Beach Music – 70 Years Old and Still Shaggin’

by Dave Austin

They’ve been shaggin’ on the beaches since the 1940’s, yet many DJs remain unaware of this still-viable dance music genre.

If you’re not familiar with this form of music, sometimes called Carolina beach music, it’s a style that evolved from the music of the 40’s to the 60’s and embraces big band swing instrumentals, blues, doo-wop, R&B and old-time rock & roll.  Closely associated with a style of swing dancing known as “shag,” tunes with a 4/4 “blues shuffle” rhythm and a moderate to fast tempo are most popular.

Early on, many songs influencing beach music were called “race music,” and encompassed such artists as Ruth Brown, Little Willie John, Earl Bostic and Hank Ballard.  However, in the segregated South, white youth could not always hear black R&B music in their home towns, so many of them crowded the pavilions and bars of the Carolina beaches where shag was gaining popularity and R&B ruled the jukeboxes and could be heard live in the beach clubs.

One of the commanding forces behind this cross-racial music revolution was WLAC – a powerful radio station in Nashville, TN., which blanketed the South with gritty, driving jump blues and R&B.  Soon, other stations joined the growing musical trend, fueling the popularity of this gospel-infused R&B and soul music.

Some “beach hits” made it onto the national charts, but many were “b-sides” or even more obscure recordings that never charted.  More recently, a new wave of artists, known as “beach bands” have emerged, and with influence from Motown, Stax and Atlantic records, these include The Tassels, The In-Men, Ltd., The Embers, The Catalinas, and even nationally charting groups such as The Swinging Medallions, the Okaysions and Bill Deal & the Rhondels.  Jimmy Buffett cites beach music as a major influence and his CD “Beach House On The Moon” was intended as homage to the genre.

Following a period of decline, beach music experienced a revival in the 80’s, largely due to a rather loose-knit organization, The Society of Stranders (SOS).  These days, Stranders gather each Spring along Ocean Drive in Myrtle Beach for dance contests, band competitions and, of course, sun and fun.  In 1981, the first Beach Music Awards Show was held, and today, this show is an eagerly-anticipated event under a new name – The Carolina Beach Music Awards.

Today, beach music is alive and well, and recordings in the classic style are being produced as part of a regional music industry in the Southeastern US.  Look for Bill Pinkney & the Original Drifters, The Chairmen of the Board, The Coastline Band, The Embers, Billy Scott, Band of Oz, etc.  Pop country moved into the realm with tunes like “Dancing, Shagging On The Boulevard” by Alabama, “Drift Away” and “Follow Me” by Uncle Kracker, “Some Beach” by Blake Shelton and “When The Sun Goes Down” by Kenny Chesney.

Whether you have the opportunity to play for shag dancers, or just want to include some great dance tracks in your library, pick up some of this great “beach music.”


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