Tittyshakers: A Definition

Aaah! The glorious tittyshaker 45, for too long this king amongst his dusty bedfellows has been cast aside. Overlooked and undervalued.

I will not linger too long on defining the tittyshaker, for that purpose I have republished the original "Mommy, What's A Tittyshaker" article, first published on SoulGeneration in early 2003, further down this page.

It has been several years since I last considered the question "what is a tittyshaker" - looking back on my past efforts it seems that I may have done the 'shaker some disservice by marginalising the perceived sound of the genre. The boogaloo and funk/soul side was covered off reasonably well in so far as an introduction to the genre can offer but far too many of the low down dirty sounds were omitted. Here I aim to rectify that by introducing some of the real classics of the genre, many of these will be found on other collectable scenes as we dig amongst greasy rhythm'n'blues, grinding soul, hot rod and surf instrumentals, nasty rock'n'roll and find some real gems.

Obvious reference points for those wishing to seek out further exposure to the' shaker culture and style would be the early films of Russ Mayer, low budget hot rod and rock'n'roll movies, sexploitation flicks, the Las Vegas grind compilations, certain WFMU radio shows - the sound is out there. Current club nights in the UK where you can expect to hear these sounds include, The Rubber Room in Nottingham, Rendez-Vouz in Wigan, Raison D'Etre and The Boston Arms in London and where ever you can find DJ's like myself - Tom Lawrie, Jazzman Gerald, Daddy Bones, Kev Kahlua, Cosmic Keith, Yvann Serrano (Healer Selecta) and Johnny Alpha.  

In the short time between 2003 and now, not a great deal has been achieved to establish the tittyshaker sound in the everyday consciousness of the average music lover, however certain aspects of the 'scene' has really taken off. The Burlesque culture has become established with numerous troupes in almost every major city - both sides of the Atlantic. Hopefully this site and another in production from Jazzman Gerald both dedicated to the tittyshaker musical form will help to change this.

Tom Lawrie October 2007

Mommy, Whats A Tittyshaker?

The sound? Well fundamentally it is as the name implies, any form of music that makes you want to tear off your shirt and shake your titties, spinning the nipple tassels you are naturally wearing underneath your garments like the blades on a helicopter. Typically you will be grinding to the frantic beat doing the ‘Monkey’ or the ‘Dog' or the 'Shing-a-ling' or the 'Push and Pull' ... whatever dance steps that takes you really.

The term tittyshaker is not representative of the contemporary culture of strippers and pole dancers, even if the two do obviously share origins. The pathways taken were very different and today when we talk about tittyshaker we acknowledge that contemporary shaker tracks are most likely recorded by artists of the Missey Elliot variety. The roots of tittyshaker can be traced back to 50's America where in major cities through to backwater shacks and pit-stop bars the juke box would be wailing out sleazy, lo-down and dirty rock n' roll or equally gritty Jazz music to provide the rhythm for a neighbourhood girl to get up on stage to entertain the locals by performing a striptease, commonly she would only go down to her lingerie, the emphasis was on the dance and the tease. As the fifties twisted into the swinging sixties a new craze emerged called Go-Go, it is this craze that today sits at the heart of tittyshaker - but confusingly is not the sum total, as I previously touched upon, tittyshaker is a term that can be appropriated to numerous genres, for example the Rockabilly scene is a haven for some of the most raucous shaker music I have ever heard.

The term ‘Go-Go Dancer’ originates from the legendary music venue 'Whiskey A Go Go' where in 1964 at a concert performed by Johnny Rivers (who incidentally was the act that opened the Go Go) a female DJ playing in a gilded cage that was suspended from the ceiling over the dance floor started shakin’ her stuff to the grooves she was spinning, she was performing all the current dance steps of the era and was quite literally shakin'! One can only imagine the type of sounds she was grinding to, but it must have been a significant sight to behold for the management made it standard practice to fill suspended cages with grinding dancers from that moment on. The girls in the cages initially wore mini skirts with kitten shoes, the Go-Go boots, a fashion based around the fascination for all things space age came a little later and indeed were not referred to as Go-Go boots until they had become so commonly associated with the caged dancers of the ‘Whisky a Go Go’ that they took on the name by association.

L- R: Whisky A GoGo, Whisky A GoGo Dancefloor, Otis Redding

The mainstream was fairly swift in picking up on Go-Go dancing, helped through a TV show called Hulabaloo which had a special segment called ‘Hulabaloo A Go Go’ with dancers performing alongside the performer in all their shaker glory. It soon became commonplace for major artists to perform alongside Go-Go girls in venues and on television. Firmly established as a 'craze' when it eventually found it’s way onto family variety shows as a staple feature. The craze was enormous in its scale. Go-Go boots became one of the most desired items in a girls wardrobe next to the ever shrinking mini skirt. It was natural that such provocative dress and dancing styles coupled with the sexual elements present in the music played would eventually find their way to Mr Hefner of Playboy magazine. As you will read a few lines on, it was in Mr Hefner’s New York Playboy club that one of the greatest shakers was developed by legendary Jazz man Kai Winding.

So, tittyshaker has been around for a long time then, and it has never really disappeared, for years people have been reviving the essence of what it’s all about, there were numerous psychedelic dance parties in the late 80’s early 90’s around the midlands that had Go-Go girls coupled with explosive psychedelic visuals, and for the last few years Mr Finewine and DJ Franco have been hosting the sex-a-delic dance party “Vampyros Lesbos’ in New York City with dancing from the incredible Jaiko Suzuki and Viva Knievel. DJ Franco having now left NYC took the spirit of this scene with him back to his homeland of Berlin where he hosts one of the biggest nights in Europe playing rare funk, soul, beat shakers to a new breed of enlightened europeans. Activity in the UK has been pretty poor of recent years, partly due to lack of a dancers network that is so well established in the States and for some reason, Scotland aside here, we don’t seem to be as enthusiastic and supportive of something a little bit different as our friends in distant shores, even if it is, in truth, the answer to all the world's problems. Only through shaking can you be happy..

Kia Winding Playboy Club NYC
Kai Winding @ The Playboy Club NYC

To view the DJ playlists that originally accompanied this article, please follow this link