“When you’re doing something you love that much, you adjust, and your body gets used to being without sleep; the adrenalin keeps you going.” ~Karen Clayton

Karen Clayton

From tomboy to Queen of Southern Soul, Castaways lead singer Karen Clayton gets fifth consecutive nomination for Female Vocalist of the Year by the Carolina Beach Music Academy (“CBMA”).

If you’re not familiar with fatback, red-eye gravy and black-eyed peas, you’re not from the south where here in the Carolinas, the CBMAs – or Cammys as we like to call them – are a big deal.

Before we get too far into this, if you are in the south, on Saturday, October, 15, you can join Karen and the Castaways celebrating 50 years of Beach, Soul, and Rock-N-Roll at the iconic Fat Harold’s Beach Club in North Myrtle Beach, SC, 1-4 pm.

Who are Karen Clayton and the Castaways and What are the Cammys?

Karen’s story, while not as dramatic as a “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” epitomizes the day-to-day life of a musician in an established regional band. If you’re aspiring to make music your life, here’s an inside look at what it’s like.

From her country roots in Danville, Virginia, 41-year-old Karen DeHart Clayton began singing professionally when she was 21, joining The Rawhide Band, a country and R&B group started by her uncles Bobby Adkins and Charles Adkins.  In 1995, while playing outfield on a softball league, she met her husband, Sammy Clayton. Love, marriage, and baby followed; their only child Jenna is now 11 years old. In 2005 she joined the Castaways, a beach music band started in 1961, performing three to four nights a week at southeastern U.S. venues from Virginia, south to Georgia, and west to Tennessee

The Castaways (L-R) JT Long, Barry Brantley, Alex Almasy, Karen Clayton, John Arthurs, Guy Brooks, Randy Smith

Kay Van Hoesen: What’s it like to be the “girl” singer in a band? I have friends who say they’re treated poorly.

Karen Clayton: For me, it’s never been hard with the Castaways because basically, I’m one of the guys. They’re like my family, like brothers; they’re very supportive and respectful of me.

KVH: You’re playing three to four nights a week. Do you have a day job?

KC: Yes. For the last 14 years, I’ve worked for an extended warranty company, handling claims on mechanical breakdowns.

KVH: You’re on the road so much. How does that work with your family?

KC: My husband is very supportive of what I do. He has to play Mr. Mom when I’m on the road, and he does a great job with that. I couldn’t ask for a better, more supportive husband.

KVH: How do you do it all? Full-time day job, gigs 3 to 4 times a week, wife and mom?

KC: When you’re doing something you love that much, you adjust, and your body gets used to being without sleep; the adrenalin keeps you going.

KVH: How about your daughter? Does she think it’s cool to have a semi-famous mom?

KC: (**LAUGHS**) She is very proud. All her friends think it’s cool; she, not so much. She is very involved in dance and theater and understands music and wanting to do it.

KVH: Tell me about your newest music.

KC: Our record label, KHP Music, has just released the Castaways’ newest album, I’m Just Sayin’. And also this year I’m one of 13 female artists on The Queens of Southern Soul album.

I asked Karen about the Castaways. The band started in 1961. This year they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary with a blow-out party on Saturday, October 15, at Fat Harold’s in North Myrtle Beach, SC, 1-4 pm (free admission, but contributions to Camp Kemo appreciated). They’ll even have three members of the original band performing that day. Among the Castaways’ seven members, the sax player, J.T. Long, has been in the band 35 years, and Barry, the drummer, 20 years.

Awards, Carolina Beach Music Academy (“CBMA”) and Shag Dance

Alabama Theatre

The CBMA awards (locally called “Cammys”) began in 1995 to recognize the pioneers of Carolina Beach Music, honor its influences, and celebrate its southern tradition. From its inception in Salisbury, NC, the CBMA awards ceremony has grown into a major annual event—much like the Grammy Awards, but on a smaller scale–now held in the 1,993-seat Alabama Theatre in North Myrtle Beach, SC. This year’s event will be held Sunday, November 13.

2006: Castaways received “Favorite New Group of the Year” from the CBMA. You may wonder how they could be a “new group” if they’ve been around 50 years. But the Castaways didn’t start “charting” (appearing on music charts) until 2005, so officially, that marks them as a new group.

2009: Received CBMA award for Duo Recording titled “Your Love Looks Good On Me” (recorded with Bo Schronce)

Karen, Castaways & Bo Schronce Receive Duo Recording Award

2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011: Nominated Female Vocalist of the Year. (Karen giggles, saying she’s the Susan Lucci of the CBMA.)

KVH: What is beach music? And shag dance?

KC: It’s feel-good music. A mix of Motown, R&B, 60s-style music, and even some disco. The shag is a dance style popularized in the ’50s and ’60s. It’s a lot like west-coast swing. Beach music and shag dance go hand-in-hand. (see Wikipedia explanation)

KVH: What advice do you have for women who want to get into this business?

KC: The music industry can be tough; it can be hard to break through sometimes. Being a musician or singer actually becomes a part of who you are. It’s a part of your identity. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Have confidence in yourself and what you’re doing. Be true to yourself, and never lose your self-respect.

From all of us at Here Women Talk, best of luck, Karen, at the Cammys this year!