Larger, longer and louder rock festivals have come along since 1969, but none have managed to duplicate the musical and countercultural magic of Woodstock. Hendrix, Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane … so many seminal 60s bands, playing all day and night, through rain and shine.
A few new artists were also thrust into the national spotlight that weekend. Santana is the one most people remember, but – shortly before the festival ended – there was another unknown group who managed to excite the dwindling crowd: Sha Na Na. As the bedraggled masses awaited Jimi Hendrix’s finalé, a dozen guys in 1950s attire and hairstyles burst onstage at 7:30 a.m. on August 18 to deliver an adrenaline-charged set of oldies.
Starting with “Get a Job” (whose doo-wop chorus had spawned their name), the band roused the weary festival goers with euphoric pre-psychedelic fare like “At the Hop,” Wipe Out” and “Duke of Earl.” Even though popular music had changed dramatically since 1962 – as Hendrix’s set would demonstrate an hour later – Sha Na Na proved that early rock ‘n’ roll still had the capacity to get bodies in motion.
As out-of-place as the band may have seemed at Woodstock, their impact was immediate. First there was a recording contract, and before long, headlining tours all across the country. In the middle of a burgeoning hard rock scene, and the rise of folk-influenced singer-songwriters, Sha Na Na almost single-handedly began a resurgence of interest in 1950s music and culture.
Astoundingly, Sha Na Na is still around today to chant what founding member John “Jocko” Marcellino calls their mantra: “rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay!” Touring in celebration of their 45th anniversary, Donny York, another co-founder, remains onboard, as does Screamin’ Scott Simon.
Jocko refers to the band’s live performances as “organized frenzy.” The current seven-member line-up returns to Infinity Music Hall this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with a show that will include 12 songs featured on the über-popular “Grease” film soundtrack from 1978. Sha Na Na appeared in the movie under the alias of Johnny Casino and the Gamblers; they originally contributed six songs but have now added others originally sung by co-stars Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, including “Sandy,” co-written by Scott Simon.
Although the band has released about 20 records, Sha Na Na continues to receive highest accolades for its live shows, which typically include various costumes, props, audience sing-alongs, lots of dancing, even a couple a cappella numbers. That said, the group will have its latest release, “Greaser High School Hop,” for sale after Sunday’s performance, and band members be happy to sign copies, according to Jocko. Tickets are still available for Sha Na Na’s Infinity Hall show here!
The drummer/vocalist fondly recalls his family crowding around the TV to watch Elvis Presley’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a kid in Quincy, Mass., Jocko enjoyed hearing his older brothers’ 45s (singles). All that early listening has served him well. Now, several generations of fans are enjoying Sha Na Na’s ongoing salute to the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll. Yeah, as Jocko and his comrades insist, grease is still the word!