Hensley, who has told me the Red Hots concerts in 2008 at the Imperial Theatre were probably the band's final shows, has turned to television. He's producing and hosting Johnny Hensley's Shag City, a dance-and-music showcase that will air on local cable providers. The show, devoted to shag dancing and not that activity my English in-laws are currently snickering about, features local couples breaking it down, Carolina-style, to beach music hits.
It's an interesting idea and a show with a potential audience in place. I watched the first hour-long episodes and found them not without fault, but also packed with potential.
The problems are addressable. The biggest is the limited number of camera angles available in the tight space at Malibu Jack's, the restaurant on Furys Ferry Road where the shows are produced and taped. There just isn't enough space for the dancers to move, for the cameras to pan and for an audience to assemble.
I understand the attraction of busting out the bop and stroll at a beach-themed establishment, but if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. I might suggest a music venue such as the Country Club or perhaps a hotel ballroom.
What works are the structure, Hensley himself and the music.
The music is the selling point here. There are two ways the Shag City team could go with this. The first is a soft-sell approach, filling the virtual jukebox with innocuous hits and mostly misses from the shag songbook. It's a slippery slope south, in terms of quality, after Double Shot .
The second is a deeper, more educated approach. It is, thankfully, the direction the show seems to be headed. Yes, there are some of the pop standards often associated with beach music, but there's also an appreciation and acknowledgement for the obscure sides that originally inspired shag dancing.
More often than not the records spinning on Shag City are not Swingin' Medallions tunes but offbeat R&B songs from the 1950s, bouncing blues tunes and the odd rockabilly track. Even when the show is difficult to watch, it's a lot of fun to listen to.
It's important to remember that Shag City is still an experiment. The first episode won't air until April 15 (Channel 103 on Comcast, and Channel 96 on Knology and Charter and Channel 95 on Aiken cable) and there's plenty of time to tweak the format and iron out bugs. My feeling is that if Hensley gives his dancers room to move, his show might really swing.
LIGHTNING (FINALLY) STRIKES
I've always been curious as to what the next step might be for Augusta act Eat Lightning. I've long been fond of the band as a live act but was unsure whether the trio's distinctive sound, which is equal parts unhinged indie rock and rootsy '50s-style pop, would translate in the studio.
There's always a sense they are playing off each other, building songs off inspiration and improvisation as much as predetermined arrangement. I was hard pressed to believe that could be captured in a sterile studio environment.
Consider me convinced.
The band recently sent nine tracks it has been working on, The Walls Have Mice and the Mice Have Ears. Not only is that live energy corralled, but structure and a sense of musicality emerge as the foundation of the band's sound.
There's an interesting sense of perspective found on these tracks. On one hand, they sound very much like a young rock band finding the joy inherent in plugging in, turning up and playing loud. On the other, there's a sense of musical reverence, an understanding that bands contemporary rockers rarely cite -- the Flamingos, the Imperials, the Starlighters -- have something to offer in terms of inspiration.
I particularly enjoyed the approach to lyric writing. The problem with doo-wop as a musical foundation is that there are only so many new-moon-in-June ideas out there, and it's a thematic idea that starts to sour quickly. Eat Lightning understands that and, while still working in the familiar territory of relationship songs, finds ways to twist the expected, to exploit expectations and give their songs an edge.
Great work by a band deserving of attention.