former teen idol Dion DiMucciThe Wanderer, once lamented to me that the artists of his generation – the 50s and 60s – were never taken as seriously as the headliners of the rest of the 20sand century. Don’t say that to the 2400 people present The Golden Oldies Show Saturday evening April 30andto Overseer’s Theater in Schenectady.
Veteran promoter Jim Anderson, who never steps into the limelight for his biannual showcase of bands from the era, showed up and opened the show with a fervent thank you to the 600 ticket holders who had kept their tickets for over two years of Covid lockdowns for tonight. Then 20-year veteran DJ of Ben Patton Magic Radio asked the audience, “Is everyone ready to let loose?” He didn’t have to ask twice.
The 81 year old man Vito Picone Elegant joked to the public that he had COPD and several operations, including an abdominal implant. The band capped off their debut set with a near-perfect rendition of “Little Star,” a hit that spent 19 weeks in the Billboard top 40 and sold three million copies in 1958. They covered “Every Day” by Buddy Holly and Vito recounted being on tour 30 days before the fateful 1959 plane crash that killed Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens. Dion to this day feels guilty for avoiding taking that flight that killed his friends. The accident in a field in Clear Lake, Iowa took place around my 16and anniversary and starkly reminded me that my musical heroes weren’t immortal.
The Skyliners capped off their segment with their biggest hit, “Since I Don’t Have You”, but the standout song of their set was Dionne Warwick’s “I Say A Little Prayer for You” sung by an unnamed woman who has nailed. They mentioned that Bert Bachrach wrote this song for Vietnam veterans. Close your eyes and you’d swear Dionne was on that stage. They told the public it was their 64and year on the road. They were the first white band to reach No. 1 on the Cashbox R&B charts, which led to them performing eight times at the legendary Apollo Theater.
Bobby Brooks Wilson told me backstage that he had never met his father Jackie Wilson. I told him that I had seen his famous father for “Higher and Higher” on my first honeymoon in 1968 and that his dancing rivaled James Brown, not to mention his incomparable falsetto. Bobby told me his dad worked with Michael Jackson on his dance. While Wilson writes and records his own contemporary dance tunes, he sticks to his father’s repertoire, including “That’s Why I Love You So”, “Lonely Teardrops”, “To Be Loved”, “Baby Work Out” and “The Tracks of My Tears”, commenting that his father worked with Smokey and Barry Gordy before Gordy formed Motown.
To say Wilson stole the show is an understatement. He frothed an aging audience, eliciting their response and walking offstage into the crowd. He had some big shoes to fill, but I sensed his father’s ghost in his dancing, incredibly similar voice.
Jay Siegel, founding singer of Tokens, had so many allergies that I could barely understand what he was telling me backstage. His emails include a photo of a sleeping lion, and indeed The Tokens’ version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” has been the band’s claim for 61 years. He managed to hit the falsetto high part “Wimoweh” of the song, but asked the audience to help him through “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight”.
To make matters even more problematic, Siegel’s bass vocalist Bill Reid passed away a few weeks ago and was replaced by Gabe Dassa, who is an orthopedic surgeon by day. The Tokens did two songs and left.
The less said about Vogues, the better. They ended the first half of the show with an off-key sung version of “Special Angel” and their 1965 hit “5 O’Clock World”.
Brooklyn Bridge did an hour and 15 minute set that took up the entire second half of the concert. The only band that had their own backing band, they put on an extremely well-rehearsed Vegas-style set that covered their own hits like Jimmy Webb wrote “The Worst That Could Happen” and “Your Husband, My Wife” which was banned by radio stations across the country. Its lyrics are about an illicit affair, a situation the band felt was unfair when Led Zeppelin topped the charts singing about giving a girl “every inch of my love”. It was 1969, and the popular music market was split between AM hitmakers like Brooklyn Bridge and FM hard rockers like Led Zeppelin.
Their covers ranged from “Mustang Sally” to Dion’s “Ruby Baby” and “Runaround Sue”. Their version of The Platters’ “My Prayer” was the highlight of the set. They dedicated it to those of us who have lost loved ones over the past two years of the pandemic. Much to do after the 2010 loss of Brooklyn Bridge lead singer Johnny Maestro. That said, current lead singer Joe Esposito was not only versatile, but more than enough to capture the vibe of songs as disparate as “Step by Step”, “I’m Ready, Willing and Able to Rock and Roll All Night” and “The best thing that could happen.
The further we get from the golden age of the beginnings of rock and roll, the fewer initiators remain to carry the torch. One of the newest members of Brooklyn Bridge is John Williams with the band for two years. But even he is an elder who has been with other doo-wop groups and is old enough to have been stationed in Da Nang during the Vietnam War.
Jim Anderson treats these shows with respect. Jay Siegel told me he always told Jim he was too nice to be in this business. Members of these groups are not just creating products for an old demographic. They love the music and the memories it creates not only for the fans but also for the artists themselves.
Anderson’s next show is the Rock’n Roll Doowop Spectacular November 19 with chubby checker, The Duprees, The Doowop projectand Trish Anderson. On April 29, 2023, The Sixties Spectacular headlines Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, Jay and The Americans, Dennis Tufano of the Buckinghams and the 1910 Fruitgum Co.