STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Grease is still the word.
It’s been a few years since Sha Na Na has been in Sellersville, and tenor/baritone singer, drummer and founding member Jocko Marcellino is enthusiastic about a Jan. 24 date at the Sellersville Theater featuring two shows.
“I remember the fabulous restaurant next door,” he said of the Washington House. “Sing along, have a good time, be there or be square.”
Celebrating 45 years of singing the seminal rock ‘n’ roll, doo-wop, R&B and rockabilly hits of 1955-1962 with theatrical gusto and bravado, the Sha Na Na collective has had quite the charmed career. Marcellino is one of two members of the current lineup that was there for the Woodstock Festival in 1969 (Donny York is the other) — which was just the group’s eighth professional performance ever. “Woodstock looked like a refugee camp. We kept getting bumped (on the schedule) because artists kept showing up,” he said. “I’ve got to give big kudos to Jimi Hendrix. He got us our slot, and saved our slot.”
According to Marcellino, Sha Na Na was initially received by those still paying attention to the music as little more than a campy distraction. However, the audience came to appreciate them in the same way that Hendrix did, he said, and seemed to understand that what Sha Na Na was representing was Americana.
“We’re not ‘going back’ anywhere,” Marcellino explained. “You put on the leather, you put in the grease and you get an attitude. When you go to a symphony concert, you don’t hear: ‘Here’s an oldie by Brahms … here’s an oldie by Beethoven’.”
An excerpt of their version of The Marcels’ 1961 hit “Blue Moon” made it into the “Woodstock” documentary (which Marcellino concedes was performed at a faster tempo than normal). “The $350 check (the band was given) bounced. I got a dollar to be in the movie. It was the greatest 10 cents I ever made,” Marcellino joked. Ultimately, it got them exposure that boosted their career, which then contributed to a wave of 1950s nostalgia in the ‘70s.
From 1977 to 1981, there was the lamé-and-leathered “Sha Na Na” syndicated TV variety show. “Screamin’” Scott Simon from the TV show, who joined in 1970, is still with the band.
In the 1978 blockbuster movie version of the musical “Grease,” that starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, they got notable screen time as the band at the Rydell High School dance, Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. Simon co-wrote the Travolta ballad “Sandy” on the film’s Grammy-nominated soundtrack, which also featured Sha Na Na’s covers of “Hound Dog,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll is Here to Stay,” “Tears on My Pillow” and “Blue Moon,” plus their recordings of the “Grease” show tunes “Those Magic Changes” and “Born to Hand Jive.”
Because of “Grease”’s enduring appeal, Marcellino said, Sha Na Na has gained another generation of fans 45 years after their start. “Everybody has experienced the angst of being a teenager in love,” he added.
On www.shanana.com, Donny York calls the music they play “a generation bridge.”
A recent “‘Grease’ Sing-A-Long” concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl featured a guest drummer appearance by The Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, who is married to Marcellino’s niece.
Expect a healthy dose of the “Grease” soundtrack — including “Grease is the Word,” “Greased Lightning,” “We Go Together,” “Sandy” and “You’re the One That I Want,” and even some of the companion songs to the dance crazes of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which appear on their latest album, “Sha Na Na — Greaser High School Hop.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Sha Na Na in concert.
WHEN: 3 and 8 p.m. Jan. 24.
WHERE: Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
TICKETS: $39.50 and $55.
INFO: Call (215) 257-5808 or visit www.st94.com.