King Mackeral & The Blues Are Running:
Songs & Stories Of The Carolina Coast

Don Dixon, Bland Simpson and Jim Wann

(SH 8503)

A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Mark O'Donnell


There seems to be a revival of beach music these days. Dick Dale is back riding the rock and roll waves of acclaim. Brian Wilson has started making music again. Rhino has even put together a four disc compilation of the stuff. Granted, most of the focus has been on the California or West Coast version of the genre. Anyone who was watching the weather channel during the brief visit of Hurricane Bertha knows that the East Coast, too, has surfing ("you've got to take the big waves when you can get them--even when the 'cane is bearing down"), fine beaches and its own surf music. With the arrival of KING MACKEREL AND THE BLUES ARE RUNNING some degree of balance has been struck with North Carolina representing the East Coast. This production of North Carolina coastal music is brought to you by the unlikely combination of rock producer/ bassist Don Dixon, UNC-Chapel Hill English Prof Bland Simpson and Broadway star Jim Wann. The key to the mixture is the North Carolina roots of the three and their collective memory and appreciation of growing up down east on and near those very fine beaches.

This unusual musical production is set at a mythical, longtime favorite Outer Banks hangout, Miss Mattie Jewell's Corncake Inlet Inn where the Coastal Cohorts (Dixon, Simpson and Wann) get together to fight the demise of the Inn owing to imminent development of the inlet on which the Inn finds itself. The revue, KING MACKEREL AND THE BLUES ARE RUNNING, aims to raise enough money and awareness to fight off the ever present greedheads (those outsiders who proliferate and have, in real life, already trampled much of the Outer Banks). The mythical revue runs nightly at Miss Mattie's. It recalls the life that folks like the Cohort grew up knowing--it is a nostalgic feeling with which many listening to this disc will be able to identify.

KING MACKEREL AND THE BLUES ARE RUNNING was produced by Dixon (best known for his work with REM, the Smithereens and his wife Marti Jones). The material was written by Simpson (pianist and songwriter for the Red Clay Ramblers along with his teaching duties) and Wann (author and composer of the Broadway musical Pump Boys and Dinettes). Simpson and Wann meld numerous styles of music to recall an era and a way of growing up. Simpson brings his characteristic humor to the enterprise highlighting tunes like the title song and "Food Chain" (a nice faux soul tune with an Aretha quote thrown in for good measure). Though his voice is a weak element here, Simpson takes a lead on two of the most memorable songs, "Home On The River" and "Sound Side." The former is simply beautiful, the latter downright catchy. Wann is presumably to blame for the occasional throwaway Broadway revue type songs (or is this verisimilitude?). He still has some captivating moments with the story-song "Georgia Rose," the throwback rocker "Shag Baby" (an ode to a still revered NC beach dance phenomenon), and "I'm The Breeze" (somebody should cover this one). Though he didn't write any of these tunes, it is Dixon's voice that delivers the genuinely soulful moments. Notably here are his contributions to "Maco Light" and "King Mackerel" and his lead vocal on "Joy Ride" (my personal favorite on the disc).

While this is unlikely to make the careers of any of the participants, it is obviously a project in which they greatly enjoyed themselves. They continued to exhibit that level of joy as they performed the revue at the Kennedy Performing Arts Center this summer. As an added benefit the NC Nature Conservancy and the NC Coastal Federation received some of the proceeds from the early performances (poetic justice, this).

Without a doubt though, this disc will mean the most to all who can identify with the life described. No, it's not the Beach Boys, but it is still a lot of fun. I can only hope that they bring the revue back to NC one last time. I'd love to see it.

[Edited by Mark Horn]

Copyright 1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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