Williams column: Begin the Beguine at The Chanticleer

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 27, 2012

One of the nicest restaurants in the late 1950s and early ’60s was the Chanticleer. It was located a little north of Salisbury on Highway 29, and I seem to remember it often being said by many that it was the “swankiest,” with the best steaks to be had anywhere! I never went there on my own accord, only once, as a child, with my family. This was, to the best of my memory, when I was 9 or 10 years old, in either 1960 or 1961.
We were invited there to partake of an excellent steak dinner while listening to a musical demonstration. When I heard of our invitation, someone said that judging from the restaurant’s reputation, we were probably going to partake of the best steak of our lives up to that point! Sometimes, there are lists compiled of the best “this” and the best “that,” and when I heard the word Chanticleer, I thought: “the best steak!” To put this in the modern perspective, wherever you may be while reading this, exclaim out loud, and very excitedly, the word: “Outback!”
Not long ago, I saw a “vintage” postcard of “The Chanticleer Motel and Restaurant,” for sale on the Internet. Around it were parked some “vintage” vehicles. I guess at this present point in time, far from the early 1960s, it could now also be said that our family enjoyed a “vintage” steak dinner there that evening.
In addition to that delicious meal for our mouths, food for our ears was provided by a talented gentleman demonstrating the many sounds that an electric organ could produce. This had all been arranged by Spence Hatley, the owner and operator of the Music Mart, where electric organs were among the items sold. My father and Spence were good friends, so that had something to do with our invitation that evening.
With the sense pertaining to our palates being stimulated by variety — salad, steak, baked potato, rolls and pie — the sense to which our ears are “attuned” was equally stroked by several “courses” of a variety of sounds and styles performed on that particular make of organ (Hammond, I think).
The organist that evening used a great variety of organ stops to imitate a great variety of orchestral instruments. These instruments were imitated by his instrument, but the ones named on the baroque-style stops of the organ at my home church of Saint Paul’s Lutheran were also imitated, the difference being that his organ imitated with electricity, while our church organ imitated with air.
Another difference was that the stops of the organ at the Chanticleer that night were pressed, while those at Saint Paul’s were pulled. (Just now, I am reminded of the saying “pulled out all the stops.”) In addition to the names of instruments, his stops had general names such as “march,” waltz,” or “beguine.” The Saint Paul’s organ stops also had instrument names, but no such generalities as “march,” “waltz,” or “beguine.” In addition, some of the Saint Paul’s organ stops, such as the “krummhorn” and “sackbut” had no corresponding representation on the “dinner” organ.
I remember many Henry Mancini melodies being played that evening. These were some of the same tunes which were also being played on the radio by the Mancini Orchestra, often featuring the singing of Andy Williams. Others themes came from films: “The Pink Panther” series (Peter Sellers, the original “Clouseau” and best ); “The Baby Elephant Walk” from the film “Daktari”; and another radio tune, “The Girl From Ipanema” (by another composer, but the styles were similar). Rock ’n’ roll didn’t define all of the music played back then; a certain block of “the playlist” was allotted to Henry Mancini.
Some years later, our East Rowan band director, Mr. Robert Bauknight, took some of us to Charlotte to hear and see “Henry Mancini and his Orchestra, with Andy Williams,” in concert. A few tunes had the “beguine” beat, just as some of those played on the organ that night at the Chanticleer. Mr. Bauknight had our band work up a beguine marching band version of the song “The Shadow of Your Smile” for a football halftime show. Its use of a more obvious beguine beat jazzed it up from the usual slow ballad heard on the radio.
The beguine beat has that quality of wafting someone away to a warmer, tropical location. It’s a “cool” sound, with the island of its origin in the French Caribbean having a year-round temperature, not cool, but in the 80s. Before there was Jimmy Buffett and his “Cheeseburger,” there was “The Beguine,” and just like that cheeseburger, it was also in paradise.
In addition to the electric organ of that night’s hearing, there was, and is, the organ with which I grew up and to which I previously alluded, the Zimmer organ at my home church of Saint Paul’s Lutheran. It has the German Baroque “pitching,” sounding like a slight wisp of air at the beginning of each played note. There is a world (an Old World) difference between it and the electric organ. On behalf of that little organ that evening at the old Chanticleer Restaurant, however, I must give it some justice and say that with the pressing of certain stops it gave a sort of fair approximation of the Baroque pipe organ sound.
The Hammond organ played during that dinner at the Chanticleer could replicate (to a certain extent) the sound of the church pipe organ. I wonder, just for the purely hypothetical interest of “vice versa,” if somewhere among those Teutonic organ stops of that “Western European” instrument at Saint Paul’s, there just might be, tucked way out of sight and rarely pulled, an organ stop, the pulling of which might produce a more tropical sound from the lower latitudes, bringing to mind some such place as the island of Martinique.