Sunday, August 14, 2022

Remembering Calabash Flash: from ‘the end of the world’ to ‘Shagging in the Moonlight’

"That’s how he was – that was his spirit, his wonderful spirit. He touched people like that. If you knew Flash, of course you’d miss him."

The Calabash Flash, Patrick Ludwick, at his final show. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
The Calabash Flash, Patrick Ludwick, at his final show. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY BARBARA LUDWICK)

CALABASH — Last month Patrick Ludwick passed away. In the two decades since moving to Brunswick County, he had become a local legend: a writer, performer and international ambassador for the brand of beach music known as “The Shag.”

But it was only late in life that Ludwick blossomed into the artist “Calabash Flash.” Something about moving to the beach changed him and his wife to their very core. Or rather, as his wife Barbara put it, “we found ourselves here. This is where we were always supposed to end up, these were the people we were always supposed to be.”

The House that Flash built

From the outside, the Ludwicks’ house looks like the rest of the residences lining the golf course at Brunswick Plantation: subdued colors, manicured lawn, a few yard stones. Inside is a different story.

Barbara Ludwick has kept this room as something of a shrine to Calabash Flash. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Barbara Ludwick has kept this room as something of a shrine to Calabash Flash. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

“One of the reasons we got the house here was that, even though outside they all kind of look the same, inside you could do whatever you want,” Barabra Ludwick said. “I like for people to be able to see the house inside, because that’s Flash. The house is him, Calabash Flash, his spirit is here.”

The main room of the house is punctuated with splashes of bright red – a pool table, couches, paintings – but the main focus is something of a temple to the musician known as Calabash Flash. There are keyboards, guitars, and other instruments, as well as CDs of Flash’s recordings and photographs of his bands.

The house is fitting metaphor for Patrick Ludwick, aka Calabash Flash, Barbara’s husband of 51 years.

Patrick was a clean-cut young man, fresh out of the Marine Corps when Barbara met him. He was applying to be a computer analyst at the Civil Service — a pretty straight-laced gig, by any standards. But inside Patrick had a bold streak, Barbara said, a “friendly presence, but a commanding presence. He liked to perform, even if he didn’t know he was performing, he was on. I kind of sensed that about him right away.”

Laughing at the end of the World

According to Barbara, Patrick’s sense of humor gave anyone listening his or her first hint that he was something more than his analytical job. She recalls Patrick talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Patrick Ludwick was in the thick of the world's most dangerous nuclear standoff. He survived with his trademark sense of humor intact. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY)
Patrick Ludwick was in the thick of the world’s most dangerous nuclear standoff. He survived with his trademark sense of humor intact. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY)

“It was two years before we met, he was in the Marine Corps, and he was shipped out from Moorehead City – they didn’t know where they were going when they left. His transport anchored in Guantanmo Bay. The Marines got off, and all the civilian staff and families got on, and then they knew it was serious,” Barbara said. “He could look out over the water and see the blockade ships. He was just a few miles from Russian nuclear missiles, and he had just a few grenades. I remember he kind of laughed when he told me, ‘well, they gave us flak jackets, so we had that.’”

Barbara was in Washington, D.C., where she worked at the Civil Service.

“I remember thinking, ‘this is it. They’ll hit us first, they’ll hit Washington first. It’s the end of the world.’ But Flash was able to joke about it. He told me later, I remember it was just me and him, and he put his hands on mine and smiled and said, ‘I saved you from the red hordes.’ He was able to do that, the way his mind worked, he could make you laugh about the end of the world,” Barbara said.

Finding Home

After 30 years in the Civil Service, the Ludwicks were ready for something else. Their North Virginia residence no longer felt like a home; their government jobs felt somehow empty.

“I started working when I was 17,” Barbara said. “I told Flash, joking but not joking, ‘I think I can make it 50, and then you’re going to  have to take care of me.’ But the truth of it was that we’d worked, we’d worked hard all our lives, but it didn’t move us. It wasn’t the job – there are people who worked with us who were passionate about it. But for me, after all that time, I didn’t want to do anything that didn’t make my heart beat any more. So, in 1994, we moved.”

Patrick Ludwick crunched numbers for months and – even after finding a deal on a small house in the early development stages of Brunswick Plantation – the two lived on a tight budget. But, according to Barbara, even if the two had to share a single drink, they went out nearly every night.

Fat Harold's - and its signature red roof - changed the Ludwicks' life forever; and, it seems, red became Calabash Flash's favorite color. (Port City Daily photo / PAINTING BY BARBARA LUDWICK)
Fat Harold’s – and its signature red roof – changed the Ludwicks’ life forever; and, it seems, red became Calabash Flash’s favorite color. (Port City Daily photo / PAINTING BY BARBARA LUDWICK)

One of first – and favorite – destinations was Fat Harold’s Beach Club in Ocean Drive, the township that was later incorporated into North Myrtle Beach. It was there that the two discovered ‘The Shag’ – both the musical genre and the dance that accompanies it. It was different in every way than what the couple had known up North.

“First of all, everyone dances with everyone else – up North you don’t even make eye contact with other people, you certainly don’t dance with them,” Barbara said. “But it was kind of magical. It was such a level playing field. Nobody cared who you were, I mean, what your job was, how much money you made, where you went to church. As soon as the music came on, everyone just started dancing. And it felt – right away – that we had come home.”

The couple joined the Ocean Drive Shag Club, and started driving to Wilmington for regular dance lessons, determined to get the hang of The Shag. It was there that a fellow student, a Wilmington Fire Fighter named Billy Martin, gave Patrick the nick-name “Calabash Flash.”

“It just sort of happened, and it fit and it stuck. And of course, they said, ‘well, you can’t be Calabash Flash and Barbara, so then we were Flash and Babs,” Barbara said. “And the funny thing was, we had never been very comfortable calling each other ‘Patrick’ and ‘Barbara,’ we didn’t use our names with each other. But from that moment on, I called him Flash and he called me Babs.  It was like that’s who we’d been all along.”

Calabash Flash

Patrick Ludwick had always loved music and now – inspired by the beach music scene – he started writing and performing it. His first single was “Shagging in the Moonlight.” (You can find this song – and many others – on YouTube.)

One of Calabash Flash's albums. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
One of Calabash Flash’s albums. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

Calabash Flash appeared on several regional compilations and even his own album. He became the ambassador of Carolina beach music for the syndicated international radio station Bondi Tunes, located in Australia. He was even nominated for a Carolina Beach Music Award, losing narrowly to former Chairman of the Board frontman Norman Johnson’s “Bless Your Heart.”

“I remember he said, ‘the good news is I was nominated. The bad news is I lost. The best news is I lost to General Johnson,'” Barbara said.

Barbara said all of her husband’s songs were inspired by his friends, including his tribute to Harold Bessent, owner of Fat Harold’s (the lyrics are typical Calabash Flash: “some people know that Garfield is a cat, but everybody knows that Fat Harold is fat.”)

But most of Calabash Flash’s songs were about his wife and the new life they had found.

“Be careful what you say around a songwriter,” Barbara laughed.

The blues

In his final years, Patrick Ludwick was diagnosed with prostate cancer; treatment for the disease caused his voice to drop in pitch. Calabash Flash was unable to sing some of his old songs, but he remained undeterred. Instead of giving up, he started singing the blues – sometimes going by “Bluesman Flash.”

Talking about her husbands final days is difficult. Barbara Ludwick said, "I've painted many realistic pieces over the years, but right now - I just don't want to think. I'm doing abstract pieces so that my mind can just go. They are collage pieces and I find that, the pieces just go where they should. Things end up where they are supposed to end up. I believe that." (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Talking about her husband’s final days is difficult. Barbara Ludwick said, “I’ve painted many realistic pieces over the years, but right now – I just don’t want to think. I’m doing abstract pieces so that my mind can just go. They are collage pieces and I find that, the pieces just go where they should. Things end up where they are supposed to end up. I believe that.” (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

He remained a performer until the end; he played his last show to a sold-out crowd at the Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach on Nov. 13, 2016.

“They had change the key on some of the songs, so he could get his voice around it, but other than that, you would never have known he was sick,” Barbara said. “But it took it out of him. He was in bed for a few days after that and, to be honest, I don’t think he ever fully recovered.”

Now, Barbara Ludwick finds herself the curator of Flash Calabash’s legacy. It has come as something of a surprise to her, but she finds that – despite her own sense of loss – she has been the one to comfort others.

Barbara Ludwick has been 'Babs' for 20 years and, according to her, she doesn't intend to stop. The spirit of her husband, Calabash Flash, lives on. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Barbara Ludwick has been ‘Babs’ for 20 years and, according to her, she doesn’t intend to stop. The spirit of her husband, Calabash Flash, lives on. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

“I’m sad, of course I am. But I find that I’m consoling his friends, his fans. One of them came up to me and said, ‘I just miss him so much.’ It’s very personal, they open up in ways people don’t usually open up to each other. They’re crying on my shoulder,” she said. “But I understand. That’s how he was – that was his spirit, his wonderful spirit. He touched people like that. If you knew Flash, of course you’d miss him.”


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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