The groove is undeniable. The beat is infectious. The rhythm is unmistakable. It is true: Chocolate Chip & Company Band is providing funky heat and making it look all so cool on a Sunday night.
Up front is Anthony Tony Lee Howard, 60, who is affectionately known as Chocolate Chip. The nickname is perfect because his skin is chocolate in color and silkiness, and the music he and his group produce is sweet like the candy kids crave but dentists declare are bad for their teeth.
That’s why Dorethea Stewart is moving like a snake at Creek Ratz in Murrells Inlet. Her head is slithering one way, while her body is gliding in another. She is one of the older folks on the floor, but her saucy dance steps defy her age.
“I love them,’’ she says emphatically without a bead of sweat on her face, even though her footwork is super hot.
Every time I hit the stage, my main goal is to entertain the audience and make them happy. It makes me feel good to see people smiling and having a good time.
Anthony Tony Lee Howard, “Chocolate Chip”
Also channeling her party freak is Cathy Williams, who has been coming to Creek Ratz for 15 years.
As the band plays Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” she shakes what her mama gave her and maybe some things her mama never intended her to shake. Who knows? What’s for certain, however, is that she and her husband, Ron, visiting from Doylestown, Penn., both are thoroughly enjoying Chocolate Chip & Company Band.
“They are great,” Cathy Williams says. “They are fantastic. Their music gets me moving. Their sound is spot on.”
Beautiful beats that boggle the brain and cause the booty to boogie are birthed through sheer talent doctored by motivation and dedication.
Howard’s 19-year-old singing and dancing daughter, Monique Howard, does a delirious medley of Prince songs that is sweet, yet sassy. Skip Smaldone, 59, is a handsome guy who knows how to get ugly on the keyboard and kills each song with skill and pizzazz. Dylan “D Parker” Parker, 22, is an assassin on the bass guitar. His fervor on the bass makes minds manic.
During that song, he used to snap his fingers in beat to the rhythm of the song on both hands. I would imitate him, and that is how I picked up the rhythm for the drums.
Anthony Tony Lee Howard, “Chocolate Chip”
Jennifer Gibson, 35, is a songbird. She can go high, and she can go low. Her stage persona is a hodgepodge of Pat Benatar and Blondie. Guitar guru, Chris Lanier, 54, adds whip cream and cherries to what is a delicious dessert of music, including rock, soul, funk, and pop, that appeals to all ages. These gifted individuals are flames, and Chocolate Chip is their James Brown.
“We put on a high-energy show,” Lanier says. “We give you something to look at as much as we give you something to listen to.”
Exhibit 1: Chocolate Chip is singing The Gap Band’s hit “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” the closing song of the night, and the dance floor erupts in a lava of feverish feet frantically losing control.
Perms sweat out. Weaves wiggle. Beer bellies jiggle. Simply put, people get up and never sit down until the band stops playing. Music has that kind of power, and Chocolate Chip & Company Band has the mojo to make hips go, go, go.
They are fantastic. Their music gets me moving.
Each group member gives an electric performance and never seems to tire, although the perspiration says otherwise.
This jamming journey began on Sept. 27, 1956 in Robersonville, N.C. It was there that Chocolate Chip, the group’s founder and now Myrtle Beach resident, came into the world.
“I was born by candle lights,” he says after wrapping up the gig at Creek Ratz, where the band plays every other Sunday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the offseason. “I was the first baby born in the clinic after it was built. My mother received free milk and diapers for a year after I was born.”
Alicia Howard owned a juke joint that had a jukebox, and people would come over to play records on it, which is how Chocolate Chip began scratching his musical itch.
A self-taught drummer, he was inspired to learn the drums after observing a gentleman named Charlie Crandall. He was a frequent visitor at the juke joint and he kept one song on constant rotation, Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).’’
We give you something to look at as much as we give you something to listen to.
Chris Lanier, guitarist in the Chocolate Chip & Company Band
“During that song, he used to snap his fingers in beat to the rhythm of the song on both hands,” says Chocolate Chip, who also plays bass and piano. “I would imitate him, and that is how I picked up the rhythm for the drums.”
His drumming alone is known to bring the house down. When he plays drums, it is a display in frenzied funk. He also possesses a fairly good singing voice that knows how to ride and glide over beats of various sorts.
“Playing drums and dancing was my main talent,” says Chocolate Chip, who was 15 years old when he first joined a band. “I started singing late in my career. I was with a band called Salem Square out of Winston-Salem, N.C., and the lead singer quit. I was the only other person in the band at the time that could carry a decent tune, and that is when I became a singing drummer.”
Soul and funk are his musical roots, and it is evident in his showmanship. He does a marvelous tribute to James Brown that causes fans to scream for more. His voice can be smooth or gritty, while his talents are gratifying.
The audience benefits from the musical gifts he gives, no matter where he is – at home or at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach.
“Every time I hit the stage, my main goal is to entertain the audience and make them happy,” Chocolate Chip says. “It makes me feel good to see people smiling and having a good time.”
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.