Spirit of the juke joint to rock on Saturday night

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 27, 2011 

  • What: "A Night at the Juke Joint" to benefit the Gullah Museum.

    When: 6:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Simmons Fishing Camp, 11 Simmons Road, Hilton Head Island

    Lowcountry menu, non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase. Music by deejay Joe Green.

    Cost: $20 per person. Must be 21 to attend. 843-681-3254.

  • Read David Lauderdale's musings, see his morning photos and get alerts about his latest columns by following That's Lauderdale on Twitter.

At the risk of sounding like a cracked record, some of our Lowcountry grooves got paved over as we turned into paradise.

Juke joints -- and the jukeboxes called "piccolos" that drove their beat on moonlit nights -- are for many a memory as faded as six songs for a quarter.

Hilton Head Island's Gullah Museum will resurrect those memories at a fundraiser Saturday night at Simmons Fishing Camp beside Broad Creek Marina off Marshland Road.

"A Night at the Juke Joint" with deejay Joe Green playing tunes for the indoor and outdoor dance floors will introduce a lot of folks to a slice of life they never experienced.

Juke joints are still around -- small places where people can eat and drink, and always dance. But their heyday would match the glory years of the jukebox, from the 1940s into the early 1960s.

"Some people didn't have radios," said Theron "Ike" Carter of Savannah. "It's how we stayed in tune with current music."

In retirement, the 70-year-old Carter is reveling in his avocation as a musicologist, playing jazz and blues on several shows on the Savannah State University station, WHCJ 90.3 FM.

He doesn't know why everyone in these parts called the record machines "piccolos." Bluffton Town Council member Allyne Mitchell recalls entrepreneurs in her family having a piccolo in downtown Bluffton that was wound by hand.

Juke joints in their purest form are associated with the blues, Carter said. It was natural for the unsophisticated joints to offer blues music because it's from the country, from the people, Carter says.

They danced to Little Willie Johnson, Bobby "Blue" Bland, B.B. King, Elmore James and Jimmy Reed.

A juke joint is less a time and place than it is a feeling, Carter says.

"It's the spirit," he said. "It's the camaraderie of a whole bunch of people getting together having a good time. It's euphoric. It's hard to describe, but it's so real you can almost feel it with your hands."

He said it's like a church service when it builds to a fevered pitch.

"The music and the feeling are exactly the same," Carter said. It's a paradox that people outside the culture might not understand, he said.

Both the religious and secular experiences offer relief from a hard week's work. Both are expressions of freedom and joy.

Simmons Fishing Camp was built by the late Hilton Head icon Charles Simmons Sr. in the 1950s. It came after the storm of 1940 wiped out the dock at Brams Point he'd been using to haul people and goods to and from Savannah.

It's a simple place in a beautiful spot. But Carter says a juke joint is more than a place. It can't be confined to an edifice. It's a spirit that can't be paved over by paradise.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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