By Brian M. Howle
One of the neatest things that ever befell me occurred only because I had – at the time – an incessant need to collect as many different T-Shirts as possible, including the hordes that the local radio stations provided like cheap cotton crack.
It was the Summer of 1978, right here in good ol’ Myrtle Beach. I had been living here for about two and a half years, working first in ‘75-’76 with the Sun News (never work at a daily paper during a Presidential election year) and then as Production Manager and graphic artist for the long-defunct The Horry News & Shopper, located on 3rd Avenue in Conway at the time. I met a gal at the Sun News who followed me to the Shopper, and wouldn’t ya know it – her brother, Richard, played guitar.
Now, I played a little guitar in a garage band in high school (mainly chords and the burning lead to “Wipeout”), so I still had my old piece-of-crap Teisco Del Ray guitar and an old Norma 40-watt amp. Soon, I was fighting the urge to recite that old Godfather III line in my head: “Every time I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in!”
The band bug was back.
Of course, we were working for pretty small potatoes in ‘78. It wasn’t like living in Russia or anything, but we essentially lived paycheck to paycheck during those days. And in case you’re not familiar with the requirements for musical groups wanting to get out and play around the local area of the state or region, that means you need lots and lots of expendable income to feed the insipid beast that is known as the “Band Kitty.”
Richard had a Gibson SG and a Traynor amp, and played inside his parent’s house at about 2 zillion decibels on Sunday afternoons. I needed to save some bucks so I could finally get a real, honest-to-peanuts “grown-ups” guitar and amp.
So while the other guys (the single ones) struggled to sign away their lives into servitude in their quest to obtain a bitchin’ P.A., monitor system and all the assorted and sundried necessities that go along with the deal – I tried doing my part by assembling part of my wardrobe via the local radio stations’ giveaway contests.
The really cool part about having OCD when it comes to radio contests is that, because you’re calling and at least qualifying for everything that they’re giving away, you almost always get a T-Shirt. True, some of them were ratty, straight-to-buffing-the-wax-off-the-car rags that you wouldn’t bother giving to the less fortunate. But the vast majority were usually pretty hip in that vapid ‘70s way, most trumpeting getting a major and sustained party buzz in some form or another – and Budweiser led the way in glorious “Bottoms Up!” fashion. Dang shame I didn’t keep all that stuff, because apparently there are some very rabid collectors out there in the shadows of e-Bay these days. All those little Bud Man puffy stick-ons – sigh …
Anywho, I was a hard-core creature of the night by nature, and the graphics job with its inherent deadlines fed the beast even further. As a result, I listened to the radio a lot, and the station of choice for my peeps who were on the cutting of edge of cool was WKZQ, 101.7 FM (changed to 96.1 for today’s kids and grandkids).
For anyone who lived here at the time, these names will open floodgates of memories: Gary “Deacon” Dawson, Greg Fowler (later to become Tour Manager for country legends Alabama), Brian Phillips, Bob Scarborough, John “The Pilot” Van Pelt, and Jeff “Shotgun” Stone. Along with station manager Bill Hennessey, who was a fellow student of mine at Coastal Carolina in the early ‘70s, I came to know these folks on a first-name basis.
After moving here from Pennsylvania, he worked the Midnight-to-6:00 a.m. shift, and he had a neat little musical intro with the song “Shotgun.” There was some unspoken connection between us from the very first call. It was really late, and the oxygen in my blood was getting pretty tired before making it up to the ol’ noggin, and that just made my call to enter some contest even more, um, “entertaining.” We both agreed afterwards, the Radio Hall of Fame lost epic classics due to our lack of foresight in not recording these little tidbits of fun. We weaved some serious funnies in the wee hours of many a night and/or morning.
Then came the fortuitous night when my bud announced a new contest, for a local suntan lotion company by the name of Beach Buff. Beach Buff was the up-and-coming challenger to the Big Dog of the day in the world of big-time, Myrtle Beach Suntan Lotion Wars.
And they came up with one doozie of a contest: Simply write a Jingle for Beach Buff, and win a trip to Atlanta to see Jimmy Buffett live at the Fabulous Fox Theater.
Oh, nevermind that we were both Parrotheads from way back.
And don’t give a second thought to the fact that it was a completely all-exenses paid trip for two, for two days and one night at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Atlanta, complete with limo service and a liberal food/room service budget. And who cared about the fact that Jimmy was recording a live album that weekend, and we would be there enjoying it all in the beautifully restored, art-deco acoustic masterpiece – The Fox Theater. (You know, the same place where Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded their seminal 2-record, 4-sided live album, One More From The Road.)
No, you see, the most important thing was – I could win a cool T-Shirt if I called up Shotgun with my rendition of a Beach Buff jingle.
Say what? Issue a challenge to someone who’s in the creativity field each and every day? Hey, advertising was my major at USC, and all those tedious hours at the paper racked my brain to come up with catch-phrases, slogans or logos for new clients, pushing everything from carpeting dealerships to the then-booming aftermarket accessories for the van phenomenon.
I grabbed my girlfriend’s little acoustic guitar and worked up a catchy little 3-chord romper, trying to hit on all the major selling points. Beach Buff was a little more expensive than their competitors, as it was the first to offer “Stages” of tanning – but all my friends who had used it really did get great results without burning. It helped to have some knowledge of the product.
The first verse came easily, as did the bridge, and the last verse was great right up until the last two lines. I fought the block and jotted down something that just barely rhymed for the ending, and then dialed the station (yes, it was a rotary dial phone; no speed dial or redial feature back in the technological dark ages).
When Shotgun answered, I excitedly told him I had a little song to offer up so that I could have my 100% cotton T-Shirt with the way cool Beach Buff logo on the back, and a cute little WKZQ logo on the breast pocket. My sweetie held the phone as I wailed my composition and frammed on the old acoustic, just hamming it up to the nth degree and squalling like an old bluesman without any talent.
Now, all I wanted was my T-Shirt. I had about three dozen of them, of different corporate campaigns in one form or another; but, hey, you can never have enough cool T-Shirts when you’re a young, happenin’ dude. To my surprise, Shotgun was just ecstatic about my little tune. He was adamant about making sure that I would show up for the big selection day at the radio station, where all the qualifiers would perform their compositions live, right inside the luxurious WKZQ studios on Ocala St. Honestly, I wasn’t going to get into the big contest. I just wanted my free T-Shirt.
But the more we thought about it – and the more we listened to other people’s offerings when they called in and sang their jingles in order to get their free T-Shirts – the more we began to think that, hey, maybe we just might have a shot at this thing. Heck, even if I didn’t win, maybe 2nd Place was a box of T-Shirts.
Well, the big day rolled around, and we showed up at the studio. There were about two dozen contestants, from what we could tell, since the contest had already begun by the time we got there. I had to re-write the last verse to fit the main contest theme; the one I used for Shotgun was just to get my T-Shirt that night – and I literally finished writing it on the way to the studio. We stood outside in the blazing August heat with all the other hopefuls, and listened to the muffled lobby monitors that carried the recording session. They placed a couple of microphone stands and a stool in the lobby, and the DJs ran the tape machines in the studio, behind the aquarium-like glass partition to the lobby.
When the time came, my girlfriend once again held the lyric sheet in front of me, and I warbled my tune:
“Tanning’s always been a hassle to me, Burning to a crisp was my destiny; But Beach Buff changed my point of view, The Starter Kit is really something new;” Bridge “Now, it costs a bit more than the others do, But the tan that you get is dark and true, The difference isn’t just in the price, my friend, It’s like jumping from an Edsel to a Mercedes Benz! Last Verse Now that I’ve told my tale to you, Wise up and do the same thing, too; Sunshine and patience just ain’t enough, For the tan with the plan you need, Beach Buff!”
Now, when I opened my eyes again, the guys in the studio gave me “thumbs up,” and were smiling really big smiles. Suddenly, the door to the main office burst open, and Joe McVay himself – owner of Beach Buff – ran out in the hall, looked at me and yelled, “Wahoo! That rocks!”
Yeah, OK: considering he didn’t do that for any of the other folks, that just may have been a tip as to the outcome.
But we still sweated it out for a few more days, as the judges reviewed the tapes and scored their selections.
Finally, the Top Three entries were announced, on air, from Number Three to Number One. No. 3 was so horrible, it was entertaining; i.e.: William Hung. No. 2 was a guy who really did a great job of sounding like Jimmy Buffet and his style of tropical-rock-folk-country-R&B-beach music; but he never sang about the product. Tsk, tsk … And the winner was, well, by now I bet you’ve figured it out – Viola! – yours truly.
In all the celebration, it completely slipped my attention this whole fun weekend began with a flight to Atlanta on Piedmont Airlines. Now long gone, for you kids out there, allow me to acquaint you with Piedmont: It was the Yugo of Airlines back in the day .
Oh, and I had a major case of world-class, never-flew-commercial-because-of-it fear of flying. Actually, it wasn’t so much a fear of flying. It was more like a fear of impaling the ground like a 600-mph lawn dart.
Well, I already won, and my sweetie would have killed me had I backed out, and there was that fine concert and all those free goodies that went with it. And once we were at the Fox, I knew there would be more opportunities to acquire Jimmy Buffet 1978 “Cheeseburger In Paradise” World Tour T-Shirts.
Oh, well hell, that settled it.
And so, when the Thursday morning of the flight arrived, I had made arrangements with my physician to deal with all that fear-of-crashing stress.
Oh yes, I was prepared.
I mumbled through the pre-flight, live-on-the-radio interview with Brian Phillips between handfuls of Valium. For me, the boarding gangway to the waiting airliner was like walking The Green Mile.
– Next Issue – “Begging God Thru An Air-Sickness Bag At 35,000 Feet”
### The previous article was originally published in the August 10, 2006 issue of Alternatives NewsMagazine.