Biography

The group began singing as part of the longstanding 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”.[citation needed] 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, inspiring similar groups both in North America and in the United Kingdom, as well as the Broadway musical Grease and the TV show, Happy Days.[1]

The degree to which their act was truly nostalgic, as opposed to the degree to which it was “invented nostalgia”, has, however, been called into question.[2]

The group appeared in the movie Grease as Johnny Casino & The Gamblers. The group was also successful with its own hit syndicated television show Sha Na Na from 1977 to 1982, featuring guests such as James Brown, the popular 1970s punk rock band the Ramones and musicians from rock & roll’s golden era, such as Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Chubby Checker.

The original band line-up featured 12 performers: Alan Cooper (bass vocals), Rob Leonard (vocals), Frederick ‘Denny’ Greene (vocals), Henry Gross (guitar), John ‘Jocko’ Marcellino (drums), Joe Witkin (piano), Scott Powell aka Captain Outrageous aka Tony Santini (vocals), Donald ‘Donny’ York (vocals), Elliot Cahn aka ‘Gino’, (rhythm guitar), Rich Joffe (vocals), Dave Garrett (vocals) and Bruce ‘Bruno’ Clarke. The initial act saw three “up front” dancers/singers in gold lamé and the other nine in “greaser attire” (rolled up t-shirt sleeves, leather jackets, tank tops, etc.) The group would taunt the audience and announce, “We’ve got just one thing to say to you f——ng hippies, and that is that rock and roll is here to stay”.[citation needed] 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 - but none more meaningful than when performing in Toronto, Canada at Ontario Place and performing “Hound Dog” after announcing the King’s (Elvis Presley’s) death earlier that same day.[citation needed]

Vinnie Taylor (1949 - 1974) (real name Chris Donald), who replaced Henry Gross as the lead guitarist in 1970, died from a heroin overdose on April 17, 1974, after a concert at University Hall at the University of Virginia.[citation needed] He was found in a Holiday Inn hotel room in Charlottesville, Virginia.[citation needed]

Former Sha Na Na bass player, from their television show lineup, Dave “Chico” Ryan, died in 1998.

Former Sha Na Na guitarist, from their television show lineup, Danny “Dirty Dan” McBride, died in 2009.

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.[citation needed]

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, also went on to an academic career. He taught religious studies for ten years at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, was 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.[citation needed]

Long time 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. For two years in 1983 and 1984 he served as the host of the game show Hollywood Squares between the retirement of longtime host Peter Marshall and the last host John Davidson. Today, Bowzer continues to tour under his own banner.

Elliot Cahn, the group’s original rhythm guitar player and musical arranger, later became the first manager of Green Day. “Screaming” Scott Simon replaced Joe Witkin, the original keyboard player (and singer of Teenager in Love on their first album). Today, Witkin is an emergency room physician living with his family in San Diego, California and playing with a band called “The Corvettes”[3] doing an oldies revue. Witkin’s son, Brian Witkin, went on to become the founder of Pacific Records.

Joe 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.

Scott Powell today is a specialist in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine.[4] He performed on the TV show under the stage name “Santini” (which he changed from his previous alias, “Captain Outrageous”). Powell left the band in 1980 and returned to Columbia to take pre-medical courses.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] After graduating from Yale Law School, he became the vice president of production and features at Columbia Pictures.[citation needed] He is currently 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.

Bruce “Bruno” Clarke is now a professor of English at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

Edited by swingingriver on 12 Jun 2010, 17:53

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