Doug Clark passed away last month. For 47 years, he led the infamous band, Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. Like Brother Dave Gardner, The Tams, and Fireball Roberts, The Hot Nuts were true Southern icons. Mention their name to anyone from East Lansing or Palo Alto, and you'll get a blank stare, but talk to any middle-aged guy from Gastonia or Valdosta, and the chances are he's seen the Hot Nuts at least once, probably have one of their old records (or eight-tracks) lying around somewhere, and with a few beers in him, can recite at least a couple of verses of "Two Old Maids."
Although they have played all over the country, from Indiana to New Hampshire to Colorado, it's here in the Carolinas that they became legends.
Back in 1954, a young drummer named Doug Clark realized there was money to be made on the fraternity circuit around his hometown of Chapel Hill. His group, The Tops, did well enough performing hits by the Dominoes, the Platters, and others, but their most requested song was "Hot Nuts," an old hokum blues number, the ultimate late-night drunken sing-along, with a chorus that went:
"Nuts, hot nuts, get "em from the peanut man."
Barely R-rated by today's standards, in the South in the 50s it was musical hellbait, and real profitable. So profitable in fact, Doug recruited his brother John, added more risque material and in 1955, changed the name of the group to Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts.
Over the next few years they would record a total of nine albums on Gross Records, a division of an obscure label named Jubilee that went out of business in 1970, and play every college town south of the Mason-Dixon line. Their records were totally unfit for airplay, so they relied on reputation and word of mouth. Their reputation often far exceeded their reality; there were all kinds of rumors about what they did at their shows, the most famous one being that they appeared on stage wearing nothing but gold lame jockstraps.
Jock straps or not, any band singing tunes like "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box" was going to provoke the occasional bluenose crusade. Back in the early 60s the city of Richmond, VA, banned them outright. No problem: the gig was "secretly" moved to the county fairground and sold out almost instantly. The same situations occurred even north of the Mason-Dixon line.
According to Jacque LeBlanc, a reviewer on Amazon.com [there is one copy of The Hot Nuts' Greatest Hits available there!]:
"I first heard these guys at SUNY Brockport in 1966. We booked them, but at the last minute, the uptight college administration said we couldn't have them on campus. We hired out the old roller-rink, and packed in at least 700 people. The Hot Nuts arrived in a big old shocking pink tour bus, and literally rocked the joint..."
Once they had developed the act, it remained virtually unchanged for four and a half decades. At any Hot Nuts gig there was a warm-up set or two, consisting of Beach music, disco and R&B standards, and then after a short intermission it was time for: the world famous "Hot Nuts Show."
For the next hour, the crowd would be treated to such favorites as "Hot Nuts," "Roly Poly," "Two Old Maids," and one-liners going back to an era that predated Richard Pryor by 20 years and Def Jam by an entire lifetime. At the end of the night, they would sell their albums, t-shirts, beanies, and other souvenirs, and then it was on to the next gig, to do it all over again in 24 hours, week after week, month after month, for 47 years.
According to the band's website, as of this year there are [were] three original members left. Doug, his older brother John, and Tommy Goldston. There is a fourth member, front man Prince Taylor, who has been with the band off and on several times over the years. The site goes on to add [I'm quoting directly here], "Over the years Doug has hired over 75 Nuts, four of them white."
When the Hot Nuts started in "54, double entendre songs had been around for a long time, especially in the blues and R&B fields. Such songs as "Sixty Minute Man," "Big Ten Inch [Record Of The Blues]," and "It Ain't The Meat It's the Motion" were underground hits that sold millions of copies, even though they received no radio play. The Hot Nuts, however, were the first band to make an entire act out of that kind of material, and no one before or since has been as successful at combining the risque material with the solid musical backing as Doug Clark and company.
The Hot Nuts are also part of a musical phenomenon that seems to exist in few places outside the Carolinas. It's the ability to find a niche, develop it, and have a long and successful career, completely independent of major national radio or television exposure. In the gospel field, such groups as Slim and the Supreme Angels, and in Beach Music, the Embers, The Shakers, Chairmen Of The Board and a half dozen others, have all, like The Hot Nuts, been playing for multiple decades in a three to four state area. They've sold thousands of records and have continued to work steadily, in a time when many other music markets have dried up, or are in a severe recession.
Even with Doug's passing, The Hot Nuts will keep rolling...
I spoke with Doug's brother, John, and he told me that one of Doug's last requests was to keep the band going, and John plans to. Just recently they were playing a private party for some long-time fans at a posh hotel in St. Augustine, FL, and then it was back to Chapel Hill for a frat gig. John says he plans to keep the band working their current schedule of approximately 150 shows a year as long as he can.
These days the band still plays the fraternity circuit, but much of their work also comes from reunion parties, playing for longtime fans, now nearing retirement age, who wish to forget about Enron, prostate screenings, and The Anna Nicole Show for a couple of hours, to go back to a more innocent time, and to sing along with "Barnacle Bill the Sailor."