We had a big snowstorm overnight, and it’s freezing cold today, so what better time to talk about Beach music. That term has nothing to do with the Beach Boys, or surf music in general. It refers to ’50s and ’60s music, much of it soul and R&B, that became wildly popular among dancers along the coast of the Carolinas. The closest thing you can compare it to is the Northern Soul movement in the UK, and many of the same songs are beloved among both groups.
That brings us to this week’s featured artist, Clifford Curry. He was born in Knoxville, TN and he began singing when he was in high school in the ’50s. Among the groups he was in were the Echoes (who backed Faye Adams on her hit “Shake a Hand”), the Five Pennies, the Hollyhocks, and the Bubba Suggs Band.Â After five years with Suggs, who didn’t have much ambition that reached beyond his hometown of Clarksville, TN, Curry left the band, went home to Knoxville, and went solo as Sweet Clifford. He signed with Excello Records, a label he had recorded for when he was in the Hollyhocks. Things got off to a rough start at Excello when they credited his first single, “Things Got to Get Better,” to Clifford Sweet. Eventually the label made the correction, but the record stiffed anyway.
Curry’s next move to was hook up with five other Knoxville singers to form the Fabulous Six. The group signed with the tiny Ridgecrest label where they released one forgotten single. In 1965 the Fabulous Six became the Contenders and released a single called “Mr. Dee Jay” on Blue Sky Records. It was another stiff.
During that time Curry had started writing songs with a Knoxville DJ named Rob Galbraith. Their collaboration bore little fruit, but the association proved to be fortuitous when Galbraith introduced Curry to a guy named Buzz Cason who owned the rights to a song called “She Shot a Hole In My Soul”.Â Cason produced the single for Curry, and it was released on Elf Records, a Bell subsidiary, in 1967. “She Shot a Hole In My Soul” turned out to be Curry’s biggest hit, reaching the Top 50 on the R&B chart, and the Top 100 on the pop chart. Curry released seven more singles on Elf between 1967-1969. From 1970-1973 he recorded for SSS Records, Caprice Records, and Abbott Records, releasing three singles on each label. None of his post “She Shot a Hole In My Soul” releases did as well as that record.
That’s where Beach music came to the rescue, as it did for so many other artists who otherwise would have faded from memory. Once Curry’s talent was recognized on the Carolina beaches, his career got back on track. He signed with Buddah Records in 1977 and released two singles, “Body Shop,” and “Moving in Circles,” for the label. Curry moved through the ’80s recording for labels like Woodshed (“Shag With Me” in 1980 was a single that directly referenced the Carolina beaches dance craze), Ripete, and Compleat.
None of Curry’s singles were big chart successes, but they got tons of regional airplay, and as a result there was no shortage of gigs for him. To this day Curry continues recording and performing live. More than 50 years after he began performing, Clifford Curry remains a King of the Beach.