Burlington, NC YMCA &
Castaways, Greensboro, NC
I was a freshman in high school. I was playing football at Western Alamance High School and some older classmates said they were going to the Burlington YMCA to listen to this great band. They also said they were going to really see all the women that showed up from all over the county.
Well, needless to say, this was a place for a young man like me! I had grown up with a mother who was a jitterbug champion and did the 'Bop'; which she had taught me so that I would be 'graceful' with the ladies (I really wasn't sure what she meant at the time, but looking back on that statement, the woman was a genius!)
I put on my best madras shirt and my best khaki pants (starched to the point they would stand on their own). I got my mom to drop me off under the pretense that I was meeting a bunch of other football players and this was a 'Christian' environment.
....paid my $2 cover and entered the main ballroom with the anticipation of seeing nubile young things and having a grand experience! Well, in I go and I don't know anyone! Ever been 14 years old and don't know a soul? It's the loneliest feeling in the world!
I finally ran into several of the upper classmen who showed up; and I tried to hang with them. They weren't interested in having a freshman in their group and shunned me as if I had the plague.
All of a sudden the lights went dim and the band came out. There were four guys...dressed in red Banlon shirts and madras pants. "Straight from Raleigh, North Carolina, give a big welcome to the Embers!"
Who? They began to play the music my mama taught me to 'Bop' by. Well, I know this stuff!
I began to dance in place, oblivious to the stares by the 'cooler' people around me who were there to be seen--not dance. You can just imagine the time I had dancing with myself! I was doing great until a girl from Williams High School (the 'city' high school, mind you) approached me and asked me to dance.
Panic set it. I could dance with my mama, but not a real live girl! I couldn't show her I wasn't cool so I just strutted my stuff! I'm not sure I impressed the girl, but I sure as hell impressed myself! I was hooked forever.
I never missed a dance at the Y in the summers. I knew all the bands (Willie T and the Magnificents, the Attractions, the Alpacas, the Kings of Soul). All the great band coming out of Burlington at the time!
When I was 17, I graduated to that den of iniquity--the Castaways in Greensboro, NC where they drank beer and really shagged. I also got to meet 'older' women from Woman's College in Greensboro who were hungry for a dance and a lot of other things that are fodder for another story in the future.
I missed the 'English Invasion' of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones because I was too busy listening to Motown and Stax records.
Got to play sax and sing in a Shag band as well. The rest is history. I was changed at an early age and I am the product of my youth.
When conversations steer towards youthful events and happenings and someone asks if I recall groups like the Byrds and the Lovin' Spoonful, my response is 'do you remember Otis Redding and James Brown? Do you remember Rufus Thomas? How about his daughter Carla?'
When they look at me with puzzlement in their eyes, I just tell them they would have had to have been there.
Special Beach Song: "Under the Boardwalk", "Wee Wee Baby"
Fave Band: The Embers
Best Dancers: Danny Beal and Susan Blackwell
Hangout: The Castaways
Beach DJ: Randy's Record Mart with Big Hoss Allen-Nashville, Tennessee, WLAC, 9--midnight.
--Dr. Steven V. Cates, Eden, NC, April 2000