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Beach Bits:   Beach music yielded three major compilations during this year's Spring SOS with some outstanding new songs on all of them. Let's take a look at what is currently hot from each:


Party On The Ocean (KHP) - there are several songs here on the Beach charts, a few had been released earlier as singles and were already charting such as Ready Willing And Able from Ken Knox & Company, Kiss Me In The Mouth by The Boulevard Boys, High Blood Pressure from Classic Soul and I Loved Them All by Big Time Party Band. Newcomers that have been hot include Show Me The Way To Go by Carolina Breakers, I'm Happy Love Has Found You by Steve Edmunds, Don't Snap Your Fingers by the Marsha Morgan Band, C'mon Get Your Man from Hip Pocket featuring Jim Quick, Fooled Around And Fell In Love by the Blackwater Rhythm & Blues Band and Can't Stop Loving You from the Fantastic Shakers featuring Doug Winstead.


I Like It Like That (Patman & Robin) – Fifteen fresh new tunes on this compilation, I am expecting to see some later comers to the charts. One that definitely should be charting right now is from a group that is a fairly new entity in Beach music, The Shag Doctorz. Their latest tune, Always Running Back To You, is definitely shaggable. Lesa Hudson's  Shame On You delivers the groove that should be a strong follow-up to her recent hit, Amazingly Amazing.  Rick Strickland continues his string of dynamite tunes with Tear It Up. Dip Ferrell & The Truetones, recipients of nine 2013 Carolina Beach Music Award nominations, give us the title track. Ring features the outstanding voice of Female Solo Artist of the Year nominee Shana Blake. I really like the Carolina beach sounds of Right Here At Home by The Deacons of Swing as well as the soul grooves of Jimbo Durham's Bouncin' Back. Lots more potential here with tunes from Craig Woolard, Swingin' Medallions, Reverend Bubba D., Kingdaddy etc.


Shagging The Night Away (KHP) – The lead track here is smokin' hot, it is Grayson Hugh's Goodbye Train. Check out the feature story on Grayson below. Additional tunes receiving heavy play include Extra Careful from Band of Oz and Allie Privette's Bloodshot Eyes. One I really like that so far has been overlooked is Phil Wilson's bluesy Sunday Morning Woman. A couple of additional interesting facts on this compilation: The title track to Shagging The Night Away comes from Byron Counts, a South Carolina native with a huge background as a Jazz artist, both regionally and nationally. The song was originally on his solo album entitled What-Evah. Andre' Lee has I've Found What I've Been Looking For on the compilation, a single that was actually on his Straight From The Heart CD, which also featured the previous hit One Night Stand. Andre' continues to be impressive in this market.


More New Tunes: Recent advance releases from Green Dot Music include a cool tune entitled I Really Didn't Mean It from Atlantic Groove and a nice rendition of Young Hearts Run Free by Lakeside Drive Band featuring the vibrant vocals of Stacy Danner.  I just received an advance track, Maybe We Can Still be Friends, a smooth groove from the Entertainers forthcoming album. There is a new Soul CD release out from Mitty and The Followers entitled I Got Your Back. The title track has a strong shag beat and their rendition of Don't Let The Green Grass Fool Ya is one of the best I have heard in quite a while.







It has been twenty five years since outstanding recording artist and songwriter Grayson Hugh last appeared on the Beach music charts. He is, however, back once again with the very powerful Goodbye Train, which has zoomed upward in the last several weeks. The song is a re-mastered version of the original, which was on Grayson's independent Me & My Cat At The Mayflower Hotel album in 1991. I recently had a chance to talk with Grayson about the ups and downs of his long career as well as the vast changes that have occurred in the music industry over that period in time.


Music websites such as iTunes, eMusic and list Grayson Hugh's range of music as falling in either the R&B, Soul, Gospel, Rock, Blues, Country, Jazz or Alternative genres. Wow, that in itself is pretty much indicative of his vast talent! His soulful voice has often been described as a cross between Steve Winwood and Al Green. Touring with various bands since his teenage years, the Connecticut native's first recorded effort in the business was his self-titled album of six tunes in 1980. Grayson followed that up with another self-released effort, Days Of Dreaming, which has some good eclectic as well as bluesy cuts on it. Hugh's career took off in a major way a few years later, landing a contract with RCA Records and releasing 1988's critically acclaimed Blind To Reason, which not only went gold but resulted in two Billboard Top Ten hits. One of those, Talk It Over,  was also huge in the Beach music arena, going to #1 in 1989 as well as later serving as the featured track for the nationally distributed Pretty Girls Everywhere: Beach Classics Vol. 1 compilation.

Grayson scored another charting single in 1990 on RCA, How 'Bout Us, a duet with the legendary Betty Wright. His next major album release, Road To Freedom,  followed in 1992 on MCA Records. Two of the songs on the album, I Can't Untie You From Me and Don't Look Back, were selected by Director Ridley Scott to be part of the soundtrack for the Oscar winning  film Thelma and Louise. This led to Hugh being asked to create a gospel style version of his rendition of the Bob Dylan song, I'll Remember You, for another motion picture, Fried Green Tomatoes. Unscrupulous dealings by the powers that be at MCA Records, however, resulted in Grayson being dropped from the company's lineup. Trying to hook up with another label proved to be unsuccessful – to make matters worse he later discovered that his business manager had failed him as well, eventually leading to bankruptcy proceedings.




Singer/Songwriter Grayson Hugh

Grayson moved to Ocean Isle, North Carolina for a time, continuing to compose songs and perform occasionally. He later relocated to Boston, living with friends while teaching song writing at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and writing scores for modern dance companies. Unfortunately, his mother's diagnosis with Alzheimers as well as additional life issues sent Hugh into an alcohol dependent spiral in the early 2000's that lasted for roughly four years. He wound up in a hospital followed by a stay in a rehab facility. Starting to rebound with the help of support there, he religiously attended AA meetings, got a job at McDonalds, and began rebuilding his life. With some potential financial backing from efforts of one of Grayson's rehabilitation counselors named Dean Gilmore, he began to write songs again, hoping to lead to a new start in music.


 About this time, another major boost occurred in his life. Grayson's former backup singer, Polly Messer, tried to contact him not knowing exactly where he was – as it worked out, she later came to a background vocal session. One thing led to another, the couple fell in love and were married in 2008.  Two years later, the relative newlyweds co-produced An American Record, a retrospective original album that touches all the bases while covering much of the country's landscape in the gritty lyrics of the Hugh compositions. He resumed touring, with Polly also performing with him at live gigs.



                            Grayson Hugh w/ wife and music partner Polly Messer


Part of the discussion Grayson and I recently had regarded the sweeping changes the music industry has undergone since he was first in the mainstream many years ago. From a national to a global focus, distribution outlets drying up, both independent and chain music stores disappearing and certainly most of the major recording contracts going by the wayside. The Internet has also vastly modified the way music now reaches the public. That being said, a newly inspired Hugh has released pretty much all of his albums and original songs so that they are now readily available on iTunes and other digital media websites. Outstanding tunes such as I'm Coming After You, Everybody's Hangin' On, Monday Morning, A Whole Lot Of Love and Some Mighty Tears can now be ''discovered'' by music affectionados who may have wondered whatever happened to Grayson Hugh.

Adding to the recent successes, Grayson is working on a new album, which will be a selective group of Hugh composed original tunes.  ''Soul'' is the key word here – the album is to be recorded at the historic FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. With it, Grayson's intent is to come full circle back to his soulful roots. We certainly would like to see him at Beach music events later this year as well. Grayson's hope is that his overall story can be an inspiration for others – he is proof that second chances are possible, both in love and in life! 


The outstanding recordings of the late Billy Stewart continue to be heavily played in the Beach music arena even today. Stewart was a Washington, D.C. native that got his start in the mid-'50's plucking the piano in local combos, including one that often included Don Covay and Marvin Gaye. Later working with Bo Diddley got him a pass to Chicago based Chess Records, who had begun expanding from being just a Blues label to more R&B and eventually Soul recordings. Billy, who became quite accomplished as a songwriter,  hit his stride as a solo artist in the '60's, with fourteen singles landing on the Billboard charts over a period of six years. Even though he was always overweight, Stewart was nimble on stage in live performances, captivating a crowd with his scat like uneven vibrato vocals. Unfortunately, an automobile accident in North Carolina in 1970 took the life of Billy and three of his band members. Stewart was only 32 years old at the time of his passing.

To understand the influence Billy had on the music industry, we simply have to look at the down the road results of two of his Top Ten original songs, Sitting In The Park and I Do Love You. Another soulful heavyweight from the Washington, D.C. area named Bobby Thurston came along several years later, recording and releasing both songs while somewhat emulating Billy's style. Noted Bronx, N.Y. based Disco era group GQ also covered both Stewart tunes in the late '70's, returning both once again to the Billboard Top Ten.

Sitting In The Park became a very popular cover tune in Reggae circles, with at least a dozen or more artists sampling it, including Slim Smith, Flo & Eddie, Freddie McGregor, Lee Milo, Glen Washington, Winston Francis, Owen Gray and Junior Reid. R&B/Soul versions have been released by   Bobby McClure, Lovetones, Sly Slick & Wicked and NRBQ. Rappers have also dubbed the tune – Hi-C had a Top 25 hit with it in 1992. Others that have covered the song include Hip/Hop artist Hmk and U.K. Ska master Georgie Fame.

I Do Love You has also had quite a varied follow-up. Soul/R&B versions include those from Barbara Mason, Joe Bataan, Ronnie Spector,   Wilmer & The Dukes and Love Potion. Reggae covers have been recorded by The Heptones and Janet Kay. It is interesting that the late Reggae superstar Jackie Edwards was given writing credit on some albums for his version – it really is the Stewart written song with a few paraphrasings. An Electro group that  became tagged as a Parliament/Funkadelic clone, The Jonzun Crew gave the song a shot as well. A couple of Hip-Hop/Rap overdubbing versions of the tune came from Greenie and The Hispanic MC's.   

Billy Stewart was a master at crafting lyrics, rhyming phrases and creating accompanying instrumental tracks. There is little doubt that had he lived, his influence on the music industry would have continued to expand as he explored new horizons of the business as an already established star. For the best of Billy, check out One More Time:The Chess Years, a composite of twenty of the top tunes of the late great Fat Boy!

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June 2013     

July 2013