Gather ‘round the rockin’ chair, young’ins; lean in close, stay quiet and pay attention.
This is the story of how the biggest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world at the time defied traditional concert venue booking procedures and joyfully played a one-night, once-in-a-lifetime show - right here in the confines of sleepy little Myrtle Beach proper.
There was a time, some 35 years ago, before the advent of cell phones, smart phones, iPads, e-mails and, well, the entire Internet. Now, I know that just knocked the wind out of some of you pups, but it’s true. You can Google it.
And on one glorious Monday morning in June of 1978, my future bride and I headed into work at the original Horry News & Shopper on 3rd Avenue in Conway, as we were once again staring down the barrel of another impending deadline. On every other day, it was loose and casual, and we had fun.
But on deadline day, it was all business. No time for joking around; time was money.
So, when the phone rang (not a ring tone, a RING!) and we picked up the handset (12-foot coiled cord, actually attached to the phone), the last thing I had patience for was a call from a friend who was clearly attempting to foist a world-class prank on yours truly.
“Hey man, they just announced on the radio that the Rolling Stones are going to be playing at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center on Thursday ... a one-time show; all tickets are $10 each but you can only buy two! Drop whatever you’re doing and get down there, man, this is going to be fucking awesome!”
In the ‘70s, The Rolling Stones were top dogs in rock after The Beatles broke up; and in 1978 the band had just added Ronnie Wood on guitar (who replaced Mick Taylor), and had just released the iconic “Some Girls” album, featuring the now-classic hits “Shattered,” “Beast of Burden” and “Miss You.” Knowing these facts, and hearing my friend’s claims, I did what any rational, thinking person would do.
I promptly hung up.
A true friend, he re-dialed our number and begged me not to hang up, as he once again implored me that this was not a joke.
“Seriously, turn on your radio, man! It’s all they are talking about, it’s crazy! THE STONES, BROTHER!”
Now, we listened to the radio, religiously. And the ONLY station we listened to was THE Rock Flagship of Myrtle Beach during the ‘70s and ‘80s, WKZQ, 101.7 FM (Now found at 96.1 on the FM dial).
Well, except for first thing in the morning on a deadline day.
But tradition be damned, we flipped on our little in-shop stereo and sure enough, there was non-stop chatter by the deejays and callers alike: Yes, it was true; Yes, the Rolling Stones WERE going to play at the Convention Center on Thursday; Yes, tickets were only $10, limited to two per person, but selling fast.
I looked at my co-workers and - uncharacteristically - went completely out of character, and employed reason.
“This IS a joke, it HAS to be, there is NO WAY in hell that the Stones are even going to play in South Carolina, much less Myrtle Beach. Someone at the station is having a great big laugh at the expense of a lot of very gullible people.”
Also uncharacteristically of my co-workers, they quickly agreed with me. It just made too much sense, the whole joke angle, because, well ... The Rolling Stones? In Myrtle Beach?
Another 20 minutes passed, as we continued to listen to the guys at the station pulling a fast one on the good folks of Myrtle Beach and the surrounding areas. I could tell from the looks I was getting, everyone was starting to believe that maybe - just maybe - this might be for real.
So I called WKZQ, not on the request line which was swamped; but on a number that I had procured via my close friendship with most of the on-air staff, but in particular a deejay named Jeff “Shotgun” Stone. “Shotgun” and I had become fast friends while he initially worked the late night shift from midnight to 6 a.m. He was still at the station, caught up in the moment.
“Brian, oh man, you need to get your ass down to the Convention Center NOW, man! They only have a little over 2,000 tickets, man, and they’ve been on sale for about an hour-and-a-half, and they are flying out the door!”
I was telling my staff to relay my whereabouts to the boss, as I was gathering my keys and checkbook on my way out the door - in what would have been close to a 10-minute banzai dash over the 13 or so miles to Myrtle Beach - when my girlfriend stopped me.
“They just announced that it was sold out,” she very quietly said to me. And with that, we begrudgingly accepted that we were going to miss the most-vaunted concert in the history of Myrtle Beach.
Now, with the 35th anniversary of the momentous gig coming up on Saturday and the Stones wrapping up the U.S. portion of the 50 & Counting Tour in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. this weekend, here is the amazing story of how that legendary show on June 22, 1978 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, came to be:
Sometimes, you get what you need...
I called my old friend, Bill Hennecy, who was long-time Station Manager at WKZQ at that time, when KZQ was in its heyday and absolutely ruled the airwaves along the Grand Strand. He’s now Competition Director / Press Media Director at Myrtle Beach Speedway, he was more than gracious in sharing his memories.
“The first thing people need to keep in mind about this, was the time - before cell phones, pagers, e-mails; instant availability that we now take for granted was just a gleam in dreaming nerd’s eyes.
“In the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Hennecy continued, “there was one person above all others when it came to promoting shows around the entire Southeast, along the Lowcountry coast in general, and Myrtle Beach in particular: Cecil Corbett.”
A native of Tabor City, N.C., Corbett, and his brother, Charlie, owned Beach Club Productions & Promotions, based out of Bishopville, and his bookings during that era were legendary and immensely helpful to the careers of more artists than just about anyone around, but especially for those with local origins or connection. He was extremely loyal to those who “did right” by him, and the feeling was often times very mutual.
The Corbett bros. started promoting shows in the early ‘60s. Cecil and Charlie leased the original Beach Club (now the Shrine Club, located on Restaurant Row in Myrtle Beach) in 1964. They then bought what became the new Beach Club (what is now Bennett’s Calabash Seafood Restaurant, previously Cluie’s Golden Ox).
Beach Club Promotions began promoting shows throughout the Southeast, in major arena and coliseum venues, and was the biggest and most successful in the region.
Now, it’s widely known that The Rolling Stones learned about the quiet little resort town of Myrtle Beach through The Who’s Pete Townshend, who had come here while visiting the Meher Baba Center near Briarcliffe Acres during one of his introspective sabbaticals.
“Through his many contacts within the music industry, The Rolling Stones had related to Cecil their desire to play a smaller venue, not the big, massive places that they could easily fill. They wanted something small and intimate; it wasn’t about making a million dollars, it was about connecting with their audience again, as they had when they were starting out in small clubs throughout the United Kingdom,” said Hennecy. “And having some down time at one of the most beautiful, white sand beaches in the U.S. didn’t hurt the mix, either,” said Hennecy.
“Basically, Cecil did the people of this area a huge favor by bringing them here, when he could just as easily have taken them to Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta and sell 50,000 tickets.
“The Stones were willing to basically go into the deal with him, to play the smaller venue for a fee where he would still be able to afford to promote the show with such a small take at the gate.
“Now, because of his long-standing relationship with WKZQ and their promotions for his numerous shows, he turned to us for his promotional needs for this show. We were helped in large part by local businessman, Joe McVay (who owned the Beach Buff Suntan Lotion line of products at the time), who also ran one of the lifeguard services here on the beach.
“Joe wanted to do promotion, but Cecil was adamant about having the announcement made in early morning, mid-week, and stipulating that people could come to the Convention Center ticket office and purchase two tickets only - allowing the locals to have a decent shot at garnering the majority of whatever tickets were available. He told McVay that they were going to be there, and if he could figure out a way to get them, he could do whatever promotion he wanted.
“So, Joe pulled all of his lifeguards from the pool decks, gave them each $20 and told them to buy two tickets; he then waited for them to come out and said, ‘OK, you’ve got your ticket to the show, now give me mine.’ In doing so, he was the only person who had a block of tickets for this show, all above board, all legitimate.
“So he has 50 tickets; he gives some to his personal friends, and then brings 30 to the radio station. We gave them all away as singles, to give as many people the chance to win as possible.”
Gimme, gimme shelter...
“The guys at the station were extremely happy that The Rolling Stones were doing this show, this way,” continues Hennecy. “And as a result, WKZQ and Myrtle Beach began receiving a ton of recognition and coverage because of this one show. Publications like Rolling Stone (magazine) and The Village Voice were running stories about this little resort town with the 2,000-seat venue, the smallness of which the band had not played since they started out.
“When they arrived, they didn’t come by the station or do any interviews, but we did get to mix with them at a pre-show party where they were staying the night before, and they graciously cut a couple of quick station tags for us.
“They stayed at a local condo (Maisons-sur-Mer on Shore Drive), and the thing about their stay here - NO ONE leaned on them. No one bothered them with the usual hoopla and bothersome impositions. They ate at local restaurants , mingled with the locals and thoroughly enjoyed their privacy, because the locals allowed them to. They really enjoyed being treated as just another group of resort guests, and not being fawned over.
“Cecil absolutely fulfilled his part of the deal, and when he passed away in June of 1998, the late Jeff Roberts (Sounds Familiar record store owner) and I said the same thing: Cecil was a local, and he wanted to bring these shows for the benefit of the other locals. He brought many major stars to our area, without making any huge profits, because he knew that for some it would be the only chance they may ever have to attend one of these shows.
“He had thrown in with a group that opened The Grand Strand Music Fair on South U.S. 17 Business, across from Pirateland Campground, and they booked such national acts as The Doobie Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt (whose show was the impetus that brought me to live at Myrtle Beach). They took chances no one else was willing to take, and the local music fans couldn’t have been happier that they did.
“People forget that Cecil Corbett did all of this for our area, and he has never really received the recognition and thanks that he deserves for doing so. No one else brought acts like these to venues this small for the benefit of the concertgoers in lieu of massive profits, like that which seems to be the norm today.
This could be the last time...
In the decades that have passed since that historic show 35 summers ago, Myrtle Beach and the surrounding area has undergone a tremendous transformation. The sleepy little mom-and-pop motel resort has given way to a more populated, more traveled and more modern, current fare of entertainment.
Most notably, we have obtained a House of Blues since that time, where shows that rival the Stones’ memorable night are now held with regularity, from The Black Crowes to Yes to Mötley Crüe to Blackberry Smoke to upcoming shows by B.B. King, 311, Ted Nugent and Marilyn Manson. In addition, we are home to no less than seven excellent concert and show venues, all in the 1,500-to-2,500-seat range, as well as the usual widespread array of smaller bars and clubs. The hotels and resorts are more massive and exclusive, with more amenities and all serviced by a brand-spanking new airport, and the highways are slowly but surely improving to keep up with the growth.
And who’s to say that all of that isn’t a direct result of one special June night in 1978?
Some 27 years after that show, I did finally catch The Stones at an outdoor stadium show at Duke University.
That night is why, to this day, I try to attend as many concerts at our local venues as I possibly can. Not to make up for missing The Stones play Myrtle Beach, because that will never happen. But just to make sure I have a decent shot at catching the next Rolling Stones in their infancy, perhaps on their first tour.
Hopefully, somewhere out there along the Grand Strand, the next Cecil Corbett is just beginning to lay the foundation for the next chapter.