That's Lauderdale

'Roy C.' keeps Carolina's love affair with rhythm and blues alive

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 5, 2013 

"Roy C." knows the Chitlin' Circuit like gravy knows rice.

He's been singing rhythm and blues across the South for 56 years.

At 74, he's still recording and still heading out to concerts from his home in Allendale.

When he performs Friday night at the Heritage Days fish fry at Penn Center on St. Helena Island, Roy Charles Hammond will represent a fading piece of South Carolina culture.

Hammond grew up in Newington, Ga., near Savannah, but left for New York as a teenager. He tasted his first hit in 1958 with The Genies, a group working the boardwalk of Long Beach, N.Y.

His first solo hit came in 1965. "Shotgun Wedding" soared to No. 14 on the national rhythm and blues chart, but went even higher in England. It featured the sound of actual gunshots and racy lyrics for the time. It got him on "American Bandstand" and a tour of Europe. Years later, Rod Stewart covered the song in a video.

Hammond writes his own music, and has owned several record labels, record stores and a record distributorship.

For years, he teamed with outstanding lead guitarist James Hines, who also ended up in Allendale, where he became a minister and died in 2004.

In New York, Hammond met another bright star from the Lowcountry, Benny Gordon of Estill. Benny and his brother Sammy took their Christian Harmonizers gospel group to the Apollo Theater and brought the house down. They later formed The Soul Brothers band, which played at Truman Capote's legendary Black and White Ball, known as the party of the century.

Hammond played at Gordon's club in New York, and then back in Estill when he, too, returned to the South.

Hammond said most of his gigs have been in South Carolina.

"They took to the music more so than anywhere else, I'd say," he said.

Hammond has packed clubs in Sumter, Columbia, Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Batesburg -- playing "original rhythm and blues" from end to end of what we might call the Spanish Moss Circuit. It was a scene fueled in its heyday by disc jockeys, like Columbia's Charles Derrick, who helped connect people to the musicians.

The high point may have come in 2002, when Roy C. was in a show headlined by Tyrone Davis that drew 21,000 fans to a Darlington race track.

But Hammond said that when deejays quit talking between every song, the demise of the genre began. Jockeys were soon replaced by computers. Next to go were record stores. Hammond said he used to distribute his music to 800 record stores, but now it's three.

People still want the smooth, lyrical rhythm and blues music that has the power to cross racial lines and pull 600 people into a roadside club. But these days, it would be easier to find chitlins in Paris.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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