The man known as 'Fessa John Hook is host of the Endless Summer beach music network at www.beachshag.com and author of "Shagging in the Carolinas," available from Arcadia Publishing June 19, about the dance through the decades.
In an interview with The Star, he offered his take on the evolution of the shag and its specific ties to Shelby.
Then: Sand in their Shoes
The dance: “A lot of people say that in the '60s, when a beach song came on from the band or jukebox, all you had to do was reach out your hand and you'd be shaggin' because everyone had some familiarity with it,” Hook said.
The trend: Beach music and shagging became better known, along with a few popular instructors in the Carolinas, during the late '70s, according to Hook. Before then, “it was all but impossible to find stories about beach music or shagging in the '60s,” he said. The shag had an early integrated influence. “It was quite underground, a subculture.”
The stompin’ grounds: Shelby City Park, Robinwood Lake in Gastonia, Lookout Lake in Statesville, and a recreation center in Spartanburg, S.C., were cradles of the shag, Hook said.
Local legends: Bobby London and the Ambassadors formed in 1959. The group played Cecil Corbett's Beach Club in Myrtle Beach in the early '60s and recorded “Apple of My Eye” that played all over the South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Members included James Billy London and lead singer Bobby Gene London, both still living in Shelby.
Janice Barnett traveled with Reggie Saddler and the Dynamics in the early '70s and also recorded as Janice and the Jammers. She produced the beach and college circuit hit “I Told You So.”
Alicia Bridges grew up near Shelby and recorded the hit shag tune “I Love the Nightlife.”
Dennis Beam is a Shaggers Hall of Fame member. He was one of the founders of S.O.S., Society of Stranders, which holds two 10-day parties each year in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“After Hurricane Hazel took out Roberts Pavilion in the fall of 1954, a new O.D. Pavilion was built right away, but it had cement dance floors,” Hook said. “Dennis and two of his buddies walked across the street and talked the owner of an old house that served beer to fishermen into putting in a 10-by-12 dance floor and 'The Pad' was born.”
The Pad was a popular Ocean Drive dance hall until 1994.
“They had a jukebox under the shade of an old stilt house,” Beam said. The boys requested adding a dance floor and some different records. “The next Thursday night, it was crowded. You couldn't get in the place,” he said. “That's how the name ‘Pad’ started —the dance pad they built us.”
Now: Standin' by the Shag
The dance: The attraction to it hasn’t changed. Still, “the people that love it are passionate about it...and there's more than one reason,” Hook said.
The club: Dick Hamrick, president of Shelby Shag Club, said he’d seen the dance grow in popularity through the years.
“It’s not just a southeastern U.S. phenomenon anymore,” he said.
Shelby Shag Club meets on the fourth Saturday of the month from 8 p.m. to midnight at AMVETS on West Dixon Boulevard.
Club member Sam Lail said he has loved to shag since he learned at The Pad in 1963.
“Everybody called it fast dancing back then,” said Lail, who returned to shagging after raising three children. “We just love it,” he said. “There’s something in your life that you grew up with or the type of music you listened to that you just connect to, and it's just in you.”
Brenda Thornburg, another club member, said she enjoyed S.O.S. “Spring Safari” festivities in April.
“It’s just thousands of people there who love beach music and who love the shag,” she said. “A lot of them, you never learn their names, but you recognize faces from one time to the next and it's just great. Then you've got your beach music, your dancing and the ocean.”