Jesse Can’t Shag

This fall the Collection received two cartons of miscellaneous printed materials–tourist brochures, political flyers, and the like. In among the brochures was a 45 rpm record entitled “Jesse Can’t Shag.” It was made for the 1984 Helms-Hunt U.S. Senate race. Given the passions that Senator Helms evoked, it’s a surprisingly gentle song. The gist of the song is that the vocalist is leaning toward Hunt because “Jimmy” likes beach music. On the other hand, Jesse “has two right feet” and has never learned to shag. The singer thinks it’s time for Jesse to “shag or get off the floor.”

The music is country. It’s a polished mix, with a honky-tonk piano, a horn section, and backup singers. Click here for an excerpt.

We’d love to know more about this record. Does anyone remember this—how it originated, where it was played, who the performers were and what they’ve done since? Do you have any stories about this recording?

Here’s what we know from the label:

Produced by Jack Dillard and Craig Fulton
Performed by The Filibusters (1984)
Mixed by David Floyd
Charlotte: Bull Moose, 1984
Side A: Jesse Can’t Shag 3:00
Side B: Jesse Can’t Shag (Equal Time) 3:00

0 thoughts on “Jesse Can’t Shag”

  1. The song came out in the summer of 1984. After the song received some air time, Legendary Beach DJ Steve Hardy had Mrs. Helms cut a promo for his show: “This is Dot Helms, wife of Senator Jesse Helms, thanking all of you for listening to Steve Hardy’s Original Beach Party… and, oh, by the way, Jesse CAN shag.” Steve may have more info.

  2. I am quite pleased that this chestnut has resurfaced 25 years after the Helms-Hunt Senatorial race, one of North Carolina’s most hotly contested and most costly campaigns to date. It was a cutthroat race that in my opinion changed politics forever in the state.

    Craig Fulton and I were the Charlotte songwriters and producers of “Jesse Can’t Shag,” a timely novelty song that spoofed the state’s affinity for the shag dance step and the candidates’ proclivity to spend a lot of money to get elected. Ed Galloway, a voice impressionist also from Charlotte, provided a big assist as the “voice” of Jesse Helms on the “B” side of the record, “Jesse Can’t Shag (Equal Time).”

    The song title came from a friend of Ed Galloway whose name I do not remember. I thought there was merit to the idea and immediately started writing the lyrics. As songs go, it was easy to write. I wanted it to poke fun but not to demonize Helms. Our goal was to get airplay and sell records, not to change the world.

    Craig and I had been writing songs for regional acts like Tommy Faile (a country artist), Billy Scott and the Georgia Prophets (a beach music group), and a range of local acts for five years or so. Craig put the lyrics to music, and we were in business.

    We decided to produce the song ourselves at Lamon Studios where we had established a relationship with owner Dwight Moody, the Moody Brothers, and their studio connections. For the lead vocal, we contacted Donnie Trexler, who had helped us in the past on song demos. Donnie’s credentials included the lead vocals on “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” (aka “Jukebox”), a beach music classic by Bob Collins and the Fabulous Five.

    Studio musicians laid down the rhythm tracks. Then we brought in the PTL horn section to add some brass to the song and give it bit of a ragtime feel. David Floyd was the engineer on the project.

    In the spirit of fair play, on the flip side of the record we tacked on a voiced-over reply by Ed Galloway as Jesse Helms at the end of the song. Ed’s impression is dead-on. In our marketing we suggested that radio stations play side one for awhile and then play the other side (Equal Time).

    For novelty, we put the song on the Bullmoose label and listed the artist as The Filibusters. In a Bullmoose press release that went out with advance copies of the record, we stated that The Filibusters wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from the Congressional Club, the fund-raising juggernaut in Helms’ camp. It was all tongue-in-cheek meant to catch the media on a slow news day. We also sent out Jesse Can’t Shag campaign stickers featuring an illustration of Jesse by editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette.

    It worked. The Associated Press picked up the story, which ran in at least a dozen newspapers that we learned of. The local morning newspaper, The Charlotte Observer did not run the story, but the afternoon newspaper did (The Charlotte News). WSOC-TV in Charlotte also covered the story.

    When Helms and Hunt came to Charlotte for a debate, Craig and I went in mock protest and held up a Jesse Can’t Shag poster, which was captured for posterity by photojournalist, Donna Jernigan.

    The project was a lot of fun, but not exactly profitable. The song did receive airplay across the state for a few weeks building up to the election. Unfortunately, the distribution of the record was not all it could have been, and sales suffered as a result. We think we broke even.

    Copies of the record still surface now and again. The Wax Museum in Charlotte is a good place to start if someone is interested in purchasing a copy.

  3. btw, there’s a ‘jesse can’t shag’ sticker in the collection (along with helms pinbacks)… i remember doug handing out samples from a roll of his unsigned but instantly identifiable jesse….

  4. Thank you Jack Dillard!–For the record and for your full description of how it came to be. As librarians and archivists, we love to have all the details. This is probably the only recording that we have in the North Carolina Collection with the PTL horn section–another reason to treasure this item.

  5. The PTL horn section on “Jesse Can’t Shag” and some other recordings of songs Jack Dillard and I wrote was led by Brad Hoffman. Brad is an accomplished arranger who wrote the arrangement and played trombone on “Jesse’s” Dixieland break. This whole project was a blast to work on from start to finish with the horn production in the studio being one of the highlights.

    Also, I have the original poster signed by Doug Marlette. Maybe I’ll be able to part with that someday.

  6. Hello, I have just found an interesting item that also appears to be an artifact from the 1984 Helms senatorial race at my local Salvation Army. It is an Evantone soundsheet, one of those thin plastic records that you would have to put a coin on to play. It is colored blue and says “The Jesse Helms Record 1984”.

    The content appears to be a collection of :30 to 1:00 radio commercials intended for his bid for the Senate. Included are snippets of speeches by Ronald Regan praising Helms, and several statements by Helms attacking the record of then Governor Hunt. There is also a commerical with two actors playing men upset about high gas prices commenting on Helms’ attempt to block the raising of a federal gas tax.

    It was interesting to hear political commercials that did not include “paid for by…” or “I’m Jesse Helms and I approve this message”.

    Though interesting to me, I figure this would be better of in North Carolina or with someone interested in North Carolina politics. Anyone interested in acquiring this item can reach me at I’ll take pics if you like. The item is in very good condition, with only the normal pops and crackles inherent to media like this, no scratches or any surface damage that I can see, and I can verify that it does not skip.

  7. I’m a huge fan of country and honky tonk music and have dabbled into playing a little bit myself. I am also interested to discover if anyone else knows more about the recording.

  8. Wow. I ALSO just found one of those thin plastic records that is colored blue and says “The Jesse Helms Record 1984.” I haven’t tried to play it, but it looks okay.
    I suspect it was in my parents’ stuff because they were conservative Republicans and ended up on all kinds of mailing lists.
    If anyone wants it, e-mail me your name and address and I’ll mail it to you.

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