Sha Na Na
New York City, New York
|Genres||Rock and roll, doo-wop|
|Labels||Kama Sutra, Buddah|
|Johnny Casino and the Gamblers in the feature film Grease|
Downtown Michael Brown
Screamin' Scott Simon
Sha Na Na is an American rock and roll doo-wop group. Performing a song-and-dance repertoire based on 1950s hit songs, Sha Na Na has simultaneously revived and parodied the music of 1950s New York street culture since the group's formation in 1969. After gaining initial fame for their performance at Woodstock, made possible with the help of their friend Jimi Hendrix, the group hosted Sha Na Na, a syndicated variety series that ran from 1977 to 1981.
Billing themselves as "from the streets of New York", members were frequently outfitted in gold lamé or leather jackets, and sporting pompadour or ducktail hairdos. The group's name is taken from a series of nonsense syllables ("Sha Na Na Na Sha Na Na Na Na") in the song "Get a Job", originally recorded by the Silhouettes.
The current lineup features original members Donny York and Jocko Marcellino, as well as longtime member Screamin' Scott Simon, who joined in 1970. Everyone else from the original band and TV show has since departed. Current band members include bassist Tim Butler, guitarist Randy Hill, drummer Ty Cox, 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 that became famous for recording "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 Rob Leonard, the president and bass singer of the band, sang the lead on "Teen Angel" when the band opened for their friend 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 (Flash Cadillac, Showaddywaddy, Big Daddy), as well as the Broadway musical Grease (and its feature film adaptation), the feature film American Graffiti and the TV show Happy Days.
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 their 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 guest musicians such as James Brown, the punk rock band the Ramones, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, the Ronettes, and Chubby Checker.
The original band line-up featured 12 performers: Robert A. Leonard (Rob Leonard) (bass vocals), Alan Cooper (bass 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 "Gino" Cahn (rhythm guitar), Rich Joffe (vocals), Dave Garrett (vocals) and Bruce "Bruno" Clarke (electric bass). 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 fuckin' 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); both Pamela Myers and actress Jane Dulo (the crabby Lady in the Window, who watched over the street scenes from her apartment with undisguised disdain) throughout the show's run, June Gable and Soupy Sales (seasons 2 to 4); Michael Sklar (season 2); and Karen Hartman (season 4).
The members of Sha Na Na during the TV series were Jon "Bowzer" Bauman (vocals), Lennie Baker (sax/vocals), Johnny Contardo (vocals), Frederick "Dennis" Greene (vocals), Danny "Dirty Dan" McBride (guitar/vocals) (left after third season), Jocko Marcellino (drums/vocals), Dave "Chico" Ryan (bass/vocals), 'Screamin' Scott Simon (piano/vocals), Scott "Santini" Powell (vocals), Donald "Donny" York (vocals). Every member was featured with a solo vocal spot during the course of the series. Each was introduced only by his nickname or his first name in a voice-over by Myers at the beginning of each show.
Sha Na Na also appeared in the 1978 film Grease (an adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical of the same name) as a 1950s band called Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. Their tracks on the film and 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.
In alphabetical order
Vinnie Taylor (1949-1974) (born Chris Donald), who replaced Larry Packer 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.
Guitarist Danny "Dirty Dan" McBride (born Daniel Hatton, 1945) died of cardiovascular disease in 2009.
Bass guitarist Reggie Battise was a dancer in the feature film Staying Alive (1983) and White Men Can't Jump (1992) as well as the TV series Moonlighting. He succumbed to prostate cancer on October 8, 2010.
Founding member Robert Leonard is a professor of linguistics at Hofstra University. He 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, as well as for the Tennessee "Facebook Murders" on the Investigation Discovery crime show Too Pretty to Live in 2016.
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.
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.
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, California, 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 held the same position at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa until retiring in 2013. Witkin lives with his family in San Diego, California. He played with a 1950s/1960s show band The Corvettes in San Diego for 23 years.
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 US national soccer teams, and is the team physician for the Federation Women's National Team and an associate clinical professor at University of Southern California. While Powell was with Sha Na Na, he sang the bulk of the Elvis Presley 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 on "Tears on My Pillow", "Duke of Earl", and others. He died on September 5, 2015 after a brief illness.
Richard Joffe became a class action litigator for a law firm in New York City.
Dave Garrett ran the Long Island-based musical instrument amplifier company Earth Sound Research during the 1970s. A businessman, he resides in New York City.
more or less set off the '50s kick