(Beach Music and the Origin of Shag)
By Shannon MacDonald

When thinking of the word “SHAGGING”, one might look back on a familiar 1997 movie about a time-traveling / crooked-toothed Englishman who ends every sentence with an excitable “Yeah Baby!” Truth of the matter is, way before there was an “International Man of Mystery”… there was Myrtle Beach, Beach Music, and Shagging.

It all started with the owner of the Atlantic Beach Pavilion… also in charge of the jukebox concessions up and down the Grand Strand. Every week, he would buy 2-sets of records. Most records were bought from a distributor in Florence. The Atlantic Beach jukebox was filled with records from South Philadelphia known as “Race Music” or “Black Rhythm and Blues”. In the 30s into the early 50s, it was almost impossible to acquire “race music”. It was difficult to buy or hear it on the radio. This music became known as “Beach Music”, simply because the only place you could hear it was… on the beach.

History spells it out clearly: Myrtle Beach would close at midnight. To keep the fire burning, everyone would jump in their Bel Aires and Crown Victorias and race on over to Atlantic Beach for the wild street parties. To spice things up even more… included in the mix, were some of that night’s Myrtle Beach entertainers. A dance was created to go along with this new hip and laid-back Beach Music. Its descendant was the Carolina Jitterbug. Two steps were added to the familiar 4-beat dance and this slowed it down a bit like the Lindy Hop. It was a laid back, face-to-face, dance that quickly became the dance of the Carolinas. They called it “The Shag” or “The Carolina Shag”.

Among the most popular and influential R&B Artists who produced “beach records” in the 50s and 60s were The Dominos, The Drifters, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs, The Clovers, The Tymes, The Tams, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Chairmen of The Board. Beginning in the 1960s, pop records that had the right tempo came to be included within the beach music genre. Among those best-known examples are Spiral Staircases’ “More Today Than Yesterday” and from the other side of the pond… “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations.

In 1989 Beach Music got a shot in the arm with a film called SHAG. It starred Bridget Fonda and Phoebe Cates who both stumbled, and not so elegantly, over their new upper Carolina accents. Be that as it may, the film has become a cult following. It is most agreeable that its influence has gained popular movement outside of the Carolina’s with its great soundtrack and Shag dancing. It was filmed partly in Myrtle Beach and other Grand Strand locations.

The Carolina Shag is the official state dance of both North Carolina and South Carolina. More importantly, Carolina Beach Music was instrumental in bringing about wider acceptance of R&B music among the white population nationwide. While the older styles of R&B have faded from popularity nationally, the Carolina Shag has gained wide popularity in swing dance circles around the US.

Saloon Studios Live will celebrate Beach Music on August 28th with our Beach Day Festival. Don’t miss it! Follow our link here: https://saloonstudioslive.com/shows/