And The Bands Played On... : The History of Beach Music

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The music most often associated with the band is beach music, frat rock, Original Tams Band To hear it, you might think you just stepped into Motown. To breathe it, you smell a tropical breeze. To feel it, you let the rhythm grasp your body and whirl it into motion.

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Tams Original Original Tams Band Let's get started. He went places, literally and metaphorically, where others dared not tread. Only problem, it was the wrong ocean. Two miles, to be exact. Just north of Carolina Beach lay a stretch of coastline called Seabreeze that is all but forgotten by everyone except the locals. The lanky, good-looking guy would comb his blond ducktail, unbutton his shirt to mid-chest, hop in his wheel and head across that great divide a couple of miles down the road that may as well have been on the far side of the rainbow.

Once there he found something magical, something enchanting, something that took him to a place that truly was over the rainbow. Yet, as mystical as it was, it was also something forbidden. After enough trips to the illicit land and tastes of the forbidden fruit, those lyrics were still ringing in his ears and that music pulsing through his body, long after going back across the unseen wall. He would sing them as best he could to his buddy Jim Hannah, imploring him to do something to bring that music to the uninformed masses.

So Hannah called the amusement company in Wilmington that stocked the jukebox in his establishment and had them bring over some of that music they regularly took to the joints down the road. Soon the box that sat just to the right of the entrance to the long and narrow club was blaring tunes unheard of in postwar white America. Suddenly white America and black America had learned to coexist, if only at the jukebox at the Tijuana Inn.

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It soon spread inland to nightspots, armories, teenage dance clubs, lake retreats and canteens throughout the Carolinas, Georgia and southern Virginia. But there was more to the story. Music was only part of the equation; dance was the other component. It can be convincingly argued that the music would not have taken root had it not been for the dance that was in vogue during those days. Not surprisingly, it evolved over the years, as it does even today, yet the smooth one-two-three-kick steps and beats-per-minute pace are essentially the same today as they were then.

Oh, by the way, Chicken Hicks was a dancer, one of the coolest of his or any other time. With the benefit of hindsight, it becomes obvious that there are five elements that enabled this narrow niche of music and dance to morph into a lifestyle that still flourishes today. In addition to the musicians and the dancers, the phenomenon needed radio support, dance clubs and those who chronicle the cycles of entertainment for it to survive.

Profiled below are five such individuals, each at the head of the class in their respective fields, who serve as a metaphor for this genre of music and this form of dance that are indigenous to this region. And, in a very real sense, they are a large part of the reason that beach music and the shag still exist.

Those two events finally put the record business in the beach music business. Although hopefully they self-reflexively reveal our own neophyte status and initial cluelessness, obviously we have chosen clips according to dramatic effect or even shock value , flow, clarity, brevity, humor, and occasionally horror. For each chosen soundbyte or story, we rejected hundreds of others. Likely the man who invented white rock and roll and accidentally, Beach Music in while breezing through North Carolina in pursuit of a girl, long before Bill Haley, Sun Records, and that Elvis character.

Smith and His Original Tams, after a court decision split the group in two.

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An absolute dynamo live, and a nice guy too. The obscure groove of this song really makes it shine, in my opinion. Danny Glover. Is this an interior dialogue, or is Amos playing two separate parts? I like thinking of him talking to himself as he wanders down the road to the party. That chord suspension at and subsequent heavenly resolution at is better than chicken-fried bacon grease.

But I do know that Michael Hurley really digs this, the tune and the sentiment. Who can blame him? Good advice. Elvis who? The furious gale force of that honking sax solo is hard to resist. The adorable squeak she lets out at the end of each line manages to telegraph toughness and desperation simultaneously.


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Roy Brown recorded it earlier, but this number has always been associated with Wynonie and later with Jimmy Cavallo too. If I played it on loop she would shake it until she collapsed.

And the Bands Played On...: The History of Beach Music

Well, the woman loved him, he loved her, none of them was married and he kissed her and somebody spotted it and went to court. And we went to court, man, the courthouse was on fire. Hang him! The million-dollar questions: who and where is Johnny Dollar? Imagine, if you will, what that shape would look like. None of which explains the spookiness of this song.

Sounds like a haunted Tin Pan Alley.

The History of Carolina Beach Music

Remember Dirty Dancing? Yeah, me too. Joe Pope, original lead singer of The Tams, has a voice that makes you check your speakers for tears. Rumor has it that an uncredited session man named Jimi Hendrix played on this track. Speaking of Jagger, Bobby Tomlinson tells us that he was a real asshole. The Embers opened for the Stones in —whoa!

Greatest Beach Music Songs

Guitar Lightning was there too. My friend Otto used to work at a record store in Rochester, and he spoke to Roy himself on the phone about distribution on a regular basis. Sounds like a real character. Willie boldly struts his way through a harsh tale of punking and pimping.

Mike, my Dad passed away this morning at about 3 AM. A classic. Bobby Tomlinson laughs about the days the Embers played with the Impressions early on. I love that opening organ figure and how the guitar mimics and replaces its stutter. He was a big-boned guy. This is an example of the popular and emergent Beach Music karaoke format at its most depressing and glorious.

The emcee is DJ Mike Lewis. Robert Parker, where are you? Instead he got struck by money! Fierce and weird.

A pimp and an eccentric performer fond of donning a turban, Hannibal knew everybody in the early soul world. The drummer really tears it up on the breaks. Who knew Jackie Wilson could get so nasty? I get the distinct feeling that LaVern is egging him on here, since she gets the raunchiest lines. Hearing them giggle is priceless. This song makes me blush. One of the first hits out of Fame studios in Muscle Shoals.

He never blew up, but every single was masterful, a faceted gem. This one, his first hit, is particularly heartbreaking.

On the subject of gems, this Jewell and the Rubies single is the only love song I know that implicates a hostage situation, extortion, and the FBI. Louis pimp with a magical white Stetson—this remains one of my favorites. Lee from hell from raising too much — or even sodomizing old Lucifer himself.

beach music bands then and now

The sanitized version is in the repertoire of every beach band worth its salt.

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