South Carolina’s Musical Heritage

To say South Carolina is a colorful state is like saying Orson Welles had a weight problem, Yul Brenner was follicularly challenged (better add a reference someone under 60 might recognize) or Justin Bieber isn’t what you would call winsome.

Damn right we’re colorful – got a Asian-Indian-American governor against immigration, a black senator backing legislation that makes it more difficult for blacks to vote, a white not-so-closeted gay senator against marriage equality. Got a state university that houses its “Honor College” in a building named for former governor/senator who went by the moniker “Pitchfork Ben” and was an outspoken advocate of white supremacy and lynch laws.

hunleyfuneral11We put on elaborate funerals for found Confederate bones, wear seersucker suits, interbreed, whoop it up all the time (cf. Southern Charm). In fact, I hear James L Petigru’s quote that South Carolina’s “too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum” so often it’s almost become a cliché.

Given our eccentricities, it follows South Carolina boasts a bumper crop of potent popular music, and it does — to a certain extent.

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Each year the magazine The Oxford American puts out a Southern Music edition that comes with a cd featuring an eclectic selection of songs from the South. The last few years, the editors have featured the songs of one state; e.g., Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee have all had cds devoted to their home grown music. Because of the rich treasure trove these states possess, the editors have refrained from choosing the states’ most famous or most accomplished musicians but have opted instead for a [redundancy alert] smorgasbord of arcane eclecticism. For example, you won’t find Iris DeMent or Robert Lockwood, Jr. on the Arkansas cd; however, Suga City makes the cut.

Iris DeMent

Iris DeMent

Whenever the Oxford editors get around to culling some tunes for the South Carolina cd, they’re not going to have a profound number of musicians to choose from, but damn, they’re going to have some true masters who hail from the Palmetto State. The problem, I suspect, will be which James Brown or Dizzy Gillespie tune to showcase.

What follows is my South Carolina cd with the caveat that I ain’t no expert and will no doubt omit some obvious choices. Also, I’m not listing the musicians/songs in the order that would appear on the cd but in the order they occur to me.

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One gripe I have with the Oxford cds is that they can sound a bit too archive-y, if you know what I mean. I like listening to cds in the car on the way to work, not necessarily listening to them as an exercise in musical scholarship. Therefore, I’d match the following SC musicians with these songs.

Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs – “Stay” [Lancaster, SC]

The Swingin’ Medallions – “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” [Greenwood]

The Marshall Tucker Band – “Can’t You See” [Spartanburg]

Eartha-Kitt-Bad-But-Beautiful-375528Because Eartha Kitt’s “C’est Bon” has already appeared on an earlier Oxford compilation, I’d go with maybe “I Want to be Evil” or “Je cherce un homme.” {North]

Of course, the geniuses Dizzy Gillespie [Cheraw] and James Brown [Barnwell] have left profound bodies of work. I’m too lazy to even try to come up with representative songs. It’s no fun, too fraught with danger.

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Okay we have 6 songs so we need at least 14 more. SC beach music needs more representation than the Medallions, so Bill Pinckney’s Drifters [Daizell, SC] is an obvious choice. Let’s go with “There Goes My Baby.”

Chubby Checker - Twisting USA Album CoverChubby Checker [Spring Gulley] checks in [forgive me] with “Let’s Twist Again” because it’s such pure rock-n-roll, but “Limbo Rock” would be a close second.

As far as country/Americana goes we got Bill Anderson [Columbia] “Po Folks” and the country swing of Uncle Walt’s Band [Spartanburg] featuring Champ Hood, David Ball, and the late Walter Hyatt. “Gimme Some Skin” would be my choice.

I love gospel, and we have an impressive number of groups to choose from, but in deference to my pal Jo Humphreys, I’m going with the Brotherhood Gospel Singers [Mt. Pleasant] “Mary, Don’t Weep.”

Now, it’s blues time. The Reverend Gary Davis’s {Laurens County] “You Got to Move” or “Prodigal Son” will be familiar to Rolling Stone aficionados. Pinkey “Pink” Anderson {Laurens] certainly deserves the nod above Drink Small [Bishopville].

Though I’m not a big fan, it would be churlish not to include Hootie and the Blowfish [Charleston]. You choose.

Now for some lesser known South Carolina artists. Julius Cobb’s {Greenville] soul ballad “Great Big Change in Me” with its horns and killer vocal (featuring talking) is an obscure gem (and my former roommate Warren Moise once played keyboards with one of his bands). You can listen to “Great Change in Me” HERE.

Even though they’re from North Carolina, we could sneak Jump Little Children into the mix, but why do that when you could include The Fire Apes’ [Charleston] “Let Me Know” or “Lori.”

killerwhales_largeEver heard of the Killer Whales [Charleston]? Well, I have, and their cover of the Melodians’ “Johnny Too Bad” adds a much needed Caribbean lilt into the mix.

How bout some jazz fusion funk via Alphonse Mouzon [Charleston? “Funky Snakefoot” will do in a pinch.

Okay, I’m down to two Do I want to throw a bone to the younger set with a selection from Iron & Wine or add a couple of unrepresented country crooners like Josh Turner?

Naw, I’m going with the Blue Dogs’ “Walter” [Charleston] and Danielle Howle’s [Columbia] “Oh Swear.”

Jim Crow

Jim Crow

By the way, if you’re reading this before 15 November 2014 and are in the Charleston area, come out and see two of my favorite acts at the Folly Beach Front Porch Festival, i.e. Jim Crow going solo and Po Dunk led by brother/frontman John Fleming Moore. It starts at 2 at various venues in walking distance of Center Street.