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Sha Na Na WAS an American rock and roll doo-wop cover group. Undoubtedly the singlemost SUCCESSFUL doo-wop cover group in the history of doo-wop cover groups! I might even go as far as to say they were the KINGS of all doo-wop cover groups ever in the history of like, ever!
Formed in 1969, but performing a song-and-dance routine based on the previous decade, they simultaneously revived and parodied the music and tough New York street vibe of the 50s. They made their first mark on the national stage performing on an actual sinking stage at Woodstock, a little more fame thanks to their contributions to the mid-70s juggernaut known as GREASE and cemented their rightful place in the history of American pop culture with their syndicated TV show that ran from 1977 through 1981.
As of December 5th, 2022, the final live performing version of Sha Na Na have announced that it is indeed time to sing “Goodnight Sweetheart” for the final time. BUT with their story now complete, WE can finally TELL the complete story of SHA NA NA! And this we shall do… right now! Let’s step into the Fun House!
Sha Na Na started in 1969 as a group of college kids at New York’s Columbia University. They wanted to combine their love of theater with 50s rock n’ roll. The original concept for the group was dreamt up by a man named George Leonard, a Humanities Graduate Student. George recruited the members for his brainchild from undergraduate members of Columbia’s “Kingsmen” glee club accapella group.
At the time they were wearing turtlenecks and blazers and singing choral versions of 50s rock songs. They quickly incorporated costumes into their routine and George became their choreographer. The group eventually added instruments and started playing 50s throwback sock hop theme parties at Columbia where students came dressed in 50s outfits. They stole a new name for the band from the song “Get A Job” by the Silhouettes and SHA NA NA was born (not to mention the name KINGSMEN was already taken).
Their first performance outside of school was at a nightclub called Steve Paul’s Scene and this place was frequented by well-known musicians and music industry business types. It was at The Scene where one Mr. Jimi Hendrix noticed and took a liking to this clunky and campy but entertaining college group and they became fast friends.
It was only shortly after striking up this friendship however that Sha Na Na quite unceremoniously ENDED their run of shows at Steve Paul’s Scene because (according to an interview with Sha Na Na co-founder Donny York) the owner was refusing to pay protection money to the local mob . So on the final night of the club’s existence Sha Na Na huddled in their dressing room while mobsters busted up the joint. And… SCENE!
With the Scene no longer on the scene, Sha Na Na needed a new place to play. Their new friend Jimi Hendrix decided to throw them a bone by inviting them to perform at a little get together know as… WOODSTOCK.
This would be their 8th professional performance! Yes, it was the Summer of Love, Hippies and Mud and Sha Na Na were going onstage right before Hendrix who was closing the festival.
They almost didn’t go on at all due to delays from rainy weather and festival management trying to bump their performance from the schedule completely to make up for lost time. Their original timeslot was supposed to be 9:30pm Sunday night but they ended up hunkering down in the back of a U-Haul all night while storms pounded the event grounds to go on the next morning and only made it to the stage (which was sinking in the mud) on the insistence of Jimi Hendrix who refused to take the stage (He was the big-name festival closer) until his friends Sha Na Na had been given an opportunity to perform as promised.
Sha Na Na took the stage in the final morning of Woodstock barely running on fumes from lack of sleep and woke up the remaining 40,000 attendees (down from 400,000 the previous days) in their gold spray-painted boots, greaser costumes and doo-wop campiness winning over the groggy crowd of hippies, many of whom had eaten those infamous oranges and weren’t quite sure if what they were watching was even real!
After their performance, Sha Na Na drove away in THEIR orange U-Haul to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled banner around 11am. You might be wondering why they didn’t hang around while their biggest supporter was taking the stage but remember these guys had been awake for about 28 hours by this time and had a 2 hour drive back to Columbia. They were toasted and wouldn’t have made it through Jimi’s first song if you propped their eyes open with toothpicks and poured coffee up their noses with rubber hoses!
GREASY FUN FACT! Sha Na Na’s website claims their $350 paycheck from Woodstock bounced! Money.com however states that Sha Na Na was paid $700 and there’s been an image showing a purported list of Woodstock performer pay floating around the internet for a few years also showing Sha Na Na being paid $700 (which may be where Money.com received their figure). According to Snopes, the validity of the performer pay breakdown has not been able to be verified but I would tend to at least believe the validity of Sha Na Na’s claim that their check bounced because of an interview with Roger Daltrey of the WHO who claimed that the backstage of Woodstock was anything but peace and love with acts screaming and fighting to wrangle their pay from the promoters.
ANOTHER GREASY FUN FACT! Sha Na Na was the only group to perform at Woodstock without a record deal, but that changed quickly with their…
FIRST ALBUM – ROCK AND ROLL IS HERE TO STAY (1969)
Less than a year after the band even formed, Sha Na Na had not only played Woodstock (and somehow had the good fortune to NOT have their performance footage end up on the cutting room floor when the Martin Scorsese documentary came out… ok they had the good fortune to not have 90 seconds of their performance end up on the cutting room floor) but had built enough of a reputation (largely DUE to their 90 second inclusion in the Martin Scorsese documentary) to get them signed with the William Morris Agency who in-turn managed to get Buddah / Kama Sutra Records to agree to release an album. The album was titled ROCK AND ROLL IS HERE TO STAY.
But this wasn’t just some cheapy trial balloon short-run pressing! They went all out on this thing! It had a foldout cover with two inside pages with short bios of each of their then 12 members along with all the song lyrics. They even got the man who coined the phrase “Rock N’ Roll”, legendary DJ Alan Freed to record two intros on the album!
YET ANOTHER GREASY FUN FACT! Alan Freed actually went to court at one point to try and copyright the phrase “Rock N’ Roll” but fortunately for the rest of us, he ultimately failed in this attempt.
Buddah / Kama Sutra put their full force behind promotions for this album, even taking out a full page ad on the front of Billboard Magazine. Today, the original pressing of Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay is widely recognized as the most difficult to find of all Sha Na Na albums and the most collectible.
DISCO DISASTER! 1975
In 1975 Buddha / Kama Sutra had Sha Na Na try their hand at a disco record which you can listen to online if you search for “SHA NA NOW.” It’s everything you might think it would be. It’s awful to look at, somewhat unbearable to listen to and pretty much everything that was wrong with disco. Sha Na Na quickly buried that steaming pile deeper than Jimmy Hoffa and got back to doing what they do best which was playing 50s doo wop and touring. And touring. And touring. And touring some more.
They opened for just about every big name band of the time like the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, the Kinks and it wasn’t long before they became headliners in their own right. They were also one of only 4 acts who were invited by John Lennon (and Yoko Ono) to perform at Madison Square Garden for the famous One-To-One benefit concert.
GREASE IS THE WORD! 1978
Sha Na Na’s popularity post-Woodstock is at least partially-credited for a revival in the mid-70s interest towards 50s music, fashion and culture. This in turn inspired the creation of a little musical from 1971 called GREASE which ran on Broadway until 1980 with a record-setting 3388 performances.
How Sha Na Na became involved in the 1978 film adaptation of Grease, I’ll admit I’m not entirely clear on other than the fact that they were pretty much the preeminent 50’s-style music group going at the time and with the success of such films as American Graffiti and the TV show Happy Days, the late-70s public had a ravenous appetite for all things 50s! It seems once again they were the right group in the right place at the right time!
The entire band was cast in the movie GREASE starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John as the prom band Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. They contributed almost an entire album side to the soundtrack and one original song “Sandy” which was co-written by Sha Na Na’s Screamin’ Scott Simon and another writer named Louis St. Louis.
Grease went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1978 bringing in over $132 million dollars! Translated into today’s dollars, that’s $616 MILLION DOLLARS! The soundtrack became the second-highest selling album in the United States right behind Saturday Night Fever ALSO starring John Travolta. It was a very good time to have your star hitched to the Travolta rocket!
Looking over the Wikipedia page for the movie GREASE, it is criminally devoid of any mention of Sha Na Na. Someone oughtta have their face rearranged!
SHA NA NA INVADES THE NATION’S LIVING ROOMS!
TV SHOW 1977 – 1981 (97 episodes)
In 1977, television producer Pierre Cossette teamed up with LBS Communications to bring the television show SHA NA NA to living rooms across America. By this time, there had been more than a few member changes since the band’s inception as their act was honed and polished into a tight group of 10 over the years.
This period in history is largely regarded as Sha Na Na’s heyday and featured their most well-recognized lineup of bass-vocalist Jon “Bowzer” Bauman who became recognized during this time as the band’s leader due to him being the only one with a speaking role in the live show (he acted as emcee for a dance contest routine they would do onstage) and the show’s producers needing a central personality for audiences to focus on. They felt a show with ten stars would be too chaotic. So the group that had always been a democracy of equal members acquiesced and Bowzer became the face of Sha Na Na for the sake of the show and the rest is history.
The rest of the group consisted of Sax player Lennie Baker, Vocalist Johnny Contardo, Vocalist Frederick “Denny” Greene, Guitarist “Dirty Dan” McBride (my personal favorite), Bassist Dave “Chico” Ryan, Pianist “Screamin’” Scott Simon, Vocalist Scott “Santini” Powell, Drummer “Jocko” Marcellino and Vocalist Donald “Donny” York.
For the next 4 years, everyone’s favorite 50s street thugs brought classic rock n’ roll hits, comedy skits and a cavalcade of guest stars including Chuck Berry, the Ramones, Ethel Merman, Gary US Bonds and countless other entertainment legends to the nation’s small screens during prime time!
Among their supporting cast members was also the iconic vaudeville legend SOUPY SALES!
ANOTHER GREASY FUN FACT! Did you know that Soupy Sales (born Milton Supman) holds the world’s record for catching the most cream pies dropped from a helicopter and performed this feat on Wide World of Sports!
Sha Na Na produced 97 episodes of their television show throughout four seasons, becoming one of the highest-rated shows in syndication at the time. Production halted in 1981.
You may be saying to yourself right now NEIL! (which is a really weird thing to say to yourself if that’s not your name) WHY CAN’T I FIND A HOME-RELEASE VERSION OF THE SHOW!!!???
I’m glad you asked! It’s the same reason you can’t have a popular song in the background of your YouTube video without getting a copyright strike from the music nazis! Music licensing is a very sticky wicket and SHA NA NA was a COVER BAND! They didn’t perform their own songs!SONY owns the rights to the show but reportedly the costs associated with obtaining the licensing for all those songs is more than the projected income a home release of the Sha Na Na Show would generate. So basically, blame the suits at SONY.
POST TV SHOW YEARS
Guitarist Dirty Dan McBride left the group in 1980 right before the conclusion of the tv series and was replaced by “Guitar Glenn” Jordan who I actually saw perform at the Indianapolis Fairgrouds. I was crushed not to see my man Dirty Dan but Guitar Glenn did a bangup job!
Soon thereafter Jon Bowzer Bauman received an offer to host game shows and the offer was too lucrative to ignore and thus left the band to pursue a continued career in television. He also did cartoon voice overs, immersed himself in political activism for… (not my party) and began fronting his own band called Bowzer and the Stingrays with whom he still performs to this day. Find them at https://www.bowzerparty.com/
Singer Johnny Contardo also parted ways around this time according to an email he was kind enough to respond to which I intrusively sent him. He continues performing to this day and is also a professional vocal coach. He said that he and Bowzer sometimes get together to perform but other than that, he was unable to help me with any history of the group post-tv show because he simply wasn’t involved. Find Mr. Contardo at https://johnnycontardo.net
Many of the other members went on to new endeavors, notably Frederick “Denny” Greene went to Yale Law School, became Vice President of Production and Features for Columbia Pictures and later became Professor of Law at the University of Dayton School of Law.
Scott “Santini” Powell is currently a specialist in Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. He serves on the medical staff of US National Soccer Teams and is team physician for the Federation Women’s National Team and an Associate Clinical Professor at USC.
Drummer Jocko Marcellino took command of the good ship Sha Na Na and kept things running torpedos-be-darned despite members ultimately passing to that great doo-wop stage in the sky or simply going on to other pursuits.
And why not? The band was still having fun and so were the audiences. Do you really need more reason than that? AND every time a special anniversary of GREASE rolled around, they were always instantly in demand again! They were hot baby!
1998 – A revamped version of Sha Na Na with about 50 percent new members performed at A Capitol Fourth celebrating the 4th of July on America’s Capitol Mall along with a star-studded lineup of acts and…
In 1999 they signed a deal with THE GOLD LABEL, a record label owned by Pat Boone and continued performing about 150 shows per year! We’re talking corporate events, casinos, state fairs, beach boardwalks…
I actually got to meet Jocko at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the late 90s and he was nice enough to come out from backstage, chat with me for a few minutes, sign my ENTIRE SHA NA NA RECORD COLLECTION and give me a little New York sass. Pretty much made my day. I also got to meet Lenny Baker who has since passed but was also nice enough to sign my albums as was Screamin’ Scott. He did pause signing to let me know that he didn’t play on one of the albums I brought but I said sign it anyway! YOU’RE SCREAMIN’ FREAKING SCOTT!!! Chico Ryan also came onstage for a few songs. It was awesome!
In 2016, the surviving members of Sha Na Na reunited for a special performance at Columbia University featuring early members from the Woodstock era as well as from the tv show era that had long parted ways.
2019 – 50 YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Sha Na Na celebrated their 50 Year Golden Anniversary entitled AN EVENING WITH SHA NA NA at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
At the end of Sha Na Na’s amazing 54 year run as the worlds greatest doo-wop cover group of all time the only two original founding members remaining were Jocko Marcellino and Donny York along with long-time member Screamin’ Scott who joined in 1970.
And finally… IN DECEMBER 2022, SHA NA NA ANNOUNCED A PERMANENT CESSATION OF TOURING and bid us all Goodnight Sweetheart for the very last time.
Jocko can still be seen performing with his band Jocko and the Rockets which you can find at
And if you visit Change.org you can sign the petition to get Sha Na Na into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where they rightfully belong in my humble opinion. Just go there and search for “Allow Sha Na Na to hotdog into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” I would include the link but it’s really long and convoluted.
And there you have it. The full story of Sha Na Na, to the best of my abilities to bring it to you anyway. A group who brought laughs and joy into our living rooms and onto our concert stages for 54 years, exposed new generations to the music of rock n’ roll’s golden age and earned their rightful place in American Pop Culture History!
I’d like to give special acknowledgement to my resources for this episode of the DANDY FUN HOUSE, most notably:
The Official SHA NA NA WEBSITE: http://www.shanana.com
The Franky Slawson Show who did an amazing hour long deep-dive interview with Donny York who shared a lot of great nuggets! Find his show on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/user/FrankySlawsonShow
and of course Wikipedia … http://www.wikipedia.org
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You know they say all good things must come to an end, so since this is the end, it must be a good thing! Goodnight Sweetheart and come back to the Dandy Fun House real soon where everything is always… FUN AND DANDY! Grease for Peace!