It’s summer. The summer in mill cities such as Rock Hill even if the mills are dead, the legacy remains means “the beach.” The mills would close for a week and the working world would load up and go to the beach. Myrtle Beach, specifically, North Myrtle Beach and Ocean Drive, for those who loved then, and love still, beach music. That means music you can shag to.
The shag is South Carolina’s state dance. It is not just a dance, it is religion to many. Rock Hill’s shag club is legendary. Beach music might be this area’s theme song of generations.
All that adds up to a 58-year-old guy from Rock Hill, a trumpet player in bands since he was 15 years old, having the top beach music song of them all on the Cashbox list for the past three weeks.
“Pick Up the Phone,” by Cagle & Nash. The Nash is Rock Hill’s Rick Nash, a mill guy in his bones from growing up in Concord, N.C., where Cannon Mills was king.
“My parents both worked in the mill,” Nash said. “We’d go to the beach, and I would peak through the boards of the fence at ‘The Pad’ and watch people shag and drink beer.”
Nash played in soul bands in those teenage days — the bands including Anthony Maner and the Aqualads Review fronted by the legendary Little Earl Dawkins — that played the music of the shag that the Carolinas mill workers danced to at the beach. He went on with his life, the Navy, working for a design company, but the music remained. It remained when he went to work at Fort Mill’s Muzak Co., after he moved to Rock Hill a dozen years ago.
“But I never could shag because I was up on stage playing, not dancing with the audience,” he said.
Something pulled Nash back to beach music even though he didn’t even look for it. He and a buddy from those Concord music days, Charlotte banking executive Greg Cagle, started writing songs and compiling a CD. It took almost a year. A lady at Muzak remarked: “You could dance the shag to that.”
So Nash took the CD, with “Pick Up the Phone” on it, to radio stations hoping for airplay.
‘It’s more smooth jazz’
The musicians didn’t then, and don’t now, consider it beach music.
“It’s more smooth jazz, I would say,” Nash said.
“Soul, and jazz,” Cagle said.
But the deejays in the beach music universe started playing it. A lot. So much so that what started out as a jazz song with some soul thrown in has turned into this beach music hit.
Sure, these guys played at the beach for so long four decades ago. They know and love the music that is part of their heritage. But still, this song “wasn’t written for the beach market,” Nash said.
“I’m not even sure I understand how it got so popular,” Cagle said.
And the topper might be that Nash has been married for 28 years to a lady named Mary Charles Nash. She’s from Tennessee. Although the couple took some shag lessons one time, in all these years she has never been to Myrtle Beach, the home of beach music and the shag.
“Not even once,” Mary Charles Nash admitted.
But if the music takes off more, Mary Charles Nash said she might just take that trip and shag to her own husband’s music. Along the beach where the dreams started all those years ago, and dreams of music success still are alive.