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- Posted on Aug 7th 2009 5:00PM by James Sullivan
That would have been Sha Na Na, the doo-wop anachronism that somehow became an overnight sensation at the height of a generation that wanted nothing more than to overthrow the cultural conservatism of its predecessors.
Emerging from the radical incubator of the Columbia University campus in 1968, Sha Na Na started out as members of the university's long-running a cappella group the Kingsmen but renamed themselves when it was noted that a band by the same name had recorded a little hit called 'Louie Louie.' Sha Na Na's brief appearance in the 'Woodstock' documentary helped spark a '50s revival that would lead to such cultural landmarks as 'Happy Days,' 'American Graffiti' and 'Grease' -- the movie version of which the band appeared as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers.
At Woodstock, the big group, a dozen strong, sang nostalgic oldies such as 'Yakety Yak,' 'The Book of Love' and 'At the Hop.' They earned a check for $300, which bounced. Keith Moon soon hired the band to play one of his parties, and they opened a charity gig for John Lennon.
With the '50s revival in full swing, the band thrived through the 1970s. They hosted a popular syndicated TV show into the early '80s, with oddball guests including the Ramones, Ethel Merman and Billy Crystal.
Despite the successes, original members began dropping out not long after Woodstock. By last count, at least 40 performers have traipsed through the Sha Na Na lineup. The history of the group's ex-members reads like a rock 'n' roll crazy quilt.
Original guitarist Henry Gross went on to have a huge solo hit in 1976 with 'Shannon,' a ballad about a dead dog. Gross' replacement, Vinnie Taylor, died of a heroin overdose in 1974. Another original guitarist, Elliott Cahn, is an attorney who went on to become Green Day's first manager. Singer Alan Cooper became a Jewish Studies professor. Perhaps the best-known of the group's members, Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, noted for his burping and his muscle flexing, was a VH1 personality in the network's early years. Other original Sha Na Na alumni include two physicians, a law professor and a linguistics professor, as befitting the group's Ivy League origin.
Despite the departures of all of the above and many more, the band soldiers on. Currently numbering eight members, including two originals, the novelty act might be the least likely Woodstock product to stick around long enough to prove its own simple adage: Rock 'n' roll, for better or worse, is here to stay.