Embers more than just beach music

The Embers perform Wednesday at the Augusta Common for the Par-3 Party.

Despite being associated for more than 50 years with the shag-ready tunes known as beach music, Bobby Tomlinson, a founder and drummer for the Embers, still bristles at the simplified label for a complex approach to music.


"The audience is just too diverse to call it that," he said in a recent telephone interview promoting the band's performance at the Par-3 Party on Wednesday evening at Augusta Common.

Tomlinson prefers to think of the group as a show band, professional party starters and R&B act. Still, he knows the surf-and-sand label will stick.

"That's what people want to call it," he said. "It's what they want to hear."

Tomlinson said inspiration came from listening to WLAC in Nashville, Tenn., a station that crept over state lines to his North Carolina home while he was in high school.

"They played all that stuff they wouldn't play on the stations near us," he said. "James Brown and things like that. We loved it. Those were the 45s we bought. Those were the songs we learned. That wasn't beach music -- it was rhythm and blues."

Still, Tomlinson acknowledged he has played the seaside a time or two, going as far as to play in his own coastal club, the Embers Beach Club, in the late 1960s. He said the reason the band, and music, has survived is that sets have always been built with longevity in mind.

"There are just certain songs that are mainstays," he said. "You know you can play Under the Boardwalk and that dance floor will fill up. We evaluate songs for staying power."

Tomlinson said the band spent the 1970s traveling as a show band, doing two-week stands in hotels. He said lessons from that period stay with the group today.

"We do still follow some of those rules," he said. "There are still uniforms -- today they are suits, ties, sport coats, things like that. There is also still choreography."

The most important lesson learned, he said, is being able to read an audience. Today, the first thing he does is look at the crowd he'll play for. It affects how and what the band plays.

"If there's a lot of gray hair, we will play a lot of slow songs and watch the audio," he said. "We play for the audience. We give them what they want."

Even if it is beach music.

Party time

WHAT: The City of Augusta Par-3 Party, featuring the Embers and South Atlantic Live Entertainment Band, a shag contest and a vintage fashion show

WHEN: Wednesday; gates open at 6 p.m.

WHERE: Augusta Common, 800 block between Broad and Reynolds

COST: $8 in advance or $10 at the gate; advance tickets at augustaarts.com, Vintage Ooollee and Modish Salon