Catch A Ride: The Rock & Roll scene in Charlotte during the 1960s
by Daniel Coston
co-author of There Was A Time: Rock & Roll In The 1960s In Charlotte, And North Carolina, by Fort Canoga Press.
“Was there a Rock & Roll scene in Charlotte during that time?’ The question was often asked while I worked on a book on that subject, and to honest, I might’ve once asked that same question, myself. To my delight, I discovered that there was a popular scene in Charlotte during those days, and the fruits of their labors are only recently begun to be appreciated.
Like many other scenes during that time, many of the Rock & Roll bands in Charlotte during the 1960s were still in High School, or even Junior High School. College age was considered “old” by some. Many youngsters heard the records coming out of England, or in the growing Rock scene in America, and quickly acted on this new obsession. They learned how to play their instruments, joined a band (or did both in the reverse order), and found a quick audience in their own classmates at school dances, and Battle Of The Bands competitions. A number of the local High Schools, including South Meck High, claimed more than one Rock & Roll band among their fellow clasmates. It wasn’t until the 1970s that being in a Rock band became a more adult pursuit, be it part-time or full-time.
Due to the age of many of the group’s fans, many of the Rock & Roll venues in Charlotte were teen clubs. Often, they were in the basement of recreation halls, or churches. The Crested T., The Tin Can, and the Spyder Web were among the most popular teen clubs in town. The Spyder Web was located in the basement of the YMCA on Morehead Street, and did not allow anyone in older than 19 years of age. As many as 500 kids would pack the room on a Saturday night to hear local bands play. The Crested T. and the Tin Can were among a handful of teen cluns that popped up in Church rec halls. Other venues, such as the North 29 Bowling Lanes, also hosted Rock & Roll shows.
There were some other clubs that catered to an older (i.e. alcohol drinking) crowd. The Purple Penguin, which was located on the corner of Central and Pecan (where CVS is now). Another popular venue was the Box, on South Boulevard. The Cellar (now the Tavern), which still sits on Morehead Street, turned from featuring R&B and beach bands to catering the new Rock sounds by the end of the 1960s. Phantasmagorica, which was on the outskirts of Charlotte, opened near Matthews in 1968. Many of the bands in town still played these venues, despite not being old enough to drink, or legally step foot in the venue. Many venues told the musicians, “Don’t tell anyone your real age,” so they didn’t.
Not a lot of bands got the chance to record during that time. Recording was expensive, and the parents of many of these groups didn’t think that people would someday be collecting these records for amazing sums of money. In all, eight groups in Charlotte recorded during that decade. The New Mix (which featured future Spongetones drummer Rob Thorne) was the only Charlotte band to record for a major label, releasing their sole album on United Artists Records in 1968. They also recorded a couple of singles under their previous name, the 18th Edition. The Stowaways recorded an album in 1967 for the Winston-Salem based label, Justice Records. That album now goes for $400 to $600 in collector circles. When bands in Charlotte did record, they usually went to Arthur Smith Studios, named for its popular owner. Arthur Smith Studios was among the first large recording studios in the Southeast US to operate outside of Nashville, TN, and attracted everyone from local bands, to James Brown and the Famous Flames.
Perhaps the best-known single to come from Charlotte was “Abba”, which was released by the Paragons in 1966. “Abba” is now revered as a Garage Rock classic, and has been embraced by a new generation of collectors and fans. That single, which the band sold in the halls of their high school, has brought more than $1,800 on Ebay. The Grifs, who were all of 19 when they recorded “Catch A Ride” in 1965, got more attention from the Midwest when their single got airplay in that part of the country. “Catch A Ride”, with its nasty Fuzztone sound, and follow-up single “Keep Dreaming”, are two of the best singles that ever came out of a Charlotte band, period, and listening to these singles on Youtube is highly recommended. Among the other local bands that recorded during the 1960s were the Damascans, and the Good Bad & The Ugly (featuring former Paragons member, and future Spongetone Pat Walters). The Young Ages, who were based out of North Meck High, recorded a two-song demo for Decca Records in 1968, which can now be heard on their website.
It has been a pleasure and a joy to put together this book on the Charlotte scene, as well as the rest of North Carolina. All of these years later, the music that came from North Carolina can be heard on Youtube, in compilations like the Tobacco A Go Go series, or in reissued CD form (such as the Stowaways CD). Go out, and discover this music. It’s new, it’s hip, and it’s cool, just like it was when it was first recorded.