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Interview with Bobby Hicks, February 4, 1999 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Bobby Hicks, February 4, 1999
February 4, 1999
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Hicks, Bobby Interviewer: Edwards, Jenny Date of Interview: 2/4/1999 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 43 minutes

Edwards: Bobby, where did you grow up? Where were you raised?

Hicks: I was born in Durham, North Carolina.

Edwards: And what did your parents do for a living?

Hicks: My father worked in the American Tobacco Company and my mother, she didn’t work.

Edwards: Stay at home mom? I understand that when you were a kid, that you really enjoyed music and dancing. About how old were you when you started dancing?

Hicks: About twelve.

Edwards: And how old were you when you started dancing?

Hicks: About twelve years old.

Edwards: And where did you learn to dance?

Hicks: They had a place outside of Durham called Crystal Lake.

Edwards: What was that like?

Hicks: There was just a lake. It had a drink stand up there and had a dance floor and juke box, and they had, I know this colored guy in Durham. I used to go to a lot of the black dances at the armory down there, and I knew this colored guy. He and this lady had a juke joint down in colored town. I used to go down there with him to start with. Then I used to go down by myself. I knew them all. They had a juke box in the house down there and I danced a lot in the house down there.

Edwards: Okay so you were saying you learned to dance at this house that had a juke box in it? Why did you go there? Was there any other places to learn how to dance?

Hicks: Well, I liked this colored guy that I knew and I’d go down there with him. And I got up with a guy named Buddy Adams, he was older than I was, but he took me down there some. So I started going down there a lot and that’s where I learned to dance at mostly.

Edwards: Why did you go to the colored places to learn how to dance? I mean, wasn’t the same kind of music being played in the white joints?

Hicks: Well they didn’t really, except Crystal Lake in the summertime was about the only place in Durham there was to dance.

Edwards: That was playing the dance music?

Hicks: Uh-huh.

Edwards: What were other people listening to? What kind of music was it?

Hicks: Well most black people listened to this, and they had a lot of swing. Like big band, you know. A lot of people listened to big bands and swing, swing music.

Edwards: Why did you come to Carolina Beach?

Hicks: A neighbor of mine came down here and I caught a ride with him. I was about twelve or thirteen years old and I stayed the rest of the summer. Then I got up some people I knew down here from out of town and I stayed the rest of the summer. That’s when I started dancing down here in those little juke joints, you know. So I just came and stayed down here.

Edwards: Where were the juke joints at Carolina Beach?

Hicks: Well, Sugar Bowl #2 was on the end of the board walk up there. That was Sugar Bowl #2. It didn’t have a top on it. Just a juke box and a dance floor. Then they had Batson’s juke joint right up there on the ocean front. That was another dance floor. Then at the other end they had Graham Howard’s juke joint, but before then, Casey Jones had it from Burlington, North Carolina, and he called it Casey’s Bug House. That’s when we was doing the jitterbug, so he named it Casey’s Bug House. That’s what he named it (chuckles).

Edwards: You say you were about twelve?

Hicks: I was about thirteen, then.

Edwards: Did you get in trouble for taking off to Carolina Beach?

Hicks: NO, uh-uh.

Edwards: Did you come here by yourself?

Hicks: Well, I rode down here with a neighbor, but I got up with some people I got in with and I stayed.

Edwards: Do you remember the names of any of the people that you hung out with while you were here at Carolina Beach?

Hicks: Yeah.

Edwards: So you were dancing while you were here. What else were you doing?

Hicks: I called bingo at a bingo stand. That bingo stand is still up there. I called bingo at the bingo stand for years and years and years.

Edwards: Well, where did you stay?

Hicks: I stayed at Miss Earnhart’s. She was a real old lady. She had some rooms about a block across the street up there on the left hand side. It’s the empty lot across the street from the Sea Merchant....and she kind of looked out for me like I was one of hers (chuckles).

Edwards: So she sort of took you in?

Hicks: Yeah. She was like a mother to me really.

Edwards: Well, what was Carolina beach like then? What was it like?

Hicks: Well....for me I would say it was the greatest place in the world at that particular time.

Edwards: It was the greatest place?

Hicks: Far as I’m concerned it was. I’ve been right many places- Florida and D.C. A lot of places I’ve been, you know, in my younger days, and I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve had more fun in Carolina Beach than any other place I’ve been in my life.

Edwards: So I understand that you used to go to Sea Breeze to dance at about this time.

Hicks: Yeah.

Edwards: Were you twelve?

Hicks: About thirteen or fourteen... I’d go over there. Everything closed up over here on the boardwalk at about 11:00, and then a bunch of us would get together and go over there, you know, and it was before integration anything, but they didn’t pay any attention. They knew us all, you know, so we just went over and had a good time.

Edwards: Who did you dance with at Sea Breeze?

Hicks: I danced with a lady named Gloria Freeman. That was Bruce Freeman’s sister. I used to dance with her. She was a lot older than I was. Well all of them was older than I was, anyway. But I danced with her more than I did any of them.

Edwards: Did anybody mind that you were dancing with these black women?

Hicks: No. uh-uh. Everybody knew me over there, you know. I go over there now myself, you know. In fact, I was the core runner day before yesterday. I just got back in town and went to see her. Hadn’t seen her lately. Her husband is the one that runned all the little juke joints over there. He had one called The Blue Room out on a little pier out on the water... called The Blue Room, and it was wide open in there.

You just sort of danced. They had a juke box and they sold drinks, you know, and all. But at that particular time they had a lot of blacks from up north came there to vacation. That was the black beach, you know, and they had a lot of fun over there.

Edwards: The blacks that came from up north, they didn’t know you. Did they mind that you were there?

Hicks: Well, some of them did. But after they was over there maybe an hour or an hour and a half they, I had a little problem. I danced with this woman over there one time, I never will forget it. She was from New Jersey and after we got through dancing- she come over and asked me to dance- and after we got through dancing, as a no-no back then, you know, and she kissed me in the mouth, you know, and so her husband or boyfriend, one, he come running over there, and when he did, Bruce Freeman, the man who owed the place, he came over there and got on him right fast and told him I ain’t gonna tell you all he told him. He got him off of me. He said these guys are like one of us, you know (chuckles).

Edwards: So you were accepted. Almost like part of the family.

Hicks: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Edwards: Were you going over there by yourself?

Hicks: Sometimes I did, and sometimes. Most of the time we walked over there. We didn’t have anything to ride on, you know. We just walked over there.

Edwards: Can you give me some of the names of some of the guys that went over there with you?

Hicks: Well, Jack Batson, Richard Roads, Jessie Sly, Buddy Kellum, Chicken Hicks, Carl Coverhouse. That was about the main ones that went over there. Sometimes we’d take somebody, a stranger, over there with us or something. It’d be all right, but we was the main ones that was over there.

Edwards: And what would you do while you were there?

Hicks: We’d dance, drink (chuckles).

Edwards: Do you remember some of the music, some of the musicians that you danced to?

Hicks: Yeah. ____, Buddy Johnson. Buddy Johnson was one of my favorites back in those days. Earl Bostik. I liked Duke Ellington. I don’t know. They just had a bunch of ‘em back in those days.

Edwards: What was different about the music at Sea Breeze?

Hicks: Well, the music at Sea Breeze was all black. And if we was over there and we heard a- my brother, Chicken, he heard a song over there, and what we’d do, we’d tell the jukebox man- because we had the same jukebox man that they had, and we’d tell him about this song we liked over there so he’d put it on our jukebox to dance by. But they originally really come from Sea Breeze most of the time. Most of the time they’d put it on Sea Breeze first ‘cause we liked the black music to dance by (chuckles). And that’s the way we got it over here.

Edwards: When the jukebox man put the black music on the jukeboxes here at Carolina Beach, how did people react to that at Carolina Beach?

Hicks: They loved it! They loved it.

Edwards: Could you hear the music on the radio?

Hicks: Yeah.

Edwards: Do you remember what station you were listening to?

Hicks: No.

Edwards: Did anybody think that it was odd that you and your buddies were going over to Sea Breeze at night?

Hicks: No, they didn’t. Nobody paid no attention to it I guess. If they did, they didn’t say nothing about it. I’d go over there in the daytime too, you know, sometimes.

Edwards: What would you do when you went over in the daytime?

Hicks: Well, sometimes I’d go over there- they had a little store as you turn in to go to Sea Breeze, and Bruce Freeman’s uncle owned it, and I would go over and sit around with them. A lot of old people, and I used to go in there and sit around and talk to them. I liked them people. I used to go sit around and talk.

Edwards: Do you have any special memories of Sea Breeze?

HICKS? Special memories of it? Yeah. The little pier I liked the best was out there, and called The Blue Room on it. It was just old boards and everything. Just boarded up, you know, but, I don’t know, it just had the atmosphere where the music played and it was right on the sound and when the music played, you could dance better it looked like to me. There’s a lot of places you can dance better than other places, you know, I don’t know why it is, but it’s atmosphere I guess. It just had that black atmosphere and I liked to dance like the blacks (laughs).

Edwards: Tell me what the juke joints were like at Sea Breeze.

Hicks: What they were like?

Edwards: Yeah. Physically describe them for me.

Hicks: Well, they was built out of old wood. It was just an old pier, you know, and the shack was just built on the end of the pier out there. It had a juke box in it and had a counter where they sold drinks, you know, and all.

Edwards: What kind of drinks did they sell?

Hicks: (Laughs) They sold Pepsi’s and all, you know.

Edwards: That was it? Just Pepsi?

Hicks: Yeah. Pepsi’s and Cokes and all that, you know.

Edwards: Well, I heard that there was some enterprising distillation happening in the swamps around Sea Breeze.

Hicks: (Laughs).

Edwards: Are you sure any of that wasn’t...

Hicks: No. I don’t have no comment on that, really (chuckles).

Edwards: I also understand that the sheriff’s department knew about this and really didn’t mind.

Hicks: (Laughs) I really, really don’t want to comment on that, you know.

Edwards: You’ll play cautious with me today!

Hicks: (Laughs louder) In other words I went about minding my own business. That’s the reason I got along good.

Edwards: Yeah. I also understand there was a jail. Sort of a home-made jail?

Hicks: They had a little stockade looking thing, or something, but I don’t think the sheriff’s department did it. I think Bruce Freeman had a little something to do with it. He was called the mayor of Sea Breeze. You know, he was the head man over there, but it wasn’t no real jail or nothing.

Edwards: How did it work? How did people wind up in the stockade?

Hicks: I don’t know. I think they just let them stay in there for a couple or three hours or something like that, and turn them out, you know. I really don’t remember too much about that. But I remember they did have a little stockade thing over there.

Edwards: Did you ever wind up in there?

Hicks: No (laughs). I didn’t do nothing wrong.

Edwards: Were there other businesses besides juke joints?

Hicks: Over there? Yeah. They had Mom’s Kitchen. That was where... She had the best sea food you could ever put in your mouth, you know. And she had clam fritters. She made ‘em this big, and this thick. People came from a lot of different places a long ways off just to eat there, you know, in her restaurant, and all. It was right there on the water. And they had another little old place there where you could go in, and he was an amazing man. They called him Snake-man (laughs). He had a bunch of snakes and all and he traveled carnivals too, you know. He had a little freak show with carnivals. They had a little something for everybody over there, you know. They had ball games, you know, and stuff. They had a little something for everybody.

Edwards: I hear Snake-man was a voodoo doctor.

Hicks: (Chuckles). Yeah. Yeah, have you heard of him? Have you? Yeah, me and him was good friends (laughs). He was something. He sure was, and I loved that man. He used to travel in the same show I did. He used to travel on Music of America shows when I was traveling on there.

INTERVIEW: What was that?

Hicks: Carnival.

Edwards: Did you travel carnivals?

Hicks: I traveled a long time with carnivals.

Edwards: What did you do?

Hicks: After the beach closed, you know, I got on at the carnival. I had a hot dog joint on wheels, and I had some games and little odds and hanky-panks, you know (chuckles), and I had a girl show.

Edwards: You had a girl show?

Hicks: Yeah.

Edwards: Really? How did that work?

Hicks: What do you mean? What they did? They just danced, you know. Come out on the front and danced, you know, draw a crowd and then you bark and get the people in the back, and then they... a strip show is what it is (chuckles).

Edwards: (Laughs). That’s great!

Hicks: I had one of those for years.

Edwards: And did you travel the carnival with it?

Hicks: Uh-huh.

Edwards: And did you have a tent set up?

Hicks: Oh, yeah.

Edwards: How did it...tell me how it worked.

Hicks: Well, you paid the show a percentage, you know, the man that owns the show. I mean, the man that owns the carnival... you pay him a percentage. You sell tickets and then you take the first number of the tickets you sell, and the last number, and you add it up, and them you give the man that owns the carnival a percentage of what you took in. Usually runs forty, sixty. He gets forty percent and I get sixty percent. But if you go... if you go on a show and you don’t have to put your tent up, and you got your girls, and he’s got a tent, what you do is you just reverse it and you give him sixty percent and you take forty because you don’t have to use your equipment.

Edwards: Did you have your own girls and your own tent?

Hicks: Yeah.

Edwards: How did you... where did you get the girls from?

Hicks: Well, you get one and they get you the rest of them (laughs).

Edwards: What did they get paid?

Hicks: They got paid a percentage mostly.

Edwards: And how far down did they strip?

Hicks: Well, it’s according to what town you was in. Some towns you went in, they would let you go all the way and some towns you go in, you go to a G-string, you know. But most towns you’d go into...they cut it all out now. There’s not many places you can put a girl show in no more.

Edwards: And where did you...the carnival. What was the carnival circuit. Tell me. Did it go out of state?

Hicks: Yeah, and it started north. The unit I was on started in Haggardsville, Pennsylvania. Started in Pennsylvania and came on through Virginia. Planned county fairs, you know. Virginia. North Carolina. South Carolina. Had about eight weeks in North Carolina. Different towns in North Carolina.

Edwards: And was that through the winter, when the beach was closed, you say?

Hicks: No. It was like September, October, November. November was the last month...about the middle of November. But that’s how I met the snake man. Well, I knew him at Sea Breeze, but I was on a show one time, and I was going down to midway and I heard somebody hollering “Bobby” and I looked around and it was him. I said “what’s he doing here”, and I saw his little tent set up down there with the freak show. He had all kind of freaks in it, you know, an all (chuckles).

Edwards: What was his freak show like?

Hicks: He just had some animals in it, you know. He had ‘em fixed up different. He had a little old chicken would dance. Had a little chicken that he got extra for somebody to see the little chicken dance. They had a little wire hooked up to the record player and a wire hooked up to the wire cage, and when he’d flip the button, the record would start playing and shock the chicken, and he’d start dancing (laughs). He wouldn’t let him dance but about a minute, and that’s about it, you know. He had different little things like that.

Edwards: I understand his wife was a dwarf?

Hicks: Uh-huh. Yeah, she was humped over and her butt looked like it was way up here between her shoulders. She was a freak, really. She was a little bitty thing.

Edwards: Was she in the show?

Hicks: NO, uh-uh. No, she stayed at home.

Edwards: Did he sell medicine?

Hicks: Yeah. He mixed up some stuff, you know (chuckles).

Edwards: Can you tell me about any of that?

Hicks: I don’t know what he used, or nothing, in it. I don’t even know what it was for, but something like a medicine show. You’ve seen movies, you know, Medicine shows about what it was.

Edwards: Did people buy it?

Hicks: Yeah.

Edwards: Did he have love potions?

Hicks: No, I don’t think he had that. I think it was for arthritis and stuff like that, you know.

Edwards: I understand Snake-man was doing a little distilling.

Hicks: (Laughs loudly).

Edwards: You can tell me. I got all this stuff on tape already.

Hicks: (Still laughing) I just don’t want my name on it though, you know, because I know ‘em so good. I wouldn’t want them to think ...

Edwards: Yeah. He passed away didn’t he?

Hicks: Yeah.

Edwards: Is his wife still living?

Hicks: No. She’s gone

Edwards: Okay. Well, I think that’s about it. I think we’ve done real well.

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