Jim Chappell was once ‘Sensational’ as an ‘Epic’ . . . and he still is when the Beach Bash comes to town

A young Chappell takes the spotlight as lead singer of the group.

Jim Chappell with the Epics at the Beach Bash

BLYTHEWOOD — When you see Blythewood realtor Jim Chappell cruising around town in his grey Jeep Cherokee, picking up a few things at the IGA or having lunch at San Jose’s, you might not think he was once a rock star on tour.

You would be wrong.

Because he was.

Back in the ’60s, Chappell was one of the original members of The Sensational Epics – the hottest beach band in the Southeast – playing on stage with Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Tams, the Drifters, the Platters, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions and other top recording artists of the era.

They recorded several national hits including  “I’ve Been Hurt” and “Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy” under such labels as Cameo, Warner Brothers and Capitol.

It all started in Chappell’s parents’ living room in 1963, when Chappell and four Dreher High School buddies organized themselves into one of the umpteen jillion high school bands that were sprouting up in garages across the country.

But this one proved to be different. Chappell, on drums, and his friends  Jimmy Brazelle on bass, Jimmy Anderson and Rick Richardson on guitar and Greg Pearce – now a Richland County Councilman – on keyboard, quickly went from performing high school assembly programs to University of South Carolina fraternity parties to touring the university circuit throughout the South.

“Our first big break came while we were still in high school,” Chappell recalled. “Columbia had won the All-American City award and the city was organizing an extravaganza at the Township Auditorium.
We were invited and got great reviews. And the rest is history,” he said, shaking his head, still amazed.

After high school, the band members enrolled at various schools in the Columbia area, but continued performing together. Chappell took off for Clemson University, but joined the band during summers. It was during this time that the group’s popularity skyrocketed.

“When school ended in May, we usually had a tour lined up heading south,” Chappell said. Their on-stage antics, choreography and dynamic sound made them an instant favorite of the college set. “We’d play USC or Clemson, then take off for the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, the University of Alabama and other southern colleges. We also played debutante parties and other venues along the way. We usually ended up in Panama City, Fla. We were living our dream.”

Then it got better.

The biggest beach music venue in the country at that time was The Beach Club in Myrtle Beach. Chappell said the group was thrilled when they got booked at the club.

“When we drove up and got out of the car, we looked up at the marquee and saw we were sharing the stage with The Drifters.

“The Drifters were really big then,” Chappell reminisced. “They’d just released ‘Under the Boardwalk’ and ‘Up on the Roof.’ Things were happening fast. Warner Brothers Records wanted to take us on a national tour, but with Viet Nam breathing down our necks, we knew we would be drafted immediately if we dropped out of college.

“We made friends with some of the big groups and we’ve remained friends through the years, although most of them are passed on now,” he said.

Chappell said Woody Windham, Hunter Herring, Bob Fulton and other biggies on the local music scene contributed to the band’s success by promoting their songs on the radio.

“‘I’ve Been Hurt’ was our first big hit,” Chappell said. “It was kind of nice to be in Atlanta or Birmingham and hear our band on the radio.”

After graduating from Clemson, Chappell became the band’s drummer and resumed touring with them.

But by 1970, the band members had graduated from college, gotten married, started families and were taking real, but arguably less exciting, jobs. Times and music were changing. Breaking up was inevitable, but they all remained close.

Chappell had met his wife, Cam, when she was a student at USC and attended a party the band was playing at the Russell House. They were married in 1967, and eventually settled in Blythewood on 100 acres of land in Cedar Creek that has been in his family since 1847.

“I grew up in Columbia,” Chappell said, “but my home and heart were always in Cedar Creek.”

Chappell pursued a career in real estate and he and Cam are the parents of two children and have three grandchildren. While Chappell has wonderful memories of the band, he said they had no plans to play together again.

Then, in 2000, Columbia deejay Hunter Herring asked the Epics to reunite at the fountain in Five Points for a performance to raise money for Palmetto Place, a shelter for battered and abused children.

They did. The band was such a hit all over again that they began to take bookings. These days, they have a solid schedule of venues booked months in advance and have even produced a CD titled “Been There . . . ain’t done yet!”

One of their regular annual venues is the Blythewood Beach Bash each spring. The band performs the show as a benefit for cancer research in memory of Jimmy Anderson, one of the five original members who died five years ago of cancer.

Chappell opted not to join the new band, but he supports them and occasionally sings with them for special performances like the one in Blythewood.

“Those guys are just as good now at 200 pounds as they were in 1963 at 130 pounds,” Chappell said, laughing. “But the idea of tearing down a band stage at 1:30 in the morning doesn’t appeal to me anymore,” he said jokingly, but with sentiment in his voice.

“But it was really a good time, and when the Beach Bash comes to town, I’m still one of ‘em.”

The Beach Bash returns to Blythewood on Saturday, May 18, 5-10 p.m., at Cobblestone Park. Bring lawn chairs. Tickets $15, or two for $25. Children under 12 free. To book the Sensational Epics, call Buster Elrod at 803-760-5533.