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NMB resident can't get enough shagging
By Neil White   - 06/17/2006

The Sun News

North Myrtle Beach resident John Hook had this fascination, and there was no dancing around it.

A disc jockey who had fallen under the spell of beach music - as well as the shag dance that went hand-in-hand with it - Hook wondered where it all got started upon his arrival in the Carolinas in the mid-1970s.

It was around 1980 when Hook started asking questions about the origin of beach music. But he got all kinds of responses. So he decided to take six months to learn the answers.

Twenty-six years later, he's finally putting those answers into print.

"Shagging in the Carolinas" is the result of his intensive - albeit somewhat delayed - research. The book, which goes on sale Monday, details the history of the music and the dance with both pictures and words.

Hook's captivation with this regional cultural phenomenon began not long after his arrival at Big WAYS, a Charlotte radio station, in July 1975 from a Louisiana station. That's when he heard fellow DJ Jay Thomas, who later went on to a successful acting career, say on the air one day that he was going to play a beach music song. Then Thomas spun a record by Billy Scott and the Georgia Prophets.

Hook was intrigued. But his interest really piqued not long after.

"Here's the thing that nailed me. I was with a friend and we were sitting in a club and saw a couple get up and start shagging. I was transfixed. I was poleaxed. I couldn't breathe. I had never seen white people dance sexy in my life," he said.

For Hook, the moment was culturally earthshaking.

"I'm from Missouri, where men don't dance and they don't want to hear about men who do. They're more comfortable with their heads under the hood of a car. But when I get to the Carolinas, I see this acceptance of men dancing - and they look good doing it. I said, 'I want some of this.'"

And with six easy steps, his life was shuffling off in a new direction. Soon, he began programming beach music into his radio shows.

"There was all this great music," he said. "Why not play it?"

But the rocket fuel that sent his career skyward as a beach music specialist came with a gig on Charlotte's monster-sized WBT radio station that ran from 1981 to 1983.

With a signal that sent his beach music show blasting across the Carolinas, Hook quickly learned how passionate the shagging community is.

"In the next 90 days, I made more friends than I made in the first 30 years of my life," he said of the countless invitations to chicken bog events, barbecues and shag contests he received. "That's when my real music education got launched to the next level."

Brenda Howle, a past president of the Columbia Shag Club, confirms that the beach-music scene is about more than dancing.

"It's like a family. When you're shagging, you can shag with anyone," Howle said. "It keeps you young. And it keeps your friendships going with the other shaggers. People you knew 30 years ago are still your friends now."

Hook also learned how much he had in common with the folks who love beach music.

"There is a culture of people who refuse to let major record companies and radio stations dictate what they like. That appeals to my rebellious nature," he said. "It was very appealing, and over time, it became more appealing."

As time passed, Hook - who had a radio handle of Doctor before switching to 'Fessa in the '90s - had immersed himself in the culture.

Today he still lives in North Myrtle Beach, where he runs a radio and broadcast network over the Internet. (Go to www.beachshag.com and find the link to his Endless Summer Network.)

The longtime musicologist, 56, was a natural to fix his studies on beach music and shagging.

Guerry Sample, for one, is glad Hook did. One of the former owners of the Tally Ho, the Columbia epicenter for shagging from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, Sample says Hook is the perfect man to pull the information together.

"He really knows the history of how the music evolved," said Sample, whose club on Rosewood was a fraternity and sorority hotspot.

Sample, whose role included keeping the jukebox stocked, understands the enduring appeal.

"The music is unique and different. It's quieter but it's got a good beat and rhythm. It lends itself to some smooth dancing," he said.

Smooth would be the key word to describe the shag. The best shaggers make the dance look effortless.

Hook believes there's one crucial ingredient every great shagger needs. Confidence.

"The people who have confidence look cool and smooth," he said.

But he added that some men get caught up looking too "peacocky" when they dance and that's not a good thing. He insists the best male shaggers are also generous with their partners.

"They always lead her where they think she'll be comfortable and look good," Hook said. "The men who focus on that are great shaggers."

There's also a reason why others never feel comfortable getting on the dance floor and mastering the shag.

"The one thing that stops people from getting it is worrying about other people's opinion of whether they're getting it," he said.

Hook says he stunk for 10 years. But that never stopped him. He didn't care what anybody else thought.

"I never worried about it," he said.

Today he says that he's the master of the instant shag.

"I can teach anybody to shag in one minute," he said.

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