But some laws,
like buggy whips and steamships, become obsolete.)
Late 50s and 60s ballroom studios often slowed or speeded up
records (there are tricks where one can wrap scotch tape around a
turntable or tape player's pinch roller or capstan) to match the tempo
capabilities of their students. And of course Bunk Johnson was slowing
down records in the late 20s for his own purposes.
With unlimited access to a near-infinite world of music, and the
'improvisational' capabilities of software, music fans live in a world
of multi-layered diversity in tastes nearly impossible to keep track of.
Don't You Have any "Beach
It's no longer possible to predict or even guess at another's
musical preferences using past criteria like one's upbringing in a
particular environment, economic status (how many records or CDs one
could buy), or the probable radio stations one listened to. Nor can we
calculate a person's preferences by the friends she keeps or the social
groups he belongs to -- we live in a world of hyper-diversity.
Today we can only estimate preferences from a mythological rather
than local-historical vantage point, i.e. we can only speculate about the kinds of moods and
messages a person may prefer, and the possible mix they respond to. But
even that takes a bit of on-the-spot research rather than predetermined
Beach Music has also become
unpredicatable. It hasn't been a
single category of music in nearly 30 years. One could easily
make a case that Beach Music split into two basic categories around 1962,
1) hard Rhythm and Blues, 2) the advent of Motown and sweet 60s Soul.
From the 80s to today, it has blossomed and embraced several
other genres--Country, early Pop, Jump Blues, Rock and Roll, Reggae, Hip
Hop, and variations in between. Loud detractors haven't changed the
facts. They may embarrass some into not admitting what they like, but
Beach Music is now wide and deep.
Some Beach DJs have proclaimed their preferences as being
the only "true" Beach or Shag music. Those who share their preferences
show up at the parties they emcee. The same holds true for those who
prefer the stylings of their favorite bands. None of them represent
"true" Beach Music, but collectively they constitute the Truth about
Beach Music consumption. It has many faces, sounds, moods, tempos,
styles, appetites, and fans.
To appreciate Beach Music in its entirety requires openness and
tolerance. Odd isn't it? That's what was required of
Caucasians in the beginning -- openness, tolerance, and respect,
for a very different culture that embodied new possibilities of
expression and enjoyment which EuroAmerican culture didn't offer.
-- Fessa' John Hook (c)
Does ‘Supporting’ Beach Music Really
In case you hadn’t noticed, Beach
Music is not only in transition, it’s undergoing a major upheaval which
may or may not lead to its reinvention.
How do we know we’re in
transition? There’s lots of activity, much of it driven by desperation,
a tiny bit is grasping at new opportunities.
Changes in Beach Music culture
have also been reflected in the loss of nightclubs, performance venues,
and the loss of nearly all our retail outlets. With those have come
outcries that we must “support” the clubs, venues and retail outlets if
we want Beach Music to continue. The problem is, that’s not the way, or
the why, in which human beings participate in social organizations.
We don’t participate in order to
“support.” Involvement is always prefaced by something we find
attractive. Beach Music is apparently becoming less and less
attractive. No one wants to support something simply to keep it from
dying. We support what we’re attracted to, what makes us feel Alive!
Drilling deeper, what Beach Music
offers matches our taste preferences and values less and less. That’s
been obvious in the disputes which abound as to what Beach Music *is,*
where its attraction is centered. Just as clear is the fact that Beach
Music means different things to different people, anchored in their
original experiences of Beach Music.
No matter what our experiences
have been, things are changing.
On the artistic side, songwriters
are rising to an elevated position. People like Doug Manning, Ron
Moody, the Jeffords Brothers, Cagle and Nash, and Tommy Black are
becoming more prominent forces. Right behind them, Joe Chambers with
the Royal Scotsmen, David Spiegel, and Danny Brooks with the Rockin’
Revelators stepped out from behind the curtains.
At the same time, singers too long
in the shadows have re-emerged. Earl Dawkins is on a steady roll with
the Entertainers. Jerry West fronted the Band of Oz on an extraordinary
song. J.D. Cash is rising phoenix-like to a new trajectory. Reverend
Bubba D. Liverance uncloaked his formidable soulfulness with his debut
CD. Jerry Wilson, one of the front men for the Soulmasters in the 60s
has popped back into the mainstream.
Meanwhile, other avenues
of Beach Music expression may be shrinking or disappearing.
One way to observe the
changes is in the three primary realms of every industry, including
Beach Music--Production, Distribution, and Marketing.
Changed the Most
the main players have dwindled to a handful. KHP leads with several
projects on the shelves and on the drawing board. We have to put an
additional star next to their name for courageous experimentations.
Their efforts to promote ‘Southern Soul’ as an alternative name for
Beach Music seems to have evaporated. Their alliance with the National
Rhythm and Blues DJ Association produced two CDs bundled with hope and a
roll of the dice. One of their latest alliances has generated the first
Tobacco Road project, the Carolina Soul Collection.
Coming behind KHP is
Forevermore, Ripete, and SisBro. Of the three Forevermore puts out at
least one strong CD per year with several projects on the drawing
board. Ripete may have launched its last salvo with Keep On Shaggin’
Vol 2 and J.D.’s latest. SisBro has one new CD out, perhaps a couple
more to follow.
How many CDs are they
selling collectively? You can be sure that compared with 25 years ago,
sales are dismal at best. CDs are disappearing from traditional retail
outlets. In the future, bands will be better off selling them from the
stage while their fans are fired with emotion and filled with
Meanwhile, there’s a proliferation
of tiny independent, home-owned record labels. Calabash Blues and
Boogie Band, Reverend Bubba, Cagle and Nash, Chairmen of the Board,
Chocolate Thunder, Frankie McNeill and the Counts, and a few others have
their own labels.
The future of
distribution is MP3s and downloads, with a caveat. Artists are going to
have to re-evaluate their goals in recording and distribution. The good
news is that MP3 distribution is far less costly than pressing CDs. On
the other hand, recording studio rates are still costly. The most
common counter-strategy is to use home recording units and software.
Unfortunately, that means that ‘home-made’ recordings are limited by the
production experience and ideas of the artists—which are minimal. This
is a promising area for innovation.
Can an artist employ the
unique talents of someone like Johnny Barker for production ideas,
multi-layering practices, and his unique approach to replicating ‘real’
instruments with keyboards and computer? What else can be done to move
original lyrics and melodies from Good to Great?
Perhaps the bigger
question is whether artists can reinvent their orientation to
production. One can ‘hope’ that one’s muse will lead to success, or one
can learn new ways with which to observe what has the most impact.
The challenge is this –
although the handwriting is on the wall, it’s written in invisible ink.
Either that, or artistic ambition has narrowed to a tiny spectrum of
“doing the best I can” while ignoring the larger issues facing Beach
One of two things can
change the future of Beach Music—Learning or Luck.
Marketing – The Ever
Evolving Dimension of Industry
Marketing has undergone
equally vast change. Twenty five years ago there were 75-100 radio
stations running Beach Music shows. Mobile DJs who tied their
entertainment to Beach Music were few. The Association of Beach and
Shag Club DJs didn’t exist, although the seeds of their institution were
Shag clubs were on the
verge of exploding in 1984. Regional groups were recording and
releasing new product prodigiously. Dancers had as much or more
authority in launching new “Beach Music” hits than radio DJs.
As S.O.S. membership
grew, the club jocks had a greater influence as well. There were also
several Beach Music record labels at the time, as well as three or four
powerful booking agencies doing their part in promoting Beach Music on
college and high school campuses, country clubs, and numerous other
They were all
institutions at the center of *marketing* Beach Music. Of course, the
meaning of Beach Music was also transforming from the values of the 60s
Golden Era with the renaissance of the pioneers of Shag from the 40s and
50s and the values they revitalized.
Since 1995 the CAMMYs,
now the Carolina Beach Music Awards, were highly influential in
*marketing / promoting* Beach Music.
The disheartening fact
to many is that all these marketing practices are losing steam.
returned to the Beach Music world. In the past this was marked by
unique regional styles of dance and music preferences. A hit in Raleigh
was unheard of in Augusta. A top group in Greensboro may never have
played at Myrtle Beach and so forth.
Today, bands sponsor
cruises which embrace their fans. Band collectives brings together somewhat larger groups, but with many overlapping fans.
Inside DJ ranks,
fragmentation is abundant. Some DJs rally almost exclusively around
regional bands. Others still haven’t broken out of the 80s, playing
“Coolin’ Out,” “Ms Grace,” and other hits of the period, weekly and
incessantly. Still others have closed ranks in what are called Vinyl
Parties. Some DJs stay within their notion that early R&B is the only
kind of Beach Music that matters.
Oddly, alongside the
fragmentation is an artificial representation of Beach culture in many
of the DJs’ personal Top 20 and Top 40 charts which are compiled by
‘agents’ of Beach Music who are careful not to challenge their
authenticity. The fact is, most of the charts do not reflect what the
DJs play during their engagements.
Where does all this
leave the fans? Confused? Dissatisfied?
How often are fans told
by DJs and bands that “I don’t have what you want with me,” or “we just
don’t do that song” ?
These are some of the
signs of transition which is pervasive throughout Beach Music culture.
Prepare yourself for
even bigger changes in the very near future.
--John Hook © 2009
Sad news for the Beach Music world.
“Mr. X,” the leading bootlegger of the past 20 years,
has closed down his business. It was both a surprise to him and a great
disappointment to his fans.
“I did everything right,” ‘X’ explained recently. “I
picked out and bought the top 10 CDs released by KHP, Ripete, Sisbro and
others; an initial investment of $120 plus tax, $128.40. I copied them
using CD blanks I buy for 20 cents apiece and burned a 1,000 of them,
100 of each title. It was a perfect investment. I put about 33 cents
into each CD, then let all my customers know they were available.”
After three months of intense e-mail and pre-paid,
untraceable, cell-phone marketing ‘X’ realized the market had changed.
“I was only charging $9.00 for each CD! I got three
orders. $27. I lost my ass!”
‘X’ cut his prices to $5.99 per CD, still no orders.
Following his bankruptcy, ‘X’ sold his duplicating
equipment to a salvage yard for $14. “I still lost my ass, $41 for the
entire project if you count the money I got for the equipment.”
The future may still be bright for ‘X.’
“I’ve been thinking,” he shared a little mysteriously,
“I’ve been looking at what the other bootleggers have been doing – not
bootlegging, I know all about that – I mean their ‘day jobs.’ Some of
them are accountants, salesmen, retail owners, doctors, lawyers….it runs
the whole gamut. If I can just figure out a way to bootleg what *they*
do, and sell the products at a cut-rate I could not only make money, I
could train-wreck their careers!”
We were stunned.
“Aw, come on. Bootlegging might seem to be
disrespectful for the time and learning people put into their craft, but
it’s Capitalism. It’s American, you dumb ass!”
As usual, we were left speechless.
11/13/09 -- John Hook