Memories of The Monzas

By Don Baker

Early R&B Influences

The first R&B song I ever heard was "Mama, he treats your daughter mean" by Ruth Brown. I was 11 years old, and soon became addicted to the R&B sound more than anything else. Prior to that, all we ever heard was Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole (of whom I am still a huge fan), Frank Sinatra, etc. But when THAT song came out, everything changed for me.

I remember as a young boy sneaking into the tobacco warehouse on S. Heritage St. in Kinston, NC and watching one of the many "revues" that came through town. Artists such as Li'l Richard, The Clovers,Fats Domino, and one of my old favorites, "The Turbans". (When You Dance). I was "killed" by that music, and wanted to play it for the rest of my life.

Later on the major influences in music, for me, were Jerry Butler, the Impressions, The Intruders, Everything Motown and Stax. This was the music that I enjoyed hearing from Andy Lawson and "the Hot Foot Club"on WELS - 1010AM every afternoon at 4:00. He played all the R&B hits and this was the only station in the area playing them. When I moved to Raleigh, NC in 1962, WKIX and Charlie Brown (Eddie Weis) was the big thing then.

Playing With The Monzas

The Monzas started in 1961 with Ward May, Skip Henshaw, Nelson Miller, Roger Mercer, Sharon Henshaw, Linda Quinlan, and Bing Greeson. Their primary goal was to play dances at local high schools and private parties. A very simple beginning to an extraordary era. There were several changes in personnel over the 10 years together. Big John Thompson came in around 1963 to lay the bass track down on "Hey I Know You" and he just stayed. Mickey Coombs and Johnny Andrews came in around 1963-64 and Rick Mitchell came in around 1966. Mike Griffin was added on Sax in 1965, and I still consider him as the premier sax player in the Carolinas today. Sammy Fowler came in around 1966, with Billy Carden, myself, and Nelson rejoining in 1967-68.

I started playing with a group called the Four Winds from Durham, which included myself, Archie Durham, Jim Toddy, and Nelson Miller, who wrote "Hey I Know You". I'd have to say that the four of us had the best vocals I've ever heard, which is why Ward May of the Monzas offered to take Nelson, Billy Carden and myself into the Monzas. Nelson had been with them at an earlier time, so it was an easy fit.

Frat parties were our bread and butter. I always thought it was interesting that every time we played for the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at USC, they had to move the party out of Columbia because they were usually on probation. (If I'm wrong about this, then we'll say it was the KA's.)

One thing I will always remember about those days is traveling down I-85 towards Atlanta for a frat party at GA. Tech. A white van pulled up beside us on our left and I looked at it and suddenly realized we were being "mooned" by members of "the Calabash Corporation". Ted Keaton w/ShaggieMaggie will attest to this. (He was one of them!)

Another memorable night was at the Joker's 3 in Greensboro when we were playing "Hey Girl Don't Bother Me" and the band was in Bb while I, for some strange reason, was playing in B. That song never sounded the same for me after that.

Of course, in those days the Embers set the tone for everyone, but since the band was from Burlington, NC, we paid more attention to groups such as The Inmen, Bob Collins and the Fabulous Five, The Magnificents -- all local. Nationwide, our collective favorites were The Temptations, the Four Tops and anyone with Motown, plus The Tams, Intruders, Eddie Floyd, Clifford Curry, Archie Bell & the Drells, The Dells ... I could go on and on and on. There were many songs which I always considered my favorites. Two in particular were "A Love That's Real" by the Intruders, and "Girl You're Too Young" by Archie Bell.

There were no clubs in Kinston that played Beach or R&B, but when I moved to Raleigh in 1964, I liked to hang out at The Cat's Eye at five points in Raleigh. They had a sunken dance floor that was really unusual, and the college crowd filled it every Friday and Saturday night. The Monzas played there occassionally, but I'd have to say our favorite place to play was the Pawley's Pavilion at Pawley's Island.

We played at the Coachman & 4 at Bennettsville, SC, The Joker's 3 in Greensboro, the Castaways in Greensboro, Williams Lake in Dunn, NC, Pawley Pavilion at Pawley's Island, The Cat's Eye in Raleigh, The Hayloft in Durham, NC, plus varoius clubs in Virginia, Greenville, SC, and Greensville, NC. We backed a lot of national groups such as The Showmen with Norman Johnson, Arthur Conley, Dee Clark (that one was UN-BE-LIEVABLE!!!!), the Drifters, the Shirelles, Billy Joe Royal, just to name a few.

"Hey I Know You"

Our best known song of all time, of course, is "Hey I Know You". It was written by my old friend from the Four Winds, Nelson Miller -- also known as "Salty". He'll tell you today that even back then he wasn't too impressed by it, and that "Instant Love" was a better song. I'll have to say that I agreed with him, but it just didn't get the air play that "Hey I Know You" received. I believe that was partially due to the trend toward psychedelic music at the time. To this day, however, I still get e-mails from strangers asking me if I have a copy of "Instant Love" (which I do).

"Hey I Know You" was originally recorded on our own independent label, "Pacific". This occured a short time before I joined the group. When it was picked up nationally by Scepter-Wand, we all all got really excited. Then they later told us they had "shelved" it. Strange, but we used to listen to AM stations in Pittsburg, Cleveland or Fort Wayne while returning from a gig in Atlanta, Athens, or wherever. We'd hear the song at 3:00 in the morning, and wondered "where did these stations get that song which was reported to have been 'shelved' by the label?" To this day, that remains a mystery to all of us.

Being Honored at the Pawley's Pavilion Reunion

I got a phone call back in January/February 2004 from Chip Collins asking me if I was the same Don Baker that played with the Monzas. I told him I was and the next thing I knew I was being filled in with information involving the group being honored as "Guests of Honor" at the Pawley's Pavilion reunion in May of 2004. I couldn't believe it. It absolutely blew me away to think that for all the times we played that storied old building, there were people who remembered us and wanted to somehow say "thanks for the memories".

If my memory serves me correctly (which is sometimes doubtful), there were eight of us there: Billy Carden, myself, Mike Griffin, Sammy Fowler, Linda Quinlan, Sharon Henshaw Copeland, Ward May, and Bing Greeson. We were all deeply moved by the reception and applause we received when they introduced each of us individually.

As a result of that weekend, we have now made plans for another reunion performance. In addition to this, there have been some discussion about perhaps going back into the studio again. I guess we'll have to wait and see how that exciting possibility plays out.



by Ron Wallace


I’m a Beach and Shag DJ. I have been for over 14 years now, and anyone who knows me knows that this music is my passion. It has been somewhat more difficult for me living in Louisville Kentucky, because it’s not exactly a hotbed for Beach and Shag music. Until I made some “connections” and with the addition of some publications, both in print and on the net, I stayed about 3 months behind those in the south.

The marketers of Beach style music don’t market to this side of the moutains, and in my opinion, are missing a large buyers market. They say it’s not economical. Dance clubs this side of the mountains are called Bop Clubs. They are basically the same as shag clubs in that their music is much the same, except that the tempo is a little faster and although the “Bop” style dancing is different, the basic beat count is exactly the same, they all dance to a shuffle style and they are all large in numbers.

This area is a very large market, assuming that dancers are also music buyers. For example, the Derby City Bop Association in Louisville, has over 300 members, the Cincinnati Bop Club, over 500 members, Columbus Ohio, over 400 dancers, St Louis, more than 500 and Pittsburgh exceeds 500 just to name a few. You do the math. There are lots of potential buyers of music here, that are being missed.

You may ask "What do you northerners know about beach music?" Here are some examples: Cincinnati has one of the largest dances in the country each year. They have always had live music one night of the party. They have had the Shakers, Holiday Band, the Drifters, Band of OZ and the Coastline Band. Pittsburgh has sponsored the Mojo Blues Band and Holiday more than once. We DJ’s up this way keep in communication with each other and pass the word when new music hits the market, and try to expose as many people to it as possible. I do an internet radio show on Sunday nights but I tend to lean more toward the older ‘Juke Box” sounds and the R&B styles.

I leave the pure Beach Music to the experts -- Pat Gwynn, Willie C, and Kyle Beam just to name a few. I do it for the love of the music, and I feel that the more people I can expose to this wonderful music, the more I’m doing my part to keep it alive.


Ron Wallace's Live365.com radio station, SHAG, BOOGIE & BOP may be heard at http://www.live365.com/stations/295394 Ron is a member of the Cincinnati Bop Club. He co-founded the Derby City Bop Association and helped set up its charter. During the first 5 years of DCBA’s inception, Ron served as President, Deejay, Dance Instructor, Event Chairman, and Music Director at different intervals. He was the first President of the Rhythm and Blues Dee Jay Association and is a member of the Association of Beach and Shag Club Deejays. Ron has deejayed at many major events throughout the U.S. expressing his love for music. Most recently, Ron co-founded the Louisville Bop Club, another ABA Member Club, where he serves as the Club Deejay and Dance Instructor.


Catching up with Mitch Simpson -Founder and Leader of Summerdaze Band

by Butch Halprin


Some of you may not be familiar of you may with the name Mitch Simpson. But if you were listening to Beach Music in the mid-80’s to early 90’s, you heard his work on the radio. Mitch was the founder of East Coast Rivieras, a part-time (and sometimes full-time) Beach Music band from the Triad area of North Carolina. Their releases on T-Square and Metro records included “Carolina Lady”, “Night & Day”, “We Can Build A Love”, and “Something Special”, among others. What set this band apart from the others in regards to their recordings, is that everything ECR recorded was original material written by Simpson or band members Doug Reid and Ted Tedesco.

They were not a hard driving band, but as Simpson’s friend, the late Dale Van Horn once said, ECR was a different band – they were “dream beach.” In addition to leading the band, Simpson also played keyboards and sang lead and back-up vocals. ECR played all over the southeast at clubs, private engagements and festivals, including shows with notable artists as The Catalinas, Band of Oz, The Impressions, The Embers, and backed up Percy Sledge for a show at Catawba College.

They were an extremely popular band. I had the opportunity to work with them on several gigs and saw them perform many times as “one of the audience.” They always kept the dance floor busy and gave the audience 100% effort. In 1996, ECR played their last gig as a group, and Simpson concentrated on his law enforcement career and spending more time with his family.Even though he was “out of the music business”, Simpson still loved the music he grew up with and played on stage for those years. In 2000 he co-founded Changed Heart, a contemporary Christian band that performed beach music with Christian lyrics. While the others wanted to stay strictly with Christian music, Simpson wanted get back into the Beach Music arena, so after praying and discussing it with his wife, Amy, he left Changed Heart.

In 2002 he retired after an illustrious career with the High Point, NC Police Department with the rank of Captain and moved to Tega Cay, SC. Mitch still works as a reserve police officer and consultant. One thing that stayed with Simpson since his years with ECR was that they were nominated for several categories at the 4th Annual Beach Music Awards (not to be confused with the current Carolina Beach Music Awards, formerly The Cammy Awards) As he told me, “ we lost out to North Tower and The Part Time Party Time Band in our categories, so I never felt like I finished my business.”

With time on his hands now, the urge to get back into music intensified almost every day. He missed performing for audiences and wanted to put a band together. Not just any band would do for the perfectionist Mitch Simpson. He wanted the best musicians and vocalist he could find. Being an ex-cop, his investigative instinct emerged and he researched the possibilities and talked to many of his friends in the music business for advice. One of his resources is Alan Brantley, founder of The Holiday Band. “Alan knows what it takes to get a band up and running, and he has graciously given me assistance and direction,” said Simpson. Another veteran of the Beach Music who Simpson went to is Freddy Tripp, a member of The Fantastic Shakers and as well known for his engineering talent in the studio as well as on stage talent. In addition, he checks artists and DJ websites to see what’s hot and who’s playing where and what songs they are playing.

So what do you do when you want to start a band? I don’t know what you would do, but Simpson ran and ad in the local newspaper for musicians interested in forming a new band. He received many replies, including one from an elderly lady who played the accordion and sang. In just three months after he ran the ad, The SummerDaze Band was formed. People got word that he was putting a new band together, and before they were “officially a band”, he had requests for play dates that he had to turn down.

The members of SummerDaze Band are Simpson on keyboards and vocals, Steve Thrift on drums, George Booth on bass, guitar and lead vocals, Jeremy Adams on saxophone, Chip Long on guitar and vocals and Cassie Kessler on keyboards and vocals. “I can’t believe I have a girl in this band,” said Simpson. “I always thought it would be an ‘all boys club’, but boy was I wrong. Wait until you hear her sing! The fact that she’s cute (but married guys) doesn’t hurt one bit either.” The band just released a single “Introduction CD” on February 22nd, engineered and produced by Freddy Tripp of Sound House Recording and “The Fantastic Shakers” fame. They are also compiling songs for consideration for the full length CD to be recorded next year. This CD will include covers as well as original songs.

I have had the pleasure of knowing Mitch Simpson on a professional and personal level for many years. I know first hand that he wants to have the best ensemble of musicians and vocalists he can gather on stage. He takes his time in all endeavors, conducting his research before he acts. In addition to his friend in the business to call on for help, he also calls on the Master Advisor, his Lord. With his determination, his band, and the support of his fellow artists and fans, and his Master Advisor, perhaps Mitch Simpson can finish the business he set out to. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

For more information on The SummerDaze Band, go to their web site at http://www.summerdazeband.com or call Mitch Simpson at 803-984-7208.

************Butch Halpin is a veteran DJ and originator of The Carolina Sounds Beach Show, who has performed all over North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. He was the publisher of the two-time Cammy Award winning publication “Beach Bits” and a past recipient of the Cammy Awards Club/Mobile Disc Jockey of the Year and a seven-time nominee in that category. He currently is one of the house DJ’s for Reds Beach Music, in Raleigh, NC and still performs for private and public events. His web site is