Juke joint memories: Book recalls island's Gullah dance halls

May 11, 2008 

It's as if they blew away from Hilton Head Island on their very names: The Breeze, the Rip It Up, the Hideaway.

Slowly over the years, the juke joints that brought newfangled sin into the still Lowcountry nights have gone silent.

In his new work, Emory S. Campbell gives a rare glimpse into the social clubs that dotted the island before the Mercedes replaced the marsh tacky horse as the ride of choice.

Campbell has released the third -- and greatly expanded -- edition of "Gullah Cultural Legacies," his paperback book on a Sea Island way of local life that's now often left for dead.

This edition has new chapters, new pictures and a new list of resources for further study -- all wrapped behind new cover art by Jonathan Green.

The juke joints themselves are worth further study, Campbell writes. But we can start with the service he has provided by preserving this interesting chapter of island life.

Through his "Tings I 'Member," we can peek like a child on tiptoes into the boozy, forbidden world where islanders once danced to Sam Cooke until the roosters crowed. We can imagine how the relentless Lowcountry sun would then reveal the rollicking juke joint that felt like Club 54 the night before to be little more than a square wood structure with tarpaper siding. In one case, he writes that a 500-foot extension cord would run from the jukebox to a light socket in the

house next door, where kids, like Campbell himself, would sometimes pull the plug.

The juke joints often sat in the proprietor's yard. There was Porgy's, Kinley's, Doogie's and the Golden Rose Park. Where crickets once ruled the night, now Ray Charles boldly proclaimed: "I've Got A Woman Way Over Town." The islanders danced to steps with names like the Chicken, the Slop, the Cha Cha, the Dog and the Jerk.

One Sunday night in the 1950s, Campbell tells us, Ike and Tina Turner attracted a huge crowd to a pavilion at Bradley Beach.

Campbell records where the clubs stood. Timeshare units and restaurants behind gates now mark the spots.

As best I can tell, the only one of the old clubs still in business is the Simmons Fishing Camp off Marshland Road.

The demise of the juke joints might not be all bad.

Campbell notes that they played a significant role in turning the Gullah culture away from its roots.

How are you going to keep young people in the praise house shouting for redemption when a nickel in a whirling, magical box can produce Chubby Checker?

Campbell notes that it also tore at the fabric of the Gullah families -- often pitting one generation against another.

He says that the Gullah culture "continues to adapt to modern development even when the pressure to do so is not as obvious as that of the jukebox."

And among the new "suggested key strategies for cultural preservation" in Campbell's book are a lot of ways to strengthen the family. Today's iTune hip hop might be a mirror step to yesterday's jukebox blaring rhythm and blues. Either way, the culture's roots of religious and family values cannot be allowed to be ripped up, hidden away or lost in the breeze.

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