Over the years, more than a few
local musicians have reached the
big time, yet something keeps calling them back to the beach. Ladies
and gentlemen, please welcome
by Karla Pahel Published September 18, 2008 at 05:43 AM
(page 1 of 3)
At the Hotel Rodney, in the back room of the restaurant Béseme, local songwriter Stuart Vining is playing to a standing-room-only audience and telling stories.
“My grandmother ran The Corner Cupboard Inn (in Rehoboth Beach), and when I was 13 back in ’64, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker stayed there,” Vining tells the crowd. “I remember going down to the Henlopen Hotel and The Pink Pony jazz club with him. He’d let me play the stand-up bass. That was definitely a Delaware thing. That was from another time, another era—another planet back then.”
Since those days, Vining has sat in with Roy Clark, Skyline Vocal Band, Glen Campbell and Bonnie Raitt. On this night, he is playing with other local songwriters: Kent Schoch, Johnny Neel, Ed Shockley and Kevin Short. On bar stools they sit together, guitars on their laps. Each has a tale—of platinum records, Grammy nominations, stardom, near stardom and, often, simply living at the beach.
Since December, the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild has organized this monthly Night of Songs and Stories to give local performers a new outlet and to help locals appreciate their experiences. It started as a reading by writers, then included a songwriter “as a way to bring something different to the reading,” says guild president Maribeth Fischer, emcee of the evening.
“It was during our November reading, last year when Randy Lee Ashcraft, our guest musician, sang three songs and told the stories behind those songs, Fischer says. “The stories had people in tears because they were so poignant. They completely altered the way I think the audience listened to the songs. Randy and Kent then began talking about doing an entire night of the song and the story.”
The event has since blossomed. “I think playing at The Rehoboth Beach Writers Story Behind the Song Series is a lot like playing at coffeehouses in the ’60s,” Vining says. “I love being in this scene. I love playing with killer musicians who are just regular folks, whether they made it big or they didn’t. They’re just good folks here.”
Fischer asks the musicians at Béseme about their first paid gig. Vining names, Prism Coffeehouse in Virginia in the ’60s, where he played the first song he learned, Kenny Roger’s “But You Know I Love You.” Vining begins singing. Johnny Neel and Kevin Short sang along.
Neel answers next: “My first paid gig, I don’t know. Someone always got my money.”
A Grammy nominee, Neel was born blind. He began his career playing keyboards in the Johnny Neel and The Shapes of Soul when he was 12. The group routinely sold out theaters in Wilmington.
Neel next formed the award-winning Johnny Neel Band. He moved to Nashville 26 years ago and made a hit song, “Take the Long Way Home,” with John Schneider from “The Dukes of Hazard,” then went on to play in The Allman Brothers Band. Neel’s songs have been recorded by national acts such as The Oak Ridge Boys and Travis Tritt. Neel has also written songs with Ed Shockley of Lewes. Shockley was studying at the University of Delaware when he learned of Neel through a minor radio hit.
“Let me tell you the story behind this song,” Neel tells the crowd. “I had this hook. I sang Ed the hook over the phone and came over to the piano, which was more out of tune than it ever has been, and that’s how we wrote this song called ‘My Kind of People.’”
Neel and Shockley sing:
People come and go throughout the years.
When I look around at my kind of people, they’re still here.
The two started working together when Fine Times magazine organized a music festival in Wilmington in the early 1980s. “This was the first time we hung out,” Shockley says. “We instantly knew we really appreciated each other.”