For 36 years Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts have been shaking up the Bible Belt by asking what virgins eat for breakfast.

Panty Raid

I first heard the rumor in 1965 when I was attending junior high in Madison, Wisconsin. Thusly I recall it: There was this all-black band named Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts that performed in fluorescent and/or fur jockstraps and/or naked and/or in clear plastic raincoats. If you paid them money, they would have sex on-stage, and if you paid them more money, the entire band would climb up on stepladders at the end of the show and shit in a bucket. Having heard it directly from a kid who knew a kid whose older brother had actually seen the show, I believed it. To this day, thoroughly adult humans say to me, “Doug Clark? Be sure to ask about the jockstraps and the bucket.”

“Naw, we never done nothin’ like that,” says Doug Clark.

“Can you imagine what would have happened to an all-black band that played naked at the University of Alabama in the early sixties? Those rumors been followin’ us around almost since the band started in 1955.”

“We still get it all the time,” says John Clark, Doug’s older brother. “Just the other day, some guy was tellin’ us in front of his friends how he’d seen us do that stuff. We asked where, and he claimed it was in some place we never played.”

In the manner of R & B bands of the sixties, a time when black musicians dressed up for success and white musicians dressed down for authenticity, the Hot Nuts wear matching black tuxedos and take the stage at a nightclub in North Carolina promptly. “Ladies and gentlemen … from Chapel Hill, North Carolina … home of the University of North Carolina Tarheels … Mr. Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts!” announces Al Russell between soulful honks on his tarnished saxophone. He’s the only white Hot Nut, an old guard with 18 years in the band. Playing an ancient Fender Rhodes electric piano with seven keys that stick, Tommy G. (for Goldston) has been with the band 32 years. His vocal cords are tempered by an unfiltered-cigarette habit, so he has one of those classically evocative voices that make you think you’re hearing “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” for the first time. The Young Turk Hot Nuts are the Brodie brothers, Sidney and Robert, with eight and four years in the band, respectively. Sidney, 34, plays a techno-dazzle synth guitar and sings much of the more contemporary material with equal parts mischief and salaciousness, his favorite move being to let his tongue fall out of his mouth and stuff it back in with his hand. Younger brother Bob plays a headless bass and does rap with such fervor it should be renamed bellow.

The Hot Nuts kick off their second set with Sidney singing their only semi-hit single, “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box.” Then John Clark wedges his way onto the dance floor with a demand for more space. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announces, “Mr. Doug Clark on drums! And these are the Hot Nuts!” He takes off his undersized red derby and waves it at his crotch.

John Clark has been telling mostly the same jokes for somewhere around 7,000 performances — most of them in Southern fraternity houses — and people get mad if he does anything different. Parents want to hear what they heard as kids, and the kids want to hear what their parents heard.

If John carried an ounce of malice, if he had a sliver of Andrew Dice Clay in his soul, the Hot Nuts would have been castrated long ago. As it is, he can walk up to any respectable Baptist matron in the crowd and say, “See that woman dressed in red / She got a box as big as my head,” and get screaming laughs. Likely he told her the same thing at the debutante ball in 1962. Or maybe she was wearing green that night, in which case she went down “like a submarine.” Or her name was Grace, who “tastes mighty good when she sits on your face.”

During “Two Old Maids,” John approaches a table of eight young women, one of whom is getting married the next day. “Hey, Vanessa, you know what a virgin eats for breakfast?”

Vanessa gives a hesitant no.

“I didn’t think you did.” There’s hysterical laughter. “Where you’ll from, Vanessa?”

“Virginia Beach.”

“You know the difference between a girl from Virginia Beach and a bowling ball?” Vanessa giggles. “You can only get three fingers in a bowling ball.”

And so on, through “Bang Bang Lulu,” “My Ding-a-Ling,” “Gay Caballero” — every dirty joke you ever heard, and some you might have missed. I was particularly fond of the square root of 69 (“ate-something”) and the young man from Kent whose cock was so long that it bent. (When he wanted to screw, it folded in two, and instead of coming, he went.)

The Universal Musician’s Epiphany dropped on Doug Clark late one December night in 1954. A junior at Lincoln High School in Chapel Hill, he was bussing tables for a party at a fraternity house at the University of North Carolina. The large crowd of white students was learning a spectacular lesson in Dionysian frenzy as an all-black trio ripped the joint. I could do that, thought Clark. A drum major for Lincoln’s marching band, probably the best in the state, he quickly had the Second Universal Musician’s Epiphany: I could do that better than those guys.

“How much are they getting paid?” Doug asked one of the frat boys.

“Sixty-five dollars,” came the answer, and Doug had the Third Universal Musician’s Epiphany: I can have fun and make money.

The fourth epiphany Doug had was decidedly not universal. The combo was doing this song, sort of a chant to establish a rhythm, that went “Nuts, hot nuts, get ‘em from the peanut man / Yeah nuts, hot nuts, get ‘em any way you can.” And then they would tell a joke, usually a rhyming couplet. These college students love dirty jokes, Doug noted. The grosser the better.

‘John can walk up to any respectable Baptist matron in the crowd and say, “See that woman dressed in red … she got a box as big as my head,” and get screaming laughs.’

By summer he had purchased a set of second-hand drums, rounded up the best players in his high school horn section, recruited a vocal group to do Platters-type material, found a friend named Ralph Edwards who could sing Little Richard note for note, and found another friend named Prince Taylor whose voice was more Arthur Prysock. Charging 50 cents a head, they began playing gigs a few doors down from the Clark’s house in the black section of Chapel Hill. First they were called the Tops, then Doug Clark’s Combo. They had the versatility to play all the R & B hits of their day, but Clark — against the band’s better judgment — kept experimenting with the dirty jokes, enlisting his brother John to tell them.

Word spread fast and far, but the word that fit wasn’t combo. What college kids remembered was the dirty jokes, the “hot nuts” routine, and that was what they asked for. By popular demand, the combo became Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, America’s first obscene rock ‘n’ roll band.

By 1961 the Hot Nuts had played frat house basements at almost every major college from New Haven to Dallas. When they weren’t traveling, they played a white club called the Null and Void just off the Duke campus in Durham. On Sunday they played a private nightclub for black professionals called the Square Club. And one night a week they played a rival black club called the Goodwill. The audiences were separate but equal in their agreement that the Hot Nuts were the hottest local band, and the booking arrangement lasted for several years.

“The onliest difference between the crowds was that we didn’t do the Hot Nuts material for the blacks,” says Doug. “We tried it one night at the Square Club and it didn’t go over. They weren’t offended; they just thought it was takin’ up too much time bein’ funny. They wanted to dance.”

They were driving nice cars and John was able to quit his day job, but the Clarks had one major hurdle before true music-biz success: recording. For a 50 percent share of the profits, the owners of the Null and Void advanced the money for studio rental and pressing. One afternoon the band went into a Durham studio with a lot of beer and 30 or 40 friends and recorded a portion of the Hot Nuts set, plus a couple of dance tunes. The resulting album, Nuts to You (Gross Records), has an infectious quality but also sounds like the band was too drunk to attend to certain details like microphone placement. Alternately told by Prince Taylor and John, the jokes come through loud and clear. Most are still in the act.

What strikes the ear as peculiar today is that they do a quaint dance around four-letter Anglo-Saxonisms. The word shit, for example, becomes “shhh.” And in “A Soldier,” they only seem to be saying a taboo word, as in “My cunt … my cunt … my country ‘tis of thee,” a standard device of novelty records of the day. The cover photograph shows Prince Taylor (not Doug, as is commonly believed) giving the finger to someone during a show. The album was considered so obscene that it couldn’t be shipped through the mail; instead it traveled in unmarked boxes via Greyhound bus to stores that would sell copies under the counter.

“I knew we was on to something when I drove up to Washington and Lee in Lexington, Virginia, with 225 albums,” says Doug. “I was gonna sell ‘em for $5.25 apiece, and back in ‘61, that was a lot of money for an album. I sold every one in less than one hour. Kids would come up and just empty their wallets, taking four or five at a time. Tried the same thing in Gainesville [Florida] and they threw me off campus.”

Getting thrown off campus was a growing problem. As rumors of nudity, live sex, and buckets reverberated from campus to campus in one of the most extraordinary and long-lived episodes of American urban mythology, school administrators tried to shield their wards from the nascent sexual revolution by banning the Hot Nuts. The Null and Void got raided regularly. Once the band was booked for a solid month to play the pier in Daytona. People came from miles around to hear the Hot Nuts routine, but the city stationed a cop at the side of the stage to ensure that the band stuck exclusively to dance music. “If he wants the Hot Nuts, then we’ll do it,” Doug told the disappointed fans.

Says Doug, “We never done the rough stuff for nobody who didn’t want to hear it. Of course, 99 percent of the time, they want to hear it. Seems like every time we play a bar mitzvah, they say ‘no Hot Nuts routine,’ and then by show time, everyone is asking for it. We never do political or religious or racial material. Just sex and college. That’s one of the reasons we lasted so long.”

The Hot Nuts’ recording career, however, ended in 1969 after nine albums, four of which made the Top 10 on the Billboard college and comedy charts. Jubilee, the company that had pressed the first album, got curious about where all those thousands of records were selling and demanded a bigger piece of the action. The Hot Nuts signed with Jubilee and, at the behest of the company, began the practice of recording at home and shipping the tapes to New York, where an irritatingly out-of-sync laugh track was dubbed in. Subsequent albums sounded better, but the vital element of crowd interaction was missing. The true Hot Nuts experience has never been properly recorded. Undeterred in their bottomless appetite for naughtiness spoken aloud, the American public made Jubilee rich. In true music-biz tradition, Jubilee declared bankruptcy in 1969 and disappeared with the Hot Nuts’ royalties.

The band felt so burned that it never returned to the studio. It had no need. On a big football weekend in Texas, the Hot Nuts could draw 12,000, headlining over such established acts as Ike and Tina Turner. As long as student governments in the Bible Belt had an entertainment budget, there would be good money in explaining the difference between fish and meat (you can’t beat your fish).

“The biggest disappointment was not Jubilee disappearing,” says Doug. “The biggest disappointment of my life, the thing I hated the most, was that they didn’t select us for the movie Animal House. If the band they had in that film [Otis Day and the Knights] wasn’t modeled after us, I don’t know who it could have been. We’ve been doing ‘Shout’ like that for years. We’ve played more animal houses than anyone ever. For years people asked us, ‘Why weren’t you guys in Animal House?’”

Where did their material originate?

“We don’t know who wrote most of the songs,” says John. “Chuck Berry heard us do ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ and put out his own version. A lot of jokes we just picked up by passing the microphone around during the shows.”

I asked if it had ever occurred to them that most of the fraternities they’d been entertaining would not have invited them to join if they’d been enrolled at these schools as students.

“We didn’t think about it. We just wanted the money and then to get the hell out,” says Doug. “They was all real nice to us. Way back then, there wasn’t no hotels for us in Mississippi or even Virginia. They didn’t have rest rooms we could use, no places to eat. We’d tell the fraternities, ‘Hey, we can’t come if you don’t take care of us.’ When we got there, they always fed us, let us shower there in the house. We’d sleep in the basement or on couches in the lounge.”

“We learned some things about drivin’,” says John. “We always drove straight through, even when we were gain’ to Texas. We always got gas in the big cities. We didn’t stop for nothin’ at these little places on country roads after dark.”

“We was bold as hell in those days,” says Doug. “Had a big blue school bus that said DOUG CLARK AND THE HOT NUTS in big letters on the side. One night in 1961 an Alabama state trooper pulled us over. I didn’t know if we was speedin’, or what we was in for. Turned out he just wanted one of our albums. You couldn’t buy it anywhere.”

“He done that a couple times,” says John. “There was another trooper who stopped us for albums every time we drove by Greenville, South Carolina.”

“We played the University of Mississippi when James Meredith enrolled, the University of Georgia when it integrated, all those schools,” says Doug. “We was gain’ through Montgomery on Highway 80 right when they had that big Selma-to-Montgomery march. We thought it was a parade or something. All these people sayin’ ‘Thanks for comin’!’ and then gettin’ mad when we drove on through. We didn’t even know what was gain’ on until we read in the newspapers about that woman from Detroit gettin’ killed.

“I feel I’m a moral person, but I’m not going to be dictated to by nobody,” Doug continues. “I’m very private and I don’t get involved in all these causes. At least three kids came up tonight to say their mothers had told them to see us. We’re playin’ to a whole new generation now. I’m a lucky man, and this is a lucky group. Other groups, maybe they went higher, but they fell faster. I’m just grateful we’re hangin’ on.”

So I ask John the question of ultimate liberation: What does your mother think of the Hot Nuts routine?

“It was a long time ‘fore she seen it,” he says. “We had the band 20 years at least ‘fore she seen it.”

She hasn’t heard the records?

“We don’t know about that, ‘cause they was there at the house,” says John.

You never talked to her about it? “She didn’t talk to us,” says Doug.

“Doug came to me one day and said, ‘Mom, I want you to hear our first album, ‘” says Mrs. Clark at her home. “He put it on the record player and I hear this, ‘Nuts, hot nuts, get ‘em from the peanut man.’ I say, ‘What?’ And he was already out the door. I couldn’t believe it.”

Did you ever see them live?

“One time they were playing a week of shows at the Holiday Inn. These two doctors I worked with asked me to get them tickets, and I did. John arranged it so they would be sitting right in front of the band. The place was packed, and I met the doctors at the door. I guess John wasn’t expecting me. During the break, he says, ‘Mama, you gonna stay after midnight?’ I say, ‘Yeah.’ He goes” — Mrs Clark pauses for a marvelously comic beat — “’Uh-oh.’”

Were you embarrassed by the show?

“Well, I had no idea how dirty it was until I saw them that one time. The doctors certainly let their hair down. John put their wives in the show. That was around 1972, I guess.”

So you’re proud of your sons?

“Long as they buy their own bread and don’t harm nobody along the way. They never been an expense to us. John even earned his way through college. Nothing wrong with making your own money.”

I finally ask Doug, “So why do you think you’ve lasted so long?”

“I think what we were was a clue,” he says. “A lot of guys were just so bashful in college, they didn’t know what to do with a girl. If they took her to a Hot Nuts show and she laughed at the jokes, that was a clue to how far to go. She laughs, she’s all right. Things haven’t changed that much over the years. Boys still want that clue.”

“We always got grosser jokes from the girls, anyway,” says John, stashing a crate of microphone cables.

“Sold more albums to girls, too,” says Doug.

“I just wonder,” says John, “what would’ve happened if we’d ever done any material you could play on the radio.”

First off, you happen to be able to refresh your memory about Andrew Dice Clay in these very pages. It could be there really are no new things under the sun. Go figure. … Then, should you wish to experience the Dave Clark “Panty Raid” for yourself, well, YouTube can help you out. Perhaps YouTube censors less in the “Bawdy” category than it does in the “Body” department. That certainly seems to be the case at least.

Finally, although we must admit we somehow missed “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” despite a relatively diverse musical background represented in this room, we can tell you that for all the great “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Rock and Roll Music” songs you may remember from the incomparable Chuck Berry, when he reworked “My Ding-A-Ling” and released it in 1972 it became the only Billboard #1 hit of his career. Life is weird. … Maybe it really was about “silver bells hanging on a string,” and some people have dirty minds.

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