Sha Na Na
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- Genre: Pop, Rock, R&B/Soul, Classic Rock
Sha Na Na is an American rock and roll group. The name is taken from a part of the long series of nonsense syllables in the doo-wop hit song "Get a Job", originally recorded in 1957 by the Silhouettes.
Billing themselves as "from the streets of New York" and outfitted in gold lamé, leather jackets, and pompadour and ducktail hairdos, Sha Na Na performs a song and dance repertoire of classic fifties rock and roll, simultaneously reviving and parodying the music and 1950s New York street culture. Sha Na Na hosted the Sha Na Na syndicated variety series that ran from 1977 to 1981.
Their current touring group features original members Donny York and Jocko Marcellino, and long-time member Screamin' Scott Simon. Simon joined the band just after its appearance at the Woodstock Festival (1969). Everyone else from the original band and TV show has since departed. Current band members include bassist Tim Butler, guitarist Gene Jaramillo, drummer Paul Kimbarow, and sax player Michael Brown.
The group began singing as part of the long-standing Columbia University a cappella group the Kingsmen, but changed their name due to the Pacific Northwest group of the same name, famous for covering "Louie, Louie". Conceived by George Leonard, then a graduate student in Humanities, Sha Na Na began performing in 1969, at the height of the hippie counterculture, and achieved national fame after playing at the Woodstock Festival, where they preceded Jimi Hendrix. Their 90-second appearance in the Woodstock film brought the group national attention and helped spark a 1950s nostalgia craze that inspired similar groups in North America, as well as the Broadway musical Grease, the feature film American Graffiti and the TV show Happy Days.
The extent to which their act was nostalgic, as opposed to "invented nostalgia", has been questioned.
The group's first manager, Ed Goodgold, codified trivia as a nostalgic quiz game and conducted the nation's first trivia contests with Dan Carlinsky in 1965. The future Sha Na Na/Kingsmen were featured singers at these contests. Four years later, he co-authored "Rock 'n' Roll Trivia" just as he and the William Morris Agency began steering Sha Na Na's career.
From 1969 until 1971, the band played at, among other places, the Fillmore East and Fillmore West, opening for such bands as The Grateful Dead, The Mothers of Invention, and The Kinks. When Sha Na Na began headlining at other venues, one of the opening acts was Bruce Springsteen. In 1972, Sha Na Na was one of just four acts invited by John Lennon and Yoko Ono to perform with them at their One-to-One benefit concert at Madison Square Garden. Subsequently, the group appeared in the 1978 movie Grease, and from 1977 to 1982, the group reached perhaps the height of its success with its own hit syndicated television show Sha Na Na, featuring guests such as James Brown, the legendary punk rock band the Ramones, and musicians such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, The Ronettes, and Chubby Checker.
The original band line-up featured 12 performers: Alan Cooper (bass vocals), Rob Leonard (vocals), Frederick "Dennis" Greene (Denny) (vocals), Henry Gross (guitar), Jocko Marcellino (drums), Joe Witkin (piano), Scott Powell (also known as Captain Outrageous and Tony Santini) (vocals), Donald "Donny" York (vocals), Elliot Cahn (also known as Gino), (rhythm guitar), Rich Joffe (vocals), Dave Garrett (vocals) and Bruce "Bruno" Clarke. The initial act had three up-front performers in gold lamé and the other nine in "greaser" attire (rolled up T-shirt sleeves, leather jackets, tank tops). On their album The Golden Age of Rock and Roll, the lead singer taunts the audience on one of the live tracks by announcing, "We've got just one thing to say to you fucking hippies, and that is that rock and roll is here to stay!" The act usually ended after several encores, and closed with "Lovers Never Say Goodbye". The closing song was changed to, "Goodnight Sweetheart" for the TV series. In concert, they would often return for up to seven encores, and this included when performing in Toronto, at Ontario Place and performing Hound Dog after announcing Elvis Presley's death earlier that same day (August 16, 1977).
Sha Na Na hosted the Sha Na Na syndicated variety series that ran from 1977 to 1981. It was among the most watched programs in syndication during its run. The show was produced by Pierre Cossette and originally distributed by LBS Communications.
The show featured the group performing hits from the 1950s and 1960s, along with comedy skits. The "tough guys" road act from their original road shows was adapted for TV and the group moved to a comedy and self-deprecating routine. The mainstay continued to be the 1950s song and dance routines. The show opened in a typical concert scene, and then moved through various street and ice cream parlor scenes where they and their guests performed several songs. That was followed by a comedy-oriented song ("Alley Oop", "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah") and closed with a slow song, again in their concert format.
Among the supporting members featured in the series were Avery Schreiber, Kenneth Mars and Philip Roth (all of them in the first season); Pamela Myers and actress Jane Dulo (who played the crabby Lady in the Window, who watched over the street scenes from the window of her apartment with undisguised disdain) (both throughout the show's run), June Gable and Soupy Sales (Seasons 2 to 4); Michael Sklar (Season 2); and Karen Hartman (Season 4).
Guests included Jan & Dean, Fabian, Chubby Checker, the Ramones, Ethel Merman, Frank Gorshin, Billy Crystal, Danny and the Juniors and others.
The members of Sha Na Na during the TV series were Jon 'Bowzer' Bauman (vocals), Lennie Baker (sax), Johnny Contardo (vocals), Frederick 'Dennis' Greene (vocals), 'Dirty Dan' McBride (guitar) (left after third season), Jocko Marcellino (drums), Dave 'Chico' Ryan (bass), 'Screamin' Scott Simon (piano), Scott 'Santini' Powell (vocals), Donald 'Donny' York (vocals). Each was introduced only by his nickname or his first name in a voice-over by Myers at the beginning of each show.
The group appear as themselves in the documentaries Woodstock (1970) and Festival Express (2003).
Sha Na Na also appeared in the 1978 film Grease, (an adaptation of the the 1971 Broadway musical of the same name) as a 1950s band called Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. Their tracks on the Grease soundtrack include two songs from the original 1971 musical: "Those Magic Changes," and "Born to Hand Jive;" as well as four songs from the early rock and roll era: versions of Elvis Presley's covers of "Hound Dog" (1956) and "Blue Moon" (1956), a cover of The Imperials' "Tears on My Pillow" (1958), and a cover of Danny & the Juniors' "Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay" (1958). The song "Sandy," sung by John Travolta in the film, was co-written specifically for the film by Sha Na Na's Screamin' Scott Simon.
Vinnie Taylor (1949-1974) (born Chris Donald), who replaced Henry Gross as the lead guitarist in 1970, died of a drug overdose in 1974. Escaped child killer Elmer Edward Solly assumed Taylor's identity and performed as him, though not with Sha Na Na, which eventually led to his discovery and capture.
Bass player Dave "Chico" Ryan, among the television show lineup, died in 1998; while remaining in Sha Na Na, he joined Bill Haley & His Comets for the group's fall 1979 tour of Europe (Haley's last major tour before his death). Former Sha Na Na guitarist Danny "Dirty Dan" McBride, of their TV show lineup, died of cardiovascular disease in 2009. Member Reggie Battise died of cancer in October 2010.
Founding member of the band Robert Leonard is a professor of linguistics at Hofstra University, and had an appearance as a qualified expert in linguistics for the murder case of Charlene Hummert in the episode "A Tight Leash" of the TV medical detectives series Forensic Files in 2004.
The group's first guitarist, Henry Gross, went on to become a solo performer, and had a hit single with "Shannon" in 1976. Another founding member, Alan Cooper, the lead singer in the group's performance of "At the Hop" in the Woodstock film, went on to pursue an academic career. He taught religious studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, for ten years, then became a professor of Bible studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, and now serves as the Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies and provost at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Longtime member Jon "Bowzer" Bauman replaced Alan Cooper and became a recognizable member of the group as he taunted audiences while he flexed his muscles, burped and spat in the direction of the bass player. In the 1980s he had a brief career as a game show master of ceremonies. He continues to tour.
Elliot Cahn, the group's original rhythm guitar player and musical arranger, later became the first manager of Green Day.
Joe Witkin, who was replaced by "Screamin'" Scott Simon, was the original keyboard player and singer of "Teenager in Love" on their first album. Witkin left the band in 1970 to finish medical school, and subsequently moved to San Diego in 1975 to do his internship and residency at the University of California in San Diego. He worked at Scripps Hospital East County from 1978 to 2000 as an ER physician, and currently holds the same position at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa. Witkin lives with his family in San Diego, California and plays with a band called "The Corvettes" doing an oldies revue in his spare time.
Scott Powell is a specialist in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine. He performed on the TV show under the stage name "Santini" (another alias was "Captain Outrageous"). Powell left the band in 1980 and returned to Columbia to take pre-medical courses. He is a member of the medical staff of U.S. national soccer teams, and is the team physician for the Federation Women's National Team and an associate clinical professor at USC. While Powell was with Sha Na Na, he sang the bulk of the Elvis revival songs.
Frederick "Denny" Greene left the group to pursue studies in law. After graduating from Yale Law School, he became the vice president of production and features at Columbia Pictures. He was a professor at the University of Dayton. Greene was known for his skilled dancing, and sang the lead in "Tears on My Pillow", "Duke of Earl", and others. He died on September 5, 2015 after a brief illness.
Bruce "Bruno" Clarke is now a professor of English at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
Richard Joffe is currently a class-action litigator for a law firm in New York City.
Original Sha Na Na vocalist Dave Garrett ran Earth Sound Research, a Long Island-based musical instrument amplifier company, during the 1970s. He now is businessman, and Iives in New York City.
Alan Cooper (1969-1970 + part of 1971): original bass singer; brief return in 1971 due to Bowzer's illness,
Billy Schwartz (1971): guitarist on Canadian tour in 1971 due to Chris Donald's inability to enter Canada,
Bruce C. Clarke, a.k.a. "Bruno" (1969-1973): original bass guitarist,
Bryan Cumming, a.k.a. "Mighty Joe" (1987-1989): guitarist; replaced guitarist Glenn Jordan,
Buzz Campbell (2002-2006): guitarist; replaced Rob Mackenzie,
Chris Donald, a.k.a. Vinnie Taylor (1971-1974): replaced Larry Packer,
Danny McBride, a.k.a. "Dirty Dan" (1975-1980): replaced Elliot Randall,
David Garrett (1969-1970): original vocalist,
David Ryan, a.k.a. "Chico" (1973-1998), replaced Bruce Clarke,
Donald York, a.k.a. "Donny" (1968-present): original vocalist,
Dora Pearson (1984-1988): original female vocalist,
Elliot Cahn, a.k.a. "Gino" (1968-1973): original rhythm guitarist,
Elliott Randall, a.k.a. "Enrico Ronzoni" (1974-1975): replaced Chris Donald,
Frankie Adell (1999-2005): saxophonist and vocalist; replaced Lennie Baker,
Frederick "Dennis" Greene, a.k.a. "Denny" (1968-1984): original vocalist,
George Sluppick (1999-2000): drummer,
Gene Jaramillo (2006-present): guitarist; replaced Buzz Campbell,
George Leonard: conception and choreography,
Glenn Jordan, a.k.a. "Guitar Glenn" (1980-1986): guitarist; replaced Danny McBride,
Grover Kemble (1970): briefly replaced Rob Leonard, has been replaced by vocalist Johnny Contardo,
Guerin Barry, a.k.a. "Tito Mambo" (1984-1988): bass singer; replaced Jon Bauman,
Henry Gross (1969-1970): original lead guitarist,
Jim Waldbillig, a.k.a. "Billy" (1990 - 2011): guitarist,
Jimmy Hun, a.k.a. "June" (1987) briefly played keyboards,
Joe Witkin (1969-1970): original pianist,
John Marcellino, a.k.a. "Jocko" (1969 - present): original drummer, vocalist,
Johnny "Kid" Contardo (1971-1983): vocalist; replaced Grover Kember
Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, a.k.a. "Bowzer" (1970-1983): bass singer; replaced Alan Cooper,
Kal David, a.k.a. "Casual Kal" (1984): interim replacement for Jon Bauman (filling in for Guerin Barry),
Larry Packer (1970): briefly replaced Henry Gross and was subsequently replaced by Chris Donald,
Lennie Baker (1970-1999): saxophonist and vocalist,
Lisa Sunstedt (1993-1995): third female vocalist,
Louie King (1995): bass guitarist,
Michael Brown, a.k.a. "Downtown Michael Brown" (2005-present): replaced Frankie Adell,
Pamela Day (1989-1991): second female vocalist,
Paul Kimbarow, a.k.a. "Paulie" (2002 - 2013): drummer,
Reggie Battise, a.k.a. "Reggie de Leon" (1989-2010): bass singer; replaced Guerin Barry,
Richard Joffe, a.k.a. "Joff" (1969-1973): original vocalist,
Robert A. Leonard (1969-1970): original vocalist,
Rob Mackenzie (1990-2001): guitarist; replaced by Buzz,
Scott Powell, a.k.a. "Captain Outrageous", a.k.a. "Tony Santini" (1969-1981): original vocalist,
"Screamin" Scott Simon (1970 - present): pianist; replaced Joe Witkin,
Tim Butler (2006, 2009, 2011-present) bass guitarist,
Ty Cox (2013-present) drummer