Oral History – Fessa’ John Hook – ‘Jim Hannah, One of the Two Original Beach Music Pioneers’

[Extracted from Fessa’ John Hook’s oral history, “Jim Hannah, One of the Two Original Beach Music Pioneers, 1920-2010.” Published in “Dancing on the Edge Journal,” Vol. 1, Issue 1. February 8, 2010. Available from amazon.com or beachshag.com ]

The Birth of Shag

Jim Hannah was born on October 7, 1920 and grew up on a farm in Mecklenburg County. He played Class D baseball in Mooresville in 1938 (“same as Class A today”). Although it was only a farm team, Jim had the opportunity to play two games against Ted Williams at the time. That same year he moved to Norfolk to work in the shipyards. When his superiors learned he was not only sharp in reading blueprints and that he could lay a ship down from the keel all the way up to the shakedown cruise he was sent to the Wilmington Shipyard.

Birth of Shag - Ocean PlazaJim mustered out in 1943 and hung around Carolina Beach for a few years. In 1945 he opened the Tijuana Inn (ground floor of the Ocean Plaza Building) on the Boardwalk. “The Tijuana Inn was one of the two first “Beach Music” clubs in the Carolinas, i.e. clubs that offered Black music on jukeboxes in establishments serving a white clientele.”

Jim’s bar and grill offered boardwalk cuisine and beer without a name over the door. A few weeks later his friend Chicken Hicks returned from a vacation that started in 1943 with his friend Chuck Green. They hitchhiked to the West Coast – Phoenix, Los Angeles, then down to Mexico. When Chicken returned in spring of 1945, he suggested Jim call the place the “Tijuana Inn.” He put its new name over the door in May 1945.

Birth of Shag - MallardsTo say that Chicken and Jim were “Beach Music” pioneers is a gross understatement. In fact, in 1945 there were no white establishments anywhere which carried black music on their jukeboxes. More accurately, white kids weren’t allow to listen to black music anywhere.

But next door to the Hannah homestead in North Mecklenburg County was an African-American Church named Torrance Chapel where Jim heard a powerful maelstrom of melancholic spirituals and uplifting, foot-stomping gospel. Chicken grew up on the “wrong side of the tracks” in Durham where he was likely to be running the streets with black as well as white playmates. Both Chicken and Jim came from working class backgrounds and they were both compelled to leave home by one kind of wanderlust or another. These two ingredients sometimes combined into the kind of rare fearlessness they exhibited in 1945.

Birth of Shag - SeabreezeSeabreeze was the black resort just up the coast across the Intracostal Waterway at Snow’s Cut. Originally called Freeman’s Beach from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, locals made a living serving black tourists with sandwiches, beer, and plenty of room for family picnics in the day and adult entertainment at night. Chicken Hicks found his way to Seabreeze in the early 40’s, returning often for white hot Carolina moonshine, and even hotter music on the piccolos (jukeboxes) at places like the Ponco, The Big Apple, the Daley Breezey Pavilion, Bruce’s, Ponco #2, the Monte Carlo, and as Jim recalled, “a place called Big Mama’s.” After returning from Mexico, Chicken suggested they add some of the music he’d heard over at Seabreeze.

Birth of Shag - 7The Bostic Music Company in Wilmington owned and serviced the piccolos for Seabreeze and all the other jukeboxes on the beach. Chicken and Jim talked to Parker and Clyde who serviced the boxes for Bostic Music each week. Chicken sometimes rode with them over to Seabreeze to hear the new tunes they were adding. The ones he liked they added to the Tijuana Inn jukebox.

Jim remembered with pride, and probably a little wistfulness, “Our music changed, our customers increased till they filled the place, and some had to dance outside on the Beach. “ The Tijuana Inn was a multicultural threshold on what was then the busiest working class beach between Wilmington and Folly Beach in Charleston.

The Tijuana Inn’s jukebox was the first wave. In 1947 Jim took over “The Roof” (a bowling alley across from the Ocean Plaza) renovated it as a nightclub and changed its name to Bop City. Naturally he changed the music on the jukebox as well. “It was the baddest place on the Boardwalk.” Jim exclaimed, “We only played R&B music on the jukes. We served only cold soft drinks and ice, it was BYOB (bring your own booze).

Birth of Shag - 9“I was looking for a good band to play our type of music. I was told there was a group of Army brats in Fayetteville that played R&B. I got in touch with them and they came to Carolina Beach to see if we could work out a deal.” After talking with them on Monday, Jim wasn’t sure they’d really show up to audition.

“Friday evening, my future wife, Frances Carter, came up and said some boys were downstairs looking for me. I went down to the street where their spokesman told me who he was and I said, ‘uh hun’ – they were in an old open top Army surplus jeep, with an old wooden trailer behind – they really looked more like Beach Bums.” “I asked whether they had a name, he said, ‘Jimmy Cavallo and the House Rockers.’ I told them to unload, go park the jeep, set up, and ‘show me what you got.’”

“Well, well, well, this Italian boy Cavallo blew as bad an alto horn as I had ever heard. They played Drinkin’ Wine Spo Dee O De and Good Rockn’ Tonight. That was enough. I signed them as house band for a month, starting them out in the Ocean Plaza ballroom which I also leased beginning in ’46. They were so hot I moved them next door to Bop City and they stayed all summer.”

Birth of Shag - 8Bop City’s live and jukebox musical fare was a heady mix which cast a spell on tourists and the local hotdog dancers as well.

Casey Jones, a well-known Carolina Beach dancer had already converted three or four cement bowling alleys along the boardwalk into “jump joints.” The conversion wasn’t too difficult, he’d put three or four benches around a chained-down jukebox and the tourists and locals had a jump joint.

[Editor’s Note: Remember that oral history is about preserving the memories of our community elders – as they remember them. Good oral history reflects the language and “way things were” in the words of the person being recorded. Oral history is NOT meant to be documented history. Any two people may remember the same incident very differently.]

Carolina Beach in the 40’s – by Chicken Hicks  –  The State, July 1994


Oral History – Mike Robertson – Part 2 “Kure Beach Pier”

Interview by Jeannie and John Gordon

Kure Beach Fishing PierDad bought Kure Pier in ’52, he had a man there at Kure Beach, his name was Marshall Lowder. He ran a tackle shop. And if you’ll look at some of the pictures, you’ll see Bill Robertson’s Pier, and Lowder’s Tackle Shop in them. On some of the other pictures, downtown where Freddie’s is now, there’s a picture that I’ve seen that says Lowder’s Tackle Shop.

So Dad got Marshall to run the pier and he and Punky played. And he and Punky went SCUBA diving, Punky taught him how to fish, course this was not every day, but they messed around a lot.

He knew that what he had to do was sell Bill Robertson and sell Kure Beach and sell Kure Pier. Then he got into real estate because he figured that if, which has happened, that someone would buy a home, then they would rent it out for the other weeks that they weren’t going to be here and that would help make the mortgage here. And it pretty much worked. I mean he sold a bunch of property, my grandfather, too.

During the War there were a lot of barracks down at the base. They took all those buildings and brought them up this way. I can’t remember, I want to say it was $500 to buy a house. I want to say it was $200 for the lot and $250 for the house and $50 to have it moved and ….. They housed 40,000 people down there (Ft. Fisher), so there was a lot of barracks! read more

Oral History – Mike Robertson – Part 1: ‘Family’

Interviewed by Jeannie and John Gordon

Hans Kure, Sr. came down here I think around World War I, he incorporated the Land Development Company. He had 4 or 5 children, 2 of which were Hans, Jr. and Lawrence. Hans, Jr. was married to my grandmother, Jenny Linder. Lawrence was a traveling salesman and he wanted to marry my grandmother. He was away on trips and whatnot, and Hans came in the back door and he beat him to the punch. So, they were married and they lived either/or upstairs and he lived downstairs. And I think they worked together at the beach and I think the father was also involved in it. Hans, Jr. passed away and he had 5 girls including my mother.

Mike Robertson

Mike Robertson

Then within 11 months, Lawrence was married to her. My mother was 16, I think, because that was her senior year of high school, back then. She came for their honeymoon! From 1917, when my mother was born, and you add 16 to that, that would have been the year that they were married. But he treated the girls….they were his girls and there was never any question….

My mother met my father, Bill, during the War. They were both working at the shipyard and they got married and had 3 children, me, my older sister Pat, and the middle one is Toni. For the first couple/three years they lived up near Winston.

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Oral History – Jimmy Davis – Part 4: ‘World War II on the Beach’

Interview by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

About World War II. I remember the soldiers being here. That was a little army base right there. And then Fort Fisher was the big base. And about … you know where the little test center used to be, the LeQue Test Center in Kure Beach. There was a base back off of there. The main purpose for the guys was a recreation. Guys coming from over-seas – that had served over there maybe 3 or 4 years and they didn’t have but about 2 or 3 months to get out. They sent them down here for R & R. That was recreation. And they would let them go to the beach every night you know. Or do whatever they wanted to. But they did have some that was in training. So it was a training base but it was really set up for these guys coming back from overseas. Read on ..

What Is Oral History?

By the Editors

We’ve been running stories gleaned from our oral history archives for several years. However we should have been more clear about what Oral History is and what it is not. Oral history is about persevering the memories of our community elders – as they remember them. Good oral history reflects the language and “way things were” in the words of the person being recorded. Oral history is NOT meant to be documented history. Any two people may remember the same incident very differently.

Examples: the story of the Ethyl Dow plant being fired on from a U-Boat during WWII. Also the tales of the Fort Fisher Hermit – some think he was a hero and others think he was a bum? Who’s right? How do we prove it?


Oral History – Jimmy Davis – Part 3: ‘Up and Down the Beach’

Interview by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

Oral_History-JimmyDavis_Pt4-1Now my first memories of Kure Beach are the pier and the Greek restaurant there. It was right on the edge of the pier. Just as you started on the pier. I worked carrying the papers for a while maybe when I was 15 or 16 years old.  And we’d stop in there every morning and get a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. He had all kinds of pies and everything. It was a good little beach but nobody there. There was a grocery store there, and a little post office; and a little 2 lane bowling alley, and 2 or 3 little restaurants there.

On what is now the Sunny Point land, you could go back there any time you wanted. The only thing that was on that side of Dow Road, was the old Dow Plant. It was down toward Kure Beach almost where that bad curve is they made poison gas during the war.

Now Fort Fisher, there was a pier down there at that time. Now this was before the army moved down there. You know there was an army base to start with. The history place, we didn’t even know them mounds was there during that time. That was just all woods. After the army moved out they started the museum and all that and started cleaning it off. And that’s when they found all of the hills and everything. We never knew there was a hill there.

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Oral History — Jimmy Davis – Part 2: ‘Memories of the Boardwalk’

Interview by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie GordonOral_History-JimmyDavis_Pt4-1

[Jimmy Davis was born on March 6, 1930 here on “the Island.”  The only time he ever left was when he was in the service.]

I went to Carolina Beach School on the Boardwalk. It was a police station, city hall, and one big room, separated with sheets.

It was only about 3 classes – like 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

And then when the beach burned down [the central business district, in 1940], so they transferred us to Myrtle Grove which is on the loop road. That was just one big room. All the grades were mixed together.

They had a sheet – like maybe some of them would be studying something here, and somebody else would be over there, but they didn’t change. One teacher taught everything. Well, I really didn’t care too much for it. I didn’t really hate it.

Like I said, we was raised up poor. And a lot of times, we’d get up and there wouldn’t be anything to eat in the house… Just didn’t want to go to school. I went there maybe till the 2nd grade and then the beach burned down. [1940 – central business district]

v20NO8August2013 FINAL PDF-006Then I went to Myrtle Grove.  Later, when the new Carolina Beach School was built, I came back and went to the Carolina Beach School for 5th grade.

After 5th grade we went to Winter Park which is in town until you went to high school.

I think it was when you left Winter Park you went into high school, but I didn’t go to high school.

School Bus 1930's

School Bus 1930’s

We rode the bus to schools off the island, the bus left about 7 o’clock. They had a cafeteria. I had to carry my lunch to Myrtle Grove and over here too. We had peanut butter and jelly or bologna. That was probably about it.

We had homework, but had just spelling, writing, and arithmetic. That was the biggest thing until I got on up to Winter Park.  And then we went into history and things like that.

My grandmother’s house was a big house and they had three cottages; and a little sidewalk and a double shower… The only air conditioning was when you opened the windows probably – that’s the way I grew up.

There was electricity and water in the kitchen and bathroom but I don’t remember anyone even having a telephone at that time. None of what was down here was air-conditioned at that time. We had a little radio we’d gather around over at my granddaddy’s at night and sit there and listen to the radio – Amos and Andy …

My grandfather was a carpenter. He built all of these places. He built that big house and 3 cottages. And he done carpentry work other places. I don’t know where all he worked.

My grandmother was a midwife. I grew up in that age when you stayed at home. Women weren’t allowed to work. But she must have gotten called out to do midwifery.

Our little house had just 2 bedrooms. From the time I remember my two older brothers was already in the service.  But I had 2 sisters that lived there, my mother and my father, and my 2 sisters and myself. I was the youngest. I’m the last one. And the last one living.

My mother had a little sha-wa-wa – a mean little sucker. It just didn’t never liked me. You’d go in the front door, the couch was setting on this side. And she’d lay right under that couch. And every time I’d come in she’d try to bite me on the foot. I bet I kicked her a million times. Not kicked her hard enough to hurt her, I just kicked her away. Cause she never liked me.

There was one policeman, and I guess there were volunteer firemen, there wasn’t any paid firemen. They didn’t even have a fire truck. They just had a two-wheel thing with hoses wrapped around it and it set right beside the school-house.

The first doctor I remember was name Dr. Jordan. I cut my leg or something. His office was right behind the drug store. And he sewed it up. I’m not sure whether it was a broken bottle or whatever. But I must have stepped on it and it come up and hit my leg and went in my leg a little bit.

As far as going to the doctor when I was young, I didn’t never have to go to no doctor. I was never sick. I did have measles one time but that’s when you had to stay in the house. They put a yellow sign on your door. The doctor had his office next to the drug store.

I tell you, around the beach at that time, you couldn’t afford to get into much trouble ‘cause everyone knew your parents. There weren’t that many people around and if you got into any trouble when you got home, everybody knew it.

We would do little things, like on Halloween, go up and knock on somebody’s door – and run; or maybe unscrew their light bulb, if they had a light bulb on the outside or something like that, but we never did anything destructive. I could get up anytime I wanted to and go up to the boardwalk in the summer time late at night if I wanted to go up there I could go.


Oral History — Jimmy Davis — Part 1: ‘Memories of the Boardwalk’

Interview by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

Carolina Beach Boardwalk

Carolina Beach Boardwalk

Jimmy Davis was born on March 6, 1930 here on “the Island.” The only time he ever left was when he was in the service.

His most vivid childhood memories are of the boardwalk.

The “Old Boardwalk” before the fire [1940].  “I remember the bowling alleys, and the old Pavilion where they had concerts on Sundays and didn’t cost you anything to go to it.”

“The way I remember the boardwalk was like I said, in the early years, I’d say ‘38 or ‘39, there was a big pavilion and they had dances upstairs and on Sunday afternoon they would have a matinee with the guys that were just coming along starting the bands. And they’d play for maybe two hours up there.

They had rides on the beach area, right up to the ocean front. Mr. Mansfield’s rides – hobby horses, Ferris wheels and all that.”

He says, “I remember the fire”

“Me and my mother walked up almost to the boardwalk there the morning of the fire and watched the beach crowd.

I remember things like that was little arcades where you could go in there and have your picture made and stuff like that but they didn’t have these electronic stuff sitting there at that time.”

Jimmy loved that boardwalk. “Some were local people but mostly from Wilmington, and maybe Wrightsville Beach. You know they had a big pavilion over there too. I remember a lot of people going from here over to there to the dances. But it burnt down when the beach burned down.”

Food was also part of the allure of the boardwalk. “We’d eat hot dogs, and doughnuts, Britts’, that was the best place on the beach at that time. There were hamburgers, and French fries. You used to could get French fries. And they had a cup like this, but it was sharp. And they would dice onions – and put a little bit of onions on top of it.”

The local kids would look for money under the boardwalk. Sometimes you might find 25 or 40 cents a day, “Some times more than that. See it was all boardwalk and it had cracks. And you’d go along in front of these restaurants and stuff like that… See a lot of them was kind of like a take out. And you’d just go to the window and order a couple of hotdogs and a drink and you would get it. Well they would drop money.”

“Naturally when they dropped it it was gone under that boardwalk. A lot of them always said they used chewing gum on the end of a stick. But I never did.

I had a little stick about like this, and round, and I split the end of it about an inch up. I’d take the back side of the stick and stand that penny or dime or 50 cent whatever it was -stand it up – and turn your stick around and go right down on that split and pull it right up. See you couldn’t get it out.

I always told them you can’t get it out with chewing gum cause it’s flat and it wouldn’t come through the crack. You’d have to get it on its side to do it. And then a lot of times you’d drop it. And if it went that way under the boards, you couldn’t see it to know where it was at. But the sure way was to have a stick with the split and just stand it up.”

Oral_History-JimmyDavis_Pt4-1Jimmy’s grandfather was a carpenter and built what is the Columbus Motel. He says, “They had that and three little cottages.”

His grandfather came to Carolina Beach from Brunswick County and his mother from Rowan County.  His maternal grandparents were Ludwigs.

Of his grandmother he says, “That’s the reason I was born on the Island. She was a licensed Midwife. Jimmy’s mother worked for the Bame Hotel. “She was over the cleaning service.”


Oral History – Earl Page – Part 9: ‘Fort Fisher’

Compiled and edited by Ann Hertzler

Just below the cement gates to Ft. Fisher was water. The Air Force base was a training base.  The parade ground was right when you come inside all those houses. On the other side of the parade ground is the river.  In between was the barracks and the chow hall.

Big guns were on the beach for target practice with targets off shore that the naked eye couldn’t see. The Army had a blimp that flew over the Ft. Fisher area for a spotter.  There were target practices for big guns. The blimp would sit up there and tell the military where the shells went.  It’s out of sight so you can’t see it from shore; but the blimp sitting up there could see them. They had a USO on the Air Force base grounds.  Southern Bell would send them down.

Starting in 1946 you couldn’t do anything until the Army got out.

The Orrell Brothers owned the pier—all of Ft. Fisher. The Orrell Brothers hired Earl Walter Winner as a building contractor.  Earl stayed down there because there was so much to do. The Army knew they weren’t going to keep the place and spend much money on something you’re fixin’ to leave.

Earl Page cleared sand off Fort Fisher Parking lot. Earl would grade the roads and put down boardwalk to each cottage so you didn’t have to get in the mud to go fishing. The Ft Fisher pier was further south.  Blue Top was up near the post. We had the pier and there were 8 cottages around the pier. People would come and stay at the cottage and go out on the pier and fish.

Airplane: This is a BT-13 plane, an Ex-Army air-force. This airplane is sitting right where the museum is at Ft Fisher.  When you walk in the front door of the museum and walk out the back door, you’re looking right down the airstrip.  The pilot is a friend of Earl Page and the other is Earl Page’s father.

They used to come in on that plane landing on the Ft. Fisher air strip – 4 of us in a 2-seater.  No lights, no nothing.  Cars would come down from the Blue Top with lights to help them see to land.  And that’s when Earl’s daddy said “You’re in love or you haven’t got a bit of sense.”

[Editor’s Note: This is the last of the oral histories summarized by Ann Hertzler. Thanks so much Ann!]

Oral History – Earl Page – Part 8: ‘Oysters and Clams’

Compiled and edited by Ann Hertzler

Before they’d even start oystering, they’d eat a full bate of oysters, raw. A full bate is a full bellyful. They were getting $2.00 a bushel. They would oyster around Buzzard’s Bay, the same with clams. They’d go on the shoals, at low tide when the shoals fall out flat. We didn’t dig like they do now. If you know what the spit sign looks like, all you do is take a potato hoe. You’re looking at a spit sign that looks like a streak. It’s a hole in there; it’s kinda raised. You don’t see the clam, you see the hole and then it spreads out.

That’s what you’ll see first. Now we’re talking about 3 or 4 feet and you follow that back to the spit sound and there’s your clam. Take that potato hoe and go down, there’s your clam! Pile ‘em up cause they were on land, they’d make pyramids. We were on land, and when the tide came in, we’d float the boat up and load the clams in the boat.

It gets wider as it goes out. read more